With a rugged and beautiful scenic coast, tiny fishing villages scattered along the shores, an abundance of isolated and rarely ridden mountain roads, and the Kumano Kodo (熊野古道), an ancient walking trail through the mountains, the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島) has been an area of Japan I’ve wanted to cycle in for a long time. The plan for this trip was to spend three days heading south along the east coast but due to bad weather and an approaching typhoon (always a possibility in September) the trip had to be cut short after only one day.
Early Saturday morning I took the train from Nagoya JR Station south to Kii Nagashima (紀伊長島), just north of Owase (尾鷲). I’ve cycled from Kii Nagashima once before but that time heading east along the coast to Shima (志摩), host of the recent G7 Summit. The original plan this time was to head south through Owase, along the coast, down through Kumano and Shingu (新宮), before reaching Kushimoto (串本町) at the tip of the peninsula, then do a sharp u-turn and head north inland over the mountains back to Kii Nagashima. As already mentioned, due to the bad weather, I only made it as far as southern Kumano, a stones throw away from the Mie (三重県) border with Wakayama (和歌山県).
Despite being much shorter than I had originally planned it was an enjoyable and pleasant day’s ride. Still pretty hot and humid for this time of year but as it was cloudy all day worrying about heatstroke or sunburn was not an issue.
There were plenty of short, punchy up-down climbs between the numerous fishing villages but nothing that ever got out of hand. The R778 south of Owase was the only long isolated climb but it offered wonderful views over the ocean and I didn’t pass a single car or cyclist at all on the mountain. In fact I only saw one other cyclist all day. Beautiful beaches also scatter the coast where it’s possible to camp at night as there is no shortage of covered picnic areas to sleep under if you choose to ride without a tent. I chose to camp on the beach about 350m south of Atawa train station (阿田和駅) south of Kumano but in hindsight it would have been better to sleep a little further north on the beach at Atashika (新鹿) as it was much quieter.
I awoke on day two to torrential rain and the forecast was for it to remain that way all day so knowing what heavy rain is like in September in Japan quickly decided that it would be better to catch the train home and try again another day. And I do plan to return pretty soon.
A few things to bear in mind are that the large stretch of beach from Kumano to Shingu is closed to vehicles during autumn as it’s where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. I’m not sure how this applies to cyclists and camping but I did see a few people fishing and running along the beach just before sunset. I made sure to camp in an area that was well used among fishermen and daytime picnickers.
Also there are quite a few tunnels along the route but for most of them there was usually a seperate tunnel for pedestrians and cyclist that run parallel to the car traffic. Even so, lights are essential as there are still a few mainly shorter tunnels that you have to share with traffic.
Finally, day two of my original route goes through the small town of Taiji (太地), an historic whaling town infamous for its annual dolphin hunt that runs from September to March. Apparently there’s plenty of tension between the local fishermen (including the rightwing nationalists that have tagged along) and both Japanese and foreign activists. If you’re cycling through I doubt there would be any issues but it is worth being aware of the current situation all the same.
As for equipment I realised that for me, carrying a tent is just not worth the hassle. It’s heavy, takes up too much space in the bags, and even in mid-September while camping on the beach can be pretty hot inside. It’s much better to take a small inflatable mat and sleep in a covered picnic area, or even a cheap hotel. A friend of mine sometimes sleeps in shelter bus stops while riding in the mountains and that makes more sense to me now after this trip. Participates in this year’s Japanese Odyssey bike race are also finding creative alternatives to tents that we could all take a few ideas from. If it’s not possible to sleep in a picnic area or sheltered bus stop I’d much rather pay to get a good nights sleep and shower in a cabin at a campsite, in a guest house, or even a hotel as I did on day two of my ride to Matsumoto earlier this year.
Overall a pleasant days ride and one that I hope to continue in the near future.
Distance – 106kms
Elevation – 1286m
Camping – rough camping along the beach near Atawa. ¥0 (Consider Atashika as an alternative)
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