Join our group self-guided departure and enjoy the support and company of other like-minded trekkers | This itinerary provides a comprehensive journey along the Kumano Kodo | Hike the full length of the Nakahechi route | Enjoy a day on the challenging Kohechi route | Journey along the Kumano-gawa river in a traditional boat | Stay in a Buddhist monastery in Koyasan
- Follow in the footsteps of former emperors by challenging yourself on one of the world’s great historical trails
- Be guided by RAW Travel’s guidebook to the Kumano Kodo, provided exclusively to our clients
- Trek in the company of other like-minded travellers
- Embark on a spiritual, historical and cultural journey on this ancient pilgrimage route
Combine the freedom and flexibility of a self-guided trek with the support and company of other like-minded travellers. Each day you can chose to walk with others from your group or take it at your own pace for some solitude. This trip is guaranteed to depart on the dates outlined. Travelling on your own? No trouble. We will pair you up with another solo traveller of the same gender on a twin share basis.
This is an extended walk for those who would like to add some more kilometres, views, temples and challenge to their Kumano Kodo experience. The first three days are the same as our regular Kumano Kodo walk but then we journey to the coast and do the last two days in reverse and extend the trip for a day from Kumano Hongu to Totsukawa Onsen. We finish on a high, crossing a 1114m pass (higher than the regular route) and visiting the remote settlement of Totsukawa Onsen. This itinerary enables clients to visit all three shrines of the ‘Kumano Sanzan’: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha. Traditionally, all paths led to Hongu. On this itinerary, you will be walking the sections from Nachisan through to Hongu in the direction that was walked in the past.
The trails of the Kumano Kodo are a series of ancient pilgrimage routes, dating back over 1000 years, in Japan’s beautiful Kii Peninsula, an area also strongly associated with nature worship. At one time Japan’s Imperial family and former emperors made the pilgrimage trips from Kyoto to the shrines of Kumano, one of Japan’s most sacred sites. We also combine the Kumano Kodo with time in Koyasan, home to 115 temples on a venerated Buddhist mountain and a chance to stay in an active Buddhist monastery.
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.
Extend Your Holiday – City Breaks
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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 Chikatsuyu (14km)
It is an early morning start today, and after checking out you will transfer to Takijiri to the 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. This is the location for your accommodation for the evening.
Meals: B L D
Day 3: Walk Chikatsuyu to Kumano Hongu Taisha (25km)
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 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 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 to our evening destination at 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. For you, it will be more a preparation for a delicious Japanese meal in your accommodation.
Meals: B L D
Day 4: Traditional boat ride (Hongu area to Shingu); overnight Nachisan
After a short bus ride 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 Nachi Station and on to Nachisan (paid locally), your overnight location. Visit 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. If time allows you may also like to walk an extra section of the Kumano Kodo trail between Nachisan and Daimon-zaka. The trail is an impressive cobblestone staircase lined with centuries-old trees.
Meals: B D
Day 5: Walk Kumano Nachi Taisha to Koguchi (14km)
Today will be one of your most challenging days as the Ogumotori-goe is the first day of a two-day trek from Kumano Nachi Taisha to the Hongu area. It is one of the toughest sections of the Nakahechi trail as this is where the trail reaches its highest point at over 800m. It’s a big day’s walk so we recommend an early start. The trailhead starts immediately to the right of the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine and you climb upwards passing the Noboritate-jaya teahouse remains. As you approach the Funami-toge pass you have extensive views behind you of the Pacific coastline. Soon you will walk through 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 you come to the Echizen-Toge pass after which the steep descent to Koguchi begins down the Dogiri-zaka slope.
Dogiri-zaka can be directly translated as ‘Body Breaking Slope’, and is an appropriate name for this 5km downhill section that descends 800m from the Echizen-toge Pass. At the bottom you’ll arrive in the tiny hamlet of Koguchi where your accommodation awaits. 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.
Meals: B L D
Day 6: Walk Koguchi to Hongu area (13km)
Today’s walk is over the Kogumotori-goe section; by comparison an easier trek with a climb and descent over a pass, and is mostly in the forested mountains with some nice ridge-walking sections.
The trail starts fairly steeply on the first section steeper when you climb towards the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains and soon after the Sakura pass. The trail then descends and ascends along a ridge until the highlight of today’s walk, the Hyakken-gura pass, where a beautifully positioned Buddhist statue on a hilltop has a backdrop of the most spectacular vista 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 views from the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains down to the valley and across the mountains are impressive. The trail descends gradually on a forest track into the valley of Kumano Hongu Taisha. From here you can catch a bus or continue walking to Kawayu Onsen where your overnight accommodation is located.
Meals: B L D
Day 7: Walk Yakio to Totsukawa Onsen (10km)
Today you take a bus alongside the Kumanogawa river to the small village of Yakio. You’ll find the trailhead right next to the bus stop with stairs leading up to the start of the trail. The Kohechi route runs through the central part of the Kii-Peninsula connecting two major sacred sites, Kumano Hongu and Koyasan. This is a tough trail and today you will be walking the southern section, over the Hatenashi-toge pass (1,114m). This route was mainly used by travelling worshippers and merchants since the medieval period of Japan and is one of the toughest.
As on the Nakehechi route where you follow the numbered signposts, on this trail you instead follow Kannon Buddhist images commencing at number 1. There are 33 stone Kannon Buddhist images (the final three are off the trail) representing 33 temples dedicated to Kannon found throughout the Kansai region.
You ascend quite quickly out of the village and into the forest where you will enjoy brilliant views over the surrounding mountains today. The highpoint of the trail is at 1114m at the Hatenashi-toge pass. care needs to be taken when descending the paths here as the trail becomes narrower and steeper in parts. The trail climbs up and down passing various viewpoints before coming to the valley where there are beautiful views looking out over the Kumanogawa river and descending to reach the village of Totsukawa Onsen.
Meals: B L D
Day 8: Totsukawa Onsen to Koyasan
After breakfast, travel by bus to Gojo and then transfer to a train to reach the temple mountain of Koyasan. You take a funicular railway up the steep sides of Koyasan and then a short bus ride, which will drop you near your temple lodging. This secluded town is surrounded by the eight peaks of Mt Koya and said to resemble a lotus flower.
In Koyasan you will have a unique opportunity to stay in a Japanese Buddhist temple and be part of the daily rituals and spiritual life of Koyasan. You will have a comfortable room and be served vegetarian Buddhist cuisine, Shojin Ryori. ‘Shojin’ is a Buddhist term that refers to asceticism in pursuit of enlightenment, and ‘ryori’ means cooking. There are surprising tastes and not only is it delicious but good karma too!
Meals: B L D
Day 9: Free day in Koyasan
This morning you will have a unique opportunity to take part in a Buddhist morning ceremony – the rich colours, smells of incense and rhythmical chants of the monks are enchanting. Afterwards, a walk around Koyasan with its 115 temples is a must. Be sure to visit Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, the stunning vermilion Konpon Daito and Daimon, the majestic entrance gate to this mountain complex.
Perhaps the most interesting of them all is Okunoin, which has at its centre the mausoleum to Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect and one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. This is set in a giant cypress forest surrounded by 300,000 graves of his followers and is an awesome sight especially if you walk it at night time when the lonesome paths are lit by stone lanterns – very eerie! There are also beautiful day walks around Koyasan if you feel like stretching your legs.
Meals: B D
Day 10: Depart Koyasan
Following the morning ceremony and breakfast, you will have time to continue exploring the village of Koyasan or perhaps join the monks for a meditation session. After checking out of your temple lodging, you will catch the local bus to Koyasan station and depart Mt Koya by the funicular cable-car before travelling by train to your onward destination.
2020 Pricing – Twin Share $3495 per person
20 Mar 2020
29 Mar 2020
- 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)
- 2 nights in a Buddhist monastery in Koyasan (twin share, shared bathroom)
- Daily meals included as listed in the itinerary
- Luggage transfers on all trekking days and from Totsukawa Onsen to Koyasan
- Transfers to/from accommodation in Kii Tanabe, as per itinerary
- Briefing in Kii-Tanabe at the start of your walk
- Traditional boat ride from Hongu area to Shingu
- Pre-departure pack including Kumano Kodo guidebook, track note and maps (1 pack per 2 clients travelling together)
- Local bus tickets
- Train tickets to/from the trail and Koyasan
- Flights to/from destination
- Travel insurance
- Beverages other than water at meals
- Expenses and items of a personal nature
- Flights, tours, rail passes, other extras/packages
Map & Guide
Ilse Broekaert, Marcoola (QLD) – October 2019
Super hospitable hosts at Mui Guesthouse and Ichie Cafe
Sandra Bowmer, Miranda (NSW) – April 2018
I undertook this trip with my daughter and we found it very easy to navigate our way. The hotel in Kyoto was very conveniently located across the road from the main train station. We both loved Kyoto. It took us four trains, a cable car and a bus to get to our accommodation in Koyasan but it was so worth the effort. Also, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom whereas they had finished in Kyoto. We had a great 4 days of hiking on the Kumano Kodo and enjoyed our rest day in the middle near Hongu. We didn’t get lost; it’s very easy to find your way. Poles for me were essential even without it being wet. We were extremely lucky to have no rain, the weather was glorious. You do need to train or at least have a good level of fitness to do this trek. On one of our walking days we didn’t see another person. Walking in the forest was beautiful. We saw one bright coloured snake. And quite a few hornets which frightened my daughter but didn’t worry me. We had no mishaps, loved the accommodation, food, onsens and the Japanese bathhouses were interesting. Highly recommend this trip and so pleased we did it. Thank you RAW Travel for ensuring everything went smoothly for us.
Andrew Miller, Brighton (VIC) – November 2017
Excellent itinerary enabling us to experience the old, new and beautiful of the Kansai region. Kyoto, Koyasan Nara and the Kumano Kodo trail cover a wide range of incredible cultural experiences, cuisine, history and landscapes. The accommodation on the hike was an authentic provincial Japanese experience with very friendly hosts and great food. The trip notes were perfect for a self-guided tour. We never had any problems with the logistics of the trip thanks to the notes. I highly recommend this trip for people who are keen to have a broad Japan experience.
Janet Anderson, Kambah (ACT) – November 2017
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect about Japan and at first I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of people there. I loved the experience of sharing Japanese culture and the people were so friendly and polite. Also tasting a new cuisine was an experience, and mostly good. When we got to the walk it was challenging at times but I loved every minute of it. We were so very lucky with the weather as two typhoons hit Japan when we were there and a section of our last walking day was detoured. RAW were wonderful keeping in touch with us and providing updates.
Joy Urquhart, Palmerston (ACT) – October 2017
The Kumano Kodo was a difficult but most rewarding walk.
Wayne Forrest, Oatlands (NSW) – October 2017
RAW Travel provided exactly the right level of support for an amazing trip. The personal contact with the RAW team during the planning stage and at the briefing night prepared us well. The recommended itinerary that included Kyoto, Koyasan and Kumano Kodo was perfect! The quality of the resources (guidebooks etc.) was exceptional and made the self-guide experience just perfect. Thank you!
Andrea Fleming, Willunga (SA) – September 2017
We loved having the freedom to explore and expand our horizons with the luxury of background support such as luggage transfers, expert orientations and the insights to take advantage of the amazing experiences on offer on the Kumano Kodo. The phenomenal beauty combined with the sense of accomplishment at making it through the hills was incredibly rewarding. Good weather the entire way certainly helped too.
Annette Tsindos, Hawthorn, VIC – July 2017
Such an incredible experience and a real privilege to be exposed to both contemporary Japan and traditional Japanese culture – often in a very intimate way when invited into the family home. The RAW Travel itinerary was perfectly paced – like a slow immersion taking us further from everyday reality…everything a holiday should be. The trekking was breathtaking, challenging and very satisfying. Thank you Leanne for the thought and care which obviously went into the planning of this special experience.
Suzanne Robin, Christchurch, NZ – July 2017
Excellent service from every aspect, from the day the trip was booked to every single person that was relied upon.
Kathleen Cleary, NSW – April 2017
I enjoyed having all the “hard work” organising done for me. The notes were great and places we stayed were all good. Information and tips were all extremely helpful. The places we went to on this trip were wonderful; we would never have experienced such places on our own.
Alexander Denniston, VIC – April 2017
All the personnel who we dealt with at RAW Travel had walked the Kumano Kodo, which gave us the confidence that our questions would be answered with the background of experience. As fit 70+ year olds, but novices to bushwalking, we were concerned that we might have been exceeding our abilities. In reality, every bit of advice was relevant and accurate.
Phillip Coppleman, NSW – April 2017
I loved the whole trip: the trekking, the culture, the people, and the challenge of navigating the trail, the rail systems, the cuisine.
Barbara Madden, WA – April 2017
I loved it all. To experience such an ancient tradition as the Kumano Kodo trek was a privilege, with the local cuisine a bonus. Koyasan was an absolute gem – who would think that half a day in a cemetery could be so engrossing! And the temple cuisine – absolutely stunning. Kyoto at peak cherry blossom time was stunning and I loved the way the Japanese people enjoyed this special time. I loved the Japanese people – so kind, courteous and helpful.
Frances Diver & Gaye McCulloch, VIC – April 2017
We had a great time in Japan. Everything worked perfectly. We had a transit night in Osaka followed by two days in Hiroshima to hang out at the peace park and a day trip to the island and walk up Mt Misen. Then to Kyoto – we loved it. Koyasan was a highlight. We got a local guide to take us on a 3-hour hike around the hills and we did the evening cemetery tour. Then off on the walk – got mostly good weather and really enjoyed both the walk and the rest day. All the accommodation was fine – each different and very welcoming. Final night at an odd but I suspect very Japanese huge hotel in Ki Katsura – it had a great onsen outside overlooking the sea and nice coffee shop near the ferry. Everywhere we stayed we had great food and I mean really great. The lunches for the walk were also really good. A great holiday and we would not have found those places and had those experiences ourselves. Thanks for your help.
May Tompson, Dunbible, NSW – March 2017
We have just enjoyed the Kumano Kodo walk and found that the organisation that RAW Travel put in place was top notch, not a single hiccup. The travel notes for the public transport were very helpful, and the public transport was an art form. The Japanese people were the ultimate helpful and charming hosts (we had not learnt Japanese prior to going, but we will rectify this next time). The walk was heaven: early spring when the maple trees are bare and the plum and cherry blossoms are just beginning along the way – perfect. We were glad we spent 2 nights in Koyasan prior to the walk – there was so much to see, and it was snowing and beautiful there; warmer further south where the walk began.
Lindsay Lauder, VIC – October 2016
I loved the scenery. Kyoto was very historic. Great food. Koyasan incredibly beautiful. The walk challenging incredible scenery.the first nights accommodation and food could not be faulted. The chef got a standing ovation. The breakfast was also great and fantastic bento box.
James Lloyd, TAS – October 2016
I loved how all of our accommodation, train trips, food and baggage transfers were all organised prior to the start of our walk. It allowed us the concentrate on the experience of our walk.
Heidi Auman, TAS – October 2016
My husband and I adored every moment of the trip: from cultural Kyoto to meditative Koyasan to the sacred Kumano Kodo. All aspects of the trip, from accommodation, meals, JR passes and the detailed maps and track notes made an action-packed trip to Japan very enjoyable. Many thanks to the RAW Travel team for your diligent research and clear directions!
Prudence Plowman, Barwon Head, VIC – September 2016
I enjoyed the trip…food people places accommodation..However would suggest that your notes are put in to a book form…much too much paper and sorting each day.. book form daily is so much easier…with a place to put notes after each day.
Gillian Godfrey, June 2016
This trip was challenging, beautiful, rewarding and overall amazing. Leanne (and Heini while Leanne was trekking herself) went above and beyond to make sure/explain in detail what to expect. Still pinching myself that I have seen this part of Japan.
Michelle Hawes – March 2016
We have now returned from our trip to Japan. We had the best time & loved the Kumano trek. The accomodation, food, transporting of our bags, maps…everything was fantastic & really well organised. Oh the food…the food…the lovely food!!!! Thank you for your help organising this trip. I would definitely use Raw Travel again!!!
Mary Howell – April 2016
A big thank you for organising a terrific trip! I think most of us are back now and all really had a wonderful experience. What an amazing place! Thanks again for all your trouble.
Tony and Jennifer Waters, Kingscliff, NSW – July 2015
We had a lovely time in Japan. Thank you very much for the arrangements you made for us. All of the accommodations were very good. Luggage transfers went without a hiccup. Variations to our itinerary due to an accident ahead on the trail in one instance and then the typhoon were expertly handled during our travel. We loved the Japanese guesthouses and our hosts at each were delightful. The Kumano Kodo walk was fantastic. There were very few other pilgrims, so we had the trail pretty much to ourselves most of the time, apart from the odd snake. We were very very happy with the service we have received from RAW Travel and would not hesitate to recommend your to other travellers.
Peta Fitzgibbon, Canberra – March 2015
Wonderful country, culture and everything worked like clockwork – especially important for a self-guided tour. Heini did a great job and gave advice to us, prior to our departure as we had some unexpected health issues to deal with.
William Filson & Lilian Chan, Sydney – March 2015
The Kumano Kodo walk you organised for us was excellent. The walk itself was at times difficult and steep but we were fit and had no problems. We were mainly alone on the track only once meeting a large group of “real pilgrims” dressed in traditional Buddhist clothing. At that point we had been enjoying walking in 1000 year old footprints and steps worn to glide under our feet, the Buddhist group made us feel that we had actually gone back 1000 years in time.
What our Clients Say
Super hospitable hosts at Mui Guesthouse and Ichie Cafe
Ilse Broekaert, QLD – October 2019
Walking in the forest was beautiful. We had no mishaps, loved the accommodation, food, onsens and the Japanese bathhouses were interesting. Highly recommend this trip and so pleased we did it. Thank you RAW Travel for ensuring everything went smoothly for us
Sandra Bowmer, NSW – April 2018
Zoe Rees – Japan and South America
(03) 5976 3763
This trip has a difficulty rating of 6-7 out of 10.