Oita is a western region of Kyushu, which is an area known for its volcanic activity, hot springs, waterfalls, and hiking trails. I spent an entire week based in Oita, as I explored the island of Kyushu by car and in this blog post, I will share with you my favorite things to do in Oita based on my experience.
I’ve written individual guides for many of the specific locations in this article, which means you can click on the link and view the detailed guide for each individual location, which includes how to get there, all the photos and what to expect. At the bottom of this post, I will add a few sections of things you need to know before exploring the region of Oita in Kyushu such as how to get around, where to stay and other logistical and travel tips to help you out before your visit.
11 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN OITA, KYUSHU
ONBARA FALLS (SHORT) HIKE
The journey to Onbara Falls is a very, very short trek but will remove you from the town of Beppu and immerse you in the jungle making you feel lost beneath the falls. Onbara Falls is a bit of a hidden gem just outside the town of Beppu in Oita Prefecture of Kyushu, Japan. Beppu is one of the most famous Onsen towns in Japan and even the world. However, amidst all of the hot springs and Onsens are some truly epic waterfalls and Onbara Falls is up there with the most beautiful and most accessible.
The trail is short and well-defined with a dirt/rock path leading you up to the falls. With the morning sun shining through it was actually a beautiful little walk, which is only about 2km return.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: ONBARA FALLS IN KYUSHU, JAPAN
HIKING IN THE KUJU MOUNTAINS
The stunning Kuju Mount range is part of the Aso-Kuju National Park and while Mount Kuju might be the most famous it is actually the nearby Nakadake Peak that is the highest peak in the park, which makes it the highest point on Kyushu Island. These mountains are connected by a series of hiking trails so you can kind of make it up as you go, pushing on to ‘one more peak’ time and time again or follow a set route. I did a bit of both.
It’s straight up from the get-go so don’t put too many jackets on you will be working that incline straight away. Once you reach the ridge it’s time for the adventure to start. The trail turns into a rocky ridgeline with a number of ladders and some very low-key bouldering required.
The total day of climbing was 1,026m so it’s always an effort when you grab a vertical kilometer. The trail was rocky but quite well defined and we never had too many difficulties finding our way. At the top of Mount Kuju we could watch over the erupting Mount Aso in the distance and admire the valley below.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: HIKING THE KUJU MOUNTAIN RANGE
The Mount Taharayama hike leads you on a steep ascent up to an epic, rocky ridgeline before you descend down into the forest to discover a 10th century stone buddha carving into the cliff wall. It’s an adventure with a tomb-raider vibe and is definitely sure to have you off-the-beaten-path and out there amongst the adventure in the Oita Prefecture of Kyushu Island, Japan.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MT. TAHARAYAMA HIKE TO KUMANO MAGAIBUTSU (BUDDHA STATUE)
HIGASHI SHIIYA FALLS
Higashi Shiiya Falls is a pretty epic waterfall just out of Beppu Town. When you arrive you will park in the parking lot of the information center and pay your entrance/parking fee and then make the 800m along the river and through the gorge to reach the waterfall. It’s a really pretty walk and I can’t imagine how scenic it would be with the fall colors. At the end of the gorge is a massive waterfall flowing into a giant circular pool.
TAKACHIHO GORGE WATERFALL (Minainotaki Waterfall)
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.
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 first way to enjoy Takachio gorge and the Minaionotaki Waterfall is to 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.
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
MOUNT YUFU HIKE
While I was based in Beppu I headed up for sunrise one morning to hike Mount Yufu. It’s known as being quite a tough hike due to the consistent incline and relentless switchbacks that lead you up to the two peaks at the summit. However, on the day I visited, it was covered in the cloud at the top. We saw deer along the way and really enjoyed the hike. I know the view from the summit is pretty epic so I’ve added it onto this list with a photo from a day with better weather. It was a 7km round trip with more than 700m of an incline up the switchbacks. I’ve included a photo below of the view from the top and the view from below on a day in better conditions than when I hiked. Keep in mind, it is known for being a peak that is hard to catch on a clear day so do pick the best day of the week regarding weather.
MOUNT TSURUMI HIKE
When you stay in the town of Beppu, you will always notice the mountains looming at the back of the valley. The highest point is called Mount Tsurumi and it’s actually possible to reach by cable car. However, there is a trail to the top if you are up for the very steep challenge. Of course, if you are just in it for the view, take the cable car but for those who love the adventure and want to spot some deer along the way the trail starts just around the backside of the cable car parking. Drive an extra half mile up the road past the cable car parking and you will find the trail entrance on the right side of the road. It’s on maps.me if you can’t find it.
At the summit, you have a beautiful view down over the town of Beppu and the entire beach. Just like Mount Yufu, on the day I visited, the weather was quite poor visibility with heavy fog so I have included a photo from a clearer day so you can decide if this is a hike you are keen to add to your Kyushu bucket list.
The ‘Hells’ of Beppu, as they are known, are seven incredible hot springs all in one area. Unlike many of the onsens or hot springs in the area, these specific hot springs are for viewing only as they are far too hot for bathing. They are quite a tourist attraction and it almost looks like zoo enclosures but instead of almost there is a bubbling, steaming pool of volcanically heated water. The reason these ‘Hells’ are so unique is that they each have a different feature such as the orange Hell or the deep blue Hell. I thought the experience of visiting the Hells of Beppu was quite cool but very touristy.
I visited the Beppu Hells as part of this full-day tour from Fukuoka including the Beppu Hells and Yufuin Spa Town.
KOKONOE YUME OTSURIHASHI SUSPENSION BRIDGE
The Kokonoe Yume Otsurihashi Suspension Bridge is in the west of Oita and is the longest and highest pedestrian bridge in all of Japan! From the bridge, you look down 173-meters below to the Naruko River which sits in the steep gorge. From the bridge, you can see the Kuju Mountains and the Handa highlands as well as several waterfalls nearby.
ENJOY AN ONSEN EXPERIENCE
Kyushu is famous for its hot springs and it is one of the most volcanic places in the world. It is Beppu that is at the center of this volcanic activity when it comes to onsens and hot springs with hundreds of different onsens, spa-resorts and hot springs to test out. It’s definitely an experience you want to try at least once. The general premise of an onsen experience is that you will arrive fully clothed, strip down to naked and then bathe in the hot spring water with the other locals and visitors. The minerals, temperature and meditative experience is said to be very beneficial for your health. I visited Hoyoland Onsen as they allowed people with tattoos to bathe whereas many do not due to traditional laws. There are lots of very scenic onsens to choose from but make sure you try it at least once as this is the most cultural experience you can have and one of the best things to do in Kyushu.
I didn’t take a photo at the onsen as it isn’t allowed and would be very weird as everyone is naked so I’ve added in a stock photo below to show you what it looks like.
KUNIMIGAOKA VIEWPOINT OF BEPPU TOWN
Just before you get into Beppu make sure you stop at the Kunimigaoko Viewpoint where you will have the best views over this famous hot spring region. I was there in the middle of the day so the lighting was a bit tough but if you came up here for sunrise or sunset you would be in for an absolute treat as you will see the beautiful colors of the ocean as the light peaks over the mountains.
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.
BEST TIME TO VISIT KYUSHU
I visited in February, which was winter and freezing. I don’t advise it but it was still epic. The best time to visit Kyushu is most definitely not winter. It’s not really a ski destination so likely you will be freezing and all of the leaves will be dead so the landscapes will not be as beautiful as other times of the year. There are a few drawcards to each season so I will go through them below.
- Fall/Autumn: The temperature is mild and comfortable making it great for hikes and adventuring. If you time things right, you will get the beautiful fall colors out on the trails!
- Spring: This is definitely the most popular season to travel to Kyushu with sunny days and comfortable temperatures. It is very popular at this time due to the cherry blossoms and flowers that are in full swing at this time of year.
- Summer: While not known for its beaches, Kyushu does offer a number of great swimming spots and beaches to explore. For hiking, it may get a little hot but (up to 30 degrees celsius) never reaching temperatures that would limit your adventures.