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Exploring the Kuju Mountain Range
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If you’re searching for the perfect escape from city life, to a place where you can experience breathtaking scenery and the tranquility of nature, then a trip to The Kuju Mountain Range might just be the ideal destination.
Set in the Aso-Kuju National Park , the Kuju mountain range is a truly magnificent, awe-inspring land scape with terrain that boasts five mountains over 1,700 meters in height. The peak of Mount Nakadake, the area,s tallest mountain (1,791m), is the highest point in all of Kyushu.
The Kuju Mountains can be explored via a number of hiking trails, with the main two starting at the Chojabaru Visitor Center and the Makinoto Pass (‘Makinoto-toge’) respectively. The Chojabaru Visitor Center provides a wealth of information on the region and even has a small theatre room for regular showings of a 20 minute documentary about the area.
Next to the Visitor Center, lies the Tadewara Wetlands, a low lying area of stunning natural beauty which has a cedar boardwalk to allow visitors to explore the area without damaging the ecosystem.
At 38 hectares in size, the area is about the size of 45 football pitches and if a full mountain hike is not particularly appealing, a full loop around the 2.5km boardwalk will certainly give you an appreciation for the area and a sense of accomplishment. Tadewara Marsh is an area rich in natural mountain spring water and due to this has become the perfect home to a number of rare plant species. In order to preserve these and to stop the area from being enveloped into the forest, parts of it undergo yearly controlled burning, known as ‘Noyaki’.
The Makinoto Pass trailhead is situated along the same road, however at a higher altitude, and therefore closer to the peaks. A tour of the main peaks takes around 4 to 6 hours and rewards its participants with stunning views across the volcanic landscape. One particular place of interest along the route is the ‘Komatsu Jigoku Hell’, a hot spring that can often be seen erupting large clumps of mud! The trekking routes also pass a number of beautiful volcanic bodies of water, the shores of which make for great places to sit, relax and enjoy a spot of lunch. One such spot is Miike Pond, situated in a volcanic crater and surprisingly never dries up! It’s beautiful deep green summer waters freeze over during the winter months allowing guests to skate across its surface.
One aspect of the mountain range that is not overly obvious is how different the region can appear, depending on the season you visit. In spring, vibrant Azalea beds dominate the scenery, whereas, in the Autumn, these are replaced with lush reds and yellows. In the winter months, the mountain peaks and surrounding areas are given a thick white coating of snow.
The area is still very much alive with volcanic activity (Mount Kuju last erupted in 1995) and due to this, there are a number of onsen (hot spring) and ryokan (Japanese inns) in the area if you wish to take a breather.
The Kuju Mountain range is also of historical religious importance, becoming a holy site that was often visited by both pilgrims and Buddhist priests in training. Relics that provide a glimpse into the mountain’s history with Buddhism can still be seen today.
The two trailheads, the Chojabaru Visitor Center and the Makinoto Pass are both best accessed by car, via the Yamanami Highway, part of the Trans Kyushu Route. We highly recommend renting a car from Beppu which is a 75-minute drive away.
If you are arriving via public transport, the Kyushu Odan Bus service from Beppu, provided by Kyusanko takes approximately 2 hours and costs ¥2,500.
We hope that this article has been helpful in sharing some of what this beautiful region has to offer and that next time you escape to the Japanese countryside you can experience it for yourself!
Chojabaru Visitor Center
255-33 Tano, Kokonoe, Kusu District, Oita 879-4911
Yutsubo, Kokonoe, Kusu District, Oita, 879-4912
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