Shikoku island is the smallest of Japan's major islands, yet it has over 1,000 kilometers of cycling routes to offer.
Most cyclists would be familiar with the famous Shimanami Kaido cycling track, which connects the main island of Honshu to Shikoku.
What awaits you when you complete the bridge crossing is the island's rural mountainous interior and a memorable cycling experience.
Shikoku's size is comparable to Taiwan, and there are a variety of routes for the touring cyclists to explore.
Some have rolling hills that will give weekend cyclists like myself a good workout, while routes along the circumference of the island will have the rugged pacific coastline greeting you.
Further inland, there are free-flowing rivers and lush forested mountains lining either side of the roads, offering some spectacular scenery.
What I found most interesting was cycling through the mountains. Through a hole carved out right into the mountain, where daylight turns to darkness. Cycling within the enclosed tunnel was at times a little frightening as the lights start to dim and the roar of passing vehicles echo through the tunnels.
Some tunnels were short and some long, but like they say, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
One course that is popular among cyclists is the Shimanto River Basin.
The river is 196 km long and flows in the west part of Kochi prefecture.
It has clean and clear waters.
Along this route, the Sada Low Water Bridge is a must stop.
This bridge is built without parapets and close to the water, such a design allows the bridge to sink into the water during floods.
There are a number of such bridges along the river.
Truly, this is one of the best place to take photos, because its simple form brings you close to nature and offers you an unobstructed view of river and mountains.
With a variety of cycling routes, ranging from simple to challenging, you will probably spend up to 2 weeks or more if you want to traverse Shikoku by bicycle.
Cycling in a foreign land always brings us new sights and sounds at a different pace.
The rest stops cyclists come across during our expeditions add on to the uniqueness of those lands.
Any cyclists would tell you that nothing enhances a grueling ride more than interesting food or photo stop. Just like the last day of my cycling adventure in Shikoku, it was hot and sunny and I could not have asked for a better refreshment stop than the Hakata SC Park ice cream stand in Imabari. It had one of the best soft serves I ever tasted. Perfect for on a hot cycling day.
Here are my top 5 stops from my recent trip to Japan's Shikoku island:
1. Oyamazumi shrine (on Island of Ômishima)
The shrine is dedicated to the gods who protect sailors and soldiers. Cyclists can buy a talisman specifically to protect them while on the roads. There are also various other talisman you can purchase for a variety of purposes too.
2. Tatara Shimanami Park in Omishima
If there is one place to see and be seen for cyclists, this is it. A huge rest stop with an excellent view of the Kurushima-Kaikyô Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge structure. A perfect photo stop.
3. Ocha kuri cafe
A quaint cafe along the Shimanto River, where you can have some coffee and dessert while taking in an awesome view of the creek. One of my favourite stops on the trip.
4. Boat ride down the Shimanto River
The river has one of the clearest waters I have come across, definitely a good rest break to enjoy the scenery and take in the calmness of the surroundings.
5. Fish searing
The seared bonito fish is Kochi Prefecture's signature dish. There are a few places to try your hand at this. The Kuroshio Honkin 'hotel' is one such rest stop you.
The trip was made possible by Shikoku Transport & Tourism Bureau, Ehime Prefecture & Kochi Prefecture.