By Mandy Bartok
Gokase is an unexplored land waiting to be discovered. Located on the southern Kyushu Island in Miyazaki Prefecture, Gokase Highland is famous for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months. Relatively unknown outside winter, this hidden village is full of exciting outdoor activities. During my recent expedition to Gokase, I made several new friends, explored beautiful landscapes, and had an amazing experience traveling down the Gokase River.
Anyone who visits Gokase must spend at least a few hours exploring the areas around the Gokase River. Walking towards the river, every turn uncovers small, cascading waterfalls and breathtaking scenery. Joining the river tour is truly the best way to completely immerse yourself in the surroundings.
As I approached the riverside, two large rows of multicolored kayaks and canoes were set up on the bank. The locals, including Sugita-san and Hiro-san, are helpful and friendly beyond words and acted as my tour guides for the day. We started off with some light stretching and then followed a short tutorial on paddling in the kayak. Once on the river the beauty of the area really came to life. As the morning mist receded slowly from the area a slight fog hovered over the river. All you could hear at this point was the sounds of nature and the calm sounds of the water as the paddles went back and forth. Looking out, the expansive river was so clean and clear you could see straight to the bottom. As we reached a split in the river we headed upstream and the flow of the river gave a gentle resistance. On our tour we enjoyed a leisurely pace, but as a workout this certainly beats the gym!
As we trekked our way up the river we stopped off at the gorgeous Unokono waterfall. A small rocky path through some bushes drops you off right underneath the waterfall creating the perfect photo opportunity. The waterfall is a beautiful area during the summer, though another recommended viewing time is during fall with the leaves changing colors all around you. After exploring the waterfall area, we jumped back into our boats. As the fog started to lift off the river we turned around towards the starting site coasting back downstream. When the fog cleared, a truly beautiful scenic landscape enveloped us and we stopped in awe and drifted at the river’s pace for several minutes. Our river tour ended with a trip to see an ancient tree that is a local power spot for praying and meditation and has been in the area for over 800 years. All in all the trip was wonderful and a truly once in a lifetime experience.
Outside of the beautiful river areas there are numerous places to explore. Jyosenji temple and the famous weeping cherry trees is a spot that should not be missed. View this area in early spring to catch the full experience. During the summer time the fields are green and full of local grown specialties such as green tea leaves and grapes. Tours and tastings are available at the Gokase green tea farm and the Gokase winery. Throughout the Spring and Summer seasons beautiful flowers and trees blossom all throughout the mountain regions, making Gokase an excellent spot to enjoy an outdoor hot spring. The best way to get to Gokase is to take the shuttle bus that goes back and forth from either Kumamoto station or Kumamoto airport to Nobeoka station.
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