Must See When Visiting Kyushu
Discerning travellers to Japan are bound to stumble on photos of the mesmerizing Takachiho Gorge in central Kyushu. I was equally enchanted by the rock formations surrounding the opaque, jade coloured waters of the canyon and I knew that I had to plan a visit into our itinerary, including the obligatory boat ride. Many visitors to Takachiho are day-trippers but we chose to stay in the area for two nights as there is a lot to explore.
Tickets and When to Visit
Getting early to the boat rental ticket booth at Takachiho Gorge is essential if you want to avoid the lengthy waits that can occur. This is especially necessary during peak times like Golden Week, holidays and weekends, as then the waiting times can creep up to a few hours before finally boarding one of the row boats. Advance booking is not possible, and you must reserve tickets on the day at the ticket booth. Also bear in mind that the whole days tickets may be sold out hours before the actual official closing time! You can check operation status of the boat rental online. Adverse weather, especially heavy rain upstream, can also have an impact on the boat rental, in fact we were lucky, a severe typhoon closed Takachiho Gorge for a few days after our visit.
Do Not Miss Your Time Slot
Queuing in line awaiting your time slot is not obligatory after you have your tickets for the day, and once you have booked a boat you are free to wander along the gorge until the appointed time frame comes up. However, whatever you do, do not miss your slot for the boat ride, the ticket will then be voided.
Access to Takachiho Gorge
Takachiho Gorge can be reached by car or on foot (be prepared for a steep walk down from the town centre). Parking near the gorge is limited to two parking lots and they fill early and fast, especially Oshioi Car Park right next to the boat rental point. We parked our car at Aararagi Car Park. From there we strolled along a scenic footpath that runs parallel to the Gokase River and offers stunning views into the Takachiho Gorge. Half way along the track we passed a giant 200 ton boulder, Kihachi’s Rock, which according to legend was thrown by Kihachi, a terrifying demon, in the battle against Mikeiri, brother of the first emperor of Japan.
Crossing Mihashi Bridge we took in the magnificent Takachiho Gorge, with the cascades of water rolling into the jade hued waters below. We stood and watched the rowers below before quickly rushing on past some souvenir stalls and the freshwater aquarium to the boat rental station to make sure we had our ride.
Upon our arrival at the boat rental reception there was no queue for tickets, and the waiting time after to the first available slot was between 20-30 mins, an acceptable wait, (especially as when we returned it had already increased after our ride to almost an hour). The rental costs for a rowboat was 2000 JPY per boat (cash only), with a maximum of three people, although we did see one family of four with two younger children being allowed. We received a numbered ticket for our ride and joined the queue down to the boats, despite the opportunity to wander off until our designated time slot would have come up.
Awaiting Our Turn
We watched from the steps down as all manner of techniques were used to row and propel the boats, clearly some tourists are not well versed in water sports and ceraintly some had no idea how to row straight! Thankfully there seemed to be several boats finally making their slow way back to the jetty and the waiting line moved fairly fast. Once it was our turn at the head of the line we were given life vests, they are obligatory, and shortly after boarded our boat.
A Truly Breath-Taking Sight
Initially Chris took to the oars and swiftly rowed us into Takachiho Gorge rapidly passing other tourists with less time in their youth spent messing about in boats. Ahead the canyon, created by lava flow from Aso Volcano had created a truly natural wonder. The sheer limestone showed vertical columns, like a giant monster had scraped its fierce claws across the walls. Some were covered in thick, lush moss and created a natural staircase, while others reached directly for the sky. Sunbeams radiated through the leafy canopy above, creating mesmerising sparkles on the opaque waters, a breath-taking sight demanding many photos.
Rowing Through the Gorge
Takachiho Gorge narrows at the Mirai waterfall and we found ourselves in a rowboat traffic jam at this point. It did not help that a large number of visitors appeared to have no experience on how to row and steer the rental boats through the canyon. There were a few run in’s with other boats making it more like a dodgems ride at a fairground and it was easy to see why they limited the number of boats in the gorge. Jerome, who by now had taken the oars (even though you are not supposed to swap over for safety), seemed to enjoy our little tussles with fellow rowers, but easily guided us around them. He threatened to dunk us under the falling water but thankfully held back at the last minute.
Admire the Beauty
The boat hire was for 30 minutes and this was definitely plenty of time to glide through the awe inspiring Takachiho Gorge and admire its beauty. If you fail to return the boat on time an additional fee may be charged. The accessible area of the gorge by boat is roped off at either end, although most visitors seem to say at the centre near the waterfall anyway. The boys would have happily rowed further upstream but only the ducks were free to do so…
The Freshwater Aquarium
After our boat ride through Takachiho Gorge we explored the small Freshwater Aquarium nearby. It was by far not the most extensive and exciting aquarium we had visited as it mainly showcased local species found in the nearby Gokase River, but it might be a welcome change from an overload of shrines and temples, especially for younger kids.
Ema Plaques at a Nearby Shrine
Taking the scenic walking route to our car we stopped briefly at a small shrine by he pond and watermill. A wall of heart and comma shaped “ema” had caught our attention and we decided to add our wishes to the myriad of clay plates. We had never before seen the comma shapes plaques, called “Magatama” used to be made of stone, glass or jade and worn as decorative talisman by women having only seen other shapes in the past.
Other Sights in the Takachiho Gorge
We left our wishes behind on the wall and returned to our car, but not before taking another glance at the breath taking Takachiho Gorge from above. The rest of the afternoon we spent at the mysterious Amano Iwato Cave and an enjoyable ride through verdant paddy fields and mountain forests.
Where we stayed in Japan:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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