Volcanoes Part 2: Unzen & Aso

Aso CraterI reached Fukuoka in the mean time. And that means I also reached the end of cycling in Japan. This after more than 1’650km in Japan which brings me to a total of around 9’600km. So the 10’000km mark is getting close :-). Now I just have to box my bicycle before flying to Osaka and a few days later further to Australia. However, also the last few days cycling in Japan were interesting but read yourself.

I almost gave up on seeing the Unzen volcano because the route to Aso would go through the mountains and not along the coast. However, as written in the last entry, I had to change my plan and ended up in Kumamoto. And this is just opposite the peninsula of Unzen.
It rained heavily the night before my planned day trip to Unzen and it was still raining in the morning. I was hesitating to get on the road because it would still be around 15km just to reach the ferry port. Nevertheless I left and as soon as I arrived at the port, it stopped raining and the sun came out. The journey with the fast ferry took just around 30 minutes and my bike got as good secured as never before on a ferry (see picture below).
The special thing on this peninsula is its volcano Unzen. It’s calm at the moment but that was different in 1990/1991. At that time, it woke up from a longer time of inactivity (check here for a detailed and well written description of the happenings). The speciality of this volcano is it’s very thick lava which builds a plug in the crater (a so called dome). During the active phase, this dome is growing steadily till it’s getting unstable, breaks apart and creates huge and very hot avalanches, which run down fast its steep slopes. Those glowing avalanches are pretty rare worldwide but at the same time very dangerous. That was also the reason why the famous volcanologist couple Katja and Maurice Krafft traveled to Unzen in 1991. Their goal was to document those glowing avalanches, so that it can be shown to people, which live around volcanoes at other places, and warn them of the danger. On the 3rd of June 1991, they moved therefore together with 41 others (mostly journalists) a bit closer to the volcano. Shortly after, the dome collapsed and a huge avalanche (much bigger than the ones before) shot down the slopes (see also this video). The Kraffts and the others didn’t have a chance and were dead within seconds. Totally 44 people died during the active phase in the years of 1990. 43 of them within this very short moment.
You are maybe asking yourself now, why I care so much about Unzen and this eruption in particular. And the answer is pretty simple: The ones which know me, know as well that I am interested in volcanoes and other signs of natures force,  additionally to a lot of other things. And the books and movies of the Kraffts were a major reason why I got interested in it. Therefor, this volcano was almost a must see for myself.
As said, the Unzen is not active at the moment. It’s nevertheless very impressive to stand at the base of this volcano, see it’s still still smoldering dome and visit some of the damaged buildings, like a elementary school a bit further up and some houses close to the sea. Some pictures of all that can be found in the  Gallery. Later in the afternoon, I took the ferry back to the main land.

I continued the next morning towards the volcano Aso and its huge caldera (big collapsed crater, between 20 and 30km width). And it wasn’t my day. I didn’t have the needed power and was slow. Maybe I just needed a longer break. I should get it latest in Fukuoka. It was less than 50km but it was a fight. Me against myself. I finally reached Aso Station and there the best hostel I have ever seen. And and also the owners were extremely helpful and very friendly. I booked immediately four nights in the Aso Base Backpackers :-). I haven’t been at the same place for that long since a while, but I needed it urgently.
After a relaxing day, the volcano Aso was on the list. And it rained again. The weather forecast for the next few days was even worse and I therefor put on my rain gear and cycled towards the volcano anyway. And because volcanoes are also mountains, it started climbing right away. However, it was a pleasure without all the luggage. Shortly after an hour, I reached the food and museums area close to the volcano. Aso was behind clouds and I therefor first enjoyed one of the restaurant and changed also my completely wet T-Shirt.
The weather got better after around two hours and I continued cycling. Car drivers can choose for the last few meters, if they want to walk, use a pseudo cable car or pay a toll. For cyclist, the road is free. I reached the crater area after a short time. The volcano is not very active at the moment but a strongly colored warm lake has formed in one of its craters. I enjoyed the spectacle with hundreds others, took some pictures and also a time lapse. Afterwards I had a rapid ride back down to the hostel.

Kurokawa Onsen
There are reams of hot baths in Japan. They are called Onsen. Shame on me, but I didn’t manage to visit one of those before Aso. Close to Aso, there is the village of Kurokawa which is full of such Onsen. And because I had a huge backlog on those, I decided to visit this town by bus and to test the baths. This is pretty easy, because you can get at the tourist information a pass for 1’200 Yen (around 15 USD) which gives you the opportunity to choose three Onsen. It would be kind of difficult to pick, but I got advice from the hostel, which one I should try. I forgot the names of them unfortunately… So I started my wet tour and as three Onsen in a day couldn’t be wet enough, it also rained the whole time…
The first one had a segregated indoor bath and two mixed outdoor pools. Everything was very nice and I had all pools just for myself. Unfortunately also the outdoor ones… After soaking for some time, I continued. The next one was a bit outside of town and there would be a shuttle. However, because I also wanted to move a bit, I walked there, which took around 30 minutes. This one only had a big segregated outdoor pool. It was also pretty nice but also very full. I didn’t stay that long, also because I got hungry. And I was again the only non-Japanese. This time, I took the shuttle bus back to town. I was the only customer. There, I ate something at a small restaurant. On the way to that place, a Japanese woman in a Onsen at the other side of the river shouted towards me and wanted a picture of her standing in the Onsen with this strange foreigner at the other side of the river in the back. I gave her that pleasure and stopped for a minute :-). Afterwards, I continued to my last Onsen. Its segregated pools were all outside but still partly covered. I enjoyed also this bath but was definitive clean enough afterwards and took the bus back to the hostel. What for an exhausting day!

Aso – Fukuoka
And then, the last two cycling days in Japan started. The road wasn’t that spectacular except the part out of the Aso Caldera. It was also pretty steep… Traffic got more and more busy. Nevertheless, I reached the city of Hita in the evening, where I stayed in a business hotel. Yoshi, the owner of the hostel in Aso helped me to book this one because their webpage was only available in Japanese…
The last day was kind of special. And I was slow. Probably because I didn’t want to accept that it was already over. I finally reached the hostel in Fukuoka and wasn’t positively surprised. It’s hard going from the perfect hostel to a mediocre one.
And here I have now to clean my bike and stuff (the Australians and Kiwis are taking it serious), box it before continuing by plane to Osaka. Because I had a luck of cultural stuff so far, I would like to visit some temples and so on in the Kyoto/Nara area. And I also hope that the Japanese maple trees have changed colors already.
That’s it with Japan or better with cycling in Japan. I will write a conclusion later on but would like to thank you for reading already now!
All the best from Fukuoka,
PS: Best pictures can be found in the Gallery.

About Stefan

I'm a telecommunication engineer by profession and like to discover the world by bike. I think, that it is the perfect speed to move but still be in touch with the world and the people which live there. And I'm very happy, that my wife Susanna is joining me now on those adventures. If you are interested in other journeys we did so far, please also check my website www.biketravel.net. Stefan, Switzerland

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 thoughts on “Volcanoes Part 2: Unzen & Aso