Cycling the Wakayama 800

As we loved cycling one of the world’s best cycling paths across the Seto Inland Sea, called Shimanami Kaido, we were eager to try out another route promoted to cyclists called “Wakayama 800” during a week-long trip this autumn. The route we chose was a mix of mountainside and seaside with some challenging climbs and breathtaking views to make them worth it. We covered about 400 km of the total route and you can check out all the official cycling routes here if you’re up for your own cycling challenge!

Shirahama’s iconic landmark at dusk

Wakayama City to Hashimoto City

Guess what the capital of Wakayama Prefecture is called? Wakayama! It proved to be a great starting point as you can easily get there by shinkansen to Osaka and then a quick local train from there. We arrived in Wakayama City in the evening with our bikes and three bags on them each, checked out the local craft beer scene and had a good night’s rest at the Dormy Inn.

The next day we cycled about 60 km along the Kinokawa river to Hashimoto City which was completely flat and there were dedicated cycle paths that we didn’t have to share with cars! This cycle path is called the “Kinokawa Cycle Road” and in hindsight, this was the easiest cycling day and the only one where we didn’t have to cycle on main roads.

Check out our first day of cycling the Wakayama 800!

Just as the sun was setting, we stopped at one of the pilgrim temples called Jison-in in Hashimoto’s outskirts, which Wakayama is probably most famous for.

A Temple Stay on the Holy Mountain Koya

Sometimes in life you just have to face a new challenge and cycle up a mountain! With over 1,200 years history, I felt drawn to visiting Mount Koya and learning more about Kobo Daishi, one of the most important figures in Japanese history. (Please google him, it’s totally worth it!)

It was freezing cold on Mount Koya, but we felt warm and safe tucked in on the futons!

Following the World Heritage Cycling Route, we cycled a bit over 30 km with a 900 m climb up the mountain. Despite the painful steepness, it was very peaceful apart from the top of the mountain which was suddenly crowded with tour buses and cars. We deserved our rest at the temple that night, preceded by an interesting cemetery night tour led by one of the monks.

How hard is it to cycle up Mount Koya? Find out in this video!

Aragi-jima Rice Terraces

After joining the Buddhist monks’ morning fire ritual, we set off on our bikes again to roll down the mountain… which was actually harder than we thought as we still had to climb up quite a bit along the way! The best thing about the ride was that the whole way down we only saw two cars and had the whole main road to ourselves.

Aragi-jima Rice Terraces – one of the top 100 rice terrace views in Japan

When we finally made it to the stunning Aragi-jima Rice Terraces, we were not just rewarded with picturesque views, but also a completely empty hotel, enjoying the onsen and set dinner as the only guests. I always had in the back of my mind that once we’re down Mt Koya, the rest of the trip will be easy… but I was wrong! What followed were a few days of adventurous cycles.

A Remote Craft Beer Brewery, Mikan Fields & Cycling in the Dark

As we followed the “Aridagawa Course“, we started the day with enjoying being in nature, the countryside and the mountains, exploring cool bridges and scenic river cycles. Once we’d done the first 30 km and arrived in Arida town, we took it easy and visited a remote craft beer brewery, called Nomcraft, in the mikan fields, which we had been invited to by someone we met in Wakayama City on our first night. The guys gave us a tour of the brewery, explaining the process and giving us some unreleased stout for takeaway! We had a blast.

View from one of the many mountains we had to climb that day

At that point in time, I wasn’t aware that the route we still had ahead of us was over 20 km longer than Google Maps had promised, it would be dark, windy and hilly. It was tough. We struggled. Especially when we cycled on rough mountain paths to avoid going through a tunnel (which we should have just done in hindsight) and sometimes the road was so dark that all we saw were some dark rock outlines on the sea. After about 90 km and 3,500 burned calories, we finally arrived at the guesthouse we booked for the night, and the host welcomed us with an abundance of food and friendliness. Japanese people are just outstanding hosts!

Us and the lovely host who cooked a big meal for us!

2 Nights in Shirahama – White Sand Paradise

The thing I was secretly looking forward to the most since booking our bikepacking trip, was a two day rest at the Marriott hotel in Shirahama. Staying in a spacious room overlooking the ocean was a little more than we usually pay, but I thought it would be a huge incentive to make it to Shirahama, and I was right! Shirahama did everything it promised. The white sand beach was stunning, the atmosphere really laid back, many cool bars and restaurants and the coastal route is so scenic, we probably spent two hours around sunset time to take hundred of photos along the shore.

Engetsu Island – I think it looks even more breathtaking in real life.

The cycle along the sea south to Shirahama was about 50 km and is not really worth mentioning, as it was just along a busy main road. We’d recommend avoiding it! A cool stop we made was at a small train station with local art and a piano where he spontaneously gave a live performance, much to the joy of the station master who came over for a chat afterwards.

Inami Station

Last Stop Kushimoto: The Southernmost Point of Honshu

Our final day of cycling didn’t disappoint. All the way down from Shirahama to Kushimoto on the “Pacific Cycling Road” were stunning rocky cliffs and turquoise coves. It felt like we were cycling to the ends of the earth, which it is in a sense – the southernmost extremities of Honshu. Though some stretches of the route followed main roads, the views compensated for this and there were also some short stretches of designated cycle paths that took us through dense forest and coastal paths. Our 80 km route took us most of the day and into mid evening – no long climbs but sharp ups and downs and sunny blue skies for the duration of the journey.

To sum up our Wakayama 800 cycling trip, we would definitely recommend it to experienced cyclists who don’t mind mountainous roads, are up for a challenge and love seeing the ocean and nature. Wakayama prefecture is not as well known and touristy as other parts of Japan and there are many scenic places to explore! (In fact, some of our colleagues who’ve lived in Japan for over 20 years weren’t sure where Wakayama is located.) If you’re looking for just a one or two day trip, you can take the train to Wakayama, rent bikes at most places and then just follow one route depending on what interests you the most.

A word of caution for when you go on a bikepacking trip in Wakayama

  • Google Maps never tells you the right length for cycling. Always add on 10-20 km to the route to get a more realistic estimate.
  • Make sure you get to your destination well before sunset, as many paths (even main roads) are not well lit and can include mountainous dirt paths and super windy seaside paths.
  • The coastal road between Gobo and Shirahama is just along busy main roads, we’d recommend to skip it!
  • Cycle up Mount Koya on a week day, as otherwise it might be very crowded with cars and buses. Also check the temperatures for up there in advance and pack accordingly.

What has been your favourite bike trip in Japan? Have you heard of Wakayama before?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s