Takachiho Gorge is one of the most incredible natural attractions on Kyushu Island, Japan. In the forest of Miyazaki, the Gokase River runs through a gorge comprised of volcanic basalt columns where the 17-meter high Minainotaki Waterfall pours down on the awe-struck tourists below who are paddling the iconic rowboats through the narrow chasm.
HOW TO GET TO TAKACHIHO GORGE
Takachiho Gorge is in the Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island, Japan. While you can base yourself in Miyazaki, it’s much more common to be based in Fukuoka (biggest city of Kyushu) or Kumamoto. If you are based in either of those two cities it is best to rent a car for the day or as I did, rent a car for your entire trip throughout Kyushu Island. Having the car made it super easy to visit all of the epic natural attractions and there just wasn’t too much in the way of public transports aside from the lines to and from the major cities. Getting to remote waterfalls or volcanoes is either done on a tour or in a car for the most part.
Takachiho Gorge from Fukuoka: From Fukuoka City to Takachiho Gorge it is a 178km journey taking 2 hours and 40 minutes. There are a few stops you could make along the way to break the journey up but it is inevitably a long journey. An alternative to driving all that way is to take the train to Kumamoto but then you will need to join a tour from there.
Takachiho Gorge from Kumamoto: Kumamoto is about the best spot to base for your visit to Takachiho Gorge. It’s a 77km journey that will take you 1 hour and 40 minutes from Kumamoto by car.
TAKACHIHO GORGE MAP LOCATION
TAKACHIHO GORGE DAY TOUR
As I said above, Takachiho Gorge is a bit hard to get to with public transport so unless you have rented a car, the best way to get there is on the Takachiho Gorge Day Tour. The tour includes drop-off and pickup from your hotel, an English-speaking guide for while you are at the gorge. Helen the guide is an absolute legend and we loved this tour and this epic location.
CLICK HERE to check rates and availability for the Takachiho Gorge Day Tour
BEST TIME TO VISIT TAKACHIHO GORGE
Kyushu Island is beautiful in the summer and the fall, which are the most popular times for tourists. In the fall you get the beautiful tinged orange and different colors on the trees and in the summer you are blessed with the best weather. I visited in the winter, which was not the prettiest time as lots of the leaves were dead so there were plenty of sparse trees. However, Takachiho Gorge was at a lower elevation and in a spot that was still beautiful and green in the winter. The conclusion is pretty much that it is a year-round attraction, which will only differ slightly at various times throughout the year.
The time of day that you visit is actually the most important factor rather than the time of year which you visit. This is because the light flows down onto the waterfall creating a golden flow for a brief hour-spell. I arrived at 10 am and then around 11 am the waterfall began to glow as the sun was in the right spot. This was the best time for photographs and just to enjoy the gorge in the best lighting whether you have a camera or not. Try and get there mid-morning and hang out for a while giving you time to set-up and get your row-boat or find a nice spot to take in the gorge.
ENTRY FEES AND BOAT FEES AT TAKACHIHO GORGE
- There is a 1000 Yen entry fee and the area is open from 8 am to 9 pm every day other than special occasions where the opening times may differ.
- The fee to rent a boat has risen dramatically recently and as of February 2020 the price to have a 30-minute paddle in a row boat is 3000 Yen.
MY EXPERIENCE AT TAKACHIHO GORGE
When I visited Takachiho Gorge I was based in Fukuoka but I highly advise visiting while based in Miyazaki, Beppu or Kumamoto to make the journey much shorter. I caught the train to Kumamoto and then met my tour guide from the Klook Tour I had booked. Helen our driver met us at the train station and off we went in her tour van to Takachiho Gorge. We made some other stops throughout the day but the main focus of the day was to visit Takachiho, which is the most popular attraction on Kyushu.
You don’t necessarily need a guide but it was handy as guides always are. Helen was super chill and helped us get there at the right time for the best lighting and told us how to rent the boats, where to go at specific times for the golden light on the waterfall and provided some background info on the waterfall and the gorge. The transit to and from Kumamoto station was also super handy. So, getting a guide isn’t necessary but definitely handy and if you have a big group it could make things easier.
We arrived at Takachiho Gorge at around 10 am, which proved to be perfect timing. The golden lighting hit the waterfall about 45-minutes later so we were in the prime time for photos once we were in the boats and on the viewing platform. We straight away headed down to the dock area where all the rental boats are. On the way down you will pass a magnificent waterfall, which is overshadowed by the famous Minainotaki Waterfall, which is the star of the show in the gorge.
I was a little bit shocked to find out the price of renting a boat for 3000 Yen, which at the time I visited equated to about to $30 USD or $50 AUD. It seemed a bit steep for a 30-minute wooden rowboat paddle but it’s always booked out and very popular so the demand is there. If you are on a budget, you can just see it all from the platforms and still have a great experience without coughing up $50 Aussie dollars for the boat rental, which isn’t included in the Klook Tour.
We began the very short paddle into the gorge to visit the waterfall. I’ve heard on bus days it is hectic with boats left, right and center but when we went it was just before the Corona Virus outbreak and during winter so crowds were very low and only a few boats were on the water.
The paddle is quite easy and takes just a few minutes to get right up close and personal with the waterfall. In total, you will only have to paddle about 200m one-way and then back to see the entire gorge. It’s a very relaxing and great family activity. First, you will paddle underneath the stone bridge and then alongside the Minainotaki Waterfall. It sprayed us a little but mostly we just enjoyed the stunning gorge, which is made of volcanic basalt columns. The columns are said to resemble the scales of a dragon where the stones were twisted when the river flowed in the formation of the gorge.
The second way to enjoy the Takachiho Gorge is from one of the many viewing points. My two favorites were the bridge and the lower (most popular) viewpoint. The bridge gives you a very elevated view of the boats and the waterfall below, framed nicely by the overhanging trees and the walls of the gorge.
The lower viewpoint is said to be incredibly crowded during popular times of the year but we had it mostly to ourselves. This was when the light really hit the waterfall making it seem like a golden flow down into the river of the gorge. This was my favorite moment out of our entire visit to Takachiho Gorge and I was stoked on the photos I captured as well.
The final little spot we visited was taking a walk further down the gorge where you can get a close-up look of the basalt columns and even cross a few more bridges that look directly down into the chasm below. This entire region is amazing with a surprise around every corner.
Make sure you try the noodle shops beside the river that deliver your noodles in quite a unique way. They use tubes of bamboo to float your noodles down the table along to you and you need to scoop them up with chopsticks. The stores use naturally cooled water from the waterfall to keep the noodles at the right temperature (yes… cold noodles). It’s a great experience and capped off a beautiful little adventure day for us.
KYUSHU TRAVEL TIPS
WHICH REGION IS BEST FOR YOU?
Here’s a checklist for you to start:
- Fukuoka: If you want to be in a vibrant city scene and a central base, you may want to stay in Fukuoka.
- Kumamoto (my pick): If you’re looking to get away from the bustling city life and be centrally positioned for all hotspot tourist locations then visit and stay in Kumamoto.
- Beppu: If you want to check out a lot of hot springs, mud baths, and sand baths, Beppu in Oita prefecture is the best place for you.
- Kagoshima: If you are eager to go hiking in Kirishima and see Mt. Sakurajima, head to Kagoshima prefecture.
- Yakushima (Separate Island): If you want to hike through the stunning Shiratani Unsuikyo Valley, see ancient cedar trees, and waterfalls, Yakushima is the best place for you.
For a full article about how to split up your time between the popular regions in Kyushu, check out my guide about how to plan your Kyushu Itinerary: THE ULTIMATE KYUSHU ITINERARY: 5-DAY, 7-DAY & 10-DAY
WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU
Best Luxury Place to Stay in Fukuoka: Hotel WBF Grande Hakata (Value): This is by far the most popular hotel and one of the most luxurious in Fukuoka. There are a large public bath and an open-air bath on the top level of the hotel where guests can relax and enjoy the views.
Best Value/Budget Place to Stay in Fukuoka: WeBase Hakata Hostel (Budget): This stylish hostel offers a wide range of dorm-type rooms with shared bathrooms, sockets, and safes for your belongings. They also have a kitchen, a terrace, and is within walking distance to convenience stores, a subway station, ramen shops, and sightseeing spots.
Best Value Place to Stay in Kumamoto: Hotel The Gate Kumamoto (Value): Hotel The Gate is a well-situated accommodation in the heart of Kumamoto, just across the train station and walking distance to shops and restaurants.
Best Budget Luxury Place to Stay in Kumamoto: Kumamoto Hotel Castle (Luxury): Set near the infamous Kumamoto Castle, this luxury hotel features a wide range of carpeted rooms from standard rooms to suites fitted with plush amenities.
For a full list of the top-rated places to stay in Kyushu, you can check out my comprehensive guide: WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU: BEST REGIONS & HOTELS
HOW TO GET AROUND KYUSHU FOR ADVENTURERS
While the train may suit those in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and even in Fukuoka, it won’t cut it out here on Kyushu. The trains will get you from major towns and even into some regional areas with bus connection but almost all of the adventure sports I visited had no bus connection. When I searched on Google Maps and clicked the public transport option it would just say ‘not available’. It was very clear, very quickly that Kyushu island is best to explore by car, especially if you are doing hikes and activities outside of the city (literally everything on this list).
Renting a car wasn’t too expensive and I did the car booking through Klook, finding them to be the best-reviewed and had the cheapest options. I flew in from Tokyo so picked the car up from Fukuoka Airport and dropped it back when I was done. If you check out Klook Car Rentals and then search to pick up at Fukuoka Airport you should find a range of options. I got a very small car as it was cheap but it turned out very handy as the narrow roads of Japanese suburbs where my Airbnb was made it impossible for big SUVs. There was also no time that I needed to be off-road or anything like that so a small, fuel-efficient car made it cheap and convenient.
*** It is extremely important to know that you MUST HAVE an international driver’s license to rent a car in Japan. In fact, they won’t even look at your actual driver’s license and only want to see the international driver’s license. Take that seriously as they genuinely will not give you the car and likely no refund if you don’t have that. To get one you need to be in your country of residence and you can get one on the spot or order online and receive in a week or so. Make sure you organize that in advance as I almost got caught out not knowing that.
Here is my little blue whip that I rented with the best budget option for booking a car on Klook.
ARE YOU FOLLOWING MY KYUSHU BLOG SERIES?
I spent over three weeks exploring Kyushu and visited some incredible waterfalls, hiked some amazing trails, and visited a number of epic volcanoes. I created a number of guides to help travelers find the best spots in Kyushu. You can explore the articles by clicking on the links below.
The Ultimate Kyushu Bucketlist: 30 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KYUSHU
A guide to the best places to stay in Kyushu in each region: WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU: BEST REGIONS & HOTELS
How to plan your Kyushu vacation: THE ULTIMATE KYUSHU ITINERARY: 5-DAY, 7-DAY & 10-DAY
Interested in chasing waterfalls?: 12 AWESOME WATERFALLS IN KYUSHU
Keen for some epic hiking?: 11 AWESOME HIKES IN KYUSHU
Everything you need to know about Oita: 11 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN OITA
Your Ultimate Guide to Kumamoto: 13 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KUMAMOTO
My favorite waterfall in Kyushu: TAKACHIHO GORGE – MOST BEAUTIFUL WATERFALL IN JAPAN