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Aso Kuju National Park: Stunning Nature around Yamanami Highway

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

Sponsored by Tourism Oita

 

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

Rolling hills, luscious greenery and fresh air are just a few of the pleasures to be enjoyed at Aso Kuju National Parka national park in Oita and Kumamoto prefectures spanning over 720m². I had the pleasure of exploring three of the most incredible spots here: Kuju Flower Park, Tadewara Marshland and Kokonoe Yume Bridge – the highest suspension bridge in Japan. But before seeing some of the highlights of these incredible places, let’s find out more about Aso Kuju National Park itself!

Kuju flower park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Flower Rows at Kuju Hanakoen Flower Park
Kokonoe Yume Bridge, against Trees in Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
A Gilmpse of Kokonoe Yume Bridge

 

About Aso Kuju National Park, Kyushu

For as long as I can remember, the words “national park” have brought me instant joy. There’s something about the prospect of huge trees fused with open space that revitalises me. Luckily for me then, I was able to lap up a hefty portion of nature during my exploration of this Kyushu-based National Park. Which I have to say, blew me away.

Aso Kuju National Park was established in 1934, and its name is derived from its surroundings: Mount Aso, which is Japan’s highest active volcano and the Kuju mountain range. One of the most popular ways to explore the park is by car, along the Yamanami Highway, the stretching hills and twisting roads offer spectacular views of the green abyss. Also along the way, are numerous lay-bys, allowing curious people to pull over and get a closer look at the scenery.

Kuju flower park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Summer Flowers at Kuju Hanakoen, Flower Park

Wide Views of Nature along Yamanami Highway

Two of the places that I stopped for views were Kuju Kogen Tenbodai (久住高原展望台) and Makinoto-Toge (牧ノ戸峠). Kuju Kogen Tenbodai is a wide lay-by cordoned off with barriers, along a bend in the highway. Makinoto Toge on the other hand, is an official stopping location, equipped with toilet and ice-cream facilities, as well as two different panoramic viewing options.

At Makinoto Toge, when you arrive at the car park, cross over the highway for a 5-minute ascent  to a sheltered viewpoint. It was humid and around 30°C when I visited , so most people weren’t silly enough to go for the steeper, longer option. However, I had already intended to climb to the higher lookout point so I went ahead anyway. The climb is relatively steep but it completely paved, making it easily accessible. At the top, there is a sheltered seating area and a stone map to tell you which mountains you are looking at. Unfortunately, the visibility was slightly too low for me to see all of the mountains, but I got a good impression of the horizon nonethless!

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Kuju Kogen Tenbodai: View of the Hills
Makinoto Toge: A Map of the Mountains in the mountain range enscribed on a plaque
Makinoto Toge: A Misty View of the Mountain Range
Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Makinoto Toge: A Mini-Pagoda Sits Alongside the Rest Area

Kuju Hanakoen: The Dreamiest Flower Park

Kuju Hanakoen is a flower park, reminiscent of the most beautiful, vibrant dream. It is around 220,000m², and from spring through autumn around 500 different species of plant and 3 million plants bloom there. In my opinion, to say that it is a “must-see” would almost seem like an understatement!

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
“Forest of the Hydrangea” (mid-July and August)

Entrance to the park is 1300 yen, and you could easily spend all day sniffing and eating your way around it. Because in addition to the millions of flowers, there is also an outdoor café, tearoom, healthy BBQ restaurant, gelato store, dry fruits store, and more!

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
A Boat “Sailing” on Flowers, Children’s Play Area

The park is divided into different sections with the cutest names: Healing ForestColourful Hill, and Hill of the Soft Breeze, are some of my favourites! The cuteness level of Hanakoen goes one stage further though, by playing the most relaxing xylophone music everywhere.

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
“Hill of the Seasonal Breeze”
Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
“Outlook Hill”
Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Butterfly in the “Healing Forest”

If you have ever seen the famous Ghibli film “Spirited Away”, you may recall a scene with the main character, Chihiro, shuffling sideways through two walls of beautifully animated flowers. Well, that is what this Kuju Hanakoen reminded me of – but better.

Some of the single species areas include: Lavender Fields (early-June to mid-July), Poppy Fields (late-April to late-May), Sunflower Garden (late-July to early-August). I was quite disappointed to have missed the end of the Lavender bloom. If there is a certain species you’d like to see, be sure to correspond your visit with the flowering schedule!

Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
The Remains of the Lavender Blossom

Unfortunately, as with all dreams, I had to leave the park eventually. But thankfully, the next stop did not disappoint!

 

Tadewara Marshland: A Blissful Walk

My next stop was the Tadewara Marshland which is accessible through the Chojabaru Visitor Centre. The Tadewara Marsh is based on the northwest side of the Kuju Mountain Range and was categorised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 2005. A great thing about this marshland is that it’s free, flat, and the routes are mainly along boardwalks, making it accessible for most people. There are three main courses A, B and C:

A: Stunning views. 800m/approx. 20 minutes. Wheelchair accessible

B: Seasonal plants and flowers. 1500m/approx. 40 minutes.

C: Grasslands and forests. 2500m/approx. 60 minutes.

I walked route B during the summer; I was able to see seasonal flowers such as the Japanese Water Iris, Daylily and Balloon Thistle.

Tadehara marshland at Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

Tadehara marshland at Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Tadehara marshland at Aso Kuju national park in Rita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

 

Kokonoe Yume Grand Suspension Bridge

My final stop was Kokonoe Yume Suspension Bridge. This grand bridge lingers above the forest at 777 meters high and 390 meters long. If you’re not too scared of heights, for 500 yen you can walk across the bridge. The walk takes around 30 minutes – depending upon how many selfies you take!

Kokonoe Yume Grand Suspension Bridge in Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
Looking Straight Down the Grand Bridge
Kokonoe Yume Grand Suspension Bridge in Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
A Bridge with a View

Links and Additional Information

Full information about Aso Kuju National Park can be found on the website here. Or alternatively,

  • For more information about Kuju Flower Park visit the website here (only in Japanese).
  • For more information about Kokonoe Yume Suspension Bridge visit the website here.
  • For more information about Tadeweara Marshland, visit the website here.

 

Access

A full map of the park can be found on the website here.

By Car

The National Park is around 80-100 minutes drive from Oita Airport. Or 70-90 minutes drive from Oita.

By Public Transport

The best ways to access the various places around the Aso Kuju National Park can be found via the official website here.