Traditional, tropical; mystical, magical, Kagoshima is nothing short of extraordinary.
Making up the tip of Kyushu and a chain of islands extending southwards, Kagoshima is an otherworldly blend of the traditional and tropical; consistent sunshine coats the historic hamlets in the rural north with a bright golden hue, while the south gets its own regular coating of fine volcanic ash from the very active Sakurajima volcano. The incredible cedar forest of Yakushima, the setting for Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, is one of the first of the Nansei-Shoto islands leading down to Okinawa from where you can experience snorkeling, canoeing among mangroves and world-class scuba diving.
Starting in the north, the Kirishima National Park is made up of an active string of volcanoes which offer some spectacular and unique hiking routes. Stumbling down red dust hills upon cobalt crater lakes, you’ll feel like an explorer on planet Mars. The colorful Kirishima shrine in the foothills is good for bringing you back to earth.
The historic prefectural capital of Kagoshima is the largest city in southern Kyushu and a major transport hub for accessing the southern islands. The hustle and bustle is supervised by the roaring Sakurajima, an active volcano just opposite the city which regularly showers the city with ash – pack an umbrella in case of heavy dustfall. Shrines, museums and onsen (hot springs) make the city worth stopping over. It’s a short trip across the bay to reach Sakurajima island where you can get up close and personal to the volcano itself, witnessing the daily eruptions from one of the observation points.
Nearby is the Satsuma peninsula and the quaint town of Chiran, a former base for WWII kamikaze pilots commemorated in the Chiran Kamikaze Peace Museum. Head to the beaches of Ibusuki to try traditional sand bathing; you’ll be buried up to your head in hot volcanic sand by a professional sand therapist – it’s much nicer than it sounds.
Jump from the mainland to the Osumi-Shoto, the northern set of islands belonging to the Nansei-Shoto which extends to Okinawa. There’s surfing and spaceship launching on the island of Tanegashima, mangroves and sea kayaking on Amami-Oshima but the main attraction lies on the mysterious and mystical island of Yakushima, whose ancient impenetrable forests hide arguably some of the most rewarding hiking routes on the earth. Wild monkey and deer roam among ancient cedar trees; a 10-hour hike will lead you to the world’s longest living tree at an astonishing 7,200 years old.