Cycling road trip in Japan: Shimanami-kaido (Day 1)

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.

Ferry from Onomichi to Mukaishima. The Shimanami Kaido cycling road starts here!

Ferry from Onomichi to Mukaishima. The Shimanami Kaido cycling road starts here!

Our bicycles on board the ferry with our road trip luggage sitting snugly in the child seat

Our bicycles on board the ferry with our road trip luggage sitting snugly in the child seat

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.

Welcome to Mukaishima!! Follow the blue painted line!

Welcome to Mukaishima!! Follow the blue painted line!

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 (-_-)|||

Love the tranquility <3 We cycled through farms

Love the tranquility

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!

First bridge in sight! But no... wrong!

First bridge in sight! But no… wrong!

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.

The beautiful wrong bridge

The beautiful wrong bridge

The tiny Golden Gate-ish bridge. If you see this bridge, you are heading the wrong way! haha

The tiny Golden Gate-ish bridge. If you see this bridge, you are heading the wrong way! haha

Nevertheless, let's enjoy the beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea! :)

Nevertheless, let’s enjoy the beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea! 🙂

The right one: Innoshima Ohashi bridge!

The right one: Innoshima Ohashi bridge!

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!

Follow the signs! - turn left to Innoshima Ohashi bridge

Follow the signs! – turn left to Innoshima Ohashi bridge

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.

Dedicated bicycle paths leading up to bridges

Dedicated bicycle paths leading up to bridges

IMG_7408 (1)

At Innoshima Ohashi, the bicycles take the lower deck. The motor vehicles are on the upper deck of the bridge

At Innoshima Ohashi, the bicycles take the lower deck. The motor vehicles are on the upper deck of the bridge

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).

Bridge toll time! Drop 50 yen into the toll box

Bridge toll time! Drop 50 yen into the toll box

Next Ikuchi Bridge!

Next Ikuchi Bridge!

Clearly marked cycling roads

Clearly marked cycling roads

Many orange groves along the way

Many orange groves along the way

Follow the directions to Imabari

Follow the directions to Imabari

We cycled past many farmlands

We cycled past many farmlands

Pitstop at Lawsons - Thanks goodness for the abundance of combinis even at rural areas in Japan!

Pitstop at Lawsons – Thank goodness for the abundance of combinis even at rural areas in Japan!

The beautiful views of Ikuchi Bridge and the Seto Inland Sea

The beautiful views of Ikuchi Bridge and the Seto Inland Sea

Lovely scenery. This is really awesome

Lovely scenery. This is really awesome

Ikuchijima - heading to the place where we will rest our feet for the night

Ikuchijima – heading to the place where we will rest our feet for the night

Another bridge toll time!

Another bridge toll time!

Souvenir stamps along the way. There is a stamp for every bridge

Souvenir stamps along the way. There is a stamp for every bridge

Colourful manhole cover

Colourful manhole cover

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

Goodbye, daylight!

Goodbye, daylight!

Nightfall sets in......

Nightfall sets in……

The moon is out and we were still on the road

The moon was out and we were still on the road

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.

DELICIOUS!!!!! Looks pretty in the kid's meal plate

DELICIOUS!!!!! Looks pretty in the kid’s meal plate

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:

1. Shimanami Kaido Tourist Information

2. Japan Guide: Shimanami Kaido

One response to “Cycling road trip in Japan: Shimanami-kaido (Day 1)

  1. If you are not used to bicycling in Japan, be careful not to pedal it onto a national highway. There are many streets that meet the highway but the sideways are too small for bicycles and dangerious Otherwise, it is all fun on a good day. Pedal during daytime, and rest in a hot spring at evening eating good Japanese fish and sake afterward.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s