Hokkaido Summary - Abashiri, Shiretoko, Rausu, Notsuke Bay, Nemuro, Kiritappu, Lake Mashu & Kussharo
This is a review and photo collection of my big adventure, where I fully enjoyed the popular areas of Hokkaido for 5 days and 4 nights. I would be happy if it could be a reference for your trip to Hokkaido.
Here is some advice for those who ask "Where is the best scenic spot in Hokkaido?" or "What is the best experience?"
I will introduce sightseeing spots that I have actually been to. Enjoy honest impressions and photos that you won't find on general travel information sites.
Sightseeing spot list (Day 1)
Sightseeing spot list (Day 2)
Sightseeing spot list (Day 3)
Sightseeing spot list (Day 4)
Lake Kussharo Sand Bath (in progress)
Wakoto Peninsula Open-air bath / Public bath (in progress)
Hotel Parkway (in progress)
Sightseeing spot list (Day 5)
Bihoro Pass Observatory (in progress)
The driving distance on the 1st and 2nd days is about 270km and takes 5 hours.
Memanbetsu Airport / FairyTale Hill (Märchen no Oka)
Peach's low-cost flights have started operating at Memanbetsu Airport in Abashiri City! This area is popular with many tourist spots.
In no time, it will become known as a reasonable travel destination, and the number of tourists may increase. During this time of the year when there are few tourists due to the coronavirus, I would like to visit and enjoy the majestic scenery of Hokkaido! (This trip is late September 2021)
Early in the morning, I took a flight from Kansai Airport (KIX) to Memanbetsu Airport and arrived at around 11:00 am. Memanbetsu Airport is simple. All the rental car company offices are located just outside the airport, within walking distance.
My first destination is the famous Abashiri Prison. There are some interesting looking spots along the way, so I will stop by. The first is this fairy tale hill (Märchen no Oka). It is quite a view. “Yeah, I finally came to Hokkaido! It’s so big!" was my initial reaction.
However, I soon realized that this kind of scenery is common in Hokkaido. People who are in a hurry may not have to stop and take pictures like I did.
Next, we headed to Okhotsk Chipmunk Park. When I arrived there, the parking lot for about 10 cars was full. Five or six family groups were waiting outside. It was so much smaller than I imagined. This is not a park, this is a caged backyard of someone's house.
Wild Ezo squirrels can often be spotted during the trip. If you really really want to hand feed chipmunks, you may take a detour to this place.
1-1 Yobito, Abashiri, Hokkaido 099-2421
When coming to Abashiri for the first time, visiting the Abashiri Prison Museum is a must. It has been used in various dramas and movies, and recently drawn in the popular manga Golden Kamuy.
I arrived at lunchtime so I went to the prison restaurant which was of interest. Before coming here, I thought that this restaurant was inside the Abashiri Prison but actually it was right outside the Prison.
Therefore, you can eat here without entering the prison museum. There was a set meal that looked like a prisoner meal (well, maybe an upgraded version), but I was quite hungry, so I ate a hearty fried chicken set.
Abashiri Prison was a huge prison which housed more than 1,000 prisoners at the same time. Its size is 3.5 times the size of Tokyo Dome, and it is vast. It takes a few hours to look around inside. The architectural style is from the Meiji and Taisho period, and although it is a prison, it has a stylish atmosphere.
After Abashiri Prison, I wanted to go to the nearby Okhotsk Drift Ice Museum (Ryūhyō Museum) and Hokkaidō Museum of Northern People, but they were closed due to Covid-19 policy.
Wakka Primeval Flower Garden, Coral Plants
Sakaeura-242-1 Tokorocho, Kitami, Hokkaido 093-0216
After visiting Abashiri Prison, I had time until sunset, so I went to see coral grass. There are colonies in Lake Notoro and Lake Saroma, so if you have time, you can visit both.
The Ubaranai coral grass colony on Lake Notoro is said to be the largest in Japan, but there is a long walking path around Lake Saroma which looks more fun to explore. I can see the red grass growing in the wetlands even while driving. On the Internet, I saw bright red coral grass photos which are color enhanced way too much. In reality, they are not such a bright red color, it is a calm color.
I saw a red fox in the parking lot of the Wakka Nature Center on the shores of Lake Saroma. There are no people on the flower garden walking path, and the light of the setting sun hits the coral grass, creating a magical atmosphere. It was worth coming to the farther away colony.
Wakka Primeval Flower Garden, Coral Plants Detailed Review>>>
I enjoyed the prison, coral grass and beautiful sunset from the first day. Tonight, I will stay at a business hotel near Kushiro Station.
While looking for dinner in town, I walked across the bridge over the Abashiri River. It's dark and I can't see the river well, but I feel like something is moving in the river. Could it be salmon? No way! I can't imagine many salmon swimming in the rivers in the city. But I'm curious, so when I wake up tomorrow morning, I'll come back and check it.
The next morning. What is this! The river is filled with salmon. They are in an ordinary river in the city. The nature of Hokkaido is amazing. I think I can catch them with my hands if I try. (Later, I found out that it's illegal to catch salmon inland. That's why no one was trying to catch them.)
There is a crow eating fresh salmon roe. It's the first time I've ever been jealous of a crow. There were few shops open last night, and my dinner was a hamburger steak from Big Boy (chain restaurant) in front of Abashiri Station. Well, it was an ok dinner but not Hokkaido local at all. I should be able to eat crabs in Rausu tonight.
Lake Tofutsuko / Swan Park
203-3 Kitahama, Abashiri City, Hokkaido 099-3112
The morning of the second day begins with a shocking salmon run, and we start driving towards the Shiretoko Peninsula with very excited feelings.
Not far from Abashiri City is the Lake Tofutsu Waterfowl and Wetland Center. It is a lakeside where many wild birds come.
It was too early in the morning and the center was closed, but I could see the refreshing morning view. Swans come in the snowy season, so there aren't any at the moment (late September). There were a lot of herons and duck-like birds.
Given the name Lake Tofutsu ("boiling"), is there a place where the water is warm? Hokkaido has many active volcanoes, and there are many places where some parts of the lakes do not freeze. Swans and wild birds gather in such places. Both humans and wild animals love hot springs.
Driving while watching the magnificent scenery in Hokkaido is the best. There is little traffic and the roads are wide.
〒099-4354 Utoronishi, Shari-cho, Shari-gun, Hokkaido
You will see Oshinkoshin Falls right before arriving the Shiretoko Five Lakes.
It's right on the road, with signs and a parking lot, so you can't miss it. You can see the top of the waterfall while driving. You can take a quick look in about 10 minutes. It's a big waterfall, and it's sparkling in the light. In the middle of winter, it will probably become an ice waterfall, and you can enjoy a different beauty.
We will soon arrive at Shiretoko Goko Lakes. Along the way, there is a port where you can board the famous sightseeing ship Aurora. On this trip, we will be on a whale watching boat on the other side of the Shiretoko Peninsula, so we will skip the Aurora.
Shiretoko Goko Field House
549 Iwaubetsu, Onnebetsu Village, Shari Town, Shari County, Hokkaido 099-4356
Arrived at Shiretoko Five Lakes, a World Heritage Site.
There is a large facility called Shiretoko Goko Field House. You can't enter the national park trails without attending a lecture at the Fieldhouse.
After watching the video for about 15 minutes, you will hear the precautions from the staff. Especially when you encounter a bear, how to deal with it is important. You can also see the area and date of the most recent bear encounter.
There are three routes to explore Shiretoko Goko National Park. I chose to walk the short loop of 1.6km.
Shiretoko Pass Observatory
Yunosawacho, Rausu, Menashi District, Hokkaido 086-1822
On the way across the Shiretoko Peninsula, there is a Shiretoko pass view point. It is a recommended scenic spot, so please stop by.
There is a parking lot along the road, and you can enjoy it in a short time. If there was no cloud (fog?), I could have seen all the way to the top of the mountain. The altitude is high here and it was a windy day. It was chilly even though it was the end of September.
Whale Watching Cruise in Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula
27-1 Honchō, Rausu, Menashi District, Hokkaido 086-1833
I would like to give this review the subtitle "Between ideal and reality".
I had a hard time deciding on which side of the Shiretoko Peninsula to join the cruise. Due to our travel schedule, we decided to board on the Rausu side.
I looked up online and decided to board the Shiretoko Nature Cruise, which seemed to be the largest. The photos of whales, dolphins, giant eagles and sea otters posted on their site are giving me high expectations. They say that the encounter rate with Dall's dolphins is 92% at this time of year, so I'm looking forward to it.
As it is a popular cruise, many people, especially family groups, are boarding the boat. The harbor is lined with blue and orange painted fishing boats, creating a unique atmosphere.
Now, let's sail out to realize the reality of whale watching cruises. If you are interested, please read the detailed review.
Seseki Hotspring Onsen / Aidomari Hotspring Onsen
Seseki, Rausu, Menashi District, Hokkaido 086-1811
If I hear that there is an open-air bath along the coast with a view of the ocean, I can't afford to ignore it.
Heading north from Rausu along the coast, there are two hot springs just before the paved road disappears.
Seseki Onsen is the first place. You can see two open-air baths from the road. It would be more correct to say "outdoor bath in the sea" instead of "outdoor bath with a view of the sea".
I'm so excited. When you look inside, you can see small bubbles coming out from the bottom. The hot springs are bubbling up right under the open-air bath, which is made of rocks and concrete. When I dipped my hand in it, it was lukewarm.
After all, it is a remote outside hot spring. It gets affected by the tide and the weather. Ah, I wanted to soak in hot water with kelps. The temperature of the hot spring water itself seemed to be quite high. If it's too hot, I can adjust it by mixing seawater, but it's lukewarm, so there's nothing I can do to change it. Well, I'm happy just to see this place.
I pray that I can take a bath at the next outside hot spring! I came to Aidomari Hotspring Onsen further north. Hmm. The stairs to go down to the beach are blocked by a rope. Why??
Even if I look down from the road, I can't see anything that looks like an open-air bath.
I can see a place called the northeastern tip of Japan. Tourists who come to this far are rare. A lone wolf biker was also aiming for an outdoor bath like we are, but he returned to the direction of Rausu with the same disappointment as us.
Rausu no Yado Inn
24 Yagihamacho, Rausu, Menashi District, Hokkaido 086-1841
There are not many hotels with hot springs and meals around the Shiretoko Peninsula, so you will inevitably end up staying overnight in the large town of Rausu.
This time I stayed at Rausu no Yado Marumi. It was a nice inn with a view of the Shiretoko Strait from the room. It was my first time to see the full moon so bright and so beautifully reflected in the sea. When I took a short walk at night, I could see the stars very well.
Yay, hairy crab. And there are also salmon and salmon roe. Was this salmon hand-caught in the nearby river? Crows of the Abashiri River, I got salmon roe too. I'm not jealous of you anymore.
At night and in the morning, I soaked in the hotel's hot springs to clear my regret of not being able to use the outdoor baths. I can see the sunrise from my room. There are many seagulls and cormorants. A very quiet morning. I will be driving 290km today, so we will leave as early as possible in the morning.
Distance we will travel on the third day is about 290 km, 5 hours drive. It's a bit of an aggressive plan.
I wanted to go to the Shibetsu Salmon Science Museum before reaching the Notsuke Peninsula, but it was closed due to the Covid-19 measures.
Notsuke Peninsula Todowara
63 Notsuke, Betsukai, Notsuke District, Hokkaido 086-1645
I wonder what Todowara is. It's a unique name.
Todo means Todomatsu (Abies sachalinensis). Then, is it called "wara" when trees dry up? Is this an Ainu language word?
I learned about the Notsuke Peninsula for the first time when I was planning this trip.
Looking at it on GoogleMap, it looks like a long and narrow beach with no mountains. If a tsunami hits, won't everything be submerged in water? I have a concern unique to Japanese people.
When I did more research, I found out that it is the largest sand spit in Japan, formed over a long period of time. It is made up of sand which drifted and settled. That's why it looks very flat.
Moreover, this Notsuke Peninsula is getting narrower year by year. I saw a comparison of the past and present satellite photos at the Notsuke Peninsula Nature Center, and the area has decreased considerably.
The land is eroding and disappearing, and the pine trees exposed to the seawater are dying.
Where the width of the road is narrow, both sides are waterfront. It may not even be possible to go there by car in a few decades.
The Notsuke Peninsula is a place that is almost certain to disappear. If you are interested, you should visit as soon as possible.
Swan 44 Nemuro
〒086-0073 Hokkaido, Nemuro, Rakuyo, 1
After making a round trip on the Notsuke Peninsula, head south all the way to the base of the Nemuro Peninsula.
Just before entering the Nemuro Peninsula, there is a roadside station Swan 44 Nemuro. It is a large facility overlooking the wetlands of Lake Furen.
It is a wetland where many waterfowl visit. When I went there, there weren't many birds due to the season, but there were three big birds that stood out.
What? There is a red-crowned crane family. One of them has a brown face, so it is very young. In fact, red-crowned cranes stay in Hokkaido even in summer. (I visited at the end of September) They are famous for coming to Kushiro Wetlands in winter, so I thought they would be in the north, such as Okhotsk, during the summer. It seems that the Notsuke Peninsula, which I went to earlier, is also a place to raise children for them.
I was lucky to see a red-crowned crane family unexpectedly.
Nemuro City Shunkunitai Wild Bird Park Nature Center
103 Tobai, Nemuro, Hokkaido 086-0074
It's right in the direction of Nemuro from Roadside Station Suwan 44. This nature center seems to be a stopover for people going to the nearby Shunkunitai hiking trail.
This place is also called a sasu (sand bar) with a similar topography to the Notsuke Peninsula. There are three hiking trails, and you can enjoy scenery similar to Todowara.
I didn't have time to go on hiking trails today, so I went around the Higashiume Nature Study Forest, which is right around the Nature Center.
The forest is green and pleasant to walk in.
36-6 Nosappu, Nemuro, Hokkaido 087-0165
Drive along the Nemuro Bay side of the Nemuro Peninsula and head for the Cape Nosappu at the tip of the peninsula.
As long as I look at the GoogleMap, there seems to be no place to stop on the way. There are some tourist spots around Cape Nosappu.
My impression of the Nemuro Peninsula is that there are many animal farms. There were a lot of horses and they were cool.
To be honest, Cape Nosappu was a very political and desolate place. The atmosphere is definitely not "Let's enjoy sightseeing!".
The scenery is beautiful, so don't get me wrong. However, the message "Return the Northern Territories" is pushed to our faces from all directions.
I'm happy I visited there, but I won't be there for the second time.
Nemuro Kurumaishi, Stone Wheels
Hanasakiminato, Nemuro, Hokkaido 087-0032
If you go south on the Pacific Ocean side of the Nemuro Peninsula, you will find a natural monument called Nemuro Kurumaishi, so stop by.
From the coastal viewing area of the Nemuro Stone Wheel, you can see very flat islands. Interesting scenery, isn't it?
We left Rausu early in the morning and arrived at our final destination, Cape Kiritappu. The sun has already set.
We will stay at a guesthouse called Etopirika Village, which is located in the middle of the Kiritappu Peninsula. They serve breakfast, which is convenient. It's run by a couple and was clean and cozy.
In the morning, I sense that there are animals around us. I thought I heard horses neigh, so I opened the window and … Wow. There are several horses right outside the windows. I can see many more horses in the field. Nice, Hokkaido.
On the fourth day, we will travel from Cape Kiritappu to Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo. About 200 km, 3.5 hours drive.
33 Tobutsu, Hamanaka, Akkeshi District, Hokkaido 088-1522
Head to the Kiritappu Misaki Observation Deck early in the morning.
It was after 8:00 in the morning, and there were no other tourists in sight.
Cape Kiritappu has about 3 viewing spots, so I will go around all of them. View the cape from the Cape Kiritappu Observation Deck, then go to Cape Kiritappu itself, and finally to Cape Azechi, which is a little further away.
According to the master of Etopirika village, there seems to be THAT animal on the coast around here. Ehhh, I want to see!
Check out the results in my detailed review.
Cape Azechi Observatory
Tobutsu, Hamanaka, Akkeshi District, Hokkaido 088-1522
Since I was able to see the sea otter god at Cape Kiritappu, I'm already full, but I will stop at the last observation spot, Cape Azechi.
It's foggy, and I can't see very far. I can see a small island shaped like a whale (Godzilla?). Tufted puffins (Etopirika) probably live on the island over there. I wish I could see them.
A picture of many small fishing boats sailing is posted on the signboard in the observation area. In the summer, kelp fishing is popular, and you can see this kind of scenery every morning.
This area was used for filming the romance movie "Hanamizuki, Dogwood" (2010).
Since the parking lot of this observatory is large, many camping cars were staying overnight. There were several large cars which people can lay down to sleep inside. It must be nice to wake up in the morning and immediately see the superb view.
Biwase wooden path
122 Nakanohama, Hamanaka, Akkeshi District, Hokkaido 088-1532
I went south on Route 123 (Betsukai Akkeshi Line). I was able to make some detours along the way.
There is a spot called Biwase mokudo (wooden path) where you can take a walk through the Kiritappu Marsh. Seeing the wooden path that stretches straight through the wetland makes me want to go further.
I saw some frogs on the way. There were also small birds, but I do not know the species. I don't know if there were deer or not.
I went to the end of the boardwalk. I didn't see any big birds that day.
782 Biwase, Hamanaka, Akkeshi District, Hokkaido 088-1532
From the Biwase Observatory, which is on a slight hill, I should be able to see the Kiritappu Marsh, but unfortunately it was very foggy.
Today we will go inland from the Kiritappu area to the Akan-Mashu National Park area. So, we won't see the coastal scenery from here on.
There is a small fishing port where kelp is sun-dried. There were a lot of waterfowl, so I stopped my car. Oh wow! There is another red-crowned crane. I was able to spot two couples. There are many white heron birds in shallow water.
I stuffed my cheeks with a giant rice ball from Seicomart (A convenience store chain which only operates in Hokkaido) and drove to the mountains.
Lake Mashu 1st and 3rd Observatory
Teshikagagenya, Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido 088-3200
Finally, we arrived at Lake Mashu. It is a mysterious lake with the second highest transparency in the world. The Ainu people called it the Lake of the Gods.
The first and third observatories are easily accessible. There is a large rest area at the first observatory. It was just around noon, so I ate Lake Mashu miso ramen noodle here.
This is the view from Observatory No.1. There is fog (clouds?) over the lake, and the visibility is not good. It's hard to imagine that this deep lake was the crater of a volcano.
I can see the sun shining through the clouds in the distance. If I go to the next observatory, I might be able to see a clearer view.
Here we are, Lake Mashu Third Observatory.
I can't help but laugh in this situation.
I can't see anything, and the wind is strong. I can hear the voices of tourists walking ahead, but I can't see them at all. Ah, I have to come to revenge for this someday.
The photo below is Kaminoko (Children of the God) Pond, which I couldn't visit this time. A mysterious, clear green lake located in the Lake Mashu area. It is in a difficult place to reach. I would like to visit here someday.
Kiyoizumi, Kiyosato, Shari District, Hokkaido 099-4526
Kawayu, Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido 088-3461
From Lake Mashu, I head to Lake Kussharo. On the way, I will stop at a volcano called Mount Iō.
Mount Iō was called Atosanupuri (naked mountain) by the Ainu people. Certainly there are no trees.
I was surprised by the scale because I didn't know any information other than "sulfur is spewing out".
Lake Kussharo Sand Bath
Lake Kussharo Detailed Review>>>
Biruwa, Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido 088-3341
Lake Kussharo Detailed Review>>>
Wakoto Peninsula Open-air bath / Public bath
Wakoto Peninsula Open-air bath / Public bath Detailed Review>>>
Biruwa, Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido 088-3341
Wakoto Peninsula Open-air bath / Public bath Detailed Review>>>
3 Chome-2-10 Kawayu Ekimae, Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido 088-3462
Bihoro Pass Observatory
Bihoro Pass Observatory Detailed Review>>>
Kussharo, Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido 088-3341
Bihoro Pass Observatory Detailed Review>>>