Western Kochi Snorkeling Over Tropical Coral

Dive into the amazing coral forest of Ugurushima, featuring colorful tropical corals 700 kilometers north of where they should be.

3 days
Kochi

Highlights

  • Visit the island of Ugurushima at the westernmost point of Kochi Prefecture, featuring snorkeling, hiking, and mixing with the locals
  • Island-based experienced English-speaking guide/host
  • All visit logistics pre-arranged, giving you access to places not normally open to foreign tourists, including a rental car to get to Sukumo port (rail also an option) and accommodation on the island or at Sukumo port

Description

Kochi Prefecture is one of those remote areas of Japan that even many Japanese haven't visited. It's best known for having a humid, subtropical climate, and having large expanses of natural forest and untouched coastline. In particular, the prefecture receives massive flows of warm water and plankton from the Kuroshio current which sweeps up from the western Pacific equatorial region, and this has created a micro-climate that provides Kochi waters with the same conditions as locations 700 km - 1,000 km further south. As a result, at our destination of Ugurushima Island we can find one of the northern-most clusters of naturally occuring tropical corals in the world. This 2-night 3-day tour takes you to this marine wonderland, combining a snorkeling tour with island hiking. Diving is also available as an option. In taking this tour you will be gaining access to deep local knowledge, an understanding of Kochi's unique climate and marine ecosystem, and of course a chance to taste the "products" (actually the fish you will eat come from outside the coral area). After our Western Kochi Snorkeling tour, we are sure you will want to come back for a more in depth experience.

 

Details

Kochi Prefecture has the longest coastline in Japan exposed to the central Pacific Ocean and the powerful Kuroshio current welling from the equator and swirling up past the shores of the northwestern rim nations. As a result, Kochi's climate is both humid and subtropical. Snow only falls in the high ranges and the ocean temperature seldom dips below 16 degrees year round. This plus the fertile alluvial soils make for a perfect growing environment for fruit, veges, and ocean fish. This tour takes you to the far western point Kochi, exploring both the tropical coral marine forest on the south side of the island, and also hiking to the summit and other possible diving locations around the island. The tour is best suited for conservation-minded travelers interested in marine life - in particular the northward migration of tropical coral due to global warming. This tour may also be suitable for families, although for safety and experience quality, we recommend a lower age limit of around 10 years old, and those children should be able to swim. 

Tour Itinerary

Day 1

Arriving at Kochi Airport, you have two choices to get to your initial destination of Sukumo City. Either take the bus (or a cab) into Kochi, to Kochi Station, then switch to a train all the way to Sukumo (changing at Nakamura Station), or simply rent a car from the airport and drive down. If you decide to rent we will prepare all the logistics for you, so language will not be a significant hurdle. Once you have the car, you'll quickly find that Google Maps works perfectly well for Kochi roads, in English, so make sure that you have a working cell phone. If you need a local SIM, we can supply this to you. After signing the rental documents and stowing your luggage, set your car navigation for Sukumo and get on the Kochi Expressway. The trip is easy and takes approximately 3.5 hours. We recommend a stop along the way at Kure Taisho Town Market to try the incredibly delicious "wara-yaki katsuo-no-tataki" (straw-roasted seared bonito) there. Also, not far away is beautiful Iwamoto-ji, Temple Number 37 on the Ohenro pilgrimage trail. 

You should aim to be at Sukumo before nightfall, and check in to your hotel. Be sure to get an early night, because tomorrow is the main act and will be a long day.

Day 2

The only way to get out to Ugurushima is to either take the public ferry operated by the local city, or charter a fishing boat! Given that you will be staying on the island at some very basic accommodation (take note!) we recommend only taking this tour if unique experiences outrank comfort on your list of priorities. If so, probably you will take the ferry at a very reasonable JPY 1,350 one-way. 

There are two ferries a day to Ugurushima, and the only one that allows sufficient time for the snorkeling experience - it departs at 07:00 am sharp. You should be there at least 15 minutes early, to buy tickets (self pay - although we will organize) and to board the ship. Return will be 07:50 am on Day 3. The trip takes just under an hour, and thanks to the size of the boat and the protective construction of the harbor on the island, the ferry will travel in all but the worst weather.

Arriving at Ugurushima dock, you will be met by your host, and accompanied with other guests up to the lodging and preparation area. Lodging is a series of shared rooms in an old Japanese house, and the guests prepare meals together with their host. You will be briefed on the ecology of the island and the dangers and precautions necessary, then it's time for fitting. Your host has a wide range of wet suit sizes, but if you are tall or uniquely shaped, you might want to pack your own wet suit, as we did. The ocean temperature is a comfortable 16-22 degrees year-round, so a half-sleeve wet suit will work well. Flippers, snorkel, face mask, etc., are supplied, or again, you can bring your own.

As you walk through Ugurushima village and the disarray on the docks, you may initially wonder at the disconnect between this somewhat "industrial" scene versus the advertised eco adventure. But bear with us because once you are outside the harbor, and especially once you get into the water, you'll be amazed at the visual transformation. What has happened in Ugurushima, entirely naturally, is that tropical coral polyps have drifted northward in the Kuroshio current and have taken up residence on the otherwise rather ugly concrete tetrapods surrounding the island. For some unknown reason, the coral love the location, the nutrient flow, and the tetrapod composition, and under the surface they have developed into a veritable forest of riotess color and filaments that would be worthy of any tropical dive spot. The coral forest runs about 100 meters, and is thick with fish, lobsters, and other marine life. Although not an officially designated reserve, the locals leave the area alone and as a result it has turned into a veritable diving wonderland. 

For the actual tour, your guide will first acclimate you to the conditions in the small harbor, then once he is confident the group is ready, you will all board his fishing boat and make the short trip out of the harbor to the coral area. Anchoring about 20 m off-shore, everyone snorkels to the coral zone and is then free to follow the group or spend time gazing at whatever catches your interest. There is no current pulling at you, and so if you remember to bring a water-proof camera, the scenes will entrance you. 

By the way, in case you are wondering, unlike cold-water corals, tropical corals have symbiotic algae living in their polyps, and these create the ecosystem that is responsible for the corals' vibrant colors and the delicate but nurturing ecosystem which sustains a huge number of sea life species.

After the marine portion of the tour is over, the group will move back to the accommodation area and be served lunch, then it is time to head out for a hike to the summit of the island. Once there, and depending on how much energy you have, you can also hike over to several other diving spots that feature natural collection points for the rich marine life in the area. Ugurushima, along with various islets and Okinoshima to the south, form a protective and nurturing basin for many species of fish, and the whole area has become a popular fishing spot year round. Indeed, some fishing fanatics hop off the ferry at one or other of the islets (no local inhabitation or fresh water) and spend the day there fishing until the ferry returns in the afternoon or evening.

At the end of the day, dinner will be served by your host, and you are free to spend the evening either walking around the local village (although it gets pretty dark after nightfall) or relaxing at your accommodation. Yes, they have good internet.


Day 3

Catching the ferry back to Sukumo at 07:50 am you will be back at your vehicle or the train station about 09:30 am. Please note that Sukumo Station is about 10 minutes away by car. Depending on your flight schedule, we recommend taking some time out to visit the Shimanto river area (we also have tours in this area) and try out the kayaking, SUP, or yakatabune tours. You can also enjoy cycling for about 50+ kilometers on the quiet byroads on the western side of the river. If you do so, be sure to look out for the so-called chinkabashi (sinking bridges) which crisscross the river and which feature one-lane and no guard rails - perfect for photos and short meditation. 

Heading back to the airport, please take note of your flight time, and leave enough time to drop off the rental car and do a local flight check-in. Our suggestion is that with a 1 hour prior check-in, you will need at least another 1 hour to take care of the rental return. We do offer a service for additional cost to take care of your rental returns for you, so please let us know if you need this.

Important information

Included in price

  • Pre-visit consulting with one of our travel experts
  • Host, tour, snorkeling rental gear (wet suit, flippers, face mask, snorkel)
  • Rental vehicle (2-3 persons: compact; 4-8 persons: van) (train is user paid)
  • Ferry arrangement - although actual payment should be done by each traveler, in cash.
  • Island shared accommodation or Sukumo port hotel accommodation - per your budget (list price is for island, shared)
  • Two dinners at the share house or back in Sukumo (if you return on Day 2 afternoon ferry), and breakfast on Days Two and Three at the share house
  • Chat and voice support in English
  • Wet suit, flippers, face mask, snorkel

Not included

  • Tolls, gas, parking, fines/penalties for vehicle
  • Bus and train fares, if you decide to use public transport
  • Insurance for vehicle or yourself and passengers
  • Admission to any additional attractions that have gate/entry fees
  • Vehicle accessories such as child seat, freezer box, etc.
  • WiFi Router or phone SIM unless purchased separately, as recommended
  • Guides or other persons in attendance
  • Equipment for any other activities you may plan to do independently (unless booked separately with us)
  • Lunches. On Day 1 we will arrange the katsuo-no-takaki lunch at Kure Tausho Town Market, but it will be self-pay. Lunch on Day 2 is self-pay.

Other Important Information:

  • Marine travel is weather dependent and we may change the visit dates if the trip is deemed unsafe or for some similar reason.
  • Share house availability will vary depending on your travel dates, and we may substitute a nearby home or hotel of similar grade if not available. Alternatively, we may recommend shortening the tour and staying at a hotel in Sukumo.
  • Most meals in Japan are either meat or fish-flavored. If you have dietary restrictions, we can organize other cuisine, but be sure to let us know well in advance. Also, let us know if dashi stock is OK or not.
  • You will need a working cell phone for navigation. If you need a WiFi Router, we have high-performance, reasonably priced units in stock. We also have SIMs should you need one.
  • Some parts of the route may be modified depending on weather and seasonal conditions.
  • Japanese traffic laws are quite strict about parking, so please use car parks provided, or seek permission of land owners before leaving your vehicle for any period of time.
  • Traffic in Kochi is generally pretty good, but can get heavy from 17:00-19:00 each day, so if you are taking a late flight, factor in the extra time to get to the airport.

Know before you book

Cancellation:

  • 4 weeks prior to the day of your trip - 10%
  • 2 days prior to the day of your trip - 40 %
  • 1 day prior - 50 %, On the day - 100 %
  • No-show - 100 %

Japan is a safe country and this tour is low-risk, however, we advise you to consider personal and third-party travel insurance out of abundant caution.
If you are renting a car, we recommend you buy the car rental company's insurance policy

What you need to bring:

  • Windbreaker during the spring and autumn months. Although Kochi is semi-tropical, the wind chill can be significant.
  • Working cell phone (usable in Japan) or apply for our WiFi Router or SIM rental
  • Battery extender/charger
  • Any pre-purchase passes, route maps, and other information
  • Sunglasses, water bottle, and other personal accessories
  • If you are going snorkeling, you will also need water sports clothing

How to get there:

  • By Train to Sukumo: Take the JR Dosan Line from Kochi Station, using either the Limited Express (faster) or the local train and alight at Nakamura Station (TK 40 stop). From there switch trains to the Sukumo line, and take the Express or local train to Sukumo. Once at Sukumo Station, walk to your hotel. Return to Kochi is the same sequence in reverse. If you know your travel times, we can assist in planning Express trains and ensuring logistics run smoothly.
  • By Car to Sukumo: After renting your vehicle, set your navigation system to Sukumo City and get on the Kochi Expressway at Kochi Interchange and follow the route west to Ashizuri and thereafter to Sukumo.
  • By Ferry: On Day 2, getting to Ugurushima is a large public ferry from Sukumo port. If you came by car, leave it at the shoreline parking area. Leaving your car should be safe overnight. The ferry only departs twice daily so you MUST arrive early enough in the morning to get to the parking area, move luggage, get tickets, and board. We recommend arriving at the parking area no later than 06:45.

Meeting point

The starting point of this tour is Kochi Ryoma Airport. 

View Directions

Organised by Japan Travel KK

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