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We departed early Saturday morning (no, really early - my alarm was set for 4AM). The ferry took about 4 hours, and all told we were on the island at about 12:30. We hadn't planned on renting a car, but by the time the bus got to the airport it was already \550 and we weren't anywhere near the hostel, so we jumped the bus and walked back to the car rental places. The really friendly man at the car rental place set us up with a cute little mini (kei car, meaning 650cc or less engine) which was to take us around the island for the next three days, sometimes over terrain I'm fairly certain a kei car shouldn't be able to handle.

We didn't have to check in to the hostel until 5pm so we took a trip to the Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Center, the Yakushima World Heritage Conservation Center and the Yakusugi (endemic cedar) Museum. The second was definitely the pick of the bunch and contained lots of bilingual information on the island and other UNESCO sites. The center also contained the biggest bee any of us had ever seen, visiting David didn't want to get anywhere near it! The visit to the three centers took us on a short walk around some woodland (it's hard to escape woodland on Yakushima), where they were monitoring the development of trees in tended and untended plots. As yet it was hard to see the difference but the wild side certainly won on looks.

It was time to check in to the hostel so we jumped back in the baby car and headed down. The hostel whilst being very beautiful was in the middle of nowhere, the car was seeming like a better idea every second.

We decided on a walk to the beach to build up our appetites, after two or three failed attempts from the hostel we decided to make use of the car. We had heard of an onsen (spa) on the seafront that David. E was pretty keen to check out. Hirauchi onsen is only open two times a day at low tide when the tidal pools fill with warm water. Unfortunately for Keiko and I, we arrived at one of those times and we were greeted by lots of naked men, basking on the rocks like seals! We quickly did volt-face and headed back to the car to try again. This time we got lucky, the local fishermen had laid a crude path which took us right out to the sea. Here we could see mudfish, crabs and lots of little fishies! We had to drag ourselves away in order to get our dinner and bathe. By the time we had finished with that we were more than ready for our beds. We decided on our agenda for the next day and turned in.

Day 2
We got up bright and early, (although less bright and early than the day before) Keiko threw together some onigiri (rice triangles) for lunch and we were on our way before 9am. The schedule for the day was Yakusugi land to see the famous trees and then up Kuromidake(1831m). It took us just over an hour to get to Yakusugi land up some very narrow, windy roads. We got our first look at Yakushika (endemic deer) and Yakusarus (endemic monkeys). The man at the entrance suggested that we climb the mountain first before entering Yakusugi land. We were at the trail-head for 10:50. Although the weather was very foggy we had yet to see any of the rain that Yakushima is so famous for; a Japanese poet wrote that it rains 35 days a month on the island. The path was pretty good although we seemed to be going down almost as often as we were going up, this trend changed when we entered UNESCO land. The first stop was at a bridge over a pretty little river. There was a tree overhanging so I scrambled out there to get my photo taken, only to be paralyzed with fear when I realized how difficult it was going to be to get back, I managed somehow! The second stop was Hananoego, apparently the highest moorland in the world at over 1500m. It was just after this that the rain began, at first it was only a fine mist which made the climb a lot easier than it could have been. The finally stretch to Kuromidake took us off of the main path and up vertical rocks! The amazing thing was that a group of Japanese pensioners had just come off it! Two of the climbs had a rope attached, and the Japanese old-dears had two walking sticks each. How did they do it?! On this last stretch we got to see the Yakushakunage (endemic rhododendron), which luckily for us was blooming.

By the time we got to the top we were all very wet and, with the wind gradually getting colder, we didn't stay too long. After we got off the top the rain really began making the descent quite treacherous, I think we all slipped at least once. Finally the rain eased off but by this time we were absolutely soaked and it was hard to notice the difference. At the river there was a hut and here we stopped for a late lunch at 3:30. We made it back to the car by 4:50, wet and cold but elated. We drove back down to Yakusugi land and there was a little debate about whether we should go in or not. We decided to go in and had an hours walk through beautiful woodland with lots of information to boot about the logging of these huge trees.

On the way back to the hostel we saw yet more Yakushika and Yakusaru and everyone but me (I was driving!) was able to get some shots. Once again we were thoroughly worn out, food, bath, plan for tomorrow, collapse.

Day 3
We had decided on an easier day today in order to give our legs a break. So the plan was a waterfall, a mangrove and if time permitted a forest/ocean drive. First stop the mangrove, but without realizing we drove straight by and ended up at the waterfall. Ohko-no-taki(88m) is Yakushima's tallest waterfall and one of Japan's Top 100! After the rain the day before it was certainly impressive, thankfully it didn't spray quite as much as one we had visited in Shikoku. The waterfall had it's own cute little statue too. So after that we headed back for the mangrove, around the point we guessed it to be on the map we stopped and asked a bus driver. Although he went out of his way to help, he couldn't tell us where the mangrove was. We had seen a sign for a nature center 1km up the road so we decided to check that out. Still no mangrove! However, there was a course around tidal pools and we were able to see lots of sea creatures and even living coral. Thankfully, Keiko met a man who was able to pinpoint the mangrove for us. Less than 200m from where we had spoken to the bus driver. Arrived at said mangrove we realized why he didn't know of it's existence. It was the smallest, cutest little mangrove ever. It was only midday and we had already stopped at our two main attractions so we decided to head for the forest/ocean road, via a Japan Top 100 spring that the bus driver had told us about!

The Seibu-Rindoh road was absolutely beautiful if very narrow. We drove through dense forest with sea cliffs off to our left, we were also treated to many more monkeys one of whom got most upset at our presence and decided to warn us off!! At one point we stopped for photos and a possible path down to the sea but no luck. Instead we indulged in lunch, once again wonderful Keiko onigiris! The next stop along this road was the lighthouse, which commanded some wonderful coastal views and those of neighboring islands. Here we did find a path down to the sea but only David was brave enough, the rest of us stood at the top under an umbrella and occasionally shouted words of encouragement.

We finally made it to the end of the road and decided that it would be much easier to do the full circle rather than attempt that road again. So we headed on to Nagata Maehama, a little seaside village and home to nesting turtles. You could see their footprints all over the beach. In spite of the rain we decided that we ought to stretch our legs so we headed up Nagata River to a trailhead. Unfortunately our walk was cut rather short, as the path had collapsed in to the river. It was nice to get out of the car though.

It was beginning to get late so we headed round to the capital city of Miyanoura to pick up some goodies and then back to the hostel. We dined and bathed and then got ready to go out again, turtle watching. This ended up being a very futile way to spend three hours of the night that we could have spent in bed, but we tried!

Day 4
Our last day on Yakushima and only half of one at that so we decided to set off bright and early in order to get a walk in before we left. We went back round to Miyanoura and then headed up in to the mountains to our destination, Shiritani Unsuikyo Ravine. The booklet offered us many different paths through the forest but none seemed to take the length of time that we had but the man at the entrance insisted that we'd be able to get round the 2:30min course in under 2 hours. We did but we practically ran the second stretch! It was hauntingly beautiful in the forest, it looked like the setting for Princess Mononoke or the Lord of the Rings. For the first half an hour the path was very well laid out, almost too well, leading us from one massive tree to the next, and then it disappeared! From here on in it was follow the red piece of plastic attached to the trees, also the bridges across the streams went too and we had to use the logs and stones. Amazingly only David got a wet foot.

Once we made it back to the car it was a simple drive back in to town, dropped the car off (at the ferry terminal, unlocked with the car keys inside!), and hopped back on the ferry.

On the last stretch of the ferry journey we got to enjoy views of the southern most tip of Kyushu: Kaimon-dake, Ibusuki and Sakurajima. Then it was simply a case of driving the four hours back to dear old Saga.

high-altitude plants we made it to the top the mysteriously-well-hidden-for-something-supposedly-so-famous mangrove. A waterfall (one of Japan's 100 best!), a spring (also one of the 100 best!) and some seriously cool tidal pools were in on this day.
On the fourth day, we had to be out by noon, but we managed to squeeze in one last hike through some amazing terrain out in the middle of nowhere, with some massive trees.

More to come

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