The speed of the river’s current grew as the silty brown water approached and disappeared below a horizon line. The susurration of rushing water increased in volume as the boat, the Kawasemi, approached the rapid.
“Is it safe for this boat? Can we get back up the rapids?” I asked the driver. “We’ll get back up no problem,” said the driver. The face of the rapid came into view revealing the tongue of rushing water. The driver gunned the engine and the Kawasemi surged down the rapid and toward the rock wall of the next bend in the river.
The Dorokyo Gorge and the Kumano River Basin
Dorokyo Gorge is the collective name given to a 31 kilometer long stretch of ravines along the Kitayama River, a tributary of the Kumano River, that runs through Nara, Mie and Wakayama prefectures.
The Doro-Hatcho is a 1.2 kilometer long section of the Dorokyo that features the classic sheer cliffs and giant rock formations of a true canyon. The Doro-Hatcho is only accessible by jet boat from downstream or by car from a winding mountain road in Totsukawa-mura at the very bottom of Nara Prefecture. Coming by car grants access to the trilateral border of Nara, Mie and Wakayama Prefectures and to personalized river tours on the Kawasemi tour boat.
Private Party River Tours with the Kawasemi
The sound of an engine approaching from downstream heralded the approach of the Kawasemi. After several seconds the Kawasemi appeared from around the cliffs of a river bend and made its way to a sand and gravel bank where a large jet boat was parked and two street festival tents served as a port store and café.
After putting on life jackets and listening to a safety talk we cast off and headed downstream in the Kawasemi. The driver of the boat told his passengers about the geography of the gorge and the different shapes and names of the rock formations but I was so absorbed in the scenery, the old-timey wooden Doro Hotel on a cliff face, its annex house (no longer in business due to its long-ago-collapsed suspension bridge) on the cliff opposite it, the endless green forest and the cliffs and river scenery, that it was hard to pay attention.
We pulled off to the cliffs on one side of the river to let the jet boat pass us and watched as it went over a small rapid and disappeared downstream. Not to be outdone by the jet boat, the driver of the Kawasemi took us down the rapids and then turned around to take us back up. At one point on the ride back up the rapids the driver balanced his throttle and steering against the current and held us stationary in the middle of the rapid!
A tour with the Kawasemi costs ￥3,800 for two people, ￥4,800 for three people and ￥5,600 for four people. A group booking from 4 people up to the boat’s capacity of 7 unlocks a lower rate of ￥1,400 per person. Tours generally last 30 minutes, but longer tours can be negotiated.
Fishing, hiking, gourmet countryside food and hot springs are also available in the area which makes it worthwhile driving to this remote, secluded region. Getting to the Dorokyo, the Doro-Hacho and the Kawasemi requires 3–4 hours of driving from Osaka along Route 168 or 169. It’s worth the trip to take a ride on the Grand Canyon of the Kumano!