Exploring Kyushu: Hiking Aso-Kuju National Park
October 13th, 2019
Autumn is my favourite season. Less bugs, cooler weather, winter is coming. It’s a time for hiking, camping, climbing, eating pumpkin pie and picking apples. The trees evolve from emerald green to beautiful shades of crimson, copper and gold.
Typhoons galore and humidity in abundance makes hiking more difficult to plan for in Japan, but we finally managed to visit Aso-Kuju National Park on October 13th. If you can’t already tell from the dates of our mini adventures, we usually go on long weekends despite these adventures being mostly day trips. Japan has a lot of holidays. This time, it was Health and Sports day so it was quite fitting to spend some time outdoors and go on a longer hike. Aso-Kuju National Park is home to the highest peaks in Kyushu. That’s a little bit misleading to think it’s really tall considering the highest peak is only 1780m above sea level.
It was about an 1:45h drive to Makinoto Pass Rest House from where we live. We planned to arrive around 9:10ish but made a stop at Lawson for a washroom break. Tiffany, who lived further north was planning to meet us there. I should clarify us being Colton, Tori and me. The hike that I had researched would take about 5 hours round trip but there were many little trails that went off the main trail if you choose to climb the other peaks.
I feel like I’m always over-prepared but if it’s not too heavy I’ll be fine. It’s good training, right? Here’s my little map that I drew in case my phone battery died but I had a portable charger that I didn’t even use… overprepared much? Yup!
This is the map that I drew:
This is what the real map looked like :
When we arrived, the parking was absolutely packed! People were even parking on the streets. I managed to squeeze into a small spot on a side street just across from the main parking. Thank goodness Tohru is a tiny car!
The first bit of the hike was pretty steep, and I dreaded coming back down it on the way back. It was paved but I know that my knees haven’t been so great recently and they might swell a bit. I began to slightly regret not bringing my hiking poles which were in my bag back home.
The smell of eggs filled the air, reminding us that there was geothermal activity in the area. Don’t ya just love the smell of sulfur in the morning?
We passed a variety of hikers of different ages and clothing-choices. There were hikers that were all-out decked in hiking apparel with some even looking like they were going to camp somewhere on the mountain. There were other hikers that were families, taking their children out for a walk while wearing jeans and a fancy hat. We were the hikers that stood out for being foreigners and talking loudly in English.
We hiked all the way up to Mt. Kuju which is the second highest mountain in the area. There was a little bit of everything on the hike. Some flat stretches, a bit of scrambling, slightly loose rock. It was interesting and I would love to visit during the different seasons. We had really good visibility for most of the day. We took some photos at the top of Mt. Kuju and went back down. We visited the highest altitude lake in Kyushu. Colton and I were dumb and wanted to go up Mt. Nakadake but we accidentally went up another mountain and had to go down and back up again to reach the top of Mt. Nakadake and then back down again. Lesson learned: Read your signs and look at the map that you hastily drew at 6:30 in the morning.
The icing on the cake of this wonderful day was the blueberry soft serve that we ate when we reached the rest house again.
I’m writing this post with a few days of retrospect and I know my body sorely craves the physical pain of exertion and tired muscles. I’ve missed filling my lungs with fresh air and getting my heart beat a little more raised than usual. I’ve missed feeling the sun warm my face and the wind caress my hair. Okay, this sounds too descriptive now. But yes, I’m looking forward to the next hike. I’m thinking maybe somewhere in Kagoshima or maybe Yufudake. We’ll see!