Experience the beautiful, changing colours of autumn – a highlight for those on the trail | Our popular group, self-guided departures are a great option for those who are travelling solo or enjoy the company and support of other like-minded travellers
- Follow in the footsteps of former emperors and over 1000 years of history on one of the world’s great historical trails
- 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
- Trek in a group of like-minded travellers
This self-guided walking trip combines the freedom and flexibility of a self-guided trek with the support and company of other like-minded travellers. This trip is guaranteed to depart on the dates outlined.
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. 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.
Travelling on your own? No trouble. We will pair you up with another solo traveller of the same gender on a twin share basis.
Extend Your Holiday – City Breaks
Are you a first-time or solo traveller?
We’ll support you all the way! View our preparation and training resources.
Day 1: Arrive in Kii-Tanabe
The best way to reach Kii-Tanabe is by train – there are frequent trains from Kansai Airport, Osaka and Kyoto travelling southwards to Kii-Tanabe (train tickets not included and can be purchased locally). 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 you will be staying in an eco-tourism complex a few kilometres from the town centre. There is time to hire a bike or go for a stroll amidst the orange and ume orchards.
Day 2: Walk Takijiri-oji to Takahara (4km)
After breakfast, you will have some further time to explore the area before your transfer to Takijiri, the starting point of your Kumano Kodo walk. Today’s walk is short in distance but a fairly steep uphill climb up to Takahara, a rural hamlet on a ridge, noted for its ancient shrine 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.
2 hours walking
Meals: B L D
Day 3: Walk Takahara to Nonaka area (13km)
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. 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.
On our October trip you will be staying at a guest house in Tsugizakura and on our November trip your guest house is confirmed in Chikatsuyu – both lovely villages in the Nonaka area.
6-8 hours walking
Meals: B L D
Day 4: Walk Nonaka area 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 walk starts with climbs over a number of passes and 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. You will continue through small settlements and get your first glimpse of the great Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine and the giant torii gate 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 to our evening destination at nearby Kawayu Onsen, a charming little hot spring village.
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. This evening enjoy a delicious Japanese meal in your accommodation.
9 hours walking
Meals: B L D
Day 5: 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 6: Walk Hongu Area to Koguchi (13km)
This morning you will take a short bus ride to Ukegawa to begin your walk. The Kogumotori-goe section is a fairly gentle trek with a climb and descent over a pass, and is mostly in the forested mountains with some nice ridge-walking sections.
The highlight of today’s walk is the Hyakken-gura pass, where a beautifully positioned Buddhist statue on a hilltop has a backdrop of the most spectacular views of the trip. The impressive Hyakken-gura look out surprises walkers with a lovely panoramic view of the 3600 peaks of Kumano. Take a moment to enjoy this stunning view, as pilgrims have been doing for over 1000 years.
The trail continues to rise and fall, sometimes gradual and the off time steeper when you continue towards the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains. The views from the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains down to the valley and across the mountains are impressive. It is said that when the owners of teahouses saw pilgrims approaching from far off in the distance, they would start to cook mochi rice cakes and boil water for tea, to have things ready to serve just as the pilgrims would arrive at the teahouse. From here the trail continues on a forest track and eventually descends into Koguchi, a small and isolated village surrounded by mountains and rivers.
6 hours walking
Meals: B L D
Day 7: Walk Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha (14km)
The Ogumotori-goe is the second day of a two-day trek from the Hongu area to Kumano Nachi Taisha. It is one of the toughest sections of the Nakahechi section and a big day’s walk so we recommend an early start as you begin with a 2.5-hour uphill climb up the Dogiri-zaka slope. Dogiri-zaka can be directly translated as “Body Breaking Slope”, and is an appropriate name for this 5km uphill section that rises 800 metres to the Echizen-toge Pass.
Afterwards, you pass the Jizo-jaya teahouse remains to the Moja-no-Deai, ‘Abode of the Dead’. It is believed that the souls of the dead gravitate to these higher mountains, where spirits inhabit this section of the trail. The walk continues through forest and along ridges, the path ascending and descending, until at Funami Toge pass the Pacific Ocean spreads out before you.
From here the trail descends to the Nachisan sanctuary and the brightly coloured Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, another of the three grand shrines of Kumano. Also nearby is the wonderful wooden Seiganto-ji temple and the spectacular Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall, which is the highest in Japan and can be seen from far out on the Pacific Ocean. Tonight you will overnight in Nachisan near the Kumano Nachi shrine where you can relax and enjoy the completion of your extraordinary Kumano Kodo walk!
7 hours walking
Meals: B L D
Day 8: Depart Kii-Katsuura
This morning you may like to join in the early morning ceremony at the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine before breakfast. If time allows, you may also like to walk the length of the cobblestoned Daimonzaka path, before taking a 20-minute bus ride to Kii-Katsuura to connect to your onward destination. Train tickets are not included and can be purchased locally at the Kii-Katsuura train station.
- 1 night in Kii-Tanabe (twin share, ensuite)
- 4 nights in traditional Japanese guesthouses (twin share, shared bathroom)
- 2 nights in an onsen village in a traditional ryokan (twin share, ensuite)
- Daily meals included as listed in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers on all trekking days
- Transfers to/from accommodation in Kii Tanabe, as per itinerary.
- Briefing in Kii-Tanabe at the start of your walk
- Pre-departure pack including track notes and maps
- Local bus tickets
- Train tickets to/from trail
- Flights to/from destination
- Travel insurance
- Beverages other than water at meals
- Expenses and items of a personal nature
Map & Guide
Patricia Todd, St Carine (WA) – November 2017
Loved the challenge of the trek and ‘the Japanese-ness’ of the total experience. Very well organised, excellent communication.
Aaron Smyth – October 2016
The trip was awesome – thank you RAW Travel! The accommodation and food was great. The highlight of the day were the onsens, which really helped us relax and recover after the long walks – some of those walks are quite arduous. Overall we loved Japan, and particularly Kyoto which has wonderful gardens and we would like to come back and visit the sections of the Kumano that we missed. There were so many great moments, including the attending the 5am morning ceremony with the monks at the ancient Seiganto-ji wooden temple before breakfast.
What our Clients Say
The trip was awesome – thank you RAW Travel! The accommodation and food was great. The highlight of the day were the onsens,
Aaron Smyth – October 2016
Loved the challenge of the trek and 'the Japanese-ness' of the total experience. Very well organised, excellent communication.
Patricia Todd, St Carine (WA) – November 2017
Chris Kavanagh – Team Leader, Japan
(03) 5976 3763
This trip has a difficulty rating of 6-7 out of 10.