Known for: Famous deer park (Nara) Beach towns (Wakayama) Onsens (Wakayama) Fishing Villages (Wakayama)
Spend the weekend befriending deer and bathing in seaside onsens.
WHAT TO DO
1. The first “must see” in Nara is the famous Deer Park. Deer are seen as “sacred” and highly regarded by Japanese people.
They have the privilege of roaming the park with little to no disturbance of cars and other noisy machinery, and rule the roost when it comes to animal hierarchy.
Travel tip: While most people would assume the deer will take to their beds at night, they tend to become more lively around twilight.
Travel tip: If you want to buy snacks to feed the deer, you can. There are stalls throughout the park that sell little round biscuits or nuts.
3. Take an evening walk through the quiet streets of Nara and look at the beautiful wooden architecture.
1. Rent a car from Nara and drive south around the coastal peninsula of Wakayama.
Travel tip: Toyota Car Rentals is your cheapest bet for a 4 door sedan. It’s handy to opt for a GPS so you can avoid toll roads too.
2. Embark on a hike through part of the famous Nachi Taisha pilgrimage. It’s incredible to think how many generations have walked the path before you.
Travel tip: Majority of the walk is in the woods so if you’re pushed for time and looking for a scenic route, don’t worry about trying to complete the entire track.
3. Find the old manual roller slide near the base of the hike for an adrenaline rush ride.
4. Visit the world’s 3rd largest waterfall, Nachi Falls. The waterfall runs over primeval forest of luscious evergreen trees and has a sheer drop of 133 meters.
5. Take a look at the The Nachi Taisha Shrine (Shinto) and the Seiganto-ji Temple (Buddhist) which despite religious differences, stand next to each other and has functioned as one religious centre since the 1500s.
6. Dip in the hot springs at popular beach town, Shriyahama. If you’re looking for a co-ed, bathing suit spring check out Shirahama Beach Onsen.
Travel tip: Try to spot wild monkeys during the drive.
WHERE TO STAY
Naramachi Hostel & Restaurant
Naramachi Hostel & Restaurant is a little gem conveniently located right next to the deer park. Formally a soy factory, the property contains fragments of history around it’s grounds and throughout the interior, with old instruments and tools displayed in a museum-like fashion.
We were surprised to hear they had a jacuzzi available for use which is great after a day out walking the streets – you can ease your tired feet in the privacy of the secluded back patio, complete with fairy lights.
There are two sleeping arrangements to choose from, typical bunk bed dormitory style, or private rooms. I would highly recommend the later option purely for the experience of sleeping up high on a spacious mezzanine wooden a-frame bed, it was possibly the coolest room I’ve seen travelling so far and felt like sleeping in a luxurious tree house!
WHERE TO EAT
The coastal roads are not Tokyo-style food metropolis’, so it will pay to stock up in Nara before you go.
Buy a yoghurt tub from supermarket or convenience store and fill it with muesli and chopped banana for a tasty breakfast. The great part about exploring by car, is you can enjoy your meals surrounded by some of the best views in the world.
If you have no facility to heat your dinner, mexican wraps or sushi are an excellent solution. Look for the international supermarkets and pick up some chilli beans, avocado and chopped carrot for a quick and protein packed meal.
Travel tip: Find hot water at any 7/11 or McDonald’s to go with your Nespresso instant coffee.
WHAT TO WEAR
Both Nara and Wakayama are rather mild in Autumn, and quite sunny. Bare in mind evenings become brisk and temperatures drop significantly overnight, especially in coastal areas.
Some days I wore jeans and a merino, while other times I was fine in a sundress. Keep a towel on you at all times in Wakayama as there are onsens everywhere!
Next up, Fukuoka.