Kyushu 九州, as the southern-most part of Japan (excluding the island of Okinawa), has much to offer in terms of natural scenery, outdoor activities, historical sites and food! However, as Japan’s third largest island, the distance between places is relatively long so to get the most out of your trip there, I would recommend at least 8 to 9 days.
Even then, we found that it would be too much movement tocover the entire island in one trip so eventually, we settled on North Kyushuonly. This was our travel itinerary to North Kyushu in mid December 2017 withour teen children:-
Beppu Kamenoi Hotel 別府亀の井ホテル – although this hotel was overrun by tourists, we recommend this for its good location, decent onsen, family rooms (all 4 of us had our own beds) and reasonable rates. 4 minutes walk from Beppu Station and near eateries, the Beppu Tower and the YouMe Town shopping mall.
Maple Yaba Cycling – we rented bikes from the Maple Cycling Terminal in the city of Nakatsu, about 1.5 hour’s drive from the Kamenoi Hotel. A large part of the Cycling Road is car-free, so if you have kids with you, this is a great activity to undertake; through farms, foliage and all the way to the iconic Yabakei Bridge 11km away. Very relaxing as it is mostly downhill towards the bridge. This means, however, that it will be UPHILL going back, so factor in the time needed to get back to return the bikes by 5pm.
Kokonoe Yume Suspension Bridge 九重夢大吊橋 – this is a must-go in my opinion. As the longest suspension bridge in Japan (with no real functional purpose except to serve as a tourist spot), the surrounding natural scenery is stunning, especially with the majestic curtain of the Odaki Waterfall in the background.
Yufuin 由布院 – quaint tourist town with fancy (read: expensive) ryokan and famed for the misty, mysterious Kinrinko lake. In truth, we were jostling shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists from China, Thailand, Korea, etc through narrow trendy shopping streets to the small water-body that, to its credit, did have mysterious mists dancing across its surface. Do part with Yen on good ice cream, coffee and cheese pudding to be found in the shops. Be prepared to queue though.
Takachiho Gorge 高千穂峡 – this is probably one of the most iconic attractions in Kyushu and it really is a must-go. The place itself, is right out of the photos that you find of it online and there are 2 experiences that you ought to try out. The first is getting into a boat and rowing around the gorge and the second is trying your hands at catching the Nagashi Somen water slide noodles in the Chiho no Ie Restaurant there. It is a fairly winding road up to the Gorge, with some sharp turns along the narrow 2-way road. So drive carefully and make sure you use the convex mirrors at every bend.
Daikanbo 大観峰 – if you are in the Aso area, this is worth taking a drive to. From the lookout right at the top, you can take in an entire 360-degree view of Mount Aso’s caldera. We were lucky to witness some glorious landscapes when the veil of clouds parted way to let in the resplendent sunbeams.
Couples Fruit Country – if you are in the area between December to February, you might want to drop by for some strawberry picking and after that, home-made apple pie and ice cream. There is an actual couple running the place (hence the name) and they are amiable and hospitable, showing the ropes on how to correctly pick the various varieties of strawberries. Other times, they also have apples and cherries for the picking.
Nagasaki Bio Park – we dropped off the car in Kumamoto and trained to Nagasaki from there, utilising our 3-day North Kyushu Pass. In Nagasaki, we woke up bright and early so that we could catch the transport from the station at Huis Ten Bosch to the Nagasaki Bio Park. The reason for our visit there was – CAPYBARAS! The Park is acclaimed for housing one of the largest herds of capybaras. Being a huge fan of the largest rodent in the world, native to South America, we, of course, have to make a visit to the park to check out the creatures in the flesh and boy, were we rewarded :). Just to also mention that besides capys, the very large and well-maintained Park also has an extensive collection of other animals.
Daizaifu 大宰府 – about 40 minutes away by train from Hakata Station, the city is renowned for the Daizaifu Tenmangu Shrine, dedicated to the accomplished scholar Sugawara Michizane. As such, the shrine is popular with students who flock to its grounds to pray for good grades. From the station to the shrine is a paved pedestrian street dotted on both sides with quaint shops and cafes.