Kirishima Geopark is a spooky place, I thought to myself, separated from my hiking group by a thick, soupy fog that dampened both sound and clothes. Despite the well-marked trails, there was something about the twisty trees and shivery sound of water drops pushed loose by the wind that suggested you might walk around a bend and disappear forever. I loved it.
The Kirishima Geopark is located in Kyushu, straddling Kagoshima and Miyazaki Prefectures. The park is a volcanologist’s dream, with more than 20 volcanoes of various types and at various levels of activity crowded within its roughly 600km2 area, including grumbly Mt. Shimoe, which spectacularly popped its top in 2011.
The kanji for Kirishima are 霧島, roughly translated as “island of mist.” The name comes from the fact that when the region is covered in clouds, the top of the mountains sometimes poke out, looking from a distance like islands in the clouds.
Photo: Kirishima Geopark
With a name like island of mist, we weren’t surprised as we headed out to hike the Ebino Plateau trail, which supposedly boasts stunning views of several caldera lakes, to discover visibility was a paltry few meters.
▼ Nothing bad ever happened in a murky forest, right?
However, in addition to making for some very atmospheric hiking, the frequent misty blanketing of the area means that the whole place is covered in a spongy green moss. If you have ever seen the moss used as a base in potted bonsai, it looks a lot like that. In fact, the gnarled trees, exposed roots and unexpected outcroppings looked for all the world like a massive bonsai. I felt like I had been shrunk down, sci-fi style, to tromp around some giant’s Japanese garden.
Near the summit, the mist persisted, while the greenery fell away to volcanic rock, adding to the weird sense of isolation.
▼The panoramic “viewpoint”
Clearly, we were not going to be treated to any wide-open vistas today, but the guide did take us to a solitary little shrine near the top and pointed out some interesting plant life along the way.
▼The name of this highly poisonous plant roughly translates to “bad seed.” It’s used in Shintoism to decorate graves in the belief that the poison keeps bad things at bay.
Nearing the end of our trail, I had fallen behind the group while taking pictures and was enjoying the uncanny sensation of slipping through the fog, when there was a perceptible increase in the light. The gods of Kirishima took pity on this soggy hiker to part the clouds just long enough to reveal the last caldera lake on our route, its waters bright green and blue from the minerals deposited in long-ago eruptions.
And then the clouds drifted in again and I headed off to the hot spring to warm up.
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