With cooler weather, fall in Kyushu is a great time to get outdoors. Now is the perfect time to make use of the limited-time Go To Travel campaign to see Kyushu. (Several regions are also offering their own campaigns. The best way to find the best deal is to search for “the name of the region + campaign + go to” in Japanese.)
SUNQ Pass: The All-You-Can-Ride Kyushu Bus Pass
The SUNQ Pass provides all-you-can-ride access to expressway buses, regular route buses and ferries throughout Kyushu and in Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture. There are three types of three-day passes available: The Northern Kyushu Pass ¥9,000 (which excludes Miyazaki and Kagoshima), the Southern Kyushu Pass ¥8,000 (which covers Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima), and the All Kyushu + Shimonoseki Pass ¥11,000. There is also a four-day All Kyushu + Shimonoseki pass ¥14,000. In Fukuoka, you buy passes at the Nishitetsu Tenjin Expressway Bus Terminal, the Hakata Bus Terminal and the Fukuoka Airport Bus Terminal. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone to buy the Online SUNQ Pass, which will allow you to make reservations from your phone and board just by showing the driver the pass on your smartphone.
Some of the expressway bus routes require reservations, but generally speaking, you can ride any bus with a SUNQ Pass sticker by taking a numbered ticket and showing your pass when you disembark. (Don’t forget to put your numbered ticket in the coin box on the way out.)
Our first destination was Kurokawa Onsen, a tiny enclave of about 30 inns nestled in the hills of Kumamoto.
At each inn, you can buy a voucher ¥1,300 (actually, a stamped wooden disc) that provides access to three open-air baths, so you can enjoy strolling the town in between baths. Towels are not provided, so don’t forget to bring your own. You can also buy a towel (¥200) with the logos of the participating inns when you buy your voucher.
Next, we headed over the mountains into Oita Prefecture to our inn for the first night—Resonate Club Kuju. Located inside Aso-Kuju National Park, this hot spring resort provides beautiful views of the sky at night and the majestic highland landscape in the daytime.
The highlight of the stay is the view of the starry sky from the mineral-rich open-air hot spring, which contains the natural moisturizing ingredient metasilicic acid.
For dinner, you can enjoy a course of local fare inside the high-ceilinged lodge. Whether you choose Kuju Wine or a local craft beer, either will pair perfectly with the Bungo beef, which is grilled over charcoal in an open kitchen, and homemade bread baked in a stone oven.
You will wake up refreshed on the Kuju Highlands, which sit at an altitude of 865m. There are walking paths on site, but if you would like to treat yourself to a truly special morning, why not try horseback riding?
With friendly veteran instructors and calm horses that are lovingly raised on a nearby ranch, even beginners and children can try horseback riding with peace of mind. Depending on your skill level, budget and available time, you can either choose a guided ride, where the instructor slowly walks the horse around the corral (¥1,000/person), or you can strike out on your own through the natural splendor of the Kuju Highlands (¥6,000/30 minutes~). The instructors will teach you everything you need to know, from how to hold the reins and how to ride to—most importantly—how to stop. *Special discounts are available for guests of Resonate Club Kuju.
After your horseback ride, why not try your hand at downhill cycling? We rented electric-assist bicycles and enjoyed four hours of cycling and sightseeing until our evening stay. We opted for a guided cycling tour with a guide who knows all the roads in the Aso-Kuju National Park.
We highly recommend hiring a guide because not only will they select the best possible course for you, they will carry your luggage in a support car, too. You can also take a rest and enjoy the great views from the grasslands, which you can only access if accompanied by a certified guide.
The rice, vegetables and miso are all handmade! At Shukubo Aso you can experience real country living, and it is only a 10-minute walk from Aso Station. Housed in a 100-year old farmhouse, the inn provides futons in Japanese-style Rooms, and there is also a natural flowing onsen (with private baths available).
Dinner is served in the dining area situated around a traditional irori hearth. Here you can enjoy hospitality that you can only experience at a family-run inn.
From Aso Station to the Mt. Nakadake crater, you can take a bus on Mt. Aso Crater Line bus. (The crater may not be open depending on the direction of winds and the volume of gas from the volcano, so be sure to check conditions before you get on the bus) It is about a 3-km walk from Asosan Nishi Station to the crater, and it takes about one hour round-trip.
Photo by Fukuoka Now
On your way back, you can take a rest at Kusasenri. You can also climb the small hills that you can see from here.
A good way to get around the town of Aso is by bicycle. You can rent them at the Information Center in JR Aso Station (Up to 2 hours / ¥500, up to 4 hours / ¥800, up to 8 hours / ¥1,200). It takes about 20 minutes to get to Aso Shrine and the surrounding neighborhood which has some chic cafes and other shops. (It’s best to leave your luggage in the coin lockers in Aso Station.) Note: the red tricycle in the photo was only available temporarily.
Cafe Tien Tien is situated in a 100-plus-year-old building that used to be a dressmaking school for girls in the Meiji era. The female owner, who spent time in France, has put a lot of attention into the chic interior design. The homemade dishes, which use locally grown seasonal produce and contain no artificial seasonings, are delicious. There is also a take-out coffee stand on the premises.
The last site on our northern Kyushu tour is Kumamoto Castle.
Although the castle is under reconstruction, it still looks impressive when lit up at night. The best spot to view the light-up is Kato Shrine.
After this indulgent two-night, three-day trip, it almost felt like we had visited a foreign country, and we headed back to Fukuoka in comfort on the expressway bus. (The SUNQ Pass also works on the city buses in Fukuoka!)
Whether you are heading somewhere you’ve never been, or somewhere right in your own backyard, it is always fun to travel! So why not try a different style of travel? Take the bus instead of driving, and ride bikes instead of using your car.
Meet up at Nishitetsu Tenjin Expressway Bus Terminal
09:13 Departure: Fukuoka (take the Hita Expressway Bus *reservation required)
12:12 Arrival: Kurokawa Onsen
Lunch, town strolling, open air hot spring bath, and walking in countryside
17:00 Move to Resonate Club Kuju (about 30 min. by taxi, ¥5,000)
Check in at the hotel
18:00 Dinner at the Restaurant Meteor inside the hotel.
07:30 Horseback Riding (trail ride: 60 min.) in front of hotel
09:30 Breakfast, and walking around hotel premises
10:30 Check out
11:00 Kokopelli Western Riding (horseback riding) 120 min.
13:00 Cycling (Aso Kuju Cycle Tour)
17:00 Check in at Shukubo Aso, and a hot spring bath.
10:00 Check out (about 7 min. walk to Aso Sta.)
10:40 Departure: Aso Sta. (take a bus on the Mt. Aso Crater Line bus. Be sure to check before you get on the bus if access to the crater is open on the day. If you can’t enter the Aso crater due to winds or excess gas, you can visit Kusasenri)
11:15 Arrival: Asosan Nishi Sta. (use the shuttle bus from the bus stop to the top of the crater to see inside the Nakadake crater)
12:50 Departure: Asosan Nishi Sta. (take a bus on Mt. Aso Crater Line bus.) *Next bus will be at 14:15
12:55 Arrival: Kusasenri (visit Kusasenri area)
14:20 Departure: Kusasenri
Arrival: Front of Aso Sta.
16:38 Departure: Front of Aso Sta. (take a Yamabiko Expressway Bus *reservation required)
18:23 Arrival: Miso Tenjin Bus stop in Kumamoto City (strolling inside the Shimo-tori arcade, and visit Kumamoto Castle)
20:40 Departure: Sakuramachi Bus stop (take a Hinokuni Expressway Bus)
22:57 Arrival: Nishitetsu Tenjin Expressway Bus Terminal
Photo by Fukuoka Now
If you act now and take advantage of the Go To Travel campaign (until March 2021), you can pick up a reasonably priced SUNQ Pass and hotel package deal that you can use to explore Kyushu. You can choose where you want to stay, be it a hot spring resort or hotel, and there are also overnight and two-night packages available.