Kumano Kodo is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes leading to Kumano Sanza, the three grand shrines in the Kumano Region—Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha.
While most of the Kumano Kodo routes are foot paths, we can cycle some of the 1,000-year-old trails designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
While our route will start and finish at Nanki Shirahama Airport—cycling a giant loop of about 200 kilometers—it’s recommended to stay the night at Shirahama Onsen before or after your ride and enjoy the relaxing hot springs if you have time.
Start off by heading upstream along the Tomita River on Route 311. The road goes over Osaka Pass and eventually leads to Kumano Hongu Shrine. Yatagarasu (“a crow with three legs”) is the symbol of the shrine and is used in the emblem of the Japan Football Association. Nearby Kawayu Onsen—where hot spring water literally gushes out of the riverside—is one of the main attractions of the trip.
Although Kumano is so often associated with the ocean, the area has some of the most beautiful rivers in Japan. Our route runs along the breathtakingly pristine water of the Kumano River as we head downstream toward the seaside town of Shingu. Kumano Hayatama Taisha, one of the three Grand Shrines, is located here. Next we continue south along the coastline looking out upon the Pacific Ocean to your left. From JR Nachi Station, we climb 300 meters from sea level—via Nachi-no-taki (Nachi Falls)—to Nachi Kumano Taisha.
If you are an experienced map reader, go over the hill here and visit Kuchiirokawa Village, then descend along the sparkling Oota River. Do note, there is no convenience store or other places to get food or drinks along the way so make sure you bring your own.
Once you return to the ocean, continue south on the national highway toward Shionomisaki Cape, the southernmost tip of Honshu Island. You can then take a train from Kushimoto Station (on the JR Kisei Line) back to Shirahama or, if you are feeling up for it, get back in the saddle and do the remaining 60 kilometers by bike.