It was now the 31st of March. Day 4 of the Spring road trip around the island of Kyushu.
After a mildly humid sleep in the convenience store parking lot, I set off to explore some parts of Kumamoto City.
My first stop was at Kumamoto Castle. The roads around the inner city were bustling even though it was peak CoronaVirus time here in Japan. Most tourist attractions were not open, and many people were staying indoors. I arrived fairly early in the parking area, the very first car to arrive. Walking down the entrance path felt like something from a post-human era. No people anywhere to be seen.
After walking through the maze of roped pathways, I was welcomed by the castle itself. One of the more breathtaking castles in Japan I’d say. Sadly it was closed for renovations so I couldn’t enter the inner area.
Did you know sakura flowers are nearly white, it’s interesting how they give off a pink colour from a distance.
I’d say the castle has been captured from this angle thousands of times. It fits perfectly between these two trees.
Obligatory sakura photos around the outer roads of the castles. The weather god started to spit at me while I was taking these photos.
As with most big cities, they usually have ‘Super’ Autobacs. It’s like a regular Autobacs, just bigger with more options. I visited the Kumamoto one, but to be honest, most parts you find at these shops are for people who want to ‘dress up’ their cars. Some products are good, but most of them are questionable. Still worth a visit though.
After chilling out in the city centre for a while, I headed to Aso mountain. It’s a massive national park with lots of things to do. But the weather was trash, and with this virus lurking around, not much seemed to be open.
I researched this place before actually coming. The pictures on Google showed vivid green pastures with horses galloping around. However, in actual fact, it was wet, brown, and lacking animal life. This wasn’t the final destination on the mountain, so that’s alright.
What was the final destination, was the volcano at the top. Again it was closed. Not because of the virus, but because of the dangerous gases leaking out from the volcano. After driving around up there for a while, I could see a layer of black soot sitting over the paint on my car.
Now it was time to make my way to the turn around point. Cape Saga! It was still a way away though. Once I left the mountain it was already about 4pm, and after a stop at an onsen, dusk had rolled in. After a couple of hours driving along the coast, I stopped at a small town to have some dinner and find a nice quiet car park to sleep in.
Day 5. As usual, the day started off bright and early. It’s hard to sleep when the sun is knocking on your face at 7am. My original plan for this day was to visit Kagoshima, but because of the virus, I decided to cut my trip short 2 days and skip a few points of interest.
The first trip of the day would be down to Sakurajima. An awesome mountain closing in the lake by Kagoshima City.
A lovely drive through dense forest and country roads.
I stopped in at this roadside rest area to take in the view of Sakurajima. Sadly the clouds covered the top, otherwise, I would have been greeted by a magnificent mountain trapped between the water and the sky.
Driving along the coast is nearly unbeatable. Seeing lush forestry on one side and crystal blue water on the other is hard to compete with. This was the case for the whole drive down to Cape Saga.
The carpark at Cape Saga was mostly empty. The facilities seemed to be new, so I was excited to get to the endpoint as I assumed the track was also new.
There is the lighthouse! The southernmost point of Japan’s main landmass.
The walk from the car park to the endpoint was only about 15 minutes. I thought I’d be able to get to the lighthouse, but this was not the case. Bummer.
Some history is viewable here too. The old lighthouse keeper’s quarters if I remember correctly. There were birds singing, little flying bugs happily living their short lives, and even monkeys running around in the forest beside the paths. An abundance of nature when there are no people to be seen.
It took me 4 and a half days to get here, but I wanted to be back home in 1 and a half days because the weather was becoming too hot and sleeping in the car wasn’t easy anymore. I decided to drive up the right side of Kyushu on the way back, my first stop being a nice beach after about an hour of driving.
I had a ‘wow, this is crazy’ moment while driving to this beach. The roads were dense with big trees. Then all of a sudden I came to a clearing and a bridge. I was actually VERY high above the water. Imagine this. You’re driving along a bridge. To your right is the ocean, many metres below you and as far as the eye can see. To the left is lush greenery. And in front of you is a curving road taking you down towards sea level. I regret not taking a photo of this part. I guess it will just be a personal memory!
After the nice stop at the beach, I drove to Miyazaki City for a shower and dinner. I have never bought Pizza Hut before because it’s ridiculously expensive here in Japan, but I thought I’d do it today. It was about $35 nzd for a single pizza. Not even a fancy one. And the wait time was about 30-40 minutes. Not something I’ll be doing in a hurry again.
After a shower, I headed a bit further up the coast and found another convenience store to lay my head at. Cities seem to be hotter, so I avoid sleeping in them if possible. And also I don’t want to be caught in their morning traffic.
Day 6. It was now day six, but I was oh so very far from my nice, comfy, four futon stacked bed. That was it, no more sleeping in the makeshift bed that I convinced myself was appropriate for a grown man. The morning started early, like every other one. A quick nip into the convenience store to grab breakfast and freshen up, and I was off!
Today’s attraction was a place called Beppu. A mystical place spewing hot mist into the atmosphere. However, it was still a LONG drive until that gem of a city. About 6 hours to be exact. The weather wasn’t our friend either, wet roads and wet oceans.
A couple stops to refuel and refresh my body were happily taken. I can tell you one thing, pulling up to a convenience store in the middle of the middle of nowhere rural Japan, the looks you get are insane. I was looked at like I was an alien who came here to harvest their organs. Ever heard of a person who isn’t Japanese? Probably not, not in those areas anyway. Internet, what’s that?
This was the drive towards Bippu. Six glorious hours of coastal roads.
Whilst parking in this anime look-alike parking spot, I oversaw two North Americans taking a couple photos of my sick but dirty S14.
If you’re ever been to Rotarua in NZ, it’s pretty much that, on a smaller scale. Smells the same, looks the same, except with Japanese writing plastered around on signboards. Most of the following photos are of mud and steam, so feel free to scroll by.
It would have been worth the visit, if I hadn’t already been to Rotarua, but I had so it wasn’t really. I’ll tell you what was interesting though.
This mountain. On Google Maps, no mountain should be there. Crazy right? How clouds can nearly trick you into thinking there is a massive mountain floating above the ocean.
What’s even more interesting was a crocodile park in the neighbouring building. Concrete cages, overcrowded, dead-looking beasts. Kind of sad. Probably shouldn’t have paid, but I was curious to see this crocodile park in person.
More mud and steam
The most memorable car park from the six-day road trip.
Before leaving the inner city area, I drove up to this lookout point to look out over the city.
I’d recommend this city to tourists who have not been to a similar thermal place before. But if you have already been, don’t waste your time. Go to Hiroshima or Osaka!
According to the metadata from my photos, I left Bippu around 4pm. With 9.5 hours to go, it was going to be brutal. I was looking at a 1-2am arrival time.
It was one of the longest drives of my life. I don’t remember the last few hours past 11pm, time seemed to blur. With the lack of police presence in these areas, I can say I got home a bit before 1am. Not sure how that happened though (cough cough).
This brings my Spring travels to an end. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did!
Photos: Shaun Constable | Words: Shaun Constable
Ambition Works 2012 – 2020