- Follow in the footsteps of former emperors and over 1000 years of history on one of the world’s great historical trails
- Self-guided trip allows you to set your own pace while we look after your accommodation and luggage transfers
- Enjoy delicious handmade Japanese food, made with fresh local ingredients
- Stay in traditional guesthouses with lots of character and friendly hosts
- Soak in an onsen to soothe your muscles (and spirit!) after a day of walking
- Self-guided trips can start on a day of your choosing and itineraries can be adapted to suit your travel plans and wishes
The Kumano Kodo is a journey through a thousand years of Buddhist history and offers a window into traditional Japan that contrasts strongly with its hyper-modern cities. The Kumano Kodo’s rugged, forested mountains, quiet rural valleys, rivers and waterfalls provide a spectacular backdrop for hikers. The seasonal contrasts of cherry blossom in the spring and rich autumn foliage inject wonderful colour along the hiking route. Arriving at your destination each day the traditional local guesthouses offer reviving onsens and wonderful local food. Hiking the Kumano Kodo really is a great immersion into Japanese culture.
This itinerary is perfect for those who wish to explore the beautiful Kumano region combining walking with other activities and explorations. Walk from Takijiri-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha over 2 days, explore the beautiful Hongu region, take a traditional boat ride down to Shingu before finishing up in the coastal fishing village of Kii-Katsuura.
Extend Your Holiday – City Breaks
Day 1: Arrive in Kii-Tanabe
The best way to reach Kii-Tanabe is by train (tickets not included and can be purchased locally). There are frequent trains from Kansai Airport, Osaka and Kyoto travelling southwards to Kii-Tanabe. Here the railway line parallels the coast and avoids the steep mountainous interior. The nearest major International Airport is Kansai (Osaka), from where you can take a 2 hour train journey to Kii-Tanabe. Train travel from Osaka to Kii-Tanabe takes just over 2 hours and from Kyoto approximately 2.5-3 hours.
Kii-Tanabe is the gateway town to the Imperial Route of the Kumano Kodo and a city surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other. The town is also home to the Tanabe Tourist Information Center – your tour orientation will be scheduled with the staff here. This evening is free for you to explore the town – enjoy great atmosphere at the Ajikoji Restaurant and Entertainment District, and perhaps stroll down to the Ogigahama Beach for sunset views.
Day 2: Walk Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji (17km)
It is an early morning start today and after checking out and picking up your lunch box, you will take a 40-minute bus ride to Takijiri (paid locally), start of the walk. The first section of today’s walk will be a climb up from Takijiri-oji to Takahara, a rural hamlet on a ridge, noted for its ancient shrine surrounded by giant kusu-noki, or camphor trees, and a spectacular view over the surrounding Hatenashi mountain ranges. Reminders of the past, including Buddhist statues and oji shrines, line the route along the ancient highway as you climb upwards.
Leaving Takahara behind, you head further into the mountains along the old trail, past bamboo forest and then into the pencil pine. You continue to pass by reminders of the old highway, including an ichirizuka distance marker and the sites of old former tea houses, which provided rest and shelter to pilgrims up until the early 20th century. Continuing on you crest the Hashiori-Toge pass after a short climb. The trail then descends past the Three-Fold Moon viewing area from where it is a short climb to the small but famous Gyuba-doji statue. This ancient statue shows Kazan, one of the first abdicated emperors to pilgrimage to Kumano, sitting astride both a horse and a cow. Your descent takes you along a cobbled path and staircase to Chikatsuyu, a small village and one of the few places where you can get limited supplies or drinks.
Your final stretch of the day takes you on a climb to Tsugizakura-oji and your accommodation for the evening. Nearby is a grove of giant cedar trees, some of which are reputed to be 800 years old! Accommodation tonight is in a small local minshuku guest house. If Tsugizakura accommodation is full on your chosen dates or if you are travelling with a larger group, you may stay in Chikatsuyu instead on this night.
6-8 hours walking
Meals: L D
Day 3: Walk Tsugizakura-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha (21.5km)
Today’s walk will bring you along many forest paths and eventually some mountain top villages before descending to Hongu. The walks starts with climbs over a number of passes and currently there is a detour in place due to landslides on the main path. There are few facilities on the first part of today’s route which is through the forest before eventually leading you to the shrine at Hosshinmon-oji. At this point you also have the option to take a local bus (paid locally) as the road intersects here, or carry on down into the valley to Hongu. You will continue through small settlements and get your first glimpse of the great Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine and the giant torii gate called Oyunohara in the valley below.
Kumano Hongu Taisha is the main shrine in the area, to which all roads in the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage lead. A long stone staircase leads to the sacred grounds of the shrine, located on a ridge and surrounded by giant cedar and cypress trees. After looking around the impressive shrine you will jump on a local bus (paid locally) to our evening destination at nearby Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen, charming little hot spring villages.
Arriving at your overnight location is a treat for tired walkers as the steam billows from the thermal rivers and there is the promise of a relaxing onsen after your exertions. The onsen thermal hot spring baths are an important part of the Kumano Kodo traditions with pilgrims performing hot water purification rituals in preparation for visiting the shrine. For us it will be more a preparation for a delicious Japanese meal in your accommodation.
9 hours walking
Meals: B L D
Day 4: Rest Day in Hongu Area
Today you can either completely relax and take in the local onsens or perhaps return to Hongu village for further explorations. If you wish to stretch your legs a little then walk back to Hongu on the Dainichi-goe route from Yunomine Onsen – this is a steep but delightful walk, passing some remarkable old carved statues at Hanakake Jizo, overgrown by tree roots.
Hongu village is home to the Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the Kumano Sanzan, three grand shrines of Kumano, and head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. Kumano was said to be the entrance gateway to the land of Yomi, the ‘other world’, which spirits travelled to in Japanese mythology. Across the Kumano Hongu Shrine is the Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre, featuring a diversity of exhibitions on the Kumano Kodo – all permanent exhibitions and videos include English translations. Just nearby the centre you will find Oyunohara, the largest torii shrine gate in the world at 34 meters tall, signifying the division of the secular and the spiritual worlds.
Be sure to also visit the tiny Tsuboyu onsen in a wooden cabin at the centre of town in Yunomine Onsen, which is the only UNESCO world heritage listed spa and the oldest in Japan at 1200 years old! The bath can be booked for a 30-minute private bathing and works on a first come first serve basis.
Meals: B D
Day 5: Traditional Boat Ride Hongu area to Shingu, Overnight Kii-Katsuura
After a short bus ride (paid locally) to reach the Kawabune Boat Tour Centre, embark on a traditional boat ride down the Kumano-gawa River. For over 1000 years pilgrims have been making the journey to Kumano and the Kumano-gawa River has been a vital section of the pilgrimage route between Kumano Hongu Taisha in Hongu and Kumano Hayatama Taisha in Shingu. You will journey in a traditional wooden flat-bottom boat as pilgrims have been doing for centuries.
The boat tour finishes in Shingu, close to the Kumano Hayatama Shrine, one of the sacred Grand Shrines of the Kumano region. Although the shrine buildings were rebuilt recently, the Hayatama Taisha has occupied the same location since at least the 12th century and the area has been a site of nature worship for much longer. In fact, the nature in and around the shrine is an integral part of this Grand Shrine’s precincts and annual rituals. The ancient 800-year-old Nagi-no-Ki tree highlights the area’s deep tradition of nature worship and is considered a sacred tree of God. Small dolls made from the seeds of this tree are believed to generate luck with the opposite sex or a happily married life to couples. We also recommend visiting the nearby Gotobiki-iwa, a gigantic rock worshipped as a sacred object and located halfway up Gongen Mountain. Is it believed that it was here that the first Kumano deities descended to earth from the heavens. At the base of this monolith is the Kamikura-jinja shrine.
After looking around Shingu, you will catch a bus to Kii-Katsuura (paid locally), your overnight location. If you have the energy, this afternoon you can visit the nearby village of Nachisan and the last one of the Grand Shrines, Kumano Nachi Taisha. In Nachisan you will also find the stunning Buddhist temple Seiganto-ji and behind the temple you can see the Nachi-no-otaki fall, which is the tallest in Japan at 133 meters high.
Meals: B D
Day 6: Depart Kii-Katsuura
Today enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then transfer by train to your onwards destination. Train tickets are not included and can be purchased locally at the Kii-Katsuura train station.
Important Note: The Kumano Kodo is a popular walk at certain times of year and guesthouses/hotels sometimes get fully booked. This itinerary is a guide to a possible route. Details may change and the actual accommodations booked may vary from what is written here, dependent on client numbers, wishes and availability. This adjustment with accommodations may alter the exact distance walked in a day so the above itinerary should be used as an indication only to overnight stops/distances.
Self-guided trips offer flexibility, independence and choice. Set your own agenda while someone else worries about the logistics. Our self-guided walking holidays are fully flexible which means you can normally start your walk on any day during the season and customise by adding extra days for resting or sightseeing. As you’re walking independently, you’re free to follow the trail at your own pace. You set your own speed as you are not limited by the constraints of group travel.
Note that if booking for a start date of less than 30 days from the time of booking we cannot guarantee that your trip is possible unless you have contacted us first and your trip details have been confirmed.
- 1 night in Kii-Tanabe (twin share, ensuite)
- 3 nights in traditional Japanese guesthouses (twin share, shared bathroom)
- 1 night in Kii-Katsuura (guesthouse, twin share – can be upgraded to a seaside resort)
- Traditional boat ride from Hongu area to Shingu
- Daily meals included as listed in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers on the Kumano Kodo on all trekking days and from Hongu area to Kii-Katsuura
- Briefing in Kii-Tanabe at the start of your walk
- Pre-departure pack including track notes, maps and a Japanese phrasebook (1 pack per 2 clients travelling together)
- Local bus tickets
- Train tickets to/from trail
- Flights to/from destination
- Travel insurance
- Single supplement AUD250
- Beverages other than water at meals
- Expenses and items of a personal nature
- Flights, tours, rail passes, other extras/packages
Map & Guide
Kathy & Dimitrie Vicol, ACT – March 2016
We loved everything about this experience on the beautiful, unspoilt Kii Peninsular. The scenery was wonderful, the trails varied and interesting and satisfyingly challenging. The immersion in Japanese culture was authentic and rewarding and our hosts, accomodation and food were simply superb. The support and options provided by RAW Travel were much appreciated as an unfortunate knee injury just prior to our trip meant some modifications to original plans. The self-guided option was the perfect balance for us. We really appreciated the fact that the support was certainly adequate to give us confidence to do what we did but not so organised and complete as to detract from the sense of adventure we felt from being independent and able to negotiate our way around local transport, sights and activities and to explore the things that were of greatest interest to us.
What our Clients Say
We loved everything about this experience. The scenery was wonderful, the trails varied and interesting and satisfyingly challenging. The immersion in Japanese culture was authentic and rewarding and our hosts, accomodation and food were superb.
Kathy & Dimitrie Vicol, March 2016
There were so many great moments on the Kumano. We loved it! The onsens really helped us relax and recover after the long walks. Thank you very much Leanne and Heini for organising our trip!
Aaron Smyth, October 2016
This trip was challenging, beautiful, rewarding and overall amazing. Leanne and Heini went above and beyond to explain in detail what to expect.
Gillian Godfrey, June 2016
Thank you so much for organising our holiday. We loved it! We really liked the accommodation you booked for us and the meals were unbelievable. The briefing notes really helped us to prepare for what was to come.
Therese, Colin, Megan, Andrew & Colin Jefferson, October 2016
Kumano Kodo Expert
Mark Conyers – Japan
(03) 5976 3763