The longest day
The tramping boots prove their worth as Justine Tyerman’s best hiking buddies on the Walk Japan’s Izu Geo Trail.
Konnichiwa! I heard the tramping boots (TBs) chortle as they sauntered off to the drying room with the sweet young kimono-clad girl who welcomed us to our ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.
The TBs were in fine fettle after our six-hour hike along spectacular forest and coastal tracks on the Izu Geo Trail.
We had just finished the longest hike of our seven-day, six-night Walk Japan hiking tour of the Izu Peninsula – just two hours by train from Tokyo but worlds away from hustle-bustle of the megalopolis.
I was heading straight for the revitalising waters of the onsen baths with my lady friends while the TBs were looking forward to hobnobbing with their counterparts from around the world.
They had once again proven their worth as my best tramping buddies, delivering me safely to my destination at the end of an exhilarating day of hiking in the great outdoors.
I could hear them bragging about having been chosen ahead of my lightweight walking shoes, “all very flash and trendy but where’s the tread and ankle support when you need it, eh?”
They were right in their element.
Day five was the longest hike of the Izu Geo Trail, around 12km with a steep climb or two, “nothing compared with some of the tramps I’ve done in my time”, the TBs crowed.
We were accompanied by guide John Sweeney, an Australian chap who lives nearby in a mountain village of only 30 people with his Japanese wife Kiyomi. The couple also run an English language school.
John leads an interesting life guiding many Walk Japan tours and also working with search and rescue services.
He delivered a thorough safety briefing about watching where we placed our feet and only looking at the scenery when we stopped, an important message given that the track was steep and strewn with tree roots. Always on the lookout for hazards, the TBs agreed.
John also mentioned the ‘s’ word which set my heart pounding. The presence of snakes in Japan had not even occurred to me until now but the thought of encountering a venomous mamushi or pit viper was not appealing. I decided to stick close to John and stamp my feet to ward off any vipers lurking in the undergrowth.
Aussies the world over just love to terrify Kiwis with snaky stories.
Starting from the fishing port of Arari, we set off towards Tago on the coast-hugging Imayama section of the Nishiizu Trail. It was a warm, sunny day and we were hiking uphill so we were grateful for the shade of the forest.
After about 45 minutes, we all came to a complete standstill, gazing in wonder at a faint but distinctive cone shape in the distance. It was Mt Fuji rising majestically if somewhat hazily above the cloud on the horizon. Everyone went ballistic with their cameras and iPhones. A photo board showed us the mountain in mid-winter blanketed in snow under clear skies towering above Suraga Bay... but we were all thrilled just to get a glimpse of the famous volcano.
Always someone to chat with
When we could tear our eyes away from Fuji, from our elevated position high above the ocean, spectacular deeply-eroded cliffs, jagged headlands and rocky offshore islands were clearly visible in both directions. The breath-taking beauty of the landscape far exceeded my expectations and my heart soared as we hiked this wonderful trail in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.
With 12 of us in the group (13 counting John), there was always someone to fall into step with and chat with as we walked. I enjoyed such interesting conversations with wonderful people from diverse backgrounds and countries.
After a couple of blissful hours hiking, we emerged on a narrow road at the top of a hillside covered in terraced aloe vera fields, some cultivated for harvest, some left to grow wild. A small motorised wagon stood on tracks that led steeply downhill. John said the owner of the aloe vera fields used the wagon to get up and down the steep slope when tending and harvesting the crop. Brave man, I thought as I peered over the edge to where the track plummeted downhill.
The pretty little fishing port of Tago was our picnic lunch spot. Many neat and tidy boats were tied up at the quay alongside a seriously-high tsunami protection wall with hefty gates, a reminder of Japan’s exposure to such natural disasters.
We stopped at a gated cave in the side of a hill where a kamikaze boat was stored during World War 2. Packed with explosives, the powerful boats were located in strategic positions around the coast in preparation for a US attack.
As we headed out of Tago towards Futo Beach on the Tomyagasaki section of the Nishiizu Trail, John drew my attention to a long, narrow white-ish thing on the side of the road. It looked like a strip of flimsy material but on closer inspection, it turned out to be a snake skin. Caught up in the sheer exhilaration of the hike, I had forgotten all about my snake phobia.
“Where was this snake now in his brand new and even larger skin?” I wondered.
Even the unflappable TBs were slightly rattled.
John also took the opportunity to tell me that two hikers we had met coming in the opposite direction that morning had mentioned they saw a snake with a large frog in its mouth.
“Don’t worry, it was so busy digesting the frog, it was not interested in us,” he said cheerfully.
Volcanic 'necks' at Futo Beach. Photo by Walk Japan
Hiking seemed effortless
The afternoon trail was even more stunning than our morning hike – sparkling calm, blue ocean, the coast stretching for miles, a cloudless sky, sheer cliffs undercut by deep caves, strings of jewel-like bush-topped islands rising abruptly from the sea, joined by necklaces of sand... and all around, the joyful sound of birds singing in the trees. Leaving our backpacks on the side of the trail, we took a side track out to a high promontory overlooking the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. There was rare silence as we absorbed the enormity of the panorama.
The trail returned to sea-level at Futo Beach where a string of volcanic necks stood like mismatched sentinels along the seashore. The necks are former magma pathways in the vents of what were once a series of ancient submarine volcanos. The softer rock has eroded away exposing the solidified magma within. A bizarre and fantastical sight.
The hiking was quite strenuous that day but it seemed effortless – the landscapes were utterly breath-taking. The TBs were in heaven and didn’t want the trail to ever end.
Weary but happy, we arrived on foot at Accueil Sanshiro, a modern inn overlooking the Dogashima coast and Sanshiro Islands.
The TBs were intrigued by the Japanese practice of removing outside footwear at the door and slipping into slippers. So much more sociable for them to spend the evening with other TBs than hanging out in a bedroom overnight with the ‘lightweights’.
Witnessing a west coast sunset on such a clear evening was top of the agenda for everyone so our customary leisurely soak in the onsen baths was cut short to make sure we were all in position, cameras poised, at around 6.30pm.
The sunset was spectacular – the fiery ball slid towards a mauve horizon casting a shimmering golden pathway across the sea. A magical sight framed by islands and headlands.
A spectacular west coast sunset from my balcony at Accueil Sanshiro. Picture by Justine Tyerman
A sumptuous feast of fresh local seafood including abalone cooked in their shell at the table awaited us in the banquet room. There was barely any room on the table for wine glasses. The hungry hikers relished every mouthful.
Failing to do justice the hotel’s onsen due to ‘sunset frenzy’, I arose early next day and soaked in the lovely outdoor pool overlooking the sea.
A buffet breakfast offered a choice of Japanese and Western dishes – I chose fresh salads and vegetables over my usual cereal and yoghurt. I was turning distinctly Japanese... just like the song!
The TBs reappeared at the door of the ryokan looking spick and span after a ‘boot spa treatment’. They were so eager to be the footwear of choice on the last day of the hike, I didn’t have the heart to side-line them... it was just as well. Their sturdy support was much in need as we descended from Kodarumayama.
– 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.