The Nachi Waterfall (Nachi-no-taki [那智の滝]; also Nachi Falls) was said to be Japan's highest waterfall at 133m though we suspect that claim would only work if the definition of waterfall was limited to only nearly vertical-dropping ones. In any case, there were shrines, pagodas, and temples in the vicinity of the waterfall (see photo at the top of this page). And this gave Julie and I the sense that Nachi-no-taki was some kind of holy waterfall in a part of the country that seemed quite different from the rest of Honshu (the main island in Japan). In fact, we thought this was our favorite waterfall in the country, and thus we included it on our Top 10 Asian Waterfalls List.
The one thing about our visit that was kind of a shame was that Julie and I were quite rushed during our visit thanks to an utterly inconvenient boat shuttle schedule that linked the Hotel Urashima to the rest of Kii-Katsuura. Apparently, the shuttle wouldn't run between 14:50 and 19:00 as well as between 7:35 and 10:00, and so that forced our hand into trying to squeeze in a visit in barely an hour so as to not be stranded away from our hotel in the four hours between 3pm and 7pm. What an utterly useless schedule!
There were two main viewing area for visiting the falls, both of which we managed to squeeze in during our whirlwind tour. We started with the lower viewing area first before going to the upper viewing areas, but in hindsight, we probably should've done the reverse so most of the hiking would've been all downhill and would've been more efficient with our limited time.
We reached the lower viewing deck (we paid 300 円/person) from the "falls front" stop (at least that's how I translated the kanji for 前滝). From there, we went through a torii (we definitely saw lots of these archways in Japan), then down several steps towards a tree-shaded area with a shrine as well as a teasing view of the falls between trees. After paying to get by the kiosk, we went up some more steps for a much better (though sometimes mistier) view of the falls and the rocky cascades at its base.
After visiting the lower viewing deck, we then walked up several flights of steps, which ultimately ended up at a shrine area (called the Seiganto-ji Temple). We didn't spend too much time in this area given our rush. However, we were able to see a pretty over-the-top majestic view above the treeline with the cliff-diving Nachi Waterfall in its context and a beautiful pagoda juxtaposed with it.
After visiting this lovely sacred area, we then walked towards the red pagoda fronting the waterfall. Once we got to the pagoda, we paid 200 円/person to enter it. Within the pagoda, we walked up several flights of steps until we reached the upper floors where we were able to get even more views of the Nachi Waterfall above the treeline surrounded by only trees. The very top floor views were also surrounded by netting with a hole cut into one part of it to allow for photos without the netting getting in the way.
Once we were done visiting the pagoda, we returned to its entrance and took a few more photos of this pagoda with the Nachi-no-taki together. We discovered later that there was actually a "temple front" stop, which was about a minute later than the "falls front" stop that we were at earlier. This probably would've saved us from the uphill stairclimbing between the two viewing decks had we disembarked the bus from here.
Not taking any chances, we then walked downhill along the road before finding a shaded path that ultimately brought us back to the "falls front" stop. And while we were anxiously awaiting at a bench there for the next bus to show up, we were fortunate that the Japanese seemed to be very punctual (even on their bus schedules) so we still had a chance to return to the boat dock right before they'd leave for Hotel Urashima for the last time in the early afternoon.
Under more relaxed circumstances, we could've easily spent at least a half-day here to not only check out the Nachi Waterfall from its various vantage points, but also the intriguing Seiganto-ji Temple. I would imagine that we would have better appreciated how this waterfall might have influenced the spirituality here from spending more time in the temples and shrines here.
In any case, my notes indicated that we barely spent just under an hour seeing the waterfall from both its base and from the pagoda at the top. All the logistics (the boat ride and bus ride plus all the walking/running) chewed into the 2 hours we had available. It was a good thing that we weren't stuck on Kii-Katsuura for another four hours because we used that time to enjoy the Hotel Urashima's onsens, its interior, and even the beautiful garden area at its top (which the photos below would attest)!
A major logistical issue regarding the Nachi Waterfall involved getting all the way to the Kii-Katsuura town (紀伊勝浦) or to Shingu (新宮) as they're all the way on the southeastern side of Kii-hanto (Kii Peninsula) which was directly opposite the peninsula from the major cities in Kansai like Osaka (大阪), Kyoto (京都), and Nara (奈良). Julie and I did a 4-hour train ride from Shin Osaka Station (新大阪駅) on an express JR shinkansen line that stopped at a station by Kii-Katsuura (we really had to pay attention to the train schedule to know what we could and couldn't do without a car).
Just to give you an idea of our adventurous day to get to this waterfall, our logistics broke down as follows:
Catch earliest train from Kyoto Station (京都駅) to Shin Osaka Station (新大阪駅) at 6:09
Arrive at Kii-Katsuura (11:35) and catch boat with luggage and all to Hotel Urashima (11:55)
After leaving luggage at reception, caught next boat back to town at 12:45
Catch 13:00 bus from Kii-Katsuura Station (紀伊勝浦駅) to the falls (Taki-mae or 滝前)
Catch 14:16 bus from the falls front back to Kii-Katsuura Station
Catch the critical 14:50 boat from Kii-Katsuura dock to Hotel Urashima; if we missed that one, we would be stranded in town until 19:00!
PS: Had we waited until the next day to do this excursion, the boat shuttle didn't run between 7:35 and 10:00, which meant that we would've had to get a real early start or else we would've had to wait until almost midday to visit the falls.
This boat schedule caused us quite a bit of bother as we were trying to return to Osaka that day anyways so we quickly had to rush to eat breakfast, get our stuff together, check out, and then leave for the boat to return to the Kii-Katsuura mainland and not miss the train bound for Osaka without having to wait several more hours to catch the next one!
Maybe in hindsight, we would've been better off driving this section as the boat schedule just seemed utterly inconvenient (almost useless) to us!?!
To give you some further geographical context, Kii-Katsuura (sometimes also called Nachi-Katsuura) was 241km south of Osaka (about 3.5 hours drive or 4.5 hours by train) and 228km south of Nagoya (under 3.5 hours drive or under 4 hours by train on the Nanki line).
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