All in a whirl
Confession time. I’m heading towards Japan’s Naruto whirlpools, not entirely sure it’ll be the most thrilling experience of my life. But I adore H2O on the go — waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, rapids, even a simple boogieboardable wave — so I’m taking a chance on this aquatic experience.
Naruto’s whirlpools, which measure up to 20m in a spring tide and are at their most impressive from late March to late April, are the world’s largest, beating those at Norway’s Saltstraumen Strait and the mouth of France’s Rance River. The Japanese whirlpools form as water squeezes through the narrow Naruto Strait between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Seabed topography plays a role, too, causing different current speeds in the strait.
The drawcard turbulence unfolds beneath the Onaruto Bridge, a suspension span that connects Shikoku, Japan’s fourth-largest island, to Awaji Island. If you kept driving over the bridge and across Awaji, you’d end up in Kobe near Osaka. In other words, this place is within easy reach for visitors.
The least exciting way to see the whirlpools is from a 450m promenade built along the Onaruto Bridge’s girders. Glass panels set in the floor grant a bird’s-eye view over the water and boats. Awaji Island operators also offer whirlpool cruises but I only realise this when I see the four-masted Nippon Maru tossing around on the high seas, adding an alluring grandeur to the photographs I’m snapping from the more modest Aqua Eddy, a 46-passenger high-speed boat that departs from Naruto.
Awaji’s Uzushio Cruise runs two sightseeing ships. The 700-passenger Nippon Maru is a replica of a 1930 Kobe-built classic Japanese sailing ship while the replica Kanrin Maru pays homage to Japan’s first sail and screwdriven steam warship, ordered from The Netherlands during the 19th century so Japan, still in seclusion, could catch up with the latest in Western warship technology. The 500-passenger, three-masted 1990-built version is twice the size of the original.