Photo: Tom Roseveare

Cycling in Southern Wakayama

Discovering the best of the region’s nature and culture

Tom Roseveare   - 22 min read

From the sacred Kumano Sanzan route to the mountain temples of Koyasan, central Japan’s Wakayama prefecture can be considered a spiritual heartland that has long attracted energetic ​​travelers looking to get off the beaten path.

Against this backdrop, Wakayama’s western coastline, then, offers something just as enticing: a temperate—almost tropical—climate backed up by seaside resort hotels and natural hot springs that stand testament to the region’s getaway powers, already a magnet to domestic visitors in search of Japan’s freshest mikan (mandarin orange) and Japanese apricot (‘ume’) harvests.

Make your own path down Wakayama’s coast thanks to local e-bike rental stops along the way — our journey loosely follows the established ‘Scenic Coastline Shirahama-Susami Cycle Train Route’ (Ja) but is easy to customise to your schedule and level thanks to the unique Cycle Train initiative.

Kamitonda

Kamitonda Cycle Station KMICH

Kamitonda

Start your Wakayama cycling adventure at the KMICH (pronounced ku-micchi) e-bike rental store in Kamitonda, just minutes from JR Asso Station. The gear is state-of-the-art so expect a comfortable ride with superb suspension and impressive e-assist that delivers power when needed — upon collection you’ll be shown the ropes and how to control and some basic advice for cycling Japan’s roads.

Reservations should be made online and in advance. Bikes can be delivered/collected at a variety of ‘cycle bases’, including Nanki-Shirahama Airport, depending on your schedule and preferred route.

Kamitonda Cycle Station KMICH / クミッチ
2538 Asso, Kamitonda, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2105
Nearby Station: JR Asso Station
More about KMICH

Kozen-ji Temple

Kamitonda

Kozen-ji Temple is a local temple about 1,200 years old in Kamitonda that offers visitors a range of experiences. Easy to reach by bike, it’s nicknamed the Daruma Temple, thanks to its distinctive large, white statue added to the entrance around 1973.

Enjoy a range of traditional cultural activities—like Zazen meditation, Shakyo calligraphy, and enjoying matcha green tea—for the ultimate experience and a spiritually fulfilling break from your cycling journey.

Kozen-ji Temple / 興禅寺
Ichinose, Kamitonda, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2107
Nearby Station: JR Asso Station
More about Kozen-ji Temple (Ja)

Hatayama Submersible Bridge

Kamitonda

No matter which route you take through Kamitonda, make sure to pass the submersible bridge of Hatayama-bashi that crosses the Tonda-gawa River, which is designed to submerge during flooding events. At 174m long and just 1.6m wide, it is an experience alone just to cross it but, if you do, make sure to disembark from your bike first before walking across.

Hatayama Submersible Bridge / 畑山橋(潜水橋)
2972-4 Iwada, Kamitonda, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2102
Nearest Station: JR Asso Station

Sukuma-dani Kannon Temple

Kamitonda

Located on the other side of Tonda-gawa River from Kozen-ji Temple, you’ll find Sukuma-dani Kannon Temple with its 1,300-year history. The temple was originally established by the founder of Shugendo himself, En-no-Gyoja, and is a popular spot for locals wishing for fortune or warding off evil.

This hilltop complex features a main hall located partially inside a rock cave. The location is part of the Nanki-Kumano Geopark, with several differing layers, or rock strata, visible here.

Reaching the top by foot takes you past the Ajisai Mandara-en Garden with its almost 10,000 hydrangeas, but it’s worth making the journey to the temple itself. Here they offer prayer and memorial services which are open to visitors.

Sukuma-dani Kannon Temple / 救馬渓観音
313 Ikuma, Kamitonda, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2103
Nearest Station: JR Kii-Shinjo Station & JR Asso Station
More about Sukuma-dani Kannon Temple

Tanabe

Akizuno Garten & Mikan Experience

Tanabe

No visit to Wakayama is complete without sampling its mikan (mandarin orange) culture, with the community-run Akizuno Garten in Tanabe a decent starting point. Inside a renovated wooden elementary school building, you’ll find educational and exchange facilities as well as the Valencia-batake cafe, where jam- and parfait-making workshops can be joined.

On the other side of the inner garden, an accommodation lodge and the Mikan-batake farmers’ restaurant can be found, serving a buffet-style lunch with dishes prepared by local residents using local ingredients.

The refreshing mikan parfait-making experience alone makes this a great pitstop for cyclists but don’t miss the opportunity to sign up to a mikan-picking experience.

The Kamiakizu region is well-known for its mikan cultivation (also Kishu nanko ume/Japanese apricot) and signing up includes transport into the nearby hills to reach the mikan groves.

Akizuno Garten / 秋津野ガルテン
4558-8 Kamiakizu, Tanabe, Wakayama 646-0001
Nearest Station: JR Kii-Tanabe Station

Kizetsu-kyo Gorge

Tanabe

Akizuno Garten is an ideal vantage point to reach another Tanabe scenic spot. Following the Aizu-gawa River north into the mountains (with your trusty e-assist bike!) will take you to Kizetsu-kyo Gorge in about 15 minutes. With the secluded Fudō-taki waterfall, unique rock formations and the red Takimi bridge over the Migi-aizu-gawa River, this power spot is special any time of year. Both spring’s cherry blossom and autumn’s red foliage are renowned for their beauty, but in the summer the waters here provide a cool retreat from the heat. Following the nearby trail for a few minutes also reveals a monolithic carving of three Buddhas in the rockface.

Kizetsu-kyo Gorge / 奇絶峡
Kamiakizu, Tanabe, Wakayama 646-0001
Nearest Station: JR Kii-Tanabe Station

Cape Tenjinzaki

Tanabe

Consider Cape Tenjinzaki as your goal if staying in the Kii-Tanabe area and looking for a sunset spot. Getting here will treat you to a great cycling route that offers equal parts gorgeous coastal and quiet local backstreets, but if timed right at the golden hour you’ll witness an incredible Instagram-friendly scene. At this low tide, the sky reflects on the remaining thin layer of seawater that covers the beach. It’s a mesmerising scene said to be Japan’s answer to the famous Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia.

Keeping cycling around the coast to discover the floating torii gate at Motoshima-jinja Shrine.

Cape Tenjinzaki / 天神崎
46-13 Tenjinzaki, Tanabe, Wakayama 646-0050
Nearest Stations: JR Kii-Tanabe Station & JR Haya Station

Ajikoji Food Entertainment District

Tanabe

When it comes to resting for the evening, the area around JR Kii-Tanabe Station is ideal. It’s not just convenient—with a range of stay options and types available in the area—but also home to the quaint nightlife area known as the Ajikoji Food Entertainment District (味光路).

This network of narrow streets and alleyways comes packed full of small bars and izakaya-style restaurants—like the cosy eatery at Shinbe’s—serving local dishes and oozing retro charm. Come here for dinner or just an evening walk. Note that English menu support might be limited at some of these small, independent eateries.

Ajikoji Food Entertainment District / 味光路
Minato, Tanabe City
Nearby Station: JR Kii-Tanabe Station
More about Ajikoji

Cycle Train

As any cyclist in Japan may know, taking the train with a bicycle on most lines usually involves a bit of extra leg work, like folding and storing the bike away before boarding. Not so with Wakayama’s JR Kinokuni Line, which runs along the prefecture’s southern coast. Say hello to Cycle Train, a scheme which operates between JR Gobo Station and JR Shingu Station, with special rules permitting travelers to board local trains with their bicycle as is — no booking or additional fee required!

As long as you plan your schedule accordingly (rural trains usually run every 2–3 hours), the Cycle Train allows you to go further and be more ambitious with your journey, safe in the knowledge you can get the train to take you the rest of the way! Other than taking care to mind other passengers and not cycle in trains, stations or platforms, the main rule is that during transit you’ll need to fasten the bike to the train’s handrail — a rubber band is ideal and should be prepared in advance. An ICOCA IC card also helps simplify ticketing for those expecting multiple train rides.

Kinokuni Line Cycle Train Map

More about Wakayama’s Cycle Train

Susami area

FRONT 110

Susami

FRONT 110 is a friendly and welcoming tourist center beside the seaside in Susami Town, just minutes from JR Susami Station. As well as offering a rest space—the rooftop terrace is recommended—they specialize in local green excursions, like SUP, kayaking, camping and cycling. Rental gear and guides are included, and they act as a cycle base in collaboration with Kamitonda’s KMICH. The “110” refers to the building’s secret: it’s a renovated police ‘koban’ station, and visitors can even enter the cells or interrogation rooms—now renovated as remote working space which may appeal to cycling digital nomads.

FRONT 110 / すさみ町 観光案内所
4581-14 Susami, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2621
Nearest Station: JR Susami Station
More about FRONT 110

Taima-gawa River Cycling

Susami

Recommended by FRONT 110’s staff, we first joined the Taima-gawa River Cycling led by a local tour guide and cycling expert. Just a 30-minute ride is enough to take us into deep, rural Wakayama (near to where one of the original Kumano Kodo walking routes start) — surrounded by rice fields, leafy vegetables growing in abundance and cool mountain streams enticing us weary riders to cool down.

We visit a local farmer’s home who invited us to harvest fresh komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) from his fields, before helping us use them to make okonomiyaki-style pancakes and then digging into lunch together at his beautiful home. It’s the ultimate farm-to-table experience.

Getting to experience rural, local Japan is always about the people you meet. Their hospitality and warm welcome are just as impactful as the beauty of the surrounding nature, if not more so.

Koto Waterfall

Susami

FRONT 110 acts as a great base for venturing to our next stop — a power spot hiding further inland in the Susami Town region.

Venture for about 20 min east along the Susami-gawa River (with some spectacular valley views along the way) to discover a spectacular Wakayama-designated Nature Conservation Area and a beautiful view at the 20m-tall Koto Waterfall in Hirose Valley.

Koto Waterfall / 琴の滝
Susami, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-2621
Nearby Station: JR Susami Station

BUSH DE COFFEE

Susami

Further along Susami Town’s southern coast, wind down a gear at BUSH DE COFFEE. This perfectly placed cafe, perched on the clifftops at Lover’s Cape (Koibito-misaki), offers a decent menu of pizza, pasta and cakes. Step inside to discover a modern, yet minimalist, interior. The window-counter seating offers panoramic views of the ocean, while you recharge in comfort.

BUSH DE COFFEE
2-1 Mirozu, Susami, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-3141
Nearest Station: JR Mirozu Station

Fairfield by Marriott Wakayama Susami (& Michi-no-eki)

Susami

While we introduced the Kii-Tanabe area before as a great hub for stays (and local culture like at Ajikoji!), Susami Town has a great number of resort-style stay options too. In the west, Nanki Susami Onsen Hotel Bellevedere is a popular choice but if venturing further east the Fairfield by Marriott should not be missed. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Fairfield offers spacious rooms with supreme comfort and modern amenities. After a day spent cycling, it is a truly rewarding way to charge for the next day. Don’t miss the neighboring Nozomi no Yu hot spring onsen — with direct elevator access via the hotel’s basement, this day spa is free for hotel guests to use during their stay.

The communal lounge offers a stunning view of the ocean, from where you can curl up and wind down, and enjoy some local products (sold in the hotel), or freshly prepared dinner from Susami Yoichi — a night market-style eatery at the nearby roadside station.

Though there is no on-site restaurant, hotel guests can order a breakfast bento box for the following morning. These are packed with local specialities, like Meharizushi (vinegared rice balls wrapped in Susami lettuce) alongside other seasonal delights, sure to get your day off to the best possible start.

The nearby Nursery Song Garden is recommended for a breathtaking sunset and just a 5-minute bicycle ride away.

Fairfield by Marriott Wakayama Susami / フェアフィールド・バイ・マリオット・和歌山すさみ
672-1 Esumi, Susami, Nishimuro District, Wakayama 649-3142
Nearest Station: JR Esumi Station
More about Fairfield

Tom Roseveare

Tom Roseveare @tom.roseveare

Creative Director at Japan Travel, based in Tokyo. Feel free to reach out about living, working or travelling in Japan – just book a time.