Izu Peninsula

We had the day free to explore the Izu Peninsula today and mostly what we discovered is that we needed a week, not a day. 🙂 And Izu goes on our list!

It is less than a three hour drive to circumnavigate the entire area if you take the highways and toll roads, but we decided to tootle around the back roads so we could explore the sleepy towns and quieter areas more. It’s a beautiful area known for attracting artists and writers, very mountainous with staggeringly gorgeous and dramatic coastlines and even some sand beach areas which are quite popular with people in Tokyo for short breaks. One of the first things we navigated to get onto the roads we wanted was this impressive elevated spiral road system, called the Kawazu Nanadaru Loop Bridge, that brings traffic up or down a steep embankment that probably used to have very dangerous switchback roads. It’s located on Route 414 that connects Namuzu to Shimoda and is a 1km bit of road with a height of 45m and a diameter of only 80m… it corkscrews the traffic uphill counterclockwise and downhill clockwise and feels really weird as you get a 720 degree view as you go down through two full loops.
Architecturally it is very impressive; it was opened in 1981 after an earthquake quake collapsed the old road that was full of hairpin turns in 1978. Very cool.

Our first stop on our little tour of the peninsula was the Mine Onsen Daifunto Park – a small park focused on it’s impressive geyser that regularly (and I mean, very regular as it appears to be on some sort of deliberate timed release schedule), spews 100C hot onsen water 25′ into the air. I’ve seen geyser in Iceland and New Zealand, but of course the Japanese have their own way of doing things so this was nothing like the bubbling up of Strokkur or the boiling mud of Rotorua… first, Daifunto Geyser has a cool mascot with a geyser on his head! Does Iceland or NZ have a mascot? No. Boring!

And they’ve built a mine shaft over the geyser to control where the water will be expelled from… at the bottom of this structure is a place to boil your eggs. Yes, the little shop here will sell you some eggs, that you can boil in the onsen water and take to a space to sit and eat them. I don’t know why, it’s just something they do!We didn’t have to wait too long for it to go off, only about ten minutes, and I chose a safe place where the ground wasn’t wet to wait and take pictures.

But so much for that! As the boiling hot water started to spew out of the geyser I think perhaps the wind was now coming in a different direction from the last eruption and I got soaked. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the boiling hot water had totally cooled by the time it fell onto me and I found myself pelted with freezing cold water.
Naturally I had to beat a hasty retreat. The eruption lasted about a full minute or so.

After leaving the 414 at Kawazu, we were spat out of the mountainous roads at Kawazu Beach. From here we would be following the coastal roads around the peninsula.

The scenery went immediately from mountains and autumn foliage to dramatic craggy coastlines and rocky outcrops. Unfortunately, the locals must be immune to the beauty of the coast as there weren’t many places where you can pull over to safely take photographs. So my speed landscape photography had to suffice in many spots. Kawazu, Kamo-gun-Hama. I’ve made a point to recall the name most of these spots so I maybe come back and map out a future itinerary. 🙂

We drove past some amazing and gorgeous coastlines with pretty little rocky islands just off the coast. But the first place to safely stop was the Shimoda – Shirahama lookout which overlooked… the town. :/ Still beautiful, and nice they have gone to the trouble of planting palm trees to frame the view – why, people?

I sauntered past the vending machines, vaguely looking for a Coke Zero – but of course the vending machines here didn’t have any, (I don’t know why, but sugar free options aren’t readily available here?). Anyway, it was quite cold today and I noticed this weird offering – there was Kirin milky tea available nearly everywhere, but this one was special Caramel Tea Latte, and while it was bound to be absolutely loaded with sugar it was only 140JPY and I thought, why not?

Tried my hot Caramel Tea Latte and almost immediately asked Mr K (whose pockets were bulging with coin) back to grab another. It was just the right amount of sweet, warm and delicious on a count day and I was so glad I hadn’t found these earlier in the trip when we were up in the snow! One and one to take home was more than enough I think.

We continued our drive an wound around more of the beautiful coastline – it is a really beautiful part of the world.

Shimoda Port

Izu Shirahama Beach… now I have seriously dropped a pin in this spot. Not because I want to come back here for a beach holiday (Hello? Australian!), but because there are some lovely ryokan/onsen hotels here that have stunning views over the coast.

I could definitely handle an onsen stay with a view like this…

Further around the port nearer to Shirahama, we saw one of these pirate ships, which I thought were usually in Hakone piloting tourists around to try and see Fuji on a clear day… it looked really out of place.Minamiizu, Kamo-Gun

Stunning – even in this overcast moody weather, the light is so beautiful

Nishiizu, Kano-Gun… this was a delightful little bay spotted with many beautiful little islands on the horizon, but of course there was not a single place to stop and take photos. Damn, will just have to come back! I imagine the sun rises here are spectacular.

After this we continued on around the Minamiizu coastline for a while…

… before heading inland to take a road towards the famous Hagachizaki Monkey Bay Park. We did drive to the entrance of the park, and had a poke around but decided not to go in – it had a depressing 1990’s Barcelona Zoo feel about it, and I didn’t want to go gawk at sad contained monkeys in Japan. I could explain that further, but suffice to say, occasionally you find a ‘tourist attraction’ that just saddens, rather than enriches.

The drive around the area was still very pretty though.

After leaving the monkey park are we found ourselves taking one of the windiest mountain towards I think I have ever been on. In a lot of places it was barely one lane wide and had plenty of mirrors on the hairpins so that you had some hope of seeing someone coming towards you, but felt pretty hairy nonetheless!

I took some video of this drive, that I will try and upload somewhere and add in later (if I remember to), but even driving at low speeds, you could feel your body being thrown around in your seat.The forest was beautiful and cool to drive through, lots of autumn colours sprinkled in amongst the trees.

At one point we were wondering how the area was being used for forestry with such terrible and narrow roads. We drove past this plant/factory right near Yugashima, (couldn’t’ make out from the maps what it was for) and couldn’t imagine how the machinery and equipment was ever brought in here.

Nishiizu Kamo-Gun Ugusu Lookout

From here it was time to head back to the ryokan and wait for The Boys to arrive. We had been following their progress (thanks to technology – invasive and pervasive as it is these days) for the afternoon and could see they were not far away now. Can’t wait for a night hanging out with the kids, enjoying a lovely dinner and some saké,

Tell me what you think