Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Mt Aso 阿蘇

Visited 21.03.2014

Not clouds but huge plumes of volcanic gases emitted from Nakadake.
Incomplete. I always find it a challenge to pen down thoughts for a place which I did not get to explore fully due to unforeseen circumstances. I will definitely list Mt Aso was one of them. Mt Aso activity has been pretty erratic in recent years and it has become increasingly difficult to get a peek of the fuming Nakadake (中岳) crater. On the day before our visit, bus services (Asosan Ropeway was under maintenance at that point of time) to Nakadake was suspended as eruption alert was raised. On the day of visit, alert was lifted and bus services were resumed. Unfortunately, the area near the crater were restricted as huge plumes of volcanic gases (H2S and SO2) were emitted and engulfed the surrounding area. Weather was also very unpredictable that day. First had to battled a snow storm when we arrived. Had to seek shelter because of the strong chilling wind and poor visibility. A while later, the storm stopped and we were greeted by clear blue skies. And just before we left, the snow storm recovered. Despite not being able to come close to the crater, the beautiful natural landscape of this mountainous area was something worth making the trip for. Not sure whether I will get the chance to revisit Mt Aso in the near future especially when volcanic activity continues to be perpetually high at this point of time.

Facts about Mt Aso. Mt Aso is made up of five peaks - Nakadake, Kishimadake, Eboshidake, Nekodake and Takadake. It is currently the largest active volcano in Japan and only the active Nakadake is accessible to visitors. Takadake is the highest among all, standing at 1,592 m tall. Aso has one of the largest caldera in the world - 25 km north-south and 18 km east-west, spanning over an area of 380 km2.


What's nearby?

House riding acitvity in Kusasenri.
(1) Kusasenri 草千里
Along the way to Mt Aso Ropeway, you will spot this huge grassland surrounded by mountains. Kusasenri is a round shaped grassland, which originally was a crater, located between Kishimadake (杵島岳) and Eboshidake (烏帽子岳). From photos, one may mistaken Kusasenri for a place in Mongolia - clear blue skies, a small pond hidden within the lush greenery and horses are allowed to gaze freely on the large plain. Passed by Kusasenri on the bus but could not replicate this scenery as the weather was bad (snowing) during the day of my visit.

Spotted Komezuka during the bus journey from Mt Aso to Kurokawa Onsen.
(2) Komezuka 米塚
Keep a lookout for a smaller and well defined hill that can be easily identified by its depression on the summit when you travel around Mt Aso area. Komezuka actually means "rice hill" and its name came about because of a legend. Rice harvest was piled up to form this hill by a deity of Aso (Takeiwatatsunomikoto). The slight depression on the summit was said to be created after rice was scooped out from the top by him to distribute to poor people.


Mt Aso Ropeway 阿蘇山ロープウェイ
Operating hours:
- 20 Mar - 31 Oct: 0830 - 1800 hrs
- 1 Nov - 30 Nov: 0830 - 1700 hrs
- 1 Dec - 19 Mar: 0900 - 1700 hrs
Fee = 1,200 yen (round trip); 750 yen (single trip)
* When ropeway is closed for maintenance, buses are employed to shuffle visitors between both stations. Similar fare is charged for the bus service.
* Please check out the following website to acquire advisory information for visit to Mt Aso.

How to get there?

(1) Sanko Bus 産交バス
Board the Aso Crater line bus (阿蘇火口線) heading for Mt Aso West Station (阿蘇山西駅). Fee = 650 yen.
Timetable (in Japanese):

(2) Kyushu Odan Bus 九州横断バス
A very useful bus service that commutes between Kumamoto and Beppu, and stops at Aso JR Station, Mt Aso West Station (Ropeway station), Kurokawa Onsen and Yufuin. 


Video: Scroll to 23:10 for 遇约九州 feature on Mt Aso.

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