• Category Archives Travel
  • Weekend ride-out to Karuizawa

    What started out as a last-minute daytrip with a couple of guys I met on Facebook the day before turned into a 714km weekend ride to Nagano and back!

    So I was humming and hahing about whether or not to go on a ride when I saw a post in Gaijinriders that some guys were going to go for a ride to Chichibu area. I contacted Michael (the main instigator), and agreed to meet them at 7am at Kouenji station – so a pretty early start for me as that’s about an hour away.

    [Photo Gallery]

    Day 1 – Saturday 2024-05-11

    Tokyo to Karuizawa via the 100-year-forest in Saitama. Warm and sunny.

    I met Michael, Hiroshi, Simon, and Alfonso at the station, and then we were off fighting our way out of Tokyo to the highway. Our first stop was Ashigakubo rest stop on the 299 where we met up with Satoshi. Everybody was on a different kind of bike, and we pretty much covered all the colours too! Unfortunately it was too early to get a coffee – most of the facility was closed until 10am.

    From there we headed up to the 284 from which a lovely loop into the “100-year forest” branches off. The roads up there were pretty narrow and still had quite a lot of pine needles on them, so the going was careful, but very picturesque! After the loop we stopped at Bike Bento, a motorbike-themed restaurant where I had katsu-curry rice.

    We then rode to the Dodaira Observatory with some spectacular views. Unfortunately no ice-cream up there, or, in fact, any amenities. Maybe later in the year? After chilling in the sun and chatting a bit we headed to our last stop, Arima Dam. For me that was going completely the wrong way, as I had picked a hostel in Karuizawa, but I was keen on grabbing a coffee before splitting from the group.

    But when we got to Arima Dam I realised that I’d been there before – it’s a popular biker (and car) spot, but has no amenities either! So after a final set of pictures, I headed off to my hostel which was still a couple of hours away.. and I was not going the most direct route!

    I went all the way up the 299, re-doing a few miles that we had already covered earlier in the day, to the Kanna River, where I turned onto the 462 for a short bit before heading north up the 45. The 45 was a lot of fun and connected me to the 43 via the 254. The 43 was again a lot of fun, and I got to my hostel a bit after dark, having stopped only to take pics of my bike passing the 10,000km mark.

    After checking in to Koya Backpackers with Yusuke-san (who can speak pretty good english), I got a recommendation for dinner and discovered that I was right next to the very famous Hoshino onsen. Dinner was home-made soba noodles with tempura, and I treated myself to a small side of basashi (horse sashimi), at Tamagawa Shokudo only 5 minutes down the road from the hostel. After dinner I went to onsen, and while it was nice, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Tenzan Onsen in Hakkone.

    Back at the hostel I had a couple of beers with the owner and some other guests, and then headed to bed.

    Day 2 – Sunday 2024-05-12

    Karuizawa to Tokyo via Mt Shirane. Cool, cloudy, some spotty rain.

    Not a terribly early start, as I had ordered a breakfast and the earliest was 8am. To be honest, the breakfast, while nice, was not spectacular, consisting of a couple of rice-balls, some salad, and a miso soup. There was also an option for a wester-style breakfast, but I’m not sure what that entailed. Overall my stay at Koya Backpackers was great, the host very friendly, and I can highly recommend staying here.

    My first concern was petrol, so I stopped at the first service station on my way north. It turns out I’ve been in this area before, at least once, and the 146 on which I found myself is a really nice road. Shortly after getting petrol I stopped again at a kombini to grab some lunch; my plan was to ride to Mt Shirane and climb up to the crater so I wanted something to eat up there.

    I turned off on the 241, which is a spectacular road, lots of fun, which led me to the Manza Highway. This is a toll road, and while the tarmac isn’t the best, the road is really great and there are some awesome views up there. The guy at the toll booth told me the 466 wasn’t open, which is the next road I was wanting to take, but it turned out it was open after all. What ended up being closed was the 66 just past the Yamaboku ski resort…

    Making the best of things, I had a coffee at a cute little cafe called Santa Bokujo near where the road was closed. The cafe is run by a lovely lady and we had a bit of a chat via my broken japanese and Google translate. She told me about a waterfall nearby where you can walk behind the waterfall. So after my coffee I started backtracking and stopped at Kaminari (Thunder) falls to have a quick look around. Reminded me a bit of The Valley of Adventure by Enyd Blyton, where the kids hide behind a waterfall.

    From there I looped around to the west side of the 292, which is a superbly entertaining road and I had next to no traffic on it. On the way I tried (again) to get through a disused road which I had tried last year, but from the other way. I did get a fair way into the forest up the dirt trail, but then the gravelly road turned very muddy and I decided to turn back; my tires aren’t really up for mud. Later I discovered that I had almost reached a tunnel, so I wish I had have tried to keep going just a bit further! Maybe it’s time for some more off-road focussed tires..

    The 292, apart from being extremely scenic and a great motorbiking road, also holds the claim to being the highest national road in Japan, with the top at 2172m. Of course I stopped this time around to take a couple of pictures.

    Unfortunately when I got to the Mt Shirane parking lot, everything was roped off and closed, as the lady in the coffee shop had already mentioned. It actually looked semi-abandoned, so not sure if it’s just seasonally closed, or whether it’s been closed permanently.

    As it was getting on in the day, I simply plotted my way home from there, but then couldn’t help myself, and took the 406 to the 28 in order to have a very late picnic lunch at Lake Haruna. The 28, incidentally, is also a very nice road. Unfortunately by the time I got to the lake it had started to rain, so I quickly ate my sandwich under the shelter of a tree, zipped my waterproofs into my bike gear, and then headed off to the highway back to Tokyo.

    The ride back was pretty smooth, a couple of slow-downs due to traffic, but overall pretty rapid progress with a final blast around the Tokyo expressways. Even though it was all highways it was still not a bad way to round off the weekend; at least no fighting through stop-and-start traffic for hours on end as I have had to do in the past.

    What an awesome weekend!

  • DZT Does Malapascua – 2024 Edition

    Around the start of May is a Japanese phenomenon where 4 or 5 public holidays are almost back to back. Some companies close the office for the entire week, giving their employees a full week off work, hence the name Golden Week.

    DiveZone Tokyo takes advantage of this and usually organises an overseas diving holiday during this time. This year, the destination was Malapascua, a small island in the Philippines.

    Getting There

    Most of the people attending were on the same Cebu Pacific flight fairly early on Saturday morning. For me, this meant dragging my suitcases to my local train station (20 min walk) and then a couple of train swaps to get to Narita airport on time. A little bit later in the day I could have had the convenience of local buses..

    Everybody met up at the airport and then it was a 5-ish hour flight to Cebu, the capital of the Philippines. I managed to again “smuggle” my Triton rebreather onboard as a second piece of hand-luggage; theoretically only a single piece of carry-on is allowed, but there’s no way I’m checking the Triton into the hold..

    At Cebu, Ben was already waiting for us at the airport with the shuttle buses, which would take us for the 4-ish hour drive up the island to meet the ferry (actually, the boat from the dive-shop) which would then take us to Malapascua itself. The drive was “interesting”, with the drivers certainly making progress despite single-lane roads and at times quite heavy traffic. As we had a very tight schedule, Ben had thoughtfully arranged sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for the drive.

    Thanks to the rather spirited driving, we did make it to the boat before dark which was the important thing! A beautiful sunset crossing over to Malapascua put us into our holiday mood 🙂

    Settling In

    We stayed at Evolution Divers again, which is the only tech-friendly dive shop on Malapascua. As DZT had been there a few times before already we were well acquainted with the shop and the procedures, and quite a few of the staff remembered us from the last time we were there, 5 years or so ago before Covid.

    The resort is right on the beach set amongst trees and with all the amenities one needs for a week of diving and relaxing; tech-gas mixes, rinsing tanks, restaurant and bar, and plenty of outdoor spaces to just chill and soak in the atmosphere. I had a deluxe room all to myself, which was just as well as it gave me plenty of space to sort out my rebreather.

    Since our first dive was going to be very early the next morning, everybody got busy sorting out their dive gear; for some of us diving rebreathers, this was going to take a bit longer.. but we managed to get everything sorted and, after a welcome drink, headed off to bed excited about the upcoming diving!

    The Diving

    The highlight of the dive trip were the thresher sharks. These are generally a deep-water species, and despite having a large range are rarely seen in shallower waters. Malapascua is unique in that it is pretty much guaranteed to see these sharks early in the morning as they come up to the shallows after a night of hunting. They do so to get cleaned up at cleaning stations, where they have a symbiotic relationship with various types of fish which nibble parasites and debris from the sharks’ skin and even teeth! Brave fish..

    For us, this unfortunately meant setting our alarms at 4am or so every morning in order to get our dive briefings, make sure our gear is in order, and then head off to the dive site which is about half an hour or so away from Malapascua. The last time we were there, the thresher sharks were primarily found around Monad Shoal, but, due to the presence of some tiger sharks, are mainly around Kimud Shoal now which is a bit further out.

    Over the course of the week we had many opportunities to view these beautiful creatures! The last time I was there I was with the “bubble makers”, watching the sharks from afar, and being somewhat envious of Ben getting much closer with his Triton. This time around I was part of the CCR group and had some really amazing close encounters.

    Apart from the thresher sharks we had many other dives through the week, mostly on walls and reefs with the amazing diversity of undersea life which is on offer in this part of the world. Highlights included various kinds of rays, seahorses, a huge variety of corals and other sedentary organisms, tiger sharks, reef sharks, a peacock mantis shrimp (very proud to have spotted that one!), octopus, and more.

    Apart from sealife there was also a variety of caverns and swim-throughs, and, for the CCR divers, the wreck of the Mogami Maru, a converted cargo ship for use by the japanese navy during WW2, now lying in 52m of water. This wreck was discovered by the owner of Evolution Divers, Matt, who explored it and its history, and also recovered some artifacts from the wreck. Unfortunately it is starting to show signs of collapse now.

    Enjoying the Holidays

    So between the diving and the between-dive relaxation there was not much time left. Besides, Malapascua is a fairly small island with not a lot of sight-seeing available.

    We mostly had dinners at Evolution, but spend a couple of nights exploring some of the other nearby venues for a bit of a change of fare – after a few days the Evolution menu does become a little repetitive.

    One evening we had a roasted piglet beach bbq dinner. This is a local delicacy and when the option was mooted, everybody immediately jumped at the chance. The roast piglet was, unfortuntately roasted elsewhere and then brought to Evolution instead of being roasted on the beach, but it was absolutely delicious along with a couple of local side-dishes.

    We also had two island trips, one to Kalanggaman Island, and one to Capitancillo Island. At Kalanggaman everybody had the opportunity to also explore the island, as well as a couple of dives on the local reef. At Capitancillo, the CCR divers unfortunately missed out on the island visit itself as our dive took up most of our intended time in the area.

    On the last day I went for a bit of a hike around the island. My aim was the lighthouse on the northern side of the island, but I very nearly walked around all of Malapascua! The beaches are mostly given over to the dive shops and resorts, and the nearly 7000 inhabitants live mainly inland. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of rubbish about once you get out of the tourist areas. For what it’s worth, the lighthouse wasn’t really worth the walk, but it was interesting to see more than the resorts nevertheless. On the way back I went past the pier and “downtown” where there were some markets and quite a large town, a part of Malapascua I hadn’t seen the last time I was there.

    Back to Toyko

    All too soon it was time to pack up our gear for the final time and head back to Tokyo. Good-byes were said to the Evolution staff and then we took the boat back to the main island. The crossing was again around sunset, a very beautiful way to end our time on Malapascua.

    As we were less people we only had two cars this time, and, without the time-pressure, the driving was a (little) bit more relaxed. We even stopped on the way at a Jollibee for dinner, which is the KFC-equivalent in the Philippines, although they have more options than just fried chicken.

    A few people had a hotel as their flight was later the next day, but most of us went straight to the airport for our 2am (!) red-eye flight back to Tokyo. I again managed to get my Triton on the plane as carry-on along with my backpack full of batteries and electronics, and, despite the very uncomfortable seat (couldn’t be reclined at all), I got a few hours of sleep before arriving at Tokyo. As it was later in the day I was able to catch buses back home instead of having to take the train.

    Overall a fantastic week away! Just wish it was 2… lol

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  • Motorbike weekend with Wilson


    Tokyo to Kawaguchiko via Route 56.

    Taking a half-day Friday, a friend of mine and I planned a quick trip to the Fuji Lakes area as he needed to be back on Saturday evening.

    We left Tokyo separately and met up at a restaurant in Sagamiko as it’s quite picturesque near a lake, at the end of the highway, and the start of the more scenic roads leading west. I left the highway a little bit earlier to take in a short twisty section and, of course, immediately took a wrong turn after a rather convoluted exit ramp and had to backtrack through a long tunnel. And then, of course, got stuck behind a car during the twisty bit.

    After lunch we headed off towards Yamanakako taking a small road to Route 56 which we then followed all the way to the lake. On the way we had a quick fuel-stop in Doshi but otherwise just enjoyed the ride. I wanted to check out Nijinomotsu bridge, so from Yamanako we headed up a small road. After a mile or so it got covered in debris and small rocks, and Wilson didn’t want to go on with his street bike, so he turned around to find somewhere to wait for me.

    I kept going and after another corner, the road turned into a dirt/rock track. Unfazed I started up it, but after two hairpins and the incline getting ever steeper I decided that this was probably not a good idea.. and anyway, after glancing down at my GPS I realised I wasn’t even on the road anymore! Doh! So turning back and finding the right road, I headed up it. No debris and tarmac. However, after a couple of miles, it was blocked off, presumably due to a landslide or something. Bugger!

    After messaging Wilson that I was on my way back and texting him the location of a parking lot to meet up, I turned around. When I got to the parking lot I had a message from Wilson that he was waiting at a McDonald’s a few miles away. Battling the rush-hour traffic, I eventually got there and enjoyed a chocolate shake for my efforts, yum!

    From there it wasn’t far to our final destination, a hotel in Kawaguchiko, which we found after an accidental detour over the bridge. Following check-in we wandered off to find dinner and ended up in a chinese restaurant. Well, that was a bit different! The crispy-duck pancakes came with four pre-cut pieces of duck and a tiny bit of hoi-sin sauce, and the sweet-and-sour pork was what seemed to be soy sauce.. Finally back at the hotel we enjoyed a nice hot sentan (unfortunately no onsen) before rolling into our futons for a deep sleep.


    Kawaguchiko to Utsubuna for lunch; around the Fuji lakes, scenic forest roads, and some fast curvy stretches.

    We got up around 7am, geared up, dropped the key into the check-out basket, and headed off. First stop was a service station on the other side of the lake for Wilson to feed his hungry steed, while I wandered across to a 7-11 to feed myself. Wilson’s not a big breakfast person, but I do like my cup of coffee in the mornings!

    From there we followed the road around the lake, then looped around Lake Saiko, Lake Shouji, and Lake Motosu before heading along Route 300, a fantastic curvy stretch. Nearly at Fuji River we peeled off onto the 413 which is a small road leading through forests. There was a bit of debris on the road, so we took it nice and slow until we got to the top where there was a nice look-out. We stopped for a couple of pictures, and a guy arrived from the other direction on a Postie Bike. He said his other bike was a GS, and also mentioned that there was more debris on the road from the direction he had come from.

    We continued on and it was actually not as bad as what we had already done, but when we got to an intersection Wilson said he’d had enough of the tiny road and wanted to get back on something more decent. Unfortunately the road leading back to the main road, while starting off nice and wide and clean, quickly turned very narrow, very bumpy, and very mossy, so slowly, slowly.. nevertheless we made it back without mishap and then proceeded to follow Route 9 beside Fuji River.

    We stopped in Utsubuna for lunch in a small restaurant beside the road. Although we had both initially wanted Tempura we opted for soba bowls instead, and they were very delicious. After lunch Wilson and I split up – Wilson was wanting to head back to Tokyo, and I was wanting to check out a small road leading to Tenshi Lake.

    Utsubuna to Shirakaba Lake via dirt roads, Shizuoka, and the fantastic 152; long dash to the hotel at night.

    The road to Tenshi Lake, rather predictably by now, got narrower, covered in debris, and eventually turned into a rocky track leading deeper into the forest. Less daunted, I kept going and it was quite a nice ride, I even saw a deer grazing beside the road. Eventually the track turned less rocky and more gravelly, but developed a centre grassy hump which was a bit tricky to negotiate at times. Still, I made it through without mishap and had a good time of it!

    From there I had wanted to ride Route 152 further west, but to get there required riding through quite a bit of town and major roads, which were full of cars and people. I miss the quiet countryside already! After slogging my way through Shizuoka I turned off on Route 362 which was much nicer. I also wanted to take Route 32, but this turned out to be closed a few miles in, so I had to backtrack. Still, 362 was mostly ok for traffic and most cars let me past.

    I eventually reached 152 and, after passing the detour in Isuka due to a landslide I had managed to get past all the cars and could really enjoy the road leading up the Funagira Dam Lake. This was a well-paved road with great sweeping corners, fantastic to ride. Eventually though, as seems to always be the case here, the road turned into a single-lane narrow road through the forest. My aim was to get over the Bungui-toge Pass, but this was thwarted…

    After reaching the Hodono Castle Ruins (which I actually didn’t see as I didn’t realise I was there at the time – I was running a bit behind schedule to reach my hotel for the night at this stage…) I ended up taking a wrong turn through a long tunnel.. which I then had to backtrack. The 152 was closed here, but there was a smaller road which should detour around and meet up again with the 152 later. Except, after a few miles, yep, you guessed it, it was also closed!

    Checking for alternatives I realised there really was nothing.. and by now I was _really_ behind schedule. I had originally wanted to get a place somewhere in this area, but they were all booked out, and I accidentally ended up booking something near Nagano, which was still a couple of hours away.. so I just told the GPS to route me to the hotel, fastest route, and gave up on going over the Pass. Funny story: the new route took me through the tunnel I had taken a “wrong turn” through an hour earlier…

    Here followed a mad dash to the hotel. I should have spent a bit more time trying to plan the route instead of trusting the GPS as, instead of routing me over highways, it took me via Route 152 and other quite small roads. During daytime this would probably have been really nice and picturesque, but as it was getting dark, the highway would have been a lot more comfortable. Still, I got to try out the auxiliary lights on the bike after dark and damn, are they impressive! I was still able to make quite good progress even on small twisty roads through the forest. I’m really glad I reprogrammed them to be dimmer before setting off as otherwise they would have been blinding to oncoming traffic even on low-beam.

    I eventually reached my destination, the “Petit Hotel Kurumi No Milk” without mishap, despite having to stop to let a few deer cross the road on the very last stretch. As it was already nearly 9pm by now there was no point trying to head out to find dinner as the closest places would be a 15 minute ride away or so. Unfortunately I lucked out again and the place had neither an onsen nor a sentan – and after my epic ride (over 500km, mostly over small roads) I was a bit beat. So I folded myself into the ofuro and soaked before collapsing in bed. Still, it’s a nice enough place and, as it turned out, was on the Venus Line, which is one of the best roads in Japan for motorcycling!


    “Petit Hotel Kurumi no Milk” to Tokyo; via the last bit of the Venus Line, various other small roads; 2 caves, and a rather horrid last stretch back to Tokyo..

    I left quite early again as the hotel didn’t have breakfast – I really need to start booking through Jalan again as the places it has usually have breakfast options! A very nice trundle along the last bit of the Venus line followed, in very comfortable 18C at this altitude. After various great mountain roads I stopped for breakfast at a kombini – not my favourite, but it was too early for anywhere else to be open, and I needed coffee!

    I was mostly just moseying back towards Tokyo, but realised that I was well and truly too early as I had originally expected to be starting at least 100km further back and was wanting to check out the “Median Tectonic Line Museum” in Oshika this morning. In retrospect I could have had a great blast up the Venus Line and had breakfast at the top.. oh well.

    Instead I did a sudden U-Turn when I saw a sign for Fujido Cave and headed up the side-road to that. I already got a sneaking suspicion on my way up the access road, which was confirmed when I reached the top – I had already been here! Well, no point going in the cave again, so I traipsed across the Ueno Suspension Bridge in search of ice-cream. Unfortunately it was still too early for that, so I traipsed back and got an ice-cream out of the Cave shop freezer instead. The view was nicer on this side anyway.

    From here I did a big loop through a small forest road just for fun, and then tagged another cave as my next destination. The ride to Hashidate Limestone Cave was mostly along Route 299 and overall great, although the last bit through Ogano was a bit painful with traffic. FWIW, Hashidate Cave isn’t worth it as a specific destination.. it’s quite small and there’s barely any indication of stalactites or stalagmites. It’s also a bit of a scramble to go through, so only recommended if you’re reasonably fit and flexible. It does seem to be quite a popular tourist destination though with a big eatery and other touristy stuff. The only hint is to drive up to it instead of parking at the top carpark.

    I tried to keep going up the road past the cave to get to Arima Dam, but, yep, it was closed maybe 10 miles later.. so back I went and had to take quite a long detour to get there, some of it through busy towns. I made it eventually and discovered it’s a hot-spot for bikers! Lots of bikes parked up on the dam wall with people lounging about.

    From here there was really nothing else except back to Tokyo. I tried to take a smaller road for a bit but, again, closed, so again, backtracking.. the main road leading down into Hanno got busier and busier, and, coming out of the mountains and onto the Kanto plain, the temperature soared to 30C+. I was getting quite hot in my gear, and the neverending lines of cars did not help. After various attempts to reroute myself off the busy main roads I eventually got onto the highway back to Tokyo.

    Unlike the south, there were no major hold-ups and apart from not taking an exit when I should have (the GPS and road signs disagreed with each other; the GPS turned out to be correct..) it was a mostly reasonable ride back. Still, I was more than happy to finally get home and have a shower!

    What a fantastic weekend 🙂 Looking forward to the next ride.. although I definitely need to invest in some summer riding clothes!


    (Click on a picture to go to the album..)

  • Autumn colours in Nikko

    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.

  • Bike Trip 2021 – Day 2

    The day dawned drizzly. Heavy drizzly. Ok, rainy! The river had swelled and was now a muddy brown pouring down the valley. I had some left-over bread for breakfast, settled with the owner, and put on my wet weather gear.

    I had initially thought to just head towards Matsumoto which was predicted to be sunny as quickly as possible, but ended up heading up into the mountains for a loop of the upstream reservoir instead. Glad I did as there were some pretty impressive bridges, and views from them, leading up to it. Just for a change the “loop road” was not closed so I could do the loop, although the minor road was quite minor…

    Heading out of the mountains the rain soon stopped and I rejoined the 299 to continue on to Matsumoto. The 299 now had a very varied character, from absolutely stunning road with fast sweeping bends and great asphalt to just a small country road.  At one point I saw a sign to a cave and, a quick u-turn later, headed up a very steep little access road to it.

    Fujido Cave turned out to be a mixed bag. The Japanese fondness of concrete and infrastructure took a lot of the character out of the cave, but I guess they have to make it accessible. Still, it’s worth a quick visit if you’re passing by with some neat rock formations. There’s also an impressive suspension bridge nearby, not recommended if you get vertigo!

    Continuing on, the 299 eventually became very small and then stopped – it was blocked off as so many other roads were. A couple of people in a small pickup truck gave me directions on how to continue on to Matsumoto, which turned out to be along the 45 until I could continue westwards on the 254. This road was also pretty nice in places. Along the way I stopped at a rest stop for some lunch and ended up buying some deer obento from a guy selling it out of the back of a “Ente”, a Citroen 2CV.

    Some great riding later I finally reached Mastumoto, detoured past the castle for a quick first look, and checked into the Backpackers run by a very friendly chap from Ireland. Time to do some shopping for some essentials (soap, shaver, towel), a quick freshen-up, and then I wandered in search of dinner. I ate some yakitori as it had outdoor seating and enjoyed my first beers with dinner in a long time – unlike Tokyo, Matsumoto still allows alcohol! Then I took some great night-time pictures of Mastumoto castle before turning in for the night.

  • Bike Trip 2021 – Day 1

    So feeling a bit down due to the incoming weather forecasts, I waved bye to my friend Edith, who was off to Okinawa for the week and had kindly offered to lend me her bike, a KTM750. I decided to at the very least do a quick loop on the bike around Tokyo before going home. Finding a park near Kanagawa River as my destination, I set off. Despite city-riding and traffic, HUGE SMILE!

    Enroute I found a small shrine and looped back to take a picture of the bike in front of it, then asked for safe riding from the local deity. Just before reaching the park, the heavens opened up and my jeans were soaked through to the balls in no time. So I guess the prayer backfired? I still stopped at the park and sheltered under a tree until the rain slowed and then stopped shortly afterwards.

    Riding back I stopped at a couple of spots to take some pictures and by the time I got back to Edith’s I went “stuff it”, packed a couple of tshirts and a toothbrush, found a cheap hotel somewhere in the mountains, and headed off.

    Best decision ever! Weather stayed dry and even though most of the trip was along city roads, which did eventually get wearisome, I was still very happy to be on the road on a bike again. Just bliss not having to think, just ride. At one stage I went over some hills with giant TV antennae which seemed to be a bit of a built-up version of Mt Cootha back in Brisbane. Unfortunately I was past it before I could think to find a spot to stop to take a pic.

    Eventually though the city roads petered out and things got awesome as I slowly climbed into the mountains. Especially the 299 is a really nice road once you get past any traffic – a bit tricky since it’s all yellow-lines, but there are a few traffic lights.

    With only 20 minutes to go to my destination, and my clutch-hand feeling decidedly sore after all the earlier city riding, I saw a big dam and shortly afterwards a road leading up to it, so off I went. Pretty spectacular! I was going to do a complete loop of the reservoir, but it turned out that the road on one side of it is blocked off for some reason. Still an awesomely scenic spot.

    I kept going and found my hotel – a very traditional-looking japanese inn nestled high above the road. Upon entering the first thing is a common room with a wood-fired stove, rather rustic looking. The owner is a youngish-chap though (I was expecting a fossil to be honest) with two young girls and made me welcome. We managed to communicate and I got shown to my room. After that I sat down for a bit to relax, then hiked down to the river and had a swim. Great, now not only are my jeans still damp, but my only pair of shorts is wet as well… but it was worth it!

    By the evening other guests had arrived and we enjoyed a small fire outside while chatting and eating dinner – home-cooked chicken which was very delicious. When the rain came back we all went into the common room where one guy kindly shared some sake and, later on, some food. Despite my lack of japanese it was an enjoyable evening.

    Time for bed, going to try to go to Matsumoto tomorrow to have a look at the famous black castle!

  • New Scuba Toy – Shearwater Peregrine

    Just bought a Shearwater Peregrine as a backup for my Shearwater Perdix AI (budget didn’t quite stretch to a second Perdix..)

    Haven’t dived it yet, but following are my immediate unboxing impressions (pictures (via Google image search)).

    The good:

    • Familiar layout and the same great screen as the Perdix.
    • Smaller and lighter form factor than the Perdix.
    • Mostly full-featured recreational dive computer with some intro-to-tec features.
      • No AI/compass
      • Up to 100% O2 and 3 gases
      • Lots of “tec” displays
    • Built-in battery charging is via the Qi wireless standard, so absolutely no exposed contacts.
      • But due to wrist-straps/bungees it may be difficult to use generic Qi charging pads.
    • Dive download via Bluetooth (hopefully works better than the Perdix!)

    The bad:

    • Buttons are physical rather than the piezo-electric ones from the Perdix (subjective).
    • Battery is a built-in rechargeable battery (subjective).
    • Limited display customisation (as compared to the Perdix).
    • Screen protector is a standard thin protector rather than the thick gel-like one of the Perdix.

    The ugly:

    • The charging pad uses a micro-USB cable rather than USB-C (for a brand-new product, I would expect it to use the latest standards)
    • Still fairly large (although required to support the screen, the bezel _could_ be a bit smaller given the target market)
    • No compass or Air Integration (for the price-point, many competing products offer these features)