“Skiing field,” the sign pointing to the sand dune read.
“Great! I’ll have a go at that,” I thought, clambering up the 70m-high, 100m-wide sand slope above a rocky cove.
Created by wind action, the steep dune near the tiny beach town of Toji, is a popular spot for sand skiing and sledding.
But not only was it incredibly difficult to climb to the top, it was impossible to glide down without short fat skis or a board of some kind. Great exercise for the leg muscles though!
The Toji sand slope was our first stop on day four of the Izu Geo Trail with Walk Japan, as we drove south along the coast towards the tip of the peninsula, passing sandy and rocky beaches, lush green bush, precipitous cliffs and many tunnels. The further south we went, the less the traffic on the roads. In fact most days we encountered no other people on our hikes. It may be close and accessible from Tokyo but the Izu Peninsula feels like a remote wilderness.
At Toji beach, the rock formations on the headlands were wonderful examples of ancient submarine lava flows.
A short distance away, down a steep set of steps, we came to the Ryugu Sea Cave, a phenomenon shaped by wave erosion. At the rear of the cave, the roof had collapsed creating an opening to the sky 50m in diameter. The cave entrance is still intact, a great place for photos.
We hiked in the sunshine along a gentle trail with spectacular views of the cobalt blue Pacific Ocean and craggy coastline. We also passed through the Tsubaki Park Camellia Garden where 1050 trees have been planted.
A side track took us to Cape Tarai, a headland with a stunning panorama of the many offshore islands including Mikomotojima which has a lighthouse perched on the top.
In the distance, we could see Cape Irozaki, the southernmost point of the peninsula.
Spectacular scenery on the Cape Tarai Trail. Picture by Justine Tyerman
Far below, fishermen were casting lines into the swirling waves.
At the end of our morning hike, we met up with a lovely lady named Mieko Takesawa on the beach at Yumigahama. A local surfer, she was the provider of our delicious organic lunch boxes full of salads, homemade bread and dips. Sitting by her beautiful pristine white beach, I devoured every morsel.
A little shop with live fresh lobster, abalone and other shellfish in huge tanks took my interest. The owner was selling dried and frozen fish and presumably live creatures too.
Back on the coach, we continued our journey southwards through tiny picturesque villages, coves enclosed by dramatic volcanic headlands with rocky islets, and green hillsides. My eyes never tired of the coastal scenery and volcanic landscapes, largely untouched by tourism.
Our afternoon hike took us to Cape Irozaki and the site of a shrine built precariously into the cliff face high above the ocean. It’s one of Japan’s Top 100 sightseeing sites but our group of 12 were the only ones seeing the wondrous sights that day.
A pathway along a narrow ridge takes hikers out to a rock on the point with a rope around it to signify that it’s sacred.
I was hypnotised by the action of the waves swirling into narrow fissures in the rock and smashing into the cliffs sending curtains of spray high into the air, creating small rainbows in the sky. The headlands in the distance were jagged like a child’s scribble, and disintegrated into fragments as they thrust into the sea.
Before leaving the shrine, I tossed a small coin into a box and took a slip of paper that told my fortune. Yohei translated the Japanese characters saying there were happy prospects ahead. Turns out it was right! I’m about to become a grandmother for the first time.
The nearby Irozaki lighthouse, originally built in 1871, was replaced in 1933 after being destroyed in a storm. Today it plays an important role in the safety of ships and fishing vessels.
Prayers tied to a tree at the Cape Irozaki shrine. Picture by Justine Tyerman
Remote and untouched
Rounding the tip of the peninsula, we left the east coast behind and began our journey up the west coast. Under clear skies, the seascape with black rocks against a shimmering aqua sea was breathtaking, and even more remote and untouched than the east coast. The road hugged the coast and around each corner, there were ‘wows’ from everyone.
Small fishing villages sheltered in deep coves, some with tall walls for tsunami protection. Volcanic islands rose perpendicularly from the sea. Where there was flat land, every inch was cultivated in market gardens. The hillsides were like crumpled paper, screwed up and tossed aside.
As we neared Matsuzaki, our destination for the night, beautiful white sculptures appeared on the side of the road. We stopped to examine and photograph one of them, a female figure sitting on a harp-shaped plinth. With the backdrop of the west coast stretching far into the hazy distance, and the late afternoon sun low in the clear sky, she was a striking sight.
Matsuzaki, known for its historic Edo period buildings with distinctive lattice work of black tiles and white plaster, is regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful villages. It may be well off the beaten tourist track but its charms have been recognised by movie makers who have used the town as a setting for films and television dramas.
During the Edo period, the town was a hub for stones used in the construction of Edo Castle. Many of the original merchant buildings are open to visit either free or for a small fee.
Our ryokan for the night, Shinshima Inn, is run by a husband and wife team, Emi and Hayato Sano, in a graceful historic house. My lovely simple room overlooked a river.
After our onsen bath, I changed into the pretty green yukata that was pressed and folded in my room. Emi put the finishing touches to the ladies’ yukatas tying stiff, wide sashes into kimono bows at the back.
It was a glorious warm evening so we dined outside, excited at the prospect of a Japanese-style barbecue cooked by chef Hayato. What a feast — fish, beef, sausages and vegetables all cooked over hot coals, followed by a fresh fruit dessert.
After dinner, Hayato proudly showed us the original part of the house which is 140 years old. He took us up a steep set of stairs to a veritable museum of artwork and gorgeous ceremonial kimonos. There were also two sumptuous kimonos on display downstairs in the lobby along with a five-storey model of a traditional Japanese dwelling.
Breakfast, set in a series of intimate alcoves, was buffet-style with options of toast, cereal and yoghurt, the first taste of Western food in a week. I hadn’t missed it but reverted to habit alarmingly fast.
Day five was the longest hike of the Izu Geo Trail, around 12km with a steep climb or two, so I needed plenty of fuel for the day ahead. And it was time for the TBs (tramping boots) to have an outing . . .
— To be continued
- The Izu Geo Trail is a 7-day, 6-night guided tour starting in Tokyo and finishing in Mishima. The trail explores the Izu Peninsula in the Shizuoka Prefecture, one of the most unique geological areas on Earth. The mountainous peninsula with deeply indented coasts, white sand beaches and a climate akin to a sub-tropical island, is located 150km south west of Tokyo on the Pacific Coast of the island of Honshu, Japan.
- An easy-to-moderate-paced hiking tour with an average walking distance of 6-12km each day, mostly on uneven forest and mountain tracks including some steep climbs and descents.
- Walk Japan pioneered off-the-beaten-track walking tours in Japan in 1992 with the Nakasendo Way tour. Since then, the company has created 29 guided, self-guided and speciality tours introducing the geography, people, cuisine, customs, culture and history of the real Japan that often remain inaccessible for visitors to the country.
- Walk Japan has been widely recognised, including selection by National Geographic as one of the 200 Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.
Justine Tyerman was a guest of Walk Japan.
This article originally appeared on Over60.