Travelers are selfish people. When we discover a site that really feels special, we tend to keep it a secret, thinking, “How can we keep this place out of the guidebooks? How can we keep it entirely to ourselves! Private! Unspoiled! Untouched! Ours!”
It’s true that the arrival of tourists isn’t always the best thing to happen to an area, with their clicking cameras, their loud voices and their exhaust-belching buses. The truth be told, there really are some places in the world that simply demand smaller groups and quiet reverence.
Maybe we travelers aren’t so much selfish hoarders as gentle “caretakers”. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Anyway, one such place to caretake is the astonishing Nakatsu Gorge in Shikoku, Japan. About an hour west of the city of Kochi, Nakatsu is one of several lovely, untouched gorges in the area.
Adam and I arrive just before noon, snacks in our pack, looking forward to a pleasant nature walk. Renting a car has proven to be a real godsend, as getting to Nakatsu via public transit would’ve been an absolute non starter. The river walk, itself, is quite pleasant – a 1.5 mile path that occasionally crosses the Nakatsu River via bridges and stepping stones. The water is emerald green and crystal clear, dotted with huge boulders. Along the way, we keep an eye out for the stone “shichfukujin” statues, the Seven Gods of Fortune, hidden along the path in cleverly strategic locations. We’re particularly baffled by one that sits up high on a ledge above the river, with no visible path or steps nearby. How did they get it up there?
The show stopper of the Nakatsu Gorge, however, is the remarkable Uryu no Taki waterfall at the end of the path. Plunging 65 feet into a limpid, blue pool, the waterfall is actually a double fall, with one cascade in the front and another 45 degrees to the side. But even that feature isn’t what makes Uryu no Taki such a Wow location. It’s the hidden grotto. Picture this. You’re just walking along the river path, your mind lost in thought, when you start to hear a roaring sound. You look up and see a red stone bridge above you, covered with green moss and vines. As you climb up to the bridge, you suddenly see this magical, mystical waterfall, wedged into a tiny, private grotto. The effect is like when your partner asks you to close your eyes and open your mouth, and they pop a piece of Swiss chocolate into your mouth. It’s as delightful for the taste as it is for the surprise. What is a world-class waterfall doing out here, in the middle of nowhere, with nary a tourist in sight? Why aren’t the guidebooks praising this place to the moon?
Oh yeah, right. Travelers like me are actively keeping it secret!
Here’s hoping my traveler brethren don’t ghost me for “ruining” the Nakatsu Gorge by “outing” it today. I just had to tell you about it. Now, shhhhhhh.