I hired a car and mum booked a hotel for a few days in Nikko national park north of Tokyo.
Day 1 – Nikko Cultural Tour
On Tuesday morning I picked up the Honda Freed (a much larger car than I expected/wanted, but quite comfortable) and we drove up to Nikko.
Once there we stopped at the temples and shrines, checking out Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine complex with the famous three wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) and the Sleeping Cat carving. From there we headed to Nikko Futarasan jinja temple complex admiring some beautiful autumn leaves in the grounds.
After the temples we walked down to the river, enjoyed some karaage (fried chicken), and checked out the Shinkyo Bridge set beautifully into the autumn forest lining the banks of the Daiya River.
Getting late, we headed back to the car and drove up into the mountains to Hotel Yunishigawa. It’s quite a bit bigger than we really wanted, but it’s set quite secluded in the mountains and has very nice onsen. We made it in time for a quick dip in the onsen before the buffet dinner.
First day done; otsukaresamadeshita.
Day 2- Waterfalls and Autumn Colours
After a nice buffet breakfast we set off for momiji (autumn leaves viewing). The road ended up being blocked at 5km or so away from the hotel – shortly after I had made a comment that the last time I was riding a motorbike I kept coming across blocked roads! So we had to turn back around and retrace the road we had used the night before to get to the hotel.
We first drove to Ryuzu Falls near Lake Chuzenji, but on the way we also stopped off at a couple of dams to take pictures. Ryuzu Falls was actually less spectacular than I remembered, but I could still enjoy a quick lunch of Ozouni (basically mochi in a clear vegetable soup) and Yubakaraage, the “new speciality food in Nikko” consisting of fried tofu skin.
After that we headed to the famous Kegon falls, which really are quite spectacular. To fully appreciate them, one must take a lift down to a viewing platform deep in the canyon.
As it was getting quite late by now, we made our way back to the hotel for another evening of onsen and buffet dinner.
Day 3 – Nikko Nature Tour
The third day in Nikko dawned better than expected, and after a bit of thinking, we decided to go to Shiobara and do the ravine walk as it was billed as one of the must-do nature experiences in Nikko.
So we had a nice drive to Shiobara through beautiful autumn-leave-lined roads. Along the way I helped a group of elderly tourists to change a tire as they had a flat, and in return they gave us all their snacks and a big bag of tomatoes. I felt really bad for taking it, but they insisted.
Arriving at Shiobara, we parked at the visitor centre as I had not been able to find definitive information on where the walking trail started on the internet. After a quick attempt to chat to the staff there (mostly in japanese) we did get the information we were after. He mostly tried to get us to go down into town to see the autumn leaves on a couple of bridges, but we wanted nature, so we headed off to the walking trail which actually started at the visitor centre.
The trail itself, unfortunately, was very underwhelming; the first part was along the river bank through the end of town which did have some beautiful autumn leaf views but from there it was a bit of a scramble through the forest with few views of the river or autumn leaves. We also didn’t make it all the way to the dam as we were pooped.
When we got back, we did check out the suspension bridge opposite the visitor centre which gave some very impressive views; we could’ve saved the forest walk! There was also a walkway beside the river and we walked up the river a little bit to enjoy the views.
We then drove into town to find some lunch, stopping at a tiny local ramen shop. We enjoyed some delicious ramen, then, after briefly returning to the suspension bridge to retrieve my jumper which I had left lying there as I changed camera lenses, we started heading back in the direction of our hotel, but I wanted to drive through town to mix it up a bit.
As luck would have it, we drove past the “#1 spot” in town, another smaller suspension bridge, but the autumn leaves here were truly spectacular, with unreal deep reds. A quick photo stop, but the place was too overrun with people to really be enjoyable.
Finally back on the road, we took a couple of scenic routes back to our hotel for a final night of onsen.
Day 4 – Nasu Ropeway and the long drive home
Being somewhat tuckered out after the last few days of walking, we decided to take it easier and take a ropeway up to Mt Chasau. It was quite a long drive again, made longer by taking a detour to take in some new scenery instead of driving along the same roads again.
It was quite a lovely drive, with the weather better than expected. Part-way along we stopped at a roadway stop for a necessary break (too much coffee) and they had lovely grape ice-cream there. Despite it only being 7C or so, we enjoyed a cone each.
The Nasu Ropeway starts quite high up the mountains already, giving a great view over the valley and far mountains before even starting up. The ride up only takes a few minutes, but climbs nearly 300m vertically. From the top the view is breathtaking! There’s also several walks one can do, the shortest (but steepest) is to the top of Mt Chasau (1915m), which is a volcano still emitting a little bit of steam and smoke.
Mum decided she’d had enough climbing and walking but said I should go anyway. So I ran up to the top (a sign said about an hour to the top; I was back at the ropeway station in just over 30 minutes..) but unfortunately the top was covered in mist so I could only barely make out the crater. It also had started snowing slightly, and I couldn’t see any smoke coming out, so after a quick picture I turned back around.
Back at the ropeway station we enjoyed a kakiage-soba lunch before taking the ropeway back down to our car and commencing the long drive back home.
The drive ended up taking over 5 hours, with a significant delay at one point due to a broken down truck on the side of the road causing a huge traffic jam. Finally back home, I quickly dropped off the car and we enjoyed a late dinner of tomato salad and bread.