Road Trip: Exploring Oita's coastline


Oita’s 775 kilometre (482 mile) long coastline is intricately varied and strung with myriad highlights including tremendous sea views, one remote beach after another, and unique vermilion-coloured torii shrine gates perched on rocky outcrops. Almost entirely with an eastern aspect, its a coastline with glorious views of the rising sun. And, not surprisingly, the freshest seafood cuisine is a constant companion.

Duration: 3 days beginning in Bungo-Takada and finishing at Saiki.

Day 1 Bungo-Takada - Kunisaki Peninsula - Beppu
Begin your trip in Bungo-Takada, a quiet town and the northern gateway to the Kunisaki Peninsula. Its ‘Show-no-Machi' town centre remains much like it was in the mid-20th Century with an pleasant period feel that attracts visitors and the occasional camera crew using it as a film set. It is well-worth a leisurely exploration before heading east. Drop off at the Soba Cafe Yuhi for a coffee and the sea views. This is the only place in the whole of Oita where the sunsets over the sea. On a blustery day, kite surfers throng here to skim to and fro just off the shoreline.

From hereon, interesting sites include Nagasakibana, a peninsula of art and fields of flowers. You may like to stay here for an evening in the artfully decorated log cabins. Beyond is Imi, a small port town and enclave of artists. Stroll around visiting its galleries, including Touinryo and La Paloma, and soak up its quiet ambiance, which is most apparent at Imi Betsugu, a rustic shrine set in extensive grounds.

Continue along the coast, stopping off at the Michi-no-eki road station just beyond the town for lunch in its restaurant. Its  seafood dishes are delicious and the portions generous. Enjoy the views from here across the Seto Inland Sea to Himeshima, the first of many islands that lie off Oita’s coastline. Beyond lies Oita Airport, the first ever airport in Japan built in the sea. In recent years it has also been made Japan’s first space port with launches due to start in 2022.

The old samurai castle town of Kitsuki lies further around the coast. Here, Ohara-tei, a thatched samurai house, is a must visit, as is the nearby and charming gardens at Oga Farm in Hiji. The scenery now becomes distinctly urban for much of the journey into Beppu, where you stay the night. Beppu has a wide range of accommodation, including some of the best available in Japan. But, sticking with the sea-theme, why not stay at the top-notch Amane Resort Gahama or Hoshino Kai Beppu. More budget-friendly options include Oedo Onsen Monogatari Seifu Beppu and Rex Hotel Beppu. Beppu is an entertaining town and spending some time exploring during the evening is inevitably rewarding.

Day 2 Beppu - Saga-no-Seki - Usuki
Head around Beppu Bay to Oita City. En route, stop off at Umitamago, a well-designed and popular aquarium. Together with its immediate neighbour, Takasaki Natural Zoological Garden, which is famed for its troops of macaques, make this a popular destination. Drive through Oita City perhaps via its western docks to see the giant ferry moored after its overnight journey from Kobe through the Seto Inland Sea. Head west to the Saganoseki Peninsula to enjoy a lunch of seki-saba and seki-aji, prized mackerel caught off the coast here.

From hereon, the general direction of travel is south. Kuroshima, a charming small island that is a stone’s throw from the mainland, is where a Dutch East Indies ship arrived with a bedraggled crew in April 1600 bringing the first Dutch and British visitors to Japan. A little further on is Usuki, which retains a strong feel of its historic samurai past in its townscape. Hotel Kura is an intriguing accommodation with a Eurpoean period feel accommodation serving Italian and Japanese cuisine. Otherwise, Usuki's other accommodation principally comprises of functional but clean hotels, which is not a problem because the town boasts one of the best fugu blow fish restaurants in Japan, the three-starred Michelin Yamadaya, and lively nightlife.

Day 3 Usuki - Tsurumisaki Peninsula - Saiki
A leisurely day to thoroughly explore Saiki’s intricate ria coastline. Start out before dawn to catch the daybreak at Bungo Futami-ga-Ura where, at the right time of year, the sunrise is framed by two rocky outcrops and a sacred Shinto shimenawa rope slung between them. If your timing is good you may also have the opportunity to watch the impressive scene of a ship being launched from one of Saiki’s ship yards.

Onto Saiki and its Umi-no-Ichiba food market for breakfast before joining the Saiki Coastal Road, which leads to Oita’s southern border with Miyazaki Prefecture. The Tsurumisaki Peninsula comes first and its range of attractions, including the Tanga Hodai, lighthouse, sea turtles at Hazako Nature Center, and one fishing hamlet after another strung along its coast, are a very enjoyable combination.

Dine at Matsuura, which provides grand lunches of local seafood, including a top delicacy Ise-ebi spiny lobster in the autumn season. The road from hereon becomes increasingly less travelled as it climbs to the Sora-no-Koen sky park, from where grandstand views over the Pacific Ocean to Shikoku are vast. Journey onto one of Oita’s remotest and most pleasurable beaches at Hatotsu. You can camp here but assuming that you are not in a camper van or have camping gear, head north back to Nishinoura in Kamae and the fascinating accommodation at Maruni-Maru, which serves some of the freshest seafood right from its own dock.

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