A secluded gorge with emerald-green calm waters gives you a pre-view of the wild-water rapids further upstream of Kitayama River. 150 meter steep cliffs, oddly shaped rocks and primal forest line this long ravine stretching across three prefectures.
The over 30 kilometer long Kitayama River runs through Nara Prefecture and Mie Prefecture before it flows into Kumano River in the south of Wakayama Prefecture. It crosses the Yoshino-Kumano National Park, known to be an area of scenic beauty and of cultural significance. The centuries-old Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails connect Yoshino and Kumano, as well as Koya-san, the three spiritual centers located in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula.
What to do if you feel tired from some long hikes along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails, and you do not want to spend the whole day in one of the onsen in the Kumano area? The solution would be to board some sort of vehicle and sit back and relax while enjoying the beautiful Kumano scenery.
The boat tours along Kitayama River touring Doro Gorge provide just that!
What is known as Doro Gorge actually consists of several parts, each with their own distinct beauty. Starting from downstream this is Doro-Hatcho, then Shimo-Doro, also known as Shimo-Hatcho, followed by Kami-Doro and finally the most upstream part is Oku-Doro.
You board the flat-bottomed, glass-roofed hovercraft at Shiko Village located at the conflux of Kitayama River and Kumano River.
The hovercraft travels from Shiko, Kumano-kawa Town in Wakayama Prefecture to Tado Settlement in Totsukawa Village, Nara Prefecture, and back in two hours. Tado is in the Doro-Hatcho part, which is just about the entrance of the gorge.
At first the hovercraft travels along Kumano River which is very wide there. To both sides of the river are hills and forest and the occasional settlement. Then the tour boat enters Kitayama River and slowly makes its way upstream.
The river becomes increasingly narrow and the rock walls on both sides become steeper. You can watch some birds in the forest and see some small waterfalls along the way.
Once the hovercraft enters the gorge, the scenery becomes more dramatic. There is rough terrain made of giant sandstone rocks and primal forest along steep slopes.
The cliffs on both sides make for scenic views in any season but they are especially beautiful in spring or autumn. In spring azalea and rhododendron are in bloom and in autumn it is the leaves-changing season that attracts visitors.
While most visitors to the gorge opt for a leisurely boats trip on the hovercraft, some adventurous travelers book a guided kayak tour, for example with Kumano Experience (based at B&B Hongu in Hongu Town).
If this is not enough of an adrenalin kick yet, then rent a car and travel deep into the mountains and forests to Kitayama Village where you have access to the upper gorges, Shimo-Doro, Kami-Doro and Oku-Doro.
At the upper gorges you can experience rafting on a traditional raft, which is basically just some logs bundled together. An expert local raftsman is maneuvering the rapid currents with a single pole. Alternatively, there are some rubber boats that 5 or 6 people can paddle down the river following the instructions of a licensed rafting guide.
The hovercraft tour from Shiko is on year-round but rafting is only offered from May to September. The hovercraft tour is ideal for families and people of all ages and conditions while the rafting tours offered in Kitayama should only be attempted by physically fit people with strong nerves.
Usually the round-trip of the hovercraft tour costs yen 3,340. However, from mid-December to the end of February every year the organiser, Kumano Kotsu, is running a campaign that offers the trip for yen 1,670 (adult price).
Before you sign up for a wet rafting adventure down the upper gorges of Kitayama River, stretch out your legs and relax in the peaceful quietness of the lower gorge.