2014.10.06 - Hokkaido, Japan

Autumn colours in Hokkaido

Haven still not taken all my 2013 vacation, it was time to shed some days on the vacation plan. Plane from Busan to Sappora and we were on our way.

Sapporo is the biggest city on the island of Hokkaido - the northernmost island of Japan. We spent a day and a half in the city and ... well ... it was enough. It is pleasant enough but could be a city anywhere really. It was pouring down when we arrived so we were happy for the underground shopping and concourse ways. In winter they would be handy also. So the first day was spent eating sushi and ramen underground and in the covered pedestrian street as well as touring the Sappory brewery (the old brewery that is).

On the second day we rented bicycles and explored the city further afield. The botanical garden and the university campus. And Susikino at night - the largest entertainment area north of Tokyo.

Chilling out in Sapporo

Day 3 and we picked up our rental car. Out of town and north along the shore for a few hours before turning east inland through the forest towards Daisetsuzan National Park. It was a pretty ride through the forest but I must admit that it was quite far out there for a small Suzuki Swift. Our destination for the day was Asahidake onsen. From here there is a cable car up to the Daisetsuzan volcano group towering over Hokkaido. We arrived late and without a hotel reservation, but luckily for us the Vista hotel had vacancy. And it was awesome ! We just love the hot spas - especially the ones with private spas so that we can bathe together (most public spas are gender divided). The hotel was really nice and cosy.

Sika deer on the road

A happy Paula at the Vista

Unfortunately heavy rain was forecasted the next day, so we decided to travel on. Next stop was Sonkyo Gorge where another cable car could bring you up to the same volcano plateau. But in the rain it wasn't really an option, so we just stopped for lunch and enjoyed the village view. And the view of the gorge, which was ... gorgeous! And after that we just drove on and on. With a 50km speed limit you don't cover much ground, so by the time we reached Lake Kussharo we were ready to crash. Unfortunately we were no so lucky this time - the only hotel in the area was full, so we had to drive another 30 minutes to Kawaju Onsen - a well-known sulphur infested village a little off the lake shore. It was dark by the time we arrived there and the hotel options didn't look too inviting. Anyway - we found a semi-decent hotel, had a walk around the quiet village and turned in.

Tenninkyo hot springs gorge

Sonkyo onsen

Next day it had cleared up so after visiting the Eco centre we back-tracked a little to the lake shore where we stood a the hot water holes on the beach. The hot spring water seeps up through the sand, so if you dig a hole you can warm your feet. Handy as it wasn't very warm.

Kawaju public foot spa

And the natural foot spa...

Then we continued to the source of the sulphur stench - Mount Io.

We were lucky with the wind direction

Lake Mashu was next. A crater lake without contributory and without drain, it takes 120 years for all the water to have been renewed. So it was a look only experience - no access to the lake. It could be the pretties lake I have seen so far ...

Lake Mashu crater lake

Then Akan Lake for lunch. It was still drizzling so lunch only and then hit the road again, trying to arrive at our next destination a little earlier than we did the night before. Through large woodlands we eventually reached the village of Nukabira where we found the biggest display of autumn colours. Very spectacular. But ... all village hotels were full (being saturday maybe we could have anticipated that), but just as we had given up and were on our way out of town, we were called back to the reception of one of the hotels and asked to wait 10 minutes. That got our hopes up again - we were really keen to stay in Nukabira for two reasons; It was a 40 minute drive to the next hotel and the village looked amazing dressed in red!

An old train line cut it's way through the mountains up to Nukabira

Red in red

A small pre-dinner walk through the forest

We were lucky and got in. HUUUGE dinner with crabs, scallops, sashimi, sushi and all sorts of great food followed by an outdoor river-side spa.

The hotel outdoor spa.

It was rather spectacular

Next morning we drove up to Lake Shikaribetsu - I believe this is the highest located lake in Japan, but then again this could just be a gimmick. Or maybe the highest natural lake? Most other lakes are created by dams. In any case it was a pretty drive up there. Small roads again. And then through large woodlands again until we reached Chitose, drove around in circles until we found the car rental drop-off and then went back to the hotel for a good night sleep before flying back to Busan via Tokyo. Or so we thought. A typhoon in Tokyo changed those plans and we got re-routed to Seoul. But we got home eventually.

Great trip!