Planning for some special activities to do over the coming summer months? If you love the great outdoors and up for some crazy fun, try to embark on a cycling road trip at the Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道) in Japan! I chanced upon this magnificent cycling path while doing random googling, and at a crazy spur of the moment, I actually decided to cover the 71km epic road trip (it is epic enough for a heels-wearing-office-lady me) in the heart of winter. Yup, no typo error there, I did this road trip a few days before Christmas 2012 and winter was exceptionally cold that year. LOL. Was it memorable? Definitely! The trip was special to me as I had just crossed my big 3-0 and I wanted to do something whacky to mark this important milestone in my life. Looking back, I think the Shimanami Kaido did just that for me 🙂 Awesome road trip, I say!
The Shimanami Kaido is a 60km toll road (the distance is longer by bicycle due to the winding bicycle friendly ramps) which connects Honshu to Shikoku while crossing 6 islands and 6 bridges over the Seto Inland Sea. You can either start cycling from the Honshu side (Onomichi) and end at Shikoku (Imabari), or the reverse. As I was traveling from Kyoto, I started my trip at Honshu (Onomichi). The entire road is marked to make it easy for cyclists to follow the route and there are many stretches which have purpose-built bicycle paths which separates the motor traffic from the bicycles.
This cycling road trip will bring you to the following islands:
(Start: Honshu) Onomichi -> Mukaishima -> Innoshima -> Ikuchijima -> Omishima -> Hakatajima -> Oshima -> Imabari (End: Shikoku)
The 71km cycling journey is short enough for a pro-cyclist or very fit individual to cover within 1 day. For me, I chose to break up the trip over 2 days as I have not much confidence in my own fitness level and I just wanted to take things easy and enjoy the scenery. If I look back at which was the best decision I made in 2012, it has to be deciding to cycle the Shimanami Kaido over 2 days. Oh my feeble legs!
We were exploring Kansai area prior to this, and our itinerary for the entire cycling and rail road trip which brings us all the way to Hiroshima and Miyajima looks like this:
Day 1: Kyoto to Onomichi (via Shinkansen and JR), Onomichi to Ikuchijima (30.6km of cycling) / Overnight at Ikuchijima’s Setoda Tarumi Onsen Private Hostel
Day 2: Ikuchijima to Imabari (40.2km of cycling), Imabari to Matsuyama’s Dogo Onsen (via JR and tram) / Overnight at Dogo Prince Hotel
Day 3: Matsuyama to Hiroshima (via JR and Shinkansen) / Overnight Chiruzu Ryokan
Day 4: Hiroshima to Miyajima (via tram and ferry) / Overnight Ryoso Kawaguchi
Day 5: Miyajima to Kyoto (via ferry, JR and Shinkansen)
Ok, now back to the topic proper… the Shimanami Kaido!
As we started from Onomichi, the nearest bicycle rental shop can be found at Onomichi Port at the Ekimae-Kowan car park. From JR Onomichi, we walked towards the water’s edge and saw a multi-storey car park. The bicycle rental shop is just located there. After choosing our bicycles (we chose a version with child seats so that we could tie our duffle bags to the bicycle), the rental shop owner provided us with maps and explained the rental terms. The rental system is easy – a deposit of 1000 yen is required and it will only be returned if the bicycles were returned back to the same place where it was rented. Otherwise, just choose to forfeit the deposit and you can choose to return it at any of the bicycle terminals along the Shimanami Kaido route. (Hint hint: This is a saviour for people who decide to throw in the towel and take a bus to Imabari instead of cycling :P) Daily rental cost of each bicycle was 500 yen. After taking a photo to mark the start of the trip, we started pedaling towards the port. Shimanami Kaido cycling すたーと！！
From Onomichi to Mukaishima, the crossing is done via a ferry and the cost is 110 yen.
The bicycle, as you can see in the photo is not at all lightweight like what the pros use. The only saving grace was that it had 3 gear changes? LOL.
Ta-daaa!!! This is Mukaishima! This was what greeted us soon after we got off from the ferry. We were told that the blue painted line on the roads indicate the cycling route for the Shimanami Kaido and all we had to do was to follow it. However, we soon realized that the blue line simply meant that it was marked for bicycles, we needed to see the directions painted on the blue line and hence we should follow the arrows pointing towards Imabari. We got lost for a while after we cycled to the rural parts but nevertheless we just pedaled and hoped to chance upon an English speaking local or anyone who could understand my broken Japanese. Hehe (-_-)|||
The rural areas on the islands were the best. I love the relaxed atmosphere and this was indeed a great place to be – away from the bustling cityscapes and hectic urban life!
We were supposed to be heading to Innoshima Ohashi bridge and we didn’t pay attention to the photo on the map. In fact, this bridge looks nothing like Innoshima Ohashi. We only realized when we turned on Google Maps and saw that we were off-course.
Once you are on the right road, it is tough to miss the signs. Just follow it religiously and it’s hard to go wrong. We were just confused by all the traffic and cars at Mukaishima!
Dedicated bicycle paths appear when leading up to the bridges as the route is meant to be bicycle-friendly with gentle inclines. But seriously, we were weak. Yes, our legs had no strength to pedal up inclines of any kind. LOL. We pushed our bicycles up the winding ramps.
The Shimanami Kaido is a tolled road, bicycles are not spared. Hence, please prepare small change to pay the unmanned tolls at bridges. Most tolls cost 50 yen, with the exception of Tatara Bridge (100 yen) and Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge (200 yen).
The day was long and the sun sets early in winter. We started panicking when the sun started setting. We had no idea how far we were from the Setoda Tarumi Onsen Private Hostel! T.T
Seriously, we were deadbeat at that time and very hungry. We grabbed some onigiri which we had in our bags and water from K. The counter staff at K was really helpful and explained to us how far we were from Setoda Tarumi Onsen Hostel (4km!!) and exactly how we were supposed to get there. Thank you angels 🙂
The roads after K were pitch black with absolutely no street lights. Impossible to cycle without any light, we started to push our bicycles along the route beside Sunset Beach. I managed to find a tiny torchlight in my bag which came with my swiss knife and used that little amount of light to shine the way.
When we finally saw our hostel, we screamed for joy and OMG I almost teared. I was too tired to take any photos of the room, but I took a photo of the lovely dinner prepared by the landlady. I was famished. My stomach was crying for food.
The price was a good deal. We paid 4,800 yen per pax for a night’s stay with both dinner and breakfast included. Did I mention this? Onsen is included. I tell you… onsen is the best thing ever after cycling for a whole day! Room is Japanese style with tatami mats and futon.
Needless to say, I slept like a baby… Zzzz…. That’s all for Day 1 of my epic cycling road trip!!
To be continued…. 🙂
Map of the Shimanami Kaido route: