Looking over bicycles before the journey (Sunrise Itoyama)
The water in this moat is seawater (Imabari City)
Starting across the bridge (Imabari City)
One of the famous whirlpools, though it can’t be seen this close from the bridge. (Imabari City)
A whirlpool viewed from above (Imabari City)
While this route can be traversed in either direction, we began at Imabari City and headed toward Onomichi City. The first thing we needed to do was rent a bicycle, so after getting off at Imabari Station, we took a bus to the Imabari City Cycling Terminal at Sunrise Itoyama, which is next to the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge, the first bridge on our route. There are many different bicycles available, and we chose a mountain bike that can change gears, something that comes in handy when youï¿½re climbing dozens of meters up the slope of a bridge. To be safe, we wore helmets and packed our belongings away securely.
To stretch our legs before the beginning of the big journey, we decided to take a look around Imabari City. Along the coast heading back toward the station, there is Imabari Castle, which was built in 1604. The castle is protected by surrounding moats. Interestingly, the moats are filled with seawater.
It is 10:00 am, and we are ready to get underway. Following the traffic signs posted on the cycling route, we ride along ordinary roads until we get to the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge. We put ¥200 ($1.75 at ¥115 to the dollar) into the unmanned toll-gate machine and pass through.
The Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge was the first in the world to be made up of three consecutive suspension bridges. Stretching out directly over the sea, it is 4,105 meters long. While cars are not allowed to stop along the way, cyclists are. We decided to stop and enjoy the view.
We were about 70 meters over the sea, and merchant ships and fishing vessels passed beneath us. Because of all the islands in the area, the currents in the water are quite complex and can reach speeds of up to 10 knots (18.5 km per hour) - about the same speed as a river. We also saw any number of whirlpools taking shape - each around 10 meters in diameter. Although more than 1,000 vessels pass through in a given day, Kurushima Kaikyo is a difficult place for ships to navigate.
Small islands are visible all around, and the view you will experience encompasses the white of the suspension bridge, the cobalt blue of the Seto Inland Sea, and the green of the trees on the islands. Itï¿½s exhilerating to cycle across the sea while enjoying the fresh ocean breeze. It almost feels as though you are flying through the air.
You can get a Shimanami Kaido Cycling Map at the cycle-rental terminals or any of the tourist information centers in the area, and there are also printed guides and maps on the islands themselves. Cycling paths are clearly marked with road signs. When you leave the cycling paths to ride around on ordinary roads on the islands, however, make sure to watch out for cars.