14 November 2016
Kii-Tanabe is a city located on the west coast of the Kii Peninsula. Typical tourists would be unlikely to set foot on this town but for those who wants to walk the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi trail, Kii-Tanabe would be a good place to stay the night before embarking on the epic ancient pilgrimage trail across the rugged mountains to the Kumano shrines located near the eastern part of the peninsula. The best way to get to Kii-Tanabe is by the Kuroshio express train which runs along the entire coast of the Kii pensinsula from Osaka, southwards to Wakayama, Kii-Tanabe on the western coasts and on to Shingu on the eastern side of the peninsula.
For us, we chose to stay in the small town of Hineno instead of Kii-Tanabe on the eve of our Kumano Kodo journey. Hineno is located just one station away from the Kansai International Airport where we flew into Japan on the night of 13 November. The best place to stay in Hineno for my itinerary is the Kanku Joytel Hotel. The hotel is located just a few minutes walk (see map below) from the JR Hineno train station where we need to catch the 8.30 AM Kuroshio express train to Kii-Tanabe the next morning. This hotel offers free but infrequent (10 PM and 11 PM) shuttle bus transfers from the airport for guests who arrived at night. We just managed to take the 10 PM shuttle bus for the 20 minutes ride to the hotel. Otherwise, we would have taken a JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service train, and alight at the JR Hineno Station.
Tip: There was a 7-eleven convenient store near the station that was still operating at night for those who needs to stock up on some snacks and drinks.
Upon check-in, the staff handed me a package containing my econnect data sim that I had ordered to be delivered to the hotel. Configuration of the SIM card was easy and the package even included a paper clip for me to eject the SIM card tray from my phone.
After a simple breakfast of cup noodles brought from home, we arrived early at the JR Hineno Station. I noticed that the locals arrived only a few minutes before their intended train. For us, we tend to play it safe and spend time on the empty platform waiting for our train to arrive.
Tickets for the trains could be bought from vending machines with options for the English language. We wanted to book the cheaper unreserved seats but the helpful staff at the Hineno Station who voluntarily helped us with the automated ticket machine unwittingly chose the reserved-seat tickets for us. So we ended up paying a little more for our tickets. No big deal. Simple communication error.
The Kuroshio express train from Hineno to Kii-Tanabe took about 1.5 hour and we arrived promptly at 10 AM after a very comfortable ride on plush cushioned seats in an almost empty cabin.
From Kii-Tanabe, Kumano Kodo pilgrims and trekkers will need to take a 40 minutes bus ride to Takijiri, the start of the Nakahechi trail. This bus actually runs between Kii-Tanabe and the Hongu area where the Hongu Taisha Shrine is located. At the Hongu area, there are a few onsens villages such as Yunomine Onsen, Kawayu Onsen and Wataze Onsen, good places to use as a base to do visit the shrines and do short day hikes on the Kumano Kodo trails.
As we left the train station, we saw some folks already queuing for the next bus outside the station. We chose to spend some time exploring Kii-Tanabe first since our Day 1 is short and less than 3 hours. There is a tourist information centre at the train station providing information about the town and mostly about the Kumano Kodo trail. Tickets for the bus ride to Takijiri (960 yen) are also sold at the center, via a ticket vending machine.
Signboard showing the location of Kii-Tanabe in the Kii-Peninsula.
After confirming the schedule of the bus to Takijiri-oji, we decided to walk to the nearby beach and park. Most of the restaurants are still closed before 11 AM! It was not surprising as we had similar experiences during our Nakasendo trip earlier in the year.
While it is nice to see the ocean, there wasn’t much to do at the sea-side. Just relax and enjoy the breeze. However, I did learnt that the Japanese take their earthquake and tsunami warnings and drills seriously. We are in earthquake country after all!
Walking back to the train and bus station, we stopped by a bakery shop to buy our lunch for our day 1 hike. There would be no food or drinks available for sale from Takijiri-oji to Takahara along the mountain trail. We had also brought our favourite Snicker bars as our “combat ration” for this trip.
Back at the Kii-Tanabe station, we boarded the 11.35 AM bus to Takjiri-oji. The bus was surprisingly full and that was where we met our hiking companions for Day 1. A couple of ladies, one elderly lady accompanied by a younger lady who was close to our age (I reckoned), boarded the bus after us. We overhead their conversation with the bus driver and asking if the bus goes to Takijiri-oji. It looked like there would be other folks on the same journey on this day. Hopefully, not the entire bus loads!