Join expert guide Mike Rhodes and a small group of fellow travellers on an exciting extended Kumano Kodo walking adventure | Gain a great understanding of this ancient pilgrimage trail | Hike the full length of the Nakahechi route | Enjoy a day on the more 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 enlightened by the experience, enthusiasm and knowledge of your local guide Mike Rhodes
- Trek in the company of other like-minded travellers
- Embark on a spiritual, historical and cultural journey on this ancient pilgrimage route
- Traditional boat ride from Hongu area to Shingu
This extended Kumano Kodo walk is perfect for those who would like to add some more kilometres, views, temples and challenge to their Kumano Kodo experience, whilst under the guidance of an expert local guide and in the company of a small group. The first three days are the same as our regular Kumano Kodo walk but then we journey to the coast and hike the last two days in reverse and extend the trip for a day from Kumano Hongu to Totsugawa.
We finish on a high, crossing a 1114m pass (higher than the regular route) and visiting the remote settlement of Totsukawa. 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, along with a hike along the Women’s Pilgrimage trail.
The Kumano Kodo’s rugged, forested mountains, quiet rural valleys, rivers and waterfalls provide a spectacular backdrop for hikers. Arriving at our destination each day, the traditional local guesthouses offer reviving onsens and wonderful local food.
* Trip guaranteed to depart with 6 clients
Travelling on your own? No trouble. We will pair you up with another solo traveller of the same gender on a twin share basis.
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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. Train travel from Osaka to Kii-Tanabe takes just over 2 hours and from Kyoto approximately 2.5-3 hours. Kansai International Airport (KIX) is the closest to this area.
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 – you will meet your guide and have a tour orientation here, scheduled for the afternoon. This evening we 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)
After checking out this morning, we will transfer to Takijiri, where we commence our walk. Our guide will lead you up the first section which will be a climb 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, we head further into the mountains along the old trail, past bamboo forest and then into the pencil pine. We 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, we 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. Our descent takes us 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 of our accommodation for the evening.
Meals: B L D
Day 3: Walk Chikatsuyu to Kumano Hongu Taisha (25km)
Today’s walk will bring us 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 us to the shrine at Hosshinmon-oji. At this point we also have the option to take a local bus as the road intersects here, or carry on down into the valley to Hongu. Your guide will help direct you accordingly. Continuing on, we will pass through small settlements and have our 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 we will jump on a local bus to our evening destination at Kawayu Onsen, a charming little hot spring village.
Arriving at our 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 our group, it will be more a preparation for a delicious Japanese meal in our 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. We 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. Our guide will provide further insight into the fascinating sights and history of this area.
After looking around Shingu, we will catch a bus to Nachi Station and on to Nachisan (paid locally), our 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 we 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 and a beautiful walk, so well-worth the stroll.
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 it will be an early start to the day. The trailhead starts immediately to the right of the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine and we 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 we 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 we 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, we’ll arrive in the tiny hamlet of Koguchi where our 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 we climb towards the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains and soon after the Sakura pass. The trail then descends and ascends along a ridge until reaching the highlight of today’s walk, the Hyakken-gura pass, where a beautifully positioned Buddhist statue sits on a hilltop with a backdrop of the most spectacular vista of the trip. The impressive Hyakken-gura lookout 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 we can walk a little further or catch a bus to Kawayu Onsen where our overnight accommodation is located.
Meals: B L D
Day 7: Walk Yakio to Totsukawa (10km)
Today we take a bus alongside the Kumanogawa river to the small village of Yakio. The trailhead is 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 we 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. Certainly a great day to have your guide support and encourage you up and over the high-pass.
As on the Nakehechi route where we follow the numbered signposts, on this trail we will 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.
We ascend quite quickly out of the village and into the forest and we will enjoy brilliant views over the surrounding mountains today. The highpoint of the trail is the Hatenashi-toge pass and 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 descending to the valley where there are beautiful views looking out over the Kumanogawa river and the picturesque Totsukawa Onsen village.
Meals: B L D
Day 8: Totsukawa to Koyasan
After breakfast, the group will travel by bus to Gojo and then transfer to a train to reach the holy, temple settlement of Koyasan. We take a funicular railway up the steep sides of Koyasan and then a short bus ride, which will drop us near our temple lodging. This secluded town is surrounded by the eight peaks of Mt Koya and said to resemble a lotus flower.
In Koyasan, we 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: Koyasan – Women’s Pilgrimage Walk (Up to 16km)
This morning, your guide will lead you along the historic Women’s Pilgrimage Route. There are three sections of this walk totaling about 16 kilometres and your guide will inform you of your options and direct access points into Koyasan, if you choose to walk part of the route only.
This is a really scenic walk with views to the lower villages and passing the Great Gate and Okunoin. This route has been likened to a lotus flower as it weaves a course encircling the mountain passing by each of the seven traditional entrances to the sacred precincts. Prior to 1872 female devotees weren’t allowed to enter its gates.
One of the most interesting areas 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!
Meals: B D
Day 10: Depart Koyasan
Following the morning ceremony and breakfast, you will farewell your guide and depending on your plans, may 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.
18 Oct 2020
27 Oct 2020
- Service of a qualified expert guide for the duration of the tour
- 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 the Kumano Kodo on all trekking days
- Luggage transfers on all trekking days and from Totsukawa Onsen to Koyasan
- Briefing in Kii-Tanabe at the start of your walk
- Pre-departure pack including Kumano Kodo guidebook, track note and maps (1 pack per 2 clients travelling together)
- Traditional boat ride from Hongu area to Shingu
- 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
Mike guided our RAW Travel Kumano trip and was the perfect tour leader. His knowledge of the area and his respect for the Japanese people shined as was his fun and enthusiastic nature. We would absolutely recommend Mike for any future trips and thank him for making our time on the Kumano so special. – Stephanie Lorenzo
What our Clients Say
Mike guided our RAW Travel Kumano trip and was the perfect tour leader. His knowledge of the area and his respect for the Japanese people shined as was his fun and enthusiastic nature. We would absolutely recommend Mike for any future trips and thank him for making our time on the Kumano so special.
Mike is an incredible guide. He is knowledgeable, fluent in Japanese, great fun to be around, organised, thoughtful and really knows the Kumano Kodo. Could not fault him in any way, he is an incredible guide 10/10
I LOVED Mike, I honestly think he was the best part of the walk for me which is saying a lot as it is absolutely spectacular, but his knowledge of the landscape, history, religion and culture is so rich that everything you pass he brings to life, its then not just a beautiful tree, its a whole story and legacy. His energy and enthusiasm as well as incredible knowledge is amazing as well as the ability to talk in both Japanese and English to help us along the trip. I cannot recommend him enough!
Hiking the Kumano Kodo was one of the three adventure treks I went on with Raw Travels. As always, the Team blew me away with the itinerary, accommodations and over-all experience. It was the perfect blend of a spiritual cleansing and a challenging workout. I came home rejuvenated and renewed to continue my journey back home. We had the pleasure of having Mike Rhodes as our guide. Funny, delightful and full of knowledge, Mike made kilometers of forrest…fun. Mike had the ability to make the most monotonous moments magical with local history, cultural education, stories and light jokes. Mike’s relationship and his reverence for Japan had me fall in love with the land. My trek on the Kumano Kodo was unforgettable—and Mike was a huge part of that.
Zoe Rees – Japan
(03) 5976 3763
This trip has a difficulty rating of 6-7 out of 10.