The Great Outdoors Just Down the Road Outdoor activities with quick and simple access from Kochi City and Kochi Ryoma Airport

Tired of the usual sightseeing spots? Looking for something more active? If so, there’s no better place to come than Kochi. Here, we will introduce some fantastic outdoor activities all within a short distance of Kochi City and Kochi Ryoma Airport.

The SUP Experience

Who would have thought it? Travel a mere 30 minutes by car from Kochi City and you can enjoy fantastic outdoor activities on Japan’s cleanest river.

The Niyodo River has been voted Japan’s cleanest river for the last four years. On this occasion, we had the chance to experience it on a SUP (stand-up paddle board).

Run by SUGGOI Sports from their base inside the riverside Kanpo-no-yado Hotel, we joined the SUGGOI team for a guided two-and-a-half-hour downriver SUP course.

We came equipped with swimwear and not much else. SUGGOI Sports provided the rest. After changing into our wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, they drove us to the starting point 4 km upriver.

A short walk down from the road and suddenly the clear, gentle waters of the Niyodo River stretched out before us. None from our group of six had ever touched a SUP before, but the instructions in English and Japanese were quick and easy to follow. Soon we were venturing out onto the water.

Three instructors joined us for the afternoon and they let us discover the SUP at our own pace. Although the thought of balancing on the board in the river was daunting, with the help of the instructors we were all standing and gently moving down the river in a matter of minutes.

As we glided on top of the water, we came across exotic scenery and views only accessible from the river. The perspective you get from standing on an SUP was special. It was practically the same as standing on water.

With the river being so clear, it was easy to see all the fish swimming under the board. In some sections, the water was emerald green with vines and tree branches growing on the banks like mangroves. Even though we were just a stone's throw away from central Kochi, at times it felt like we were exploring a tropical river.

Falling into the river was the best way to cool off in the summer heat. It felt so refreshing. Towards the end, we all lifted our legs onto our boards and just floated in the water. I could have stayed like that for hours. It was reassuring to think we were doing all this in the cleanest river in Japan.

Back on dry land and out of our wetsuits, we had the option to use the hot spring at the hotel. All that was left was to look forward to the photographs taken by the instructor during our SUP adventure.

Kicking back with a riverside BBQ

The thing about doing water sports is you build up quite an appetite. Luckily we did not have to look far to take the edge off our hunger.

The Niyodo River is the destination of choice for locals wanting a relaxing weekend barbecue and picnic. A few paces from the SUP hotel, the Nico-Nico BBQ restaurant supplies everything you could ever need for an impromptu riverside barbecue.

The people at Nico-Nico BBQ provided us with a substantial barbecue set and a cool box packed with delicious local beef, chicken, vegetables and fish caught in the Niyodo River. All we had to do was cook it and enjoy it next to the river flowing gently by. Perfect.

Even if you do not have access to a car, the SUP hotel and the barbecue area is a quick 20-minute walk from JR Hakawa Station.

It was the ideal way to follow up the SUP adventure. In one afternoon, we had enjoyed the beautiful Niyodo River in two very different, but equally enjoyable ways.

A short drive and we were back in the heart of Kochi City, ready to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Exploring the caves at Ryuga Cave

Kochi is home to one of Japan’s best-loved limestone caves. The 175 million year-old Ryuga Cave Caves are 15 minutes away from Kochi Ryoma Airport and 40 minutes from Kochi City.

This underground labyrinth of caves and tunnels are set in the beautiful mountains that surround Kochi. Of the 4 km of underground caves, 1 km is open for visitors to explore.

This cave has been made accessible for almost everyone, with handrails and platforms set in place for safety. They even have an escalator on the slope leading up to the entrance.

When we reached the mouth of the cave, the first thing we noticed was the change in air temperature. According to our guide, the air in the cave remains cool in summer and warm in winter. A great antidote to Japan’s sweltering summer heat.

Inside the cave, the route was clearly marked and sections had been secured with scaffolding. But do not be fooled, this is not a gentle stroll in the park. As the route navigates the natural formations of the caves, you need to be at your agile best to negotiate some of the dips and turns.

The stalactites and stalagmites that took thousands of years to form are breathtaking. The more unusually shaped formations have been given special names according to what they look like. Some are harder to recognize than others. Keep an eye out for the Virgin Mary rock standing next to the Buddha rock.

As we approached the end, we entered the section previously inhabited by prehistoric peoples of the Yayoi Period 2,000 years ago. Since its discovery, the pieces of pottery and bone left behind by the cave dwellers have been moved to the museum. But one item - the Kami-no-tubo - is still in the cave. Thought to have been an earthen pot used to carry water, it has since calcified and become a part of the cave itself. Seeing that pot, the distant past suddenly felt a lot more real.

Things to discover around Ryuga Cave

Stalls and shops line the approaches to the caves and offer a host of gifts and souvenirs. Seeing as this area is famed for its exceptional metal work, the majority of the shops stocked metal tools and very sharp blades. Some shops were happy to demonstrate just how sharp their blades were.

After exiting the cave, you can find the Ryugado Museum that is free to enter with artifacts from the cave and other interesting exhibits on display.

We also came across a small store where a man hand-paints wooden signs with whatever message you want him to write for a few hundred yen. He uses his own special brand of calligraphy.

As the area is also famous for its rare and celebrated breeds of chickens, there is also a Rare Hens Center that houses a variety of live hens and cockerels. A new Thai cafe/restaurant near the car park also has its own set of hens that are friendly enough to pet. Now that is not something you see everyday.

(Visited in August 2016)