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August 23, 2005

Adventures in Japan's far north - part II

Here is what I was too tired to post yesterday...it is almost real time! I should tell you know that my original plan had been to leave Shiretoko and travel by train to Sapporo, through Hakodate and then down to Tokyo. With the uncertain weather, I opted to come straight back to Tokyo instead. So, there you go.

Hokkaido - Day four (Sunday 21 August 2005)
If you are reading through from the previous post, you may have noticed it was another early night, which made an early day possible. I woke up at 7am with nine hours sleep - that kind of schedule is either super healthy or terribly bad because it is such a change from my usual habits. Anyway, we started with the best breakfast: salmon, crab miso soup, wakasagi, salad and seaweed. I do not know if I had mentioned before, but Rausu is the "home" of the seaweed they use to make dashi. So, I guess that makes it important.

As for travel, the mood was down as the forecast was for rain in the afternoon. With that in mind, we left as soon as possible to get in what we could. We started with a viewpoint above the town of Rausu. From there, you can see the largest of the contested Northern Islands . These are the ones the Russians came and took at the end of World War II. I will write about this more at some point. It is only 30km away, and needless to say, this is a big issue for the locals.

As with the previous day, it was foggy on the road to Shiretoko, but it cleared up some as we came down the mountain and we even saw a few deer. In Tokyo, this probably seems like a big deal and you can see we got very close, but the reality is there are deer everywhere in the park. After awhile, we did not bother stopping to watch when we saw one on the side of the road. By the way, these are Ezo Shika (Hokkaido Deer), but they are referred to as "Bambi".
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We met up with our first traffic jam in Hokkaido when we got to the park. We had not taken into account the small parking lots! Even though we arrived before 10am, we had a 20-30 minute wait before we could actually park.
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Once we had done that, we walked around the five lakes. These are fed by underground springs and stay at a constant level (no river feeds into them). Notably, there are bears in the area, so one cannot always hike the full route, but we were fortunate enough that everything was open. Kaz says they close it when someone reports a bear sighting...so, there is always someone who gets a little extra during their walk - I was hoping it would not be us.

Actually, the whole scene was very funny. We set off at the same time as a tour bus group, so there were 40 people or so walking in a big group. It was crowded. We soon left them behind, however, as we walked farther in. It is an easy trail and nice to be in the woods away from civilisation. It was also very quiet (and relatively dry, so far).

After our walk, we went back to the main area. The air was getting misty, but no real rain. We pressed on down the road to the nature center, with another walk - this time to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean. As you can see the view was awesome! But the rain had finally arrived. It was nice to walk around anyway.
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With the rain, there was not much we could do. We caught a movie in “Dynavision” that showed all the beautiful scenes from the park that we could not see because of the inclement weather. I slept through half of it. From what I could see, the producers would fly a helicopter over a ridge and then point the camera down as they went over it. This was pretty dramatic and also induced a bit of vertigo. I am sure I will have one of those "falling" dreams now - that is exactly what it looked like.

cafefox05b.jpg We had planned to take a boat tour, but all the trips were cancelled. So, we went into Utoro and hung out for awhile. We found the coolest place - Cafe Fox. They do boat tours, but also have a cafe and "takeaway fish and chips". We settled in for a coffee and watched the rain come down. There were three girls working and they all seemed bored senseless. After we got our coffee, their work was finished. They turned on the DVD player, popped in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", and relaxed in front of the TV. We also watched for 45 minutes, but it was a bit cold (18 degrees again! and the cafe was open to the outside) so we decided to go to the hotel and check in. Cafe Fox was only the second place we saw with Internet access and the only one with Wi-Fi. And the coffee was good too. If you are in Utoro, this should be your central meeting point. It is in front of the "Godzilla Rock" by the port. You cannot miss it.

The last hotel "Hotel Shiretoko- Frontier Suite" gets mixed reviews...it had everything, included the best and most relaxing outside bath I used during the trip and a remote control toy helicopter in the lounge. But dinner was a buffet only and not very good. Following our usual routine, we had dinner, a drink in the lobby and called it quits for the day. I was alseep by 9am...not sure if it was the hiking in the morning or the malaise of the afternoon.

Hokkaido - Day five (Monday 22 August 2005)
I was up at 5am for the second time during the trip...SCARY. What is wrong with me? I went down to the bath figuring it would be empty at that hour, but it was massively busy! I actually had to wait my turn. I had not counted on the early bus tours.

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That was pretty much it. There was nothing to do because it was raining, so our plans for the day were out the window. We decided it was best to leave Shiretoko early. Unfortunately, that meant we had to rush as the only available flight for Kaz was at 1030am. And I had to decide whether to press on to Sapporo or return to Tokyo. I opted for the latter and made a reservation. Kaz would change his ticket when we got to the airport. We stopped by this water fall site on the way, but only long enough to snap a few photos and get back in the car.

When we got to the airport, however, the flight was stand-by only, which meant Kaz would have to wait until 1pm or even 8pm to catch a flight back. I thought that was ironic, since I had been the one who expected to stay in Hokkaido longer. Fortunately, he was able to get a seat and avoid hours at the airport.

BACK HOME
And that was the trip. By far, Kamuiwakka Falls and Iozan (Sulphur Mountain) were my favourites, with the walk to the coast from the Shiretoko Nature Center not far behind. But the fog and rain meant that I never saw much of the beautiful scenery that makes the area so popular.

Marumi Ryokan in Rausu was my favourite hotel - nice people and great food. And Cafe Fox was the best place to hang out. As i said before, any trip to Shiretoko should include these places.

One thing is certain - I need to get back to Shiretoko again. That was a great holiday.

Anyway, I am at home now, 10am on a Tuesday, and still on that weird holiday schedule (in bed by 11, up by 7). I think I will do a bit of shopping today and head over to Hakone or Karuizawa for a day trip tomorrow.

Posted by Kirk on August 23, 2005 09:19 AM

Comments

Hey! Thanks for coming my blog! Your pics are very nice! I like it:D Deer that are on your blog has big antlers! They are fine! I like Shiretoko:D
Is your hometown is Tokyo? My hometown is Tomakomai, Japan. Do you know Tomakomai? It takes about a minute from my house to Komazawa high school. Very near!! Did you watch Koushien game?

Posted by: Haruna at August 24, 2005 02:44 AM

hi haruna
i think your pictures are nicer...and there is no fog or rain! I live in tokyo now (it is so different from hokkaido: it was hard to come back!) did you go to kamuiwakka falls? that was awesome.
we did watch part of koshien, but we were more interested in hiking, driving etc. i was glad to see that the hokkaido team won.
i have never been to tomakomai...it must be difficult to live with all the snow every winter.

Posted by: kirk at August 24, 2005 08:15 AM