All in a whirl

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - KA­T­RINA LOBLEY

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.

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