Active volcanoes scare me. I think I’ve watched too many movies to imagine having to run from flowing lava. Questions like, what if the volcano erupts when I’m there? What if there’s an earthquake? I’ve only been to the crater of one other active volcano before — but that was one of the smallest in the world (you can read about that adventure here). Mount Aso on the other hand… is the largest one in all of Japan, and one of the largest ones in the world!
Mount Aso, Kyushu’s Active Volcano
That being said, off I went to Mount Aso anyway (I was on a group tour and it was one of the stops so I didn’t really have a choice). However, I found out that we weren’t going to head up to the crater, so that was a relief! Our stop to view the volcano was at the Kusasenri Viewpoint, the closest and safest distance (1km from the crater) because it was on Level 2 alert during my visit. The volcano was emitting thick white smoke into the air that day.
Mount Aso stands in the Aso Kuju National Park, together with the Kuju Mountain-range in the perfectures of Kumamoto and Oita on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu. The huge caldera of Aso was formed by eruptions that occurred almost 90,000-300,000 years ago, and is about 25km in diameter, with a circumference of more than 100km. The city of Aso is situated within the caldera. The volcanic Mount Aso consists of five peaks — Mount Neko, Mount Kishima, Mount Eboshi, the highest peak that is Mount Taka at 1,592m, and the active Mount Naka that constantly emits smoke and is prone to occasional eruptions.
Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours (Pt.2)
I was traveling on a media familiarization tour to the Japanese island of Kyushu with Parlo Tours. It was a 6-day trip around the island, and Mount Aso was our second stop after a night’s stay at the onsen town of Beppu (Pt.1). The other cities and towns we visited were Kagoshima, Hitoyoshi and Fukuoka. As with all group tours, entrance tickets and fees are included; but I’ll just write down the prices to some of the local attractions anyway. To find out more about this Malaysian travel company and the other different tours they offer, click here.
Journey to Mount Aso
From our stop in Beppu, we got on our tour bus that took us towards Mount Aso. On our drive into the Aso Kuju National Park, we passed by the Kuju Mountain-range and visited several attractions along the way. We bused around most of the area of Aso, stopping at Kusasenri to view Mount Aso before heading to our accommodation for the night at Aso Farm Land.
For those traveling independently, most cities in Kyushu are connected to Aso Station via train or bus. If you’re traveling from Beppu (like me), it takes about 2-3 hours. From the Aso Station, there are buses that take you to Kusasenri (where we stopped). I am not sure if you can head further than this point (make sure you check the state of the volcano beforehand), but you might be able to bus up to the Aso-san Nishi Station. From there, walk up to Aso’s Mount Naka crater along a footpath (about 30 minutes or so). If you’re driving, you can drive up the toll road. There used to be a ropeway up to the crater but it was destroyed during the last eruption in 2016 and is no longer functioning at the time of writing.
Kuju Flower Park and Lunch
We left Beppu in the late morning following a quick tour around the city’s tourist attractions and made our way towards Aso. After a one and a half hour drive, we arrived at our first stop in the Aso Kuju National Park area — the Kuju Flower Park. This flower park spreads over 49 acres of the Kuju plateau with the majestic Kuju Mountain-range as its backdrop, and a glimpse of Mount Aso in the distance.
I was in total awe upon entering the park. I was surrounded by tons and tons and flowers of different colors and smells — it was like a flower fairyland! The Kuju Flower Park is said to be filled with about five million plants of more than five hundred different kinds. The flowers take turns to bloom depending on the season — and because we were there at the end of spring in April, we got to see fields of poppies and pansies. It was really lovely walking through the flower and wild flower fields, and admiring the breathtaking scenery. In spring, there are also tulips, daisies and lillies; and lavenders bloom in summer.
We had lunch at the park’s Wild Field Restaurant, and the healthy buffet spread offered a variety of homemade dishes made from fresh Kuju produce. It was delicious and I really enjoyed the meal. The buffet lunch costs JP¥1,480 (US$13.5) for adults and JP¥750 (US$7) for kids. Entrance to the park cost JP¥1,300 (US$12) for adults, and JP¥500 (US$4.5) for children below 16.
Kokonoe ‘Dream’ Suspension Bridge
After our visit to the Kuju Flower Park, we headed back up north to visit the Kokonoe ‘Dream’ Suspension Bridge, also known as the Kokonoe ‘Yume’ Otsurihashi. Located in Kokonoe-cho in the Kusu Distric, Oita Perfecture; this suspension bridge is the highest pedestrian-only suspension bridge in Japan, spanning 390 meters over the Kyusui Ravine at 173 meters.
We started our bridge walk from the Nakamura side to the Kitakata side. It was fun crossing the suspension bridge and feeling my legs turn to jelly as I look over the rails into the river down below. I could actually feel the bridge sway along with the strong wind! The majestic Shindo no Taki Falls, one of Japan’s top 100 finest falls, can be seen from the bridge. It is a combination name for two falls, known as the female and male falls — Osu at 83m, and Mesu at 93m.
Once at the Kitakata side, we climbed a flight of stairs towards the Shiratori Shrine, where we got to see the full expanse of the Kokonoe ‘Dream’ Suspension Bridge from afar. And then we made our way back, crossing over the ravine one more time. Tickets to the bridge cost JP¥500 (US$4.5).
Viewing Mount Aso from Kusasenri
From the suspension bridge, it was a fascinating one and half hour drive through the ancient caldera landscape of Mount Aso. I’m not exactly sure about volcanic terms — but it was really interesting seeing the endless plains, horses grazing on the green fields, and even lava trails on some of the smaller hills. On the way, we were told that a no-entry zone has been placed on Mount Aso due to an increase in volcanic activity; so we were restricted to a one kilometer limit from the crater.
We arrived at the Kusasenri Viewpoint in the evening. Most of the shops and restaurants in the area were already closed by then, and we really didn’t have much time to explore the place because the sun was almost setting. So we spent our time staring in awe at the thick white smoke coming out from the top of Aso’s Mount Naka on one side, and admiring the beautiful Kusasenri Plateau and Mount Eboshi on the other. The plateau is apparently a carpet of green in summer, and frost covered in winter. During our visit though, it was a very volcanic-looking brown.
It would have been great to have a little more time to explore Kusasenri, or even walk to the pond in the centre of the plateau and watch the grazing wild horses up close. I read that hiking and guided horse-riding are also possible, and you can even trek to the top of the other two Aso peaks of Eboshi at 1337m and Kishima at 1321m.
Aso Farm Land Resort
We watched the sun set over Mount Aso as we made our way to our accommodation for the night, the Aso Farm Land Resort. Located outside the outer rim of the volcanic crater of Aso, the resort offers beautiful views of the Aso caldera and its peaks. However, it was dark when we arrived so we couldn’t exactly make out anything. We had buffet dinner (and breakfast the next morning) at the resort’s Big Farm Restaurant — and it served fresh Kyushu produce with local Japanese cuisine, sashimi and fresh strawberries as part of the array of dishes.
The most unique part about Aso Farm Land is its cute dome-shaped houses! It was just really peculiar walking into our round room and its circular ceiling; and though the furniture looked a little dated, it gave out this old cottage vibe. In the morning, we were greeted with a view of hundreds of little domes spread across the resort’s vast grounds, with the imposing Aso Mountain-range in the background. I felt like I was transported into a fairtytale gnome/smurf village, or maybe an alien pod field. There’s also a VIP area in the resort that has domes decorated in different colors and cartoonish themes — how adorable is that!
While in Aso Farm Land, we also made time to visit its acclaimed volcanic onsen (one of the many in this volcanic region) that has an indoor and outdoor area that comes with pools in a myriad of colors and minerals. I tried walking out (naked) for an outdoor dip, but it was too cold that I had to come running back in! There’s also a separate sauna section in the spa, which boasts thirteen kinds of health and thermal kilns. We were allowed to wear the yukata into it, so it’s perfect for those too shy to get naked. I had so much fun switching from one kiln to the next — I just couldn’t decide if I wanted to steam in a jade-covered kiln, or an amethyst one, or a citrus-scented one, or even a lavender-filled one!
… And Next Up on the Tour!
I have to say that although I had lots of fun discovering Aso Farm Land, the resort does look a little neglected and deserted. However, I think it was just perfect for a one night stay (to experience the dome and its awesome onsen); as we were off on our way again right after breakfast. I had a great time on this league that took us to and around Mount Aso — being so near an active volcano is always exciting (and a humongous one at that). Hopefully one day if I ever return, we will be allowed (and I would be brave enough) to climb/head up to the active crater. But for now, this will do.
And then off we went to the next destination on our grand Kyushu tour — the southernmost town of Kagoshima, home to the island’s MOST active volcano, the Sakurajima. Read about it here!
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours. Mount Aso was one out of the many city stops on the familiarization tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.
Categories: Asia, East Asia, Itineraries, Japan, Nature and the Outdoors, Road Trips
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