Yamanami Highway, Daikanpo and Nabegataki やまなみハイウェイ
As the pandemic slithers on, long distance travel seems inappropriate, but some relatively local excursions can be excused as contact free.
In this spirit we head for Aso. This volcanic vent in central Kyushu is really outstanding and the surrounding area is spectacular in different, calmer ways.
Today, we skirt the edge of the Aso caldera and visit Daikanpo. This is a viewing spot on the edge of the caldera that provides a view of the active volcano that is the centre of Mount Aso with all its attendant peaks. The most identifiable being the ragged skyline of Neko-dake.
From this viewpoint, one can gain a clear idea of the central cone of Mt. Aso and the Aso plain formed by the collapse of the original, massive volcano millennia ago.
To reach Diakanpo follow the Yamanami highway (prefecture road 11). This is not a highway at all, though it used to be a toll road. It runs from Beppu to Aso and is a wonderful road to drive. It offers winding, open road through stunning scenery. The undulating hillsides covered in grasses, green in spring and summer but light brown in autumn and dusted with snow in winter are superb. Plus the rugged, sulphur strewn peaks of Mt. Kuju.
No matter how many times I have driven this road (first on a motorcycle in the early 80’s) I am impressed.
To reach Daikanpo, before you meet the edge of the Aso Caldera take a right turn, along what is known as the Milk Road (prefecture road 45, 12, 339). I am told this is because the many dairy farms in the Aso area send their milk to urban centres along this route. Though this may well be fanciful information. After about 8 kilometres, Daikanpo is on the left.
On reaching Daikanpo you will find a large car park,(it is a popular spot), and a low building selling things. I know it sells soft cream as these are available from outside, but I confess I have never been inside the building.
Skirting the building. Leaving it to your right follow the obvious way up to the edge of one of the largest caldera in the world and the second largest in Japan. From the edge you can see the rectangles of the rice fields stretching away into the distance below, crisscrossed with roads linking the habitations.
Probably you can see the smoke rising from Nakadake the central and still very active volcanic vent. The mind-blowing sight is the caldera edge stretching away to the right and left. The visible curvature is enough to give an impression of how the circle is complete though, of course, the opposite side is obscured by the central peaks.
From this vantage point there are various paths to follow, some paved and some not. It is easy to follow these paths on a slightly longer route back to the car park. I cannot comment on the unpaved trails.
This spot is also a centre for parasailing as intrepid souls launch themselves out over the edge of the caldera.
From Daikanpo we are heading for Nabegataki waterfall, so on leaving we turn left as we hit the Milk Road again. This is a good road to follow all the way to Kikuchi, but we need to get to Oguni to visit the waterfall. So shortly after we take a left, which feels wrong but left it is, to take the road to Oguni. This is a pleasant enough route but nothing of particular note.
Nabegataki waterfall 鍋ヶ滝
On descending into the crossroads at Oguni, turn left passed a large timber yard. Here the Sugi forest is actively managed. Soon, descending a hill, the entrance to Nabegataki is found on the right. This is a narrow lane through a village. After a few minutes, you arrive at the car park on the right. Here there is a ticket booth. This comes as some surprise to me as on a previous visit there was no paved car park and certainly no entrance fee. Now it is 300 Yen. Once through the gate, a set of steps leads down to the falls. This is also a surprise as no such nice, clean steps existed, just a steep muddy incline. The mamushi, venomous snake warning, was familiar.
Descending to the falls, which are not large but secluded and picturesque, you enter a valley of lush greens and running water. This is a very cool spot on a hot day and, as it is possible to walk behind the falls and stand in a damp, semi cave with the water pouring down in front of you, almost chilly even when it is over 30 degrees.
A friend of mine sent me a video of this spot taken in September 2019. That showed a queue of people all the way up the steps to the car park waiting for the chance to experience being behind the falls. There was also a wait for the car park apparently.
I have not encountered this, but the ample parking, ticket booth and steps suggest that this spot becomes overwhelmed periodically so, I would suggest, you choose to visit well off peak.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.