From Awa Ikeda the road and railway enter the spectacular Ōboke Gorge (大歩危), cut through by the sparkling Yoshino-gawa. The vertiginous mountains here and in the adjacent Iya Valley can be coated in snow during the winter, while less than one hour south, the palms of Kōchi sway in the sunshine. This remoteness from the rest of the island made the gorge an ideal bolt-hole for the Taira clan after their defeat at Yashima in 1185. Here the warriors traded their swords for farm implements and built distinctive thatched-roof cottages on the mountainsides. Few of these remain in their original form, their thatched roofs now covered in rusty tin and their wooden walls in plastic sheeting, but one that does is Chiiori (ちいおり), a 300-year-old house in the village of Tsurui (釣井). This delightfully rustic building is the base for The Chiiori Project (wwww.chiiori.org), which fosters community-based tourism in the Iya Valley and has established a small organic farm. Regular volunteer weekends and workshops on traditional crafts are hosted here, and it’s also possible to stay overnight (Fri–Mon), a communal experience where guests and staff cook, eat and wash up together, and everyone shares a dorm. The suggested rates are ¥7000 for the first night and ¥4000 per subsequent night; rates may be reduced if you’re involved in one of their volunteer projects.
Even more picturesque are the Oku Iya Kazura-bashi (奥祖谷かずら橋), a pair of vine bridges also known as the “Fufu-bashi” (husband and wife bridges), some 30km further into the Iya Valley from Nishi Iya and en route to Tsurugi-san (剣山) – at 1955m, Shikoku’s second-highest mountain. A four-hour round-trip climb starts at Minokoshi (見ノ越), from where there’s a ropeway part of the way up the mountain, if you want to save time and effort.
With thrilling rapids and spectacular rocky scenery, a boat trip down the Yoshino-gawa is the best way to view the Ōboke Gorge. Also check out the whitewater rafting trips on offer.