We managed to take a few days and visit the gorgeous island of Yakushima. One of the Ryukyu (Osumi) chain of islands in the Kagoshima prefecture - Yakushima is a designated UNESCO world heritage site due to its unique remnant of of warm/temperate ancient forest.
It is also the island from which Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli fame) drew inspiration from the beautiful natural surroundings for the animation of Princess Mononoke & Nausicaa.
(separate post to follow on the beautiful Shiratani Ravine & the giant Yakusugi)
You can drive around the island in a 4-5 hours (probably quicker if there wasn't as much wildlife crossing the roads - though thats the appeal). One side of the island you are actually driving through the UNESCO world heritage forest (photos above) where there are just countless monkeys, deers and beautiful waterfalls at every turn.
There are hundreds of waterfalls in Yakushima - one of the most famous is Ohko-no-Taki Waterfall - the twin waterfalls! The scenery is epic and it is very accessible from the road and doesn't require an intense hike at all.
Yakushima is known for its natural onsens - you can visit many that are in the ryokans/hotels (without having to stay there) which we did on our first day where it was a torrential downpour!
One of the most famous ones which is a local onsen, is the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen - a natural onsen in the ocean which you can only go to by checking the tidal times. The locals use the onsen traditionally - so you have to be comfortable with getting naked and seeing people go about their everyday routine.
The pools are lovely and relaxing - there's three small onsen pools and 2 smaller foot baths. We noticed some foreigners going for a swim in the greater ocean, but I would say only go if you're strong swimmer and comfortable finding your steps amongst the rocks. A lot of them came back with some deep cuts along their arms and feet (the rocks are very rough and jagged).
It is best to explore Yakushima by car, I highly recommend to hire a rental car ( you will need a Japanese licence or an international licence) so you can explore the island's hidden delights (plus the local public transportation is a bit sporadic at best) and obviously have freedom of movement.
We had some delightfully sunny hot days and took full advantage, driving around and finding beautiful pockets of ocean with almost mini lagoons. The colour of the sea was so wonderfully tranquil and clear - it made this Aussie girl very happy! Going in October also meant there were few tourists so we could explore to our hearts content.
If you're fan of mother nature and love exploring the untouched and magical - do try and find the time to visit this gem of an island, I think you will fall in love...