The Wild Charms of Cape Sata
The southernmost point of Kyushu, Cape Sata is an isolated, wild, and unusual place to visit if you
happen to be in southern Kagoshima Prefecture.
Cape Sata is a 3 hour car drive (and ferry ride!) from Kagoshima City. If you`re catching the ferry from Kagoshima you can fully experience Sakurajima, the large, active volcano that overlooks Kagoshima (however, in the light of the 2011 earthquake, several travel sites are suggesting that people do not approach the volcano in case of a sudden, large eruption). Be prepared to be covered in ash whenever you go, as Sakurajima has tiny eruptions every day, and occasionally the city is completely covered in a grey sheet of ash, so make sure to bring a face-mask and umbrella like the locals!
After you reach the other side of Sakurajima and re-enter the mainland, driving to Cape Sata is all pretty simple from there- just follow the signs and head south! There are a few michi-no-eki (roadside stations) along the way where you can pick up some lunch or just some munchies (these roadside stations usually sell pretty good soft-serve ice-cream in a variety of flavours as well as traditional and local sweets – often handmade by people living in the neighbourhood). There`s even an onsen on the way if you suddenly feel the need for a soak in a natural hot spring!
Instead of going through Sakurajima, you could simply drive south of Kagoshima all the way down to the Ibusuki Peninsula. If you do this, please consider taking a `sand onsen` (suna mushi or suna yu) in Ibusuki and visit the Chiran Peace Museum (about Kamikaze pilots trained in the area) as this is what the peninsula is most well-known for! After your visit, drive to the ferry terminal and catch one over to Minamiosumi, on the other side of the gulf. From here you head south and follow the signs! The trip is around 100 kilometres, whichever route you take.
About twenty to thirty kilometers before you reach Cape Sata you will start to notice that the road becomes much steeper as you head into mountains (drive carefully on a wet day as there are many twists and turns!). As you eventually come out of the mountains you will come across a few sparse eateries (often closed without notice) and that`s about it. There`s also one tiny town before Cape Sata, but only around one little shop to keep it going (moral of the story – pack some food before you make the journey just in case the little restaurants are shut!). These tiny towns are becoming even tinier by the year as everyone moves closer to the city for convenience, so don`t expect the Cape to be exactly hopping.
As you get closer to the Cape you`ll see a sign which denotes that the Cape is on the 31 degree
north line – worth a snap if you want. As you get even closer (and if your car isn`t really, really loud),
chances are that some monkeys will be sitting on the road in front of you, chasing each other and picking
bugs off of one another. From here you will enter the jungle. This environment is very different from that
of mainland Kyushu, and is in fact more like Okinawa. Large vines cover the trees and many a tropical
plant and butterfly (they are very big here!) can be seen by the side of the road. Chances are that there
won`t be many people sharing the road with you, but if you see someone walking with a huge pack on
their back or on their bike, stop to give them a bottle of water or a word of encouragement – they are
probably just about to finish a 3,000 kilometer journey from the most northern point of Hokkaido, Cape
Soya, to the bottom of Kyushu.
When you head through a tunnel and you`re almost at Cape Sata. When you spot a second tunnel, you`ve reached the Cape. Park your car, pay the small entrance fee, and walk through the tunnel (make sure to bring some water or buy a drink at the vending machine as there are a lot of stairs to climb and the Cape is hot for most of the year). There are a few different paths on which to explore the cape, but don`t worry – they all join up at some point or another so you can explore them in a loop track. There`s a red shrine covered in long vines which looks like something out of an Indiana Jones film which is fun to explore, however, the main sight is at the top of the hill – a lookout towards Okinawa from the most southern point of Kyushu. There are a few lookouts, but all offer similar views, and all can make you feel like you`re at the end of the world. Snap some pics at each, take a sip of water, and enjoy the expanse of azure water in front of you. The lookouts are beautiful places to enjoy the sunset, just be aware that you`ll be some of the last people there and you`ll be driving back in the dark.
It`s best to go to the Cape around lunch time to ensure that few shops are open and that you can get
back to the city by evening. If you don`t want to drive back that night, there is a Hotel Sata Misaki nearby, and you might be the only guests!
Pack up your car, ready your cameras, and enjoy your trip to the edge of the world, Cape Sata!