Floating peacefully in the Pacific Ocean, Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago comprising some 6,852 islands; the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Connecting Honshu to Shikoku is the Shimanami Kaido (Nishiseto Expressway), a spectacular 60km long road and bridge network for motor vehicles ... and home to one of the World's best kept cycling secrets.
["shima" - Island // "nami" - wave].
Starting in Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture, Honshu), this sublime cycling route links the islands of Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima and Oshima, before ending in Imabari (Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku). Cycling distances range upwards of 70km, depending on the scenic route selected, and can be comfortably completed in one day by the avid cyclist - though why not take a few days and relax.
First opened in 1998, this unique cycling route has grown in popularity, with visitors from all around the world now travelling to immerse themselves in the Seto Inland Sea. Aside from the breathtaking ocean views and coastal scenery which distracts you in every direction, the sweet scent of tangarines, lemons, oranges and grapefruit will tingle your nostrils as you weave your way through the many citrus groves dotted along Japan's orchard islands.
WHEN TO VISIT:
Having recently returned (May) from this brief Japan adventure, with only two days to ride the return journey, I was blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather; sunshine, blue skies and no wind. In unforgiving conditions this would be an interesting experience (given the exposed nature of the route to the elements).
A visual feast of natural beauty and engineering excellence. The six bridges along the route offer a unique perspective of the Seto Inland Sea, and the opportunity to marvel at their (bridges) enormity:
Innoshima Bridge @ 1,270m (suspension bridge)
Ikuchi Bridge @ 790m (cable stayed bridge)
Tatara Bridge @ 1,480m (cable stayed bridge)
Omishima Bridge @ 328m (arch bridge)
Hakata-Oshima Bridge @ 1,165m (suspension bridge)
Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge @ 4,015m (longest suspension bridge in the world)
As mentioned above, I rode Onomichi-Imabari-Onomichi over two days, with a slightly different return route chosen. I carried an overnight pack for my stay in Imabari, and left my main luggage at my hotel in Onomichi. Whilst I found the riding easy, I would recommend spending a night on one of the islands along the way and doing more exploring (unfortunately, I didn't have the luxury of time on this occasion).
Day 1 - Onomichi to Imabari @ 79.82km / 535m
Day 2 - Imabari to Onomichi @ 82.57km / 585m
The route is easily identified by the blue line that runs in both directions. You can't possibly get lost (unless you want to).
Forget about carrying two water bottles and energy bars on the bike as coffee shops, convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere (yes, coffee-in-a-can).
Whilst in Onomichi I booked at the Green Hill Hotel, which is on the waterfront directly opposite Onomichi Station - the ferry you need to catch with your bike also departs from beside the hotel.
In Imabari I stayed with the most amazing Japanese family (Tsuneto & Akiko), whose generosity and kindness will never be forgotten - look them up on Airbnb if you are looking at visiting.
There are numerous bike hire options available in Onomichi. I hired a bike from the Giant store within Onomichi U2 - a short 150m walk from the Green Hill Hotel. I did take my own helmet, shoes, clip-in pedals and spares (CO2 pump, multi-tool, tube). Given they rent a large number of bikes out every day, I strongly recommend emailing them and booking well in-advance. My basic aluminium road bike cost me ¥8,000 (about $100) for two days, you can also rent high-end carbon fibre bikes from them too.
Onomichi is easily accessible via train (¥8,500 from Osaka).
From Onomichi to Imabari, just follow the blue line.
Bakeries, convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere. You will not go hungry!
There is no need to stop and eat at every bakery you see ... but I highly recommend it.
Google Maps is your friend (as is its train schedule function).
Leave your shoelaces at home. Pack "slip-on" shoes for Japan.
The overwhelming generosity of my Japanese homestay with Tsuneto & Akiko in Imabari.
Cycling across the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge - the world's longest suspension bridge.
Watching the sunset over the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge from the Kiro-san Observatory on Ōshima.