Hot spring towns and Aso National Park

The sun is out once again so it’s time to head off cycling. Leaving Beppu, the plan is to make it to Nagasaki ahead of the next forecast of bad weather. It seems every few days there’s a storm or heavy rain that requires a stopover. Before heading southwest from Beppu into the mountains, I make a detour to Umitamago Aquarium just north of Oita. It’s a very fun place with a lot of cool marine animals, including dolphins, manta rays, seals and even turtles. There’s a small show where they get the animals to perform tricks. An otter and a pelican follow some basic commands, but the highlight is the walrus, who claps, does situps, plays dead and nods along to suggestions.

Umitamago mascot
Three kinds of dolphin
Beppu in the distance

After a fun morning here, I head off into the mountains and the onsen town of Yufuin. The town is relaxed with some nice restaurants and cafes, and lots of spas and inns. I stay in an AirBNB with a tatami room and a large indoor bath with a view of the valley. At dinner, I have some kabosu juice (a lime local to Oita) with local fried chicken.

Bath with a view of Yufuin
Old thatched inns in Yufuin
Fried local chicken and kabosu juice
Lovely buildings in Yufuin

The next day involves a lot of uphill cycling into the Kuju mountain range. The sun is beating down mercilessly all day and there isn’t much let-up. I take a few roadside breaks, but it’s an isolated place and not much fun to ride through. It takes many hours of climbing but I make it into the Aso national park by sundown and plan for a night of camping. I meet a Swiss couple in the tent next to mine, the two of them doing a similar cycle tour on their way to Fukuoka.

Lots of uphill cycling
Yume pork kushi donburi
Kuju mountain range
Campsite in Aso national park

The day after, the plan is to cycle through the national park, past Mt Aso and into Kumamoto for a night’s rest. But first, I plan an early morning break in the nearby onsen town of Kurokawa. The area has resisted the buildup of the concrete hotels and urbanisation of many other spa towns in Japan. It maintains a lot of older wooden buildings and has a wonderful rustic aesthetic. I try out the local amazake and a cream puff from the patisserie, and enjoy wandering the old streets. Then, I stop off for a quick soak at a riverside bath on the outskirts of town. The hot spring water is far too hot, scalding. But the scenery is amazing. Water cascades over the rocks and down a waterfall right next to the bath, and it feels very luxurious. Considering I’d had a sink wash in the disabled bogs the night before, it was a lovely treat.

A walk through Kurokawa
Lots of independent stores
Ryokan over the river
A riverside hot spring
Thatched cafes

After this nice break, I begin the cycle into Aso national park properly and towards Mt Aso. Hitting the edge of the caldera, I follow the road skirting around. The views are stunning and it’s a great ride, save for the wind. In the late afternoon, I make it out of the national park and on the downhill road to Kumamoto. The city is sprawling and expansive, but I make it into the hotel by sundown.

Aso national park
Rolling green hills
Mt Aso

Three days from the east coast of Kyushu to the west coast.

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A Japan-enthusiast from the UK, with a particular interest in history and the language, as well as cycling, writing and rock climbing.