Monday, May 12, 2014

Camping trip in Wakayama

This year during Golden Week we went on our first camping trip in Japan. Golden week is one of the three peak travel periods in Japan and needless to say travel plans and bookings need to be finalised months in advance. Since our kid had to attend school for most of the Golden week, we had not planned any outing. So we decided to go camping since that was the only thing possible without having any bookings ! 

So we set out for a trip to the Kumano area in the southern part of Kii Peninsula and spans Wakayama and Mie prefectures. The area has been one of Japan's most revered pilgrimage centres and pilgrims have traveled to the area for thousands of years.
The pilgrimage is also mentioned in the "Nihon shoki", the book about the history of creation of Japan which was compiled in 720 AD.  
Three of the important Shinto shrines of  Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, collectively known as Kumano Sanzan are located in the area and are accessed via a network of ancient walking trails known as Kumano Kodo.
The Kodo pilgrimage route also links Kumano area to the other pilgrimage centres of Koyasan, Yoshino, Omine and Ise.
Many mountain trails and passes remain even today though some of the original coastal trails have developed. Though travellers these days prefer driving up to the three shrines, one can still come across occasional pilgrims walking along the route. Few people can also be seen wearing the Heian period costume along certain smaller stretches of the pilgrimage route.
An interesting fact is that in the old days, pilgrims would travel a 40 km section between Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha in Shingu by boat. This route is also a UNESCO World Heritage as the only river pilgrimage route in the world.  The Kumano Sanzan are collectively the head of about 3000 Kumano Shrines in Japan.It is believed that one can atone for past sins by visiting the Kumano Sanzan shrines and will be blessed with future happiness and a passage to heaven after death. Apart from the three main shrines, a number of shrines and temples are found in the area, all adding to the religious value of the area. The region has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site  named 'The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range' in 2004. I will post more about the Kumano Sanzan and other places we visited in separate posts soon. 

Apart from the temples and shrines, the area is full of natural beauty. Actually it is one of the few places with unspoilt natural beauty that we have come across. Beaches along the coastline of the Kii peninsula, hot springs and gorges along the Shingu and Kumano rivers make the area a treat for the eyes. Since it is not on the usual tourist circuit, commercialisation in the area is at the bare minimum. The area is also a part of the Yoshino Kumano National Park. 
We started our journey from Nagoya early in the day and briefly stopped by the Shichiri-maihama Beach and Atashika beaches near Kumano city before we proceeded further.
The Shichiri Maihama Beach is a pebble beach with a coastline of 25 kms making it Japan's longest pebble beach.
We also passed by a section of the Dorokyo Gorge on our way to the camping ground. 
We set up our tent at the Kurhaus Camping Ground near Wataze onsen, close to Hongu. 
The Watase onsen is one of the popular onsens in the area and the nearby Wataraze Onsen is reputed to have the largest open air baths (rotenburo) in western Japan. The campground was already near full capacity when we arrived around 10:30 am ! We were fortunate to find an empty spot overlooking the river and the Wataraze onsen. The Kurhaus Campground is a nice facility with a restrooms, washing and onsen bath facility nearby. Campground guests can avail of a 200 yen discount on the onsen entrance fees. If the idea of sleeping in a tent and camping in the open does not appeal to you, log bungalows and rooms are also available in Kurhaus and the two hotels nearby.
A suspension bridge leads to the Watarase Onsen Hotel Sasayuri and next to it is a small restaurant which caters during the day but if you run out of any stock of food, there is no store or convenience store anywhere close by. We had planned on staying for one night in the Watase Campground and move to some other campground the next day, but we stayed on. Many of the campers had come from Osaka and Kyoto and our kid had a great time playing with other kids on the Yomuragawa river bank.

Our 2 day camping trip was memorable and as our kid says, it was "the perfect holiday" !

The region is famous for its many varieties of oranges. Along the road we came across these unmanned stalls selling oranges at many places. 
We saw bags of oranges for sale - each bag containing atleast 5-6 oranges priced at 100 yen, the cheapest we have come across so far and they were tasty ! 

Useful links :
Kurhaus Campground (Japanese website)
Wataze Onsen
Campgrounds and Bungalows in Tanabe-Kumano area

Address: 45-1, Wataze, Hongu-cho, Tanabe City


  1. Thank you very much for this helpful information. We are heading out to this area from Nagoya tomorrow also, so I think that we will pretty much follow the route and campsites that you show here. It looks a great place, so we are all looking forward to setting off in the early hours of Sunday morning.
    Once again, thanks so much for this info, as it really is helpful.
    All the best,

    1. Hi Tom,
      Am glad my blog was helpful for you. I hope you had a great trip in Wakayama. And thank you so much for the nice words.


  2. I would like to take this trip and camp. Do you know what temperature it drops to at night?

    1. Hi, Not sure about how low the temperatures drop to at night. When we took this trip in April end-early May it was pretty cool at night, so I would definitely recommend sometime around spring or later for a camping trip ! Hope this helps.

  3. Hi Shreya,

    Were you able to rent tents at the Kurhaus Camping Ground? Im trying to figure out if I need to bring my own tent.