Home >> Japan Travel,Japan Travel Tips >> Self-Drive holiday to Hokkaido (Part 1) – Flight, Mercure Hotel Sapporo, Toyota Rent-A-Car Sapporo

Just returned from a short holiday to Hokkaido! Thought I should blog about my experience of driving around Hokkaido with the kids and share some useful information for anyone who plans to visit the island on a self-drive holiday with the kids. :)

Before I begin, you may be interested in the following travel tips that I have written:

If you want to know my money-saving tips for Hokkaido Self-Drive holidays, check out my post

Money-Saving Tips for Free and Easy Self-Drive in Hokkaido“!

If you want to know how to search for Map Codes for Hokkaido (or anywhere in Japan), check out my post:

How to search for Japan Map Codes“.

Alright, let’s begin reviewing the trip I just returned from!

Flying from Singapore to Hokkaido

First, let’s talk about the flight. The biggest airport in Hokkaido is the Shin-Chitose Airport (CTS) which is an hour’s drive from Sapporo. There are no direct flights from Singapore to CTS, so we needed to change to a domestic flight in Tokyo. If you want to save the hassle, I would recommend flying all the way with ANA or JAL for smooth, hassle-free connections between the domestic and international sectors.  The advantage of flying with them, besides the smooth connection, is that you can choose not the fly in / out of Hokkaido via CTS.  If you are on a self-drive holiday and wish to cover more of the island in less time, it is recommended that you fly in to Asahikawa airport, drive all the way south and fly out from Hakodate airport.  Or if you are planning to visit Club Med Sahoro (Club Med is always a great place to visit with kids), you can fly into Obihiro airport, then out from Hakodate airport. ANA’s website is excellent and allows you to build your trip by choosing the airport you want to go and you can choose flights individually to minimize time in transit.

However, to save money, I booked my Singapore-Narita flight with Delta Airlines, and for the domestic flights between Narita and CTS, we flew by budget airlines: Air Asia and Jetstar.  Delta Airlines uses Terminal 1 at Narita, whereas Air Asia and Jetstar uses Terminal 2, so we had to take the terminal shuttle bus to get between the terminals at Narita, which was kind of a hassle.  And we had to bum a few hours at Narita airport each time. But we saved more than S$1000 flying this way, compared to flying with ANA or JAL.

When flying with an infant with Delta Airlines, note that they DO NOT provide bassinets.  I had to carry 9-month old MY in my arms for the whole 7 hour flight. However, they only charged me about S$20 for MY’s tickets.. So no complaints there.  The seat was spacious and comfortable enough, and they provided baby jar food for him.

jar food

For MF, since he is more than 2 years old, I had to buy a seat for him at almost full fare.  They provided kids meal for him and there were enough Disney cartoons on the in-flight entertainment system to keep him well-entertained.

As for Air Asia and Jetstar, we were required to check-in our stroller with our luggage and we couldn’t push it all the way to the plane. This also meant that the stroller’s weight was part of our baggage allowance.. So do take that into account when purchasing your baggage allowance when you book your tickets.

If you are flying to CTS and would like to rent a car, there are no car rental companies at the airport itself.  Many car rental companies have a service desk at the airport, where they will put you on their shuttle bus to their nearest outlet where you’ll pick up your rental car.  So what we did was to take the airport limousine bus to Sapporo, and rent a car from Sapporo instead. We arrived at CTS in the evening.  Doing so, we saved the trouble of driving in the dark and trying to locate our hotel in the busy streets of Sapporo (note that Sapporo is an hour drive from Chitose and roads in Hokkaido, other than within the main city area, are very dark), and we saved a day of parking.  It also saved us the need to rent a larger car that could fit 3 adults + 2 kids (who need car seats) and all our luggage and stroller.

My Favourite Hotel in Sapporo: Mercure Hotel Sapporo

P1080643

We stayed at Mercure Hotel Sapporo throughout our trip.  I highly recommend this hotel.  The location was fantastic (close to airport limousine bus-stop as well as Susukino station), rooms were reasonably priced and comfortable, and there was so much to see and eat within walking distance!  For my detailed review of Mercure Hotel Sapporo, please read this post.

 

Renting a Car in Sapporo

I have rented cars in Japan numerous times, and usually I pick the cheapest quote I can find on ToCoo website.  However, not all rental companies listed on ToCoo are good at dealing with foreigners and the staff may not speak Japanese.  If you are visiting Hokkaido for the first time and do not speak Japanese, I very much recommend renting from Toyota.  There are two websites for Toyota rental cars in Hokkaido: Toyota Rent-A-Car Sapporo and Toyota Rent-A-Car Shinsapporo.  The nearest outlet from Hotel Mercure Sapporo is Toyota Shinsapporo’s ‘Subway Station Susukino’ outlet, which is really just opposite the hotel.  However, because I wanted to purchase the Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP), I needed to rent from one of the handling offices and the nearest handling office is at Toyota Sapporo’s Susukino Minami 4-jo office, which is about 10 min walk from the hotel.

HEP is a great deal if you are going to be using the expressways a lot. Tolls in Japan are exhorbitant! For eg, Sapporo to Noboribetsu via toll way already costs about 3000yen. Of course, if you are not in a hurry and want to take the scenic non-toll roads, there is no need for the HEP. (Eg from you can reach Noboribetsu from Sapporo via Lake Shikotsu and avoid the toll way.)

Toyota provides good English speaking support.  There is an English-speaking emergency helpline you can call (which unfortunately we did end up having to use – which made me appreciate that I rented the car from them) which is extremely important when driving in Hokkaido where weather condition is unpredictable and you never know when you would end up stuck in a snow storm (like we did). And when there is snow on the road, the car ain’t gonna stop just because you step on the brake – that’s something we Singaporean drivers need to learn.

The car we rented for 3 adults and 2 kids is a Toyota Fielder.

P1070895

It was a bit of a squeeze since it was a 5-seater and we had a baby seat and a booster seat, but we managed to fit in anyway.  The boot was super spacious – no problem loading my bulky Peg Perego P3 stroller, and it is in the same price category as a normal Sedan, which is much cheaper than a wagon class 7-seater. We could rent a Sedan class because we did not rent the car from the airport and stayed in one hotel throughout the trip, and hence did not need to put all our luggage in the car.  If you are planning to change hotels along the way and you have a stroller with you, definitely a bigger car is required.

The biggest problem I had this trip was with the GPS. The GPS is totally crappy when moving within Sapporo city. It was pointing South when we were heading North, and sometimes it showed us on a wrong road (because Sapporo’s roads are very close to each other). Also, this GPS did not allow us to choose which route we wanted to take (whether we wanted the toll way? Or non-toll way?) and just gave the shortest route it could find.  For e.g. when we were trying to return to Sapporo from Lake Toya, the GPS gave us the shorter route using the non-toll way.  However, it was getting dark and we wanted to use the toll way.  So we had to find our way to the expressway without the GPS’s help before we could use the GPS to guide us back to Sapporo. The GPS I got in the past provided us various options how we would like to get to our destination, but this particular GPS did not provide the options, which was kind of annoying. So my advice to is: Plan your route with google map at home prior to the trip.  Within Sapporo, have a hardcopy map with you, or an offline map with GPS on your smartphone. Don’t just let the GPS guide you blindly.

For self-drive holidays in Japan, note that their GPS uses telephone numbers or map codes of the destinations. So prior to your trip, you will need to research for the telephone numbers or map codes of the places you wish to visit. I personally find telephone numbers work much better than map codes. However some places, such as waterfalls and lakes and mountains, do not have telephone numbers.  And not all businesses and hotels are registered on your rental car’s GPS.  Hence, I find it useful to jot down both telephone numbers and map codes of my destinations.

To be continued: Self-drive holiday to Hokkaido with kids (Part 2) – Itinerary for Autumn foliage, telephone numbers and map codes for GPS


More posts of my trips to Hokkaido with the kids:

Hokkaido in Autumn (October 2013)
Part 1: Flight, Hotel Mercure Sapporo, Toyota Rent-A-Car Sapporo
Part 2: Itinerary (with telephone numbers and GPS Map Codes)

Hokkaido in Summer (June 2014)
> Outline of Itinerary
Part 1: Chitose, Lake Toya, Hakodate, Niseko, Otaru
Part 2: Sapporo
Part 3: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport

Hokkaido in Winter (December 2014)
> Outline of Itinerary
Part 1:  Sapporo
Part 2: Asahikawa, Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, Iozan, Lake Kussharo
Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu
Part 4: Chitose, Lake Shikotsu, Niseko, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Rusutsu
Part 5: Sapporo, Otaru, New Chitose Airport

 


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262Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    I took Delta to Tokyo w my then 10mth old baby. I also paid 10% of the airfare & given the option of free bassinet. But u do have to call up their call centre to arrange this. Also got 3 cans of baby jar food per way

  2. Cindy says:

    oh the bassinet have to be pre-arranged via call centre only when u booked e tixs. they din ask me my child’s weight & height tho…

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yeah.. I called the call centre (coz I was trying to book tickets to Japan again, hah) and this time I requested for bassinet. But the lady said bassinet is only for babies below 66cm and 9kg (and she probably suspected my 10 month old was more than that).. Bummer.

      • Cindy says:

        oooh… my 15th mth old baby is not even 9kg yet :(
        kudos to u to be able to bring ur kids travelling to so many places!
        we went Tokyo but so hard… place cramp, not stroller friendly, plus it rained 70% of e time.

  3. Polly says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, I’m planning a trip to Hokkaido in Jul with my 5-yr old girl and a friend with her elderly mum. I’m considering whether to self-drive with much hesitation. I rarely drive in Singapore and my friend doesn’t have a driving licence. I saw that you self-drive in Hokkaido with 2 very young kids and your elderly parents. It sort of prompted me to try out self-driving in Hokkaido. May I know if you are a frequent visitor in Japan and whether you are used to driving in Singapore everyday? This probably will help me to decide if it will be too difficult for me to handle driving in Hokkaido. Will be grateful for any tips on driving in Hokkaido. Thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, yes I frequent Japan but I don’t drive in Singapore everyday, just occasionally. Hokkaido is much easier to drive in comparison to Singapore due to much lighter traffic (with the exception of Sapporo) and friendlier drivers on the road who will give way. Trains are infrequent in Hokkaido and sparse in Hokkaido, as compared to Tokyo, which makes rail travel difficult and time consuming except in major cities. Perhaps you could share you itinerary and I can advise you if your route is easier by car or by rail?

      • Polly says:

        Thanks, bumblebeemum. We decided to take a package tour instead, and do free and easy in Tokyo instead. I see you are planning your next trip so soon. How envious!

  4. S Y Tan says:

    Hihi, we will begoing to Hokkaido next May.After reading your blog we have decided to stay at Mercure Sapporo. If we booked Privilleage Queen Room,is the bed big enough for 2 adults and one 6-year old child. And is it convenient to move around Sapporo city without a car? We are thinking to return the car after our return from Eastern Hokkaido.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, I took a look at their website. The difference in standard and privilege room is in the toiletries, high floor, breakfast, free drink, bath robe, slippers and late check-out. Bed size and room size is the same as standard room. When I went, I slept with my 2 young kids and it was okay. It’ll probably be a bit of a squeeze for 3, you can fit, but you probably won’t be very comfortable unless you like being cozy :p. That being said, Japan hotel rooms are notoriously small and we have had to squeeze 2 adults and 2 kids on a Queen bed before just to save money (we slept horizontally).. Lol.

      Yes, it is convenient to move around Sapporo city without a car. In fact, I recommend using public transport within Sapporo because parking is very expensive and the car navigation system does not work very well in built up areas like Sapporo.

      • S Y Tan says:

        We will rent a car from Kushiro airport (our fist destination) to Akan, Abashiri, Asahikawa and all the way to Sapporo. So was thinking to return the car in Sapporo city after we have done the day sightseeing to Otaru & Lake Toya. This can save us all the hassle of finding a parking lot. I gather there will be a airport limousine bus to take us from Mercure to Airport. May i know how much is the fare?

        We are still considering whether to rent the car till the very last day and return at Chitose airport or as above.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You do not need a car to go to Otaru. Parking there is similar to Sapporo and can be expensive if you spend the whole day there. Plus the road between Sapporo and Otaru has toll charges. The town of Otaru is small and can be easily explored on foot. Unless you are going to Otaru aquarium, then you need to take the local bus or car. But if it is the first time you are visiting Otaru, you can easily spend the whole day exploring the shops along Sakaimachi. You and your kid can try out hands-on experiences like glass blowing or candle making, which takes up a bit of time. And the cafes and confectionary shops there are excellent, you will keep stopping to chill and eat along the way. Sakaimachi is walkable from Otaru station. Consider getting the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass instead.
          http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/railpass/welcome.html

          For Lake Toya, yes, you will need the car. So maybe you can go Lake Toya first, then return the car. And for Otaru and Sapporo, you do not need the car. You will probably save a few days of car rental and parking that way.

          The airport limousine leaves from the bus stop opposite the road from Mercure hotel, you can ask the front desk staff for direction, it is really near. The fare is 1000yen for adult and I think it should be half-price for kids. (My kids below 3 did not require tickets so I’m not entirely sure). There may be a slight increase in fare due to the recent GST hike, but won’t be much. It is probably more comfortable, easier and faster to take the airport limousine than driving, because driving will incur toll charges and all the car rental outlets are not at the airport, you still need to take the car rental outlets’ shuttle services to the airport after returning the car.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If you have not booked your hotel room, you may want to check out Hotel Royal Stay Sapporo. I have booked them for my next trip to Hokkaido because Mercure is too expensive for the dates I’m going (Agoda quoted me twice of what I paid for last Oct’s booking!). It is not as near to Susukino station as Mercure, but still walkable (10 min walk). Their family room is cheaper than Mercure’s standard rooms (at least for the dates I’m travelling), twice the size and twice the bed space. I have never stayed there before so can’t tell you how good the hotel is, but I’m gonna give it a try because the price quoted by Agoda is super attractive (about $90 per room per night for family room / $70 for twin room, all taxes in).

      • S Y Tan says:

        Thanks a lot Bumblebee Mum! Have just read about your recent blog abt where to bring kids in Summer. It really helps me alot in planning for my four days stay in Sapporo. Totally clueless where to bring them around in Sapporo after viewing all the lake, mountain and flowers in the northern/eastern side. Yes i am afraid my girl will get bored with nature and flowers! Now i can easily plan it – thanks to you!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Glad that you find it useful. I’m currently researching on places to bring the kids for my upcoming trip.. If I find any more interesting places, I’ll add on to the list. :)

  5. liu xuan says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    A great blog about your hokkaido trip. May I know when was the exact date that you went to hokkaido? I would like to plan my trip to hokkaido and my main purpose is to see the autumn foliage (koyo) and deliberating whether i should go from 1st to 15th of Oct or 26th of Oct to 10th of Nov. Therefore, I could you give an advice when is the best to see the autumn leave in hokkaido. Thank you for your help before
    Xuan

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, 1st to 15th Oct is definitely better. Autumn foliage varies from year to year, but in early Oct you should have a good chance of seeing the beautiful Koyo of Daisetsuzan National Park (Asahidake / Sounkyo) which is the #1 rated Koyo spot in Hokkaido. (You need to check koyo reports for Asahidake, it peaks the earliest in Sept and you may or may not catch it in Oct. Sounkyo area is a bit later, early Oct is a good time.) You should also be able to catch the koyo around Niseko which usually peaks late Sept – early Oct. Another popular koyo spot in that period is Shiretoko.

      Slightly towards mid – Oct, the koyo around Jozankei will peak and you can visit Houhyeikou dam then. I was there in mid Oct, koyo around Jozankei, Houheikyou and the parks around Sapporo (Odori Park and Makomanai Parks) were at its peak.

      If you go late Oct, probably the only place left with koyo is Onuma Koen, and with some luck Noboribetsu. But I think Daisetsuzan, Jozankei and Niseko are much more beautiful for koyo viewing, so definitely recommend going earlier. Plus stretching into Nov, that is really not a good time for Hokkaido imo because it is more winter than autumn already (temperature drops, daylight hours shorten, and nothing much really going on).

      Other than koyo, autumn is also a fantastic time for fruit picking. Do check it out. :)

      • Liu Xuan says:

        Hi,
        Thanks for the reply and advice! Appreciate it! Okay in that case I will opt for early Oct then, since I will drive in Hokkaido and I am afraid that I need to drive in winter season cause it is more dangerous.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I’m sure you’ll have a great trip! The weather and scenery will be beautiful in early Oct.. Best for open-air onsen! I highly recommend Sounkyo Choyo Tei. I stayed there in winter and I LOVE their open-air onsen, which overlooks the gorge. I imagine it will be beautiful in autumn. Drive slow and drive safe, 2 weeks is plenty time, I’m sure you have enough time to go all the way up to Shiretoko and explore Eastern Hokkaido which is much less touristy compared to Central Hokkaido but extremely scenic and full of good onsens.

          I wrote about my Eastern Hokkaido trip here, but it is in winter and not autumn. Still, it may give you some idea of places to visit.
          http://buzzingtojapan.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/self-drive-trip-to-eastern-hokkaido-february-2010/

  6. Liu Xuan says:

    wow thanks a lot! That sounds great! :) I will try it then! do you go for fruit picking in furano or abashiri the yamamoto fruit farm? and where do you rent your car is it from tocoo japan? and I read that you suggest to take train instead of car if i go to otaru from sapporo, so do you need to book your train ticket before? if yes can i book it online? or i just need to go to the train station and buy it there?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Just go to any fruit farm that is along your way, they are more or less the same (charging a fee to enter and you can eat as much as you can inside; some farms have time limit, some don’t). If you are headed to Shiretoko, Abashiri would be more along your way than Furano.

      I rented the car from Tocoo the first time, and Toyota Rent-a-car Sapporo directly the second time. You can compare prices and see which is cheaper. Tocoo has their own insurance plan that you must buy if you book through them (the price varies from company to company) so it may or may not be cheaper to book from Tocoo. If you can read Japanese, many car rental companies have special discount plans that are only advertised on their Japanese websites which can save you a lot of money. But if you don’t read / type Japanese, Tocoo is probably best.

      The train from Sapporo to Otaru is a normal train, no seat reservation needed. Just buy a ticket and hop on. If you want to purchase the Sapporo-Otaru welcome pass, you can purchase it from Sapporo station. Details can be found here:
      http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/railpass/welcome.html

      • liu xuan says:

        Wow that`s great! I can’t wait to go there :). By the way did you go to the fruit farm in furano or is it better the one in yumamoto fruit farm in abashiri? I read also previously that you suggested not to drive to otaru, so if i take train from sapporo do i need to book it online first or i can just go to the train station and buy it directly from the counter? and do you rent your car from tocoo japan? or do you have any other recommendation?

      • liu xuan says:

        oh sorry i did not see your previous posting without refreshing my computer. Thanks a lot by the way for the info and helps!

  7. liu xuan says:

    Hi I have another question, would i be able to see the japanese crane in tsurumidai in kushiro during oct/autumn? or you can only see it during winter time? any idea about this?

  8. evaaa says:

    Hello!
    Just wanted to ask, is it okay to tour Hokkaido free and easy if i cant speak japanese? Figured you might have some insight since you have been to the city! 😛

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, generally people in Hokkaido do no speak much English, especially if you travel out of major cities. But you are unlikely to get lost because road signs / direction signs within train stations have English and most major tourist attractions have English pamphlets. If you are driving, opt for a multi-language GPS. If taking the train, pre-plan your train routes and have them written in Japanese and show them to the staff at the train station if you need help (eg when reserving train tickets coz most train station staff do not speak english). If driving, just say “man tan” which means full tank at the petrol kiosks. For hotels, check out reviews to see if their staff speak English and go for the ones with English speaking staff. Stick to major cities (Sapporo, Otaru, Furano, Hakodate) and you should have no problem.

  9. Cedric says:

    Hi,

    Saw your comments on the GPS for Toyota car giving you problem while you were back from Lake Toya to Sapporo. Does the GPS offer by Toyota give you alternate route to choose from toll free or toll road? I drove Nissan at Fukuoka and the GPS was great. So my coming trip at Hokkaido, I thought of renting Toyota but afraid the GPS does not give me any option to choose.

    Also, can I purchase the HEP in 2 separate occasion? I thought of using the HEP for my 1st 2 days and my last 2 days of my road trip. In between of my road trip, I planned to go Wakkanai and Abashiri which do not have any toll.

    Thank you

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, I apologize for only replying now. I just shifted my blog out of wordpress.com to my personal domain and this comment only appeared after I did that!

      I’m not sure if your trip is already over by now, but I will just try to answer your questions nevertheless in case other readers want to know the same thing.

      I didn’t quite figure out how to display alternate routes on the English GPS that Toyota offered me. There probably should be such a function but I didn’t ask the staff about it before driving off. This was the only occasion I used an English GPS while driving in Japan, other times I always used Japanese GPS and they always had the option of displaying 5 routes (based on most recommended, shortest distance, toll-free etc.)

      For HEP, you cannot purchase it separately. It must be purchased for the WHOLE DURATION of your car rental, that’s the catch really, otherwise everyone would only purchase it for the days they need to make long travels.

  10. Jasmine says:

    hi…

    we will be going to hokkaido in dec.
    we have rented a toyota fielder via tocoo! website,
    i have a question regarding the HEP.
    we are collecting at the nippon susukino office which offers HEP.
    tocoo! replied my enquiry stating that their ETC card does not have the HEP function.
    so if i wanted the HEP, i have to cancel & rebook the car on their website because i cant just cancel the ETC card option.
    so my concern would be if i cancel & there are no more ETC cards with HEP function at the nippon office, we will be stuck.
    is it only available on request upon arrival? or we can reserve in advance?

    thanx in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, I’m not sure if I understood your question correctly. For HEP, you must request for it during reservation. Only selected rental outlets offer HEP so you need to rent from an office that has it. For Toyota, there is an office near Susukino station just opposite Mercure Hotel where we stayed but that outlet did not offer HEP. So we rented from another outlet located at APA hotel which is about 5 to 10 min walk from Susukino station as they offered HEP.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      On a side note, I’ll be going Hokkaido in Dec too! If you see me, say Hi! 😀

  11. Nylnoof says:

    I hv bn reading yr blog as part of my research on touring Hokkaido. You have been very forthcoming and generous with yr info. Blessings on all yr travels!

  12. Kit says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    Thanks for sharing all your travel tips and experiences. We are planning a self drive trip with our 2.5 yo toddler to Hokkaido in mid June. Would you recommend going to the Asahikawa Zoo in June given that one of the highlights there is the penguin parade, which will not be available in June? Thanks

    • Hi, yes I would still recommend visiting Asahiyama zoo even though there won’t be the penguin parade. It is generally a very nice zoo with cheap admission fee. Your toddler will enjoy it!

      If you want to see penguin parade, you can visit Noboribetsu NIXE Marine Park. Admission fee is much more expensive there though, but they have penguin parade all year round.

  13. Kit says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum

    Have you tried using Nippon Rent a Car? Any feedback? I tried reserving my rental car via Tocoo but the only car company they are showing me is Nippon Rent a Car during my period of rental. My friends who have driven in Japan have used only Toyota or Nissan. Not sure if Nippon Rent a Car is reputable and if their multilingual GPS works just as well. Just want to be sure since this our first driving trip in Japan. Thanks.

    Cheers, Kit

  14. Kit says:

    Thanks. Do you also normally check the include compensation coverage box when you book via Tocoo?

  15. Edenz says:

    Hi,

    I have been reading your blog and it is so kind of you to share all sorts of things here. Thank you in advance as it helps much with my trip to hokkaido. I am going Hokkaido again but this time during Jan/Feb 2016. I am planning to drive as you gave me the confidence to do so after reading your feedback. I have a few questions regarding driving in Hokkaido. What the difference between HEP and ETC? And I am planning to rent from Nissan Rent A Car, but there is no option stated there for me to request for HEP or ETC in advance although I am planning to rent the car from New Chitose Airport outlet which actually provides HEP. Is it possible to rent the HEP/ETC even after renting the car?

    Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      HEP is a pass that allows unlimited use of the expressway during the period of your car rental. ETC card will just deduct the toll fee based on how much you use the toll way. (It’s like a concession pass vs a normal EZ link card.) Having the ETC card is usually good enough. HEP is only worth it if you use the tollway extensively everyday. I believe Nissan Rent A Car can rent you an ETC card, you should rent one from them. See this page for details.

      For HEP, you have to rent from specific handling offices listed on this page. However, I have found that having ETC card is usually cheaper than HEP. I would only recommend getting HEP for travellers who base themselves in Sapporo and make day trips to neighboring cities via the expressway (i.e. they will use the expressway twice everyday).

      For HEP, you must request for it beforehand, you can’t get it on the spot. As for ETC, I think it’s better to request for it during booking as well.

      • Edenz says:

        I have checked the link that you sent and it is stated there that Nissan Rent A Car has an office handling HEP at New Chitose Airport. Does that means I have to request for it from Nissan Rent A Car beforehand for the HEP? How do we actually find out the price of the expressway with and without the ETC card? My plan is to travel from Sapporo to Noboribetsu then Lake Toya then Jozankei then Niseko then Asahikawa then Furano then back to Sapporo all by expressway within 7 days. Would it be cheaper if I apply for the HEP or ETC card would be chea[er? Thank you for your advise =)

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Looking at the places you want to go, you should swap the order of Jozankei and Niseko. (i.e. From Lake Toya, go to Niseko first then Jozankei then Asahikawa). Be aware that even then, Jozankei is a very long drive to Asahikawa, especially in winter. If you are using Google map to estimate driving times, you may have to double it for winter driving (which means the drive may take you 5 hours in snowy condition). Can I know your reason for visiting Asahikawa and Furano? Furano is not particularly interesting in Winter. And for Asahikawa, if it’s the zoo and the snow festival you want to visit, I strongly advise you to take the train. The Asahikawa and Furano region experiences extremely heavy snowfall.

          You mentioned you are visiting Jan / Feb? That is snow festival period in Hokkaido. I wouldn’t waste my time at Furano if I only have 7 days. There are many spectacular snow festivals going on around Hokkaido that you should try to catch in February. The ones closest to Sapporo are:
          > Sapporo Snow Festival (which will need at least 2 days to enjoy)
          > Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
          > Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
          > Asahikawa Winter Festival

          There are many more festivals such as Sounkyo Icefall festival, Onuma-Hakodate festival, Tomamu Ice Village, Lake Akan festival, Tokachigawa onsen festival etc etc taking place at that time, but I don’t think you have time for all of them if you only have 7 days. And if you still want to ski at Niseko, it’s going to be tight.

          My advise to you is to stay close to Sapporo, spend less time on the road and more time enjoying the festivals or skiing. Which means cut out places like Furano, Jozankei and Noboribetsu from your itinerary, slot in Lake Shikotsu instead (which is close to Sapporo and has a lovely winter festival). If I have 7 days in February (during Sapporo snow Festival season), I would do this:

          Day 1 and 2: Sapporo (Sapporo Snow Festival)
          Day 3: Otaru day trip by train (Otaru Snow Light Path)
          Day 4: Asahikawa day trip by train (Asahiyama zoo and Asahikawa winter festival)
          Day 5: Drive from Sapporo to Lake Toya. Spend the day exploring Lake Toya region. (Use Nakayama Pass to avoid toll way)
          Day 6: Drive from Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu. Visit the Ice Fall Festival and spend the night at Lake Shikotsu.
          Day 7: Drive from Lake Shikotsu to New Chitose Airport and return car at New Chitsose Airport.

          If I want to slot in skiing at Niseko, the itinerary would probably go something like this:

          Day 1 and 2: Sapporo (Sapporo Snow Festival)
          Day 3: Asahikawa day trip by train (Asahiyama zoo and Asahikawa winter festival)
          Day 4: Drive from Sapporo to Niseko
          Day 5: Niseko skiing
          Day 6: Drive from Niseko to Lake Toya. Explore Lake Toya region by the day, then drive to Lake Shikotsu before it gets dark. Visit Lake Shikotsu Icefall festival at night.
          Day 7: Drive from Lake Shikotsu to New Chitose Airport and return car at New Chitsose Airport.

          For these itineraries, you will not be using the tollway at all, so you wouldn’t need an ETC card nor HEP. And you should only pick up your rental car when you are leaving Sapporo to save on rental and parking fees.

          • Edenz says:

            Wowwww thank you so much for your comprehensive reply!! Anyway, my travelling date would be 7 days starting from 29/1/16. I know there are a lot of winter festivals but correct me if im wrong, most of them only starts on the 2nd week of February, that’s why I am most likely to miss them already. As for Asahikawa, yes I am planning to visit the zoo. And as for Furano, I am planning to do the activities listed here http://www.asobiya.jp/en/program_f_02/nightwatching.html

            Have you actually drove to Asahikawa and Furano? Is it that difficult to drive there? I’ve been to Sapporo and Otaru this year that is why I am not keen to spend more days there.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Awww… 29 Jan?? You are going to just miss the festival! Sapporo Snow Festival starts on 5 Feb and Asahikawa / Otaru festivals around then too. Lake Shikotsu festival should have started by the time you’re there.

              Nevertheless, if you can’t change your dates, plan to go Sapporo / Asahikawa towards the end of the trip. The snow sculptures should be completed by then, even if the festival hasn’t started. You can walk around the festival venues and take photos with the snow sculptures, just that the festival stores and activities will not be operating. For Sapporo, yea it’s kinda boring if you visited before, but you should still spend 1 day walking around Odori Park and Susukino to see the snow and ice sculptures.

              When I was there in winter, Asahikawa was very difficult to drive because the snow was extremely heavy. Furano and Biei also experiences very heavy snowfalls. It was in this region our car ended up in a ditch when we encountered unexpected snow storm – and that was in Autumn. The roads were rural and the snow covered all lane markings and its surrounding, we couldn’t tell where the side of the road was, misjudged a turn (because of reduced friction) and our car went off the road. You may want to consider taking the train. Sapporo – Asahikawa – Furano – Sapporo is a well-connected train route.

              • Edenz says:

                I knew I’m gonna miss the festival but nothing much can be done about it because 8th Feb is Chinese New Year already so I just have to end the trip before CNY. Wow sounds like it is very tough to drive at Asahikawa and Furano. What did you do when you got stranded there at that time? So you are suggesting that I combine Lake Toya and Shikotsu on the same day right? And spend the night at Lake Shikotsu?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  A good samaritan lent us his car chain and tried to use his car to pull our car out, but his car was not strong enough to do it. So he helped us wave a postal jeep down which managed to pull us out. :p

                  Your itinerary depends on your direction of travel. If you want to push Sapporo / Asahikawa to the end of the trip to see the snow sculptures, you can go in this order:

                  Day 1: Pick up rental car from New Chitose Airport. Drive to Lake Shikotsu. Lake Shikotsu Icefall festival is more beautiful at night and there are fireworks (not sure if it’s every night, but there were fireworks when I was there). So I recommend spending the night at Lake Shikotsu.
                  Day 2: Drive to Lake Toya. Visit Lake Toya as a day trip, and drive on to Niseko for the night. Make sure you plan ample driving time. Niseko is extremely difficult to drive in winter as well. I suggest leaving Lake Toya by 2pm so that you get to Niseko safely in bright daylight.
                  Day 3: Skiing at Niseko
                  Day 4: Drive to Sapporo and return car. Visit Odori Park and Susukino.
                  Day 5: Take train to Asahikawa. Visit Asahiyama Zoo and site of Asahikawa winter festival.
                  Day 6: Take train to Furano
                  Day 7: Take train to New Chitose Airport.

                  • Edenz says:

                    Wow, sounds abit scary knowing that you got stranded due to heavy snow falls. Even if we drive slowly will it give us problems? And correct me if I’m wrong, the car rental company usually provides something like S.O.S whereby when we are stranded or got into an accident, they will come to our rescue? I heard public transportation in Furano is a little infrequent thats why I thought it would be convenient to have our own modes of transportation there.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yup, car companies have emergency hotlines. During that ditch incident, I called them and told them what happened and where we were, they told me they would call me back. While waiting, the good samaritan got us out and we drove off. It was much much later (like an hour or two?) that the car company called me back again to ask if we were still stuck! I don’t really blame them actually, because Hokkaido is HUGE and rescue vehicles are probably few and far between and the snow storm that day probably caused more than one accident (because when I first called, the operator asked if I was the person who called earlier). But we would have been sitting in a ditch in the dark in the midst of a snow storm if we depended on the car company’s SOS.

                      Okay, I don’t want to scare you further, but I really learnt a lot about driving in snow from this incident and an earlier near-accident also in Hokkaido during winter. Yes, you will be much safer if you drive REALLY slow. Which is why I mentioned you would probably be spending half your time on the road and you would need to double Google map’s driving time. I drove very slowly (below 50km/h) for my last trip and we did not meet with any incidents. (And that was the 1 out of 3 winter trips I did not meet with any incidents – so you understand why I advise people to minimize driving as much as possible.)

                      You are right that Furano’s transport is pretty limited. I wasn’t sure where you wanted to visit other than the star gazing, and I figured the star gazing company should be able to pick you up from your accommodation? But if you want to go around Furano to the wine factory, cheese factory etc, then yes you would need a rental car.

                      I have written some driving tips on this post, look under the comments section for my reply to Julie. They should help. :)

                    • Edenz says:

                      Just read up your feedback there, very comprehensive informations you gave there thanks. Anyway, if we drive slow and steady, to drive from Sapporo to Asahikawa then Furano then Tomamu wouldn’t be a problem I assume? And can you give me your opinion regarding Tomamu? Is it worth visiting? And how much does it cost per night for Tower Hotel at Tomamu?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Do you have more than 7 days? Looking at the places you want to visit, I don’t think it is feasible to still squeeze in Tomamu in 7 days. If you want to visit Tomamu, I would recommend you drop Niseko. Personally I love Tomamu. It is more authentically Japanese compared to Niseko (which is largely ran by foreigners). The skiing there is also cheaper than Niseko. The onsen is much more serene (if you beat the tour bus groups, that is). They have an indoor heated pool so you can even go swimming! On top of that, Tomamu has an Ice Village in winter. So yes, I think Tomamu is worth visiting. (I stayed there twice last year!)

                      The cost depends a lot on your travel date. You would need to check their website for the rates. The rates for this year’s winter season is not out yet, so you can only check later.

  16. Queenie says:

    Hello BumbleBee Mum,

    I read few of your blogs and I would like to seek for your help 😉 I’ll be travelling to Tokyo early Sep15, most probably spend 5 days in Hokkaido (self driving). Could you please help to review and advice me on the itinerary (for 5 days trip in Hokkaido), first time travel to Japan ^^ – 6 adults

    I read your blogs and we are interested to visit Tomamu / Sounkyo (or shall we go both?) Otaru, Lake Toya, Furano, Sapporo.. any others suggestion and how the route should be ?

    Thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      5 days is not a lot of time in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is much bigger than it seems. For 5 days in early Sept, I would recommend focusing on the Daisetsuzan region for autumn foliage and furano for flowers. You should definitely visit Sounkyo in Sept, that’s the most beautiful time to visit the region. If you have 5 fulls days, I would recommend the following:

      Day 1: new chitose airport to Lake Toya
      day 2: Lake Toya to Otaru
      day 3: Otaru to Sounkyo
      day 4: Sounkyo to Furano
      day 5: Furano to New Chitose Airport

      You will not have time to visit Tomamu within 5 days, unless you take out Otaru or Lake Toya. And you realise I have taken out Sapporo totally.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hello Bumblebeemum,

    So happy to come across your site. I am planning trip for the family self drive in Hokkaido from 11 Jul till 19 Jul . We have 4 kids (age 6 -2) with us. we are getting 2 cars. Am hoping you could give some comments on tips based on itinerary below. Place of stay have been basically fixed as we have booked them.

    Day 1 – Arrive in New Chitose around 2pm. Pick up car drive to Tomamu. Planning to do Lake Shikotsu on the way.
    Day 2- Tomamu to Furano. Depending on time we are leave Tomamu. Furano may cover (Farm Tomita, Furano Cheese Factory
    Day 3 – Furano – Furano City Tour, Rokugo Observation Deck ,Flower land Kamifurano, Flower land Kamifurano, Furano Winery, Marche.
    Day 4 – Furano Going to do Biei. Biei Blue Pond,Biei Shikisai No Oka. Someone suggested Glass Forest inn Furano(worth doing?).
    Day 5 – Drive from Furano to Noboribetsu
    Day 6 – Noboribetsu – Lake Toya – Sapporo
    Day 7 – Sapporo. Planning to drive to Otaru
    Day 8 – Sapporo
    Day 9 – Leave Sapporo

    Based the plan above, I have some questions.
    1) Is it worth getting ETC card based on the drive?
    2) Google map brings you point to point – I was wondering if you have any place that we should stop along the drive/ detour?
    3) I am concerned about day 6 itinerary. Is this a viable day drive? from Lake Toyo to sapporo?
    I am trying not to keep it too packed due to the kids.Are the itinerary in Furano too relaxed? 😀
    Am still thinking if we could fit Asakahiwa zoo during Furano stay?

    Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      For Day 1, Lake Shikotsu is not along the way to Tomamu. Lake Shikotsu is to the West of Chitose, Tomamu is to the East. I suggest you skip Lake Shikotsu and head to Tomamu straight away. Arriving at 2pm is not early. You will still need to pick up the rental car from the rental car outlet (which requires a shuttle bus ride from the airport), settle the kids into the cars and Tomamu is a 1.5-2 hours drive. You should try to get to Tomamu asap and head to the onsen before the tour buses come in (which is usually just before dinner time). Once the tour buses get in, Tomamu’s onsen becomes very crowded. The kids will have time to go swimming before dinner too.

      Regarding Furano, yes you are quite relaxed in Furano. :p For Glass Forest, it is not a place I would bring young kids to, if you know what I mean. You’ll be glad to walk out without breaking anything. I suggest you visit Asahikawa zoo instead. If you can condense the places you want to visit in Furano and Biei into 2 days (which is possible since you are visiting in summer with longer daylight hours), you will have Day 4 free for Asahikawa Zoo. But that means you will have to check out of Tomamu quite early.

      For Day 6, yes it is possible to go Noboribetsu – Lake Toya – Sapporo in a day. I have done Sapporo – Noboribetsu – Lake Toya – Sapporo as a day trip before with the kids, it was not very rushed.

      The only long drive you have that you should consider fitting in a break is the drive from Furano to Noboribetsu. A good place to rest for that drive is at Chitose Rera Outlet. It is along the way, somewhere midpoint and there are play room and playgrounds for kids there.

      As for ETC card, yes you should definitely rent one if your car rental company can provide you one, or rent one from Tocoo is you are renting through them. It gives great discounts on toll fees. However, you should not get the HEP, I don’t think it’ll be worth it for your itinerary. An ETC card is good enough.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for the tips! Think we will stop by Chitose to Noboribetsu. Will do more research on the Furano route to condense. Oh btw, read the recommendation on the Sushi place in Otaru. Still worth going or should we try elsewhere?
        Based my itinerary now – would you be able to tell me which must be toll? I think you posted before Lake Toya – Sapporo via Nakayama Pass is toll free?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You will be using toll way between New Chitose Airport and Tomamu, Furano and Chitose Rera Outlet and Chitose Rera Outlet and Noboribetsu. Using Tocoo’s toll simulator, the approximate toll fees if you pay in cash will be:

          New Chitose Airport – Tomamu (Chitose-Higashi IC – Tomamu IC) 2500 Yen
          Furano – Chitose Rera Outlet (Shimukappu IC – Chitose-Higashi IC) 1800 Yen
          Chitose Rera Outlet – Noboribetsu (Chitose IC – Noboribetsu-Higashi IC) 1800 Yen

          If you can rent an ETC card, it will be much cheaper.

          From Noboribetsu to Lake Toya, it is toll free if you use the Orofure Pass. Similarly from Lake Toya to Sapporo, it is toll free if you use Nakayama Pass. In both cases, the GPS may direct you to use the toll way, but you can change the route option on the GPS or simply follow the road signs to the non-toll way.

          For Otaru, I think most of the sushi restaurants there should be pretty good since they are so competitive. My friend who was in Otaru recently went to Sawasakisuisan Kaisen Shokudo and said it was really good. It is not a sushi restaurant though, it sells seafood rice bowl. But if you want to taste fresh seafood from the Northern coast of Hokkaido, you can try that. It is located inside Otaru Denuki, diagonally opposite the main traffic junction from Otaru Canal. (> See official website <)

  18. Betty says:

    Hi bumblebeemum, thanks for the great info provided! My family is planning to travel to osaka then hokkaido. Wondering if there are cheap flight options that you can recommend. Thanks very much!:)

  19. Caline says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum

    I have read about your travels and I hope u can help me on my plan to visit Hokkaido. I have total of 10 in Hokkaido as we will be coming in from Tokyo after the Disneyland.

    Is it good to travel early Oct or is there anything interesting in September that I shouldn’t miss.

    We plan to do partly self drive n train so that it won’t be too tiring. 1 kid n 5 adults. Any recommendation?

    Thinking to fly in Kushiro ( anything interesting here) or we should just fly in Obishiro covering Lake Shikaribetsu. Tokachigawa follow by Furano, Biei, ( should we visit Tomamu) Asahikawa (zoo), Sapporo, Otaru, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu n Hokadote.

    We would like to have a relax trip.

    Thanking you in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      In late September / early October, it is autumn foliage season in the Daisetsuzan region (around Asahidake / Sounkyo). You should plan a stay at Sounkyo onsen while exploring the autumn foliage in the region.

      Another unique thing you would find in September is the red coral. You can read more on the following site:
      http://good-hokkaido.info/en/coral-grass-colony-in-saroma/

      You should also visit Furano and Biei. Although it is past lavender season, there are still many beautiful flowers blooming in September / October.

      I would give Kushiro a miss, unless you want to visit Washo Market. Kushiro is known for the cranes, but they only gather at the feeding sites in winter.

      You definitely do not have enough time to go all the way from Eastern Hokkaido to Hakodate in 10 days if you want a relaxing tour. You would need to choose either to explore Eastern and Central Hokkaido thoroughly and giving Hakodate a miss, or if you want to go Hakodate, you will have to skip some sights in Eastern Hokkaido (such as Tokachigawa).

      Given the number of adults you have, it would be more cost effective to drive all the way. You can all share a 7-seater if you pack light.

  20. Cinnamonbars says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum

    I have read your hokkaido trip entries. They are very comprehensive. I will be travelling to Hokkaido next month, 2nd July till 9th July and I’m planning to self-drive for 4 days from Hakodate to Sapporo.

    Below is my Itinerary

    Day 1: Hakodate

    Day 2: Hakodate > Lake Toya > Noboribetsu

    Day 3: Noboribetsu > Lake Shikotsu > Sapporo

    Day 4: Sapporo > Furano > Biei > Sapporo

    I have not rented a car yet and I need your help to guide me. Do I use this link https://rent.toyota.co.jp/eng/service/passenger.html to rent a car from Hakodate Airport? Does this provide HEP too? I can’t seem to find.

    Sorry for the troubles.

    I’m looking forward to your reply. Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Whether or not HEP can be provided depends on the outlet where you collect the car from. However, HEP CANNOT be bought for one-way travels. (For HEP, you must rent and return the car to the SAME outlet.)

      I recommend using Tocoo to book your car. Then you can rent an ETC card from them.
      http://www.tocoo.jp/

      • MAY says:

        Hi Bumblebee Mum! Thanks for the quick reply! I would also like to ask if it is costly to use ETC card instead of HEP for my trip from Hakodate to Sapporo. Is it necessary to use HEP instead of ETC in this case?

        Thanks for your kind tips!

  21. Meme says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum, i am back with more questions.. :). Do you think 3 hours is sufficient stop in Narita to change to Jetstar to Sapporo?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Just to clarify.. You have a flight arriving at Narita, and 3 hours later you want to take a flight from Narita to Chitose via Jetstar? If that’s the case, yes, 3 hours is sufficient. But please ensure that your flight arrives at NARITA and not Haneda.

      • Meme says:

        Thanks. Not sure if my earlier reply went through. So resending. Yes i am arriving at Narita. How about if the gap between the 2 flights is about 2 hours? Is that enough? I am considering as this flight is cheaper. Thanks!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          2 hours is cutting it a bit too tight. I would allow 3 hours minimum to clear customs, collect luggage and find my way to the domestic check-in counter. Narita Airport’s customs take forever to clear when many flights arrive around the same time because they need to take photo and finger prints of all foreign arriving passengers.

  22. Blessed Mummy says:

    Hi Hi,

    Was wondering if I should get a ETC or HEP ? Below is my itinerary :

    Day 1 & 2 Sapporo
    Day 3 Sapporo – Asahikawa Zoo ( collecting rental car )
    Day 4 Asahikawa – Lake Mashu – Lozan – Lake Kushharo – Lake Akan
    Day 5 Lake Akan – Kushiro
    Day 6 Kushiro – Obihiro
    Day 7 Obihiro – Tomamu
    Day 8 Tomamu – Orofure Pass – Lake Toya
    Day 9 Lake Toya – Rusutsu
    Day 10 Rusutsu – Lake Shikotsu – Sapporo ( return car )
    Day 11 Sapporo to New Chitose Airport

    Looking forward to your reply. :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, you won’t need an HEP for that itinerary. An ETC card would suffice.

      You are going in December right? Note that Day 3 may be a tad rushed. We did the same thing (collecting car from Sapporo in the morning and driving to the zoo), we only had enough time to cover half the zoo.

      Day 4 also looks a bit difficult to complete within the day. Asahikawa to Lake Akan is a very long drive, especially if it is snowing, you may be spending almost the whole day on the road. You probably need to shift Lake Mashu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo to Day 5.

  23. elis says:

    Hi BBM,

    thank you for the very detailed and comprehensive write up on Hokkaido. im so glad to come across your blog . i,m currently planning to go to Hokkaido in mid sept and would need your advice on planning . ill be there for 7 days . as for hotels ive done a look up was looking at nest Sapporo any advice?

    is the flight connection 2 hrs sufficient ?

    as from the guide you wrote Sept is autumn season right ?

    im planning to visit these place otaru , lake toya , noribeisute, furano/bie( but it seem very from the rest) would appreciate you can help me map out. i dont mind to move as i drive along . and btw is driving necessary for such route ?
    im also hoping to stay mostly as osen hotel along the way

    hope to get your response soon

    thank you very much!

    elis

    • elis says:

      my itinerary is not fixed yet . do feel free to give me suggestion. my intention is to see beautiful scenrary and flowers along the way . as my travel companion loves to nature and taking pictures.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Connection as in between the international arrival to domestic departure? Firstly, if you are transferring in Tokyo, please make sure the arrival and departure are at the same airport. (Tokyo has 2 airports: Haneda and Narita.) 2 hours is cutting it pretty close. Depending on the time you arrive, it can take a long time to clear immigrations if there are many flights arriving around the same time. If you are using different airlines, you may need to change terminal. hen you need to queue up to check in for your domestic flight. If you are using the same airline (e.g. ANA from SIN to NRT and continue on ANA from NRT to CTS), then 2 hours would be just enough since you don’t need to change terminal or check in again. But if you need to change airlines, then I would say give it 3 hours minimum.

      Yes, mid-September is autumn in the Daisetsuzan region and Niseko region. Daisetsuzan region is Hokkaido’s top autumn spot, and it is not that far off from Furano and Biei. Since you only have 7 days (which is not a lot for Hokkaido), I recommend focusing on the Furano / Biei / Daisetsuzan region for a mid-Sept trip. In this area, driving is necessary.

      If you want to visit Daisetsuzan region, an itinerary I would recommend is:
      Day 1: Chitose – Furano
      Day 2: Furano
      Day 3: Furano – Biei
      Day 4: Biei – Asahidake (autumn spot)
      Day 5: Asahidake – Sounkyo (autumn spot)
      Day 6: Sounkyo – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo – New Chitose Airport

      Click here for Google Map Route

      For onsen stays in the region, you can try Tokachidake Onsen (near Furano), Shirogane Onsen (near Biei), Asahidake Onsen and Sounkyo Onsen.

      If you want to stick to your original places of interest, a possible itinerary would be:

      Day 1: New Chitose Airport – Noboribetsu
      Day 2: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
      Day 3: Lake Toya – Otaru
      Day 4: Otaru – Sapporo
      Day 5: Sapporo – Furano
      Day 6: Biei day trip from Furano
      Day 7: Furano – Sapporo

      Click here for Google Map Route

      For this route, Noboribetsu and Lake Toya are onsen towns.

      • elis says:

        Hi BBM,

        thank you for your prompt reply.

        ive gone thru the places that you suggested just a concern about the driving distance as in its a holiday for us just worried that driving for 3 hrs + seem to be a little long ? (if u understand what i mean ) .

        so im currently thinking of the daisetsuzan region and the one below.

        day 1 : overnight at Sapporo ( as i will be reaching around 9pm)
        will most probably staying at nest sapporo ( can you advise me where to collect the car ?)

        day 2: Sapporo – Noboribetsu

        day 3 : Noboribetsu – Hakodate

        day 4 : Hakodate – Lake Toya

        day 5 : Lake Toya – Otaru

        day 6 : Otaru- Sapporo

        day 7 : Sapporo – New Chitose

        For the Hakodate is it wise to go or its better to go niseko? i really want to go furano but its seem driving distance is pretty far .

        and for the journey itself i have to purchase something like the HEP pass right ?

        elis

        • bumblebeemum says:

          For Day 1:, if you are arriving in Sapporo at 9pm, my advise is to stay at Air Terminal Hotel at New Chitose Airport for the night. You can collect your car the next morning at the airport branch. All car rental companies have a desk at New Chitose Airport and have shuttle service to bring you from the airport to the nearest car rental branch to pick up your rental car. New Chitose Airport is closer to Noboribetsu, so you save some time on the road compared to going to Sapporo and driving to Noboribetsu the next day.

          Hokkaido is huge, and unfortunately long drives are part and parcel of Hokkaido self-drive trips. To avoid long drives, you will need to break up the drives with stops along the way, but you can only do so if you have a lot of time. E.g. If I want to go from CTS to Furano and I don’t want to take the long 3 hours drive, I would plan to spend a night at Tomamu in between. But that would mean extending the trip by 1 night. And from Sounkyo back to Sapporo, I can slot in a night at Asahikawa to break up the long drive, but again that is 1 extra night required. But I guess that is why I have been going Hokkaido again and again to cover the various areas. For a 7 days trips, you can only focus on a very small area if you do not wish to drive much.

          Your current itinerary looks fine. You can probably plan another visit to Hokkaido in summer (July / August) for Furano and Biei region. Mid-September is actually a bit early for autumn foliage and you may or may not be able to see autumn foliage in Daisetsuzan region as the arrival of autumn differs from year to year. If you are going in end September then I would definitely recommend you go to Daisetsuzan region. But for mid-Sept, I guess you can skip it if it’s too much driving for your liking.

          The night view from Mount Hakodate and the morning market are lovely places to visit. If you go Niseko, you would save some time on the road compared to Hakodate. But again, mid-September is just the start of autumn and autumn foliage may not yet be at its peak at that time. Depending on your exact travel date, if it is close to end September, I would opt to go to Niseko whereas if it’s still quite early in the month of September, I would go to Hakodate.

          For your itinerary, you are not using the toll road that much. There is no need for the HEP. You should rent an ETC card from the car rental companies (not all companies rent them though, please check with them if they do) or rent one from Tocoo if you book through them.

  24. elis says:

    so furano is reccomended to go during the autumn period?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi, yes, usually I recommend visiting Furano and Biei in Autumn. The flower fields are still blooming at the time although lavender season would be over. But the flower fields are beautiful. However, given the limited time you have, you may want to skip it for now.

  25. Xin says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, thank you for your blog! It is very informative and I enjoy reading about your travel adventures. I am planning a trip to Hokkaido (first time) this early November with my husband and 4 month old baby (he will be 8 months for the trip). Can I ask you a few questions?
    1. Is it easy / cheap to buy disposable diapers there? Or should I bring from home.
    2. We plan to rent a car and self drive. Will 1 week be enough to explore?
    3. Do we have to rent infant car seat from car company or bring our own?
    3. If so, what itinerary do you recommend? It will be our first time in Hokkaido

    Thank you so much!!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. Depends on where you are going. In Sapporo, you can find diapers in supermarkets / drug stores. In rural areas, it won’t be easy to find. I recommend bringing from home.

      2. 1 week is not a long time for Hokkaido. You will need to focus on just a small area, especially since it is winter. Please note that it will be snowing in Hokkaido in November and this will post certain danger if you have never driven in snowy condition before.

      3. I always rent from the car company. Your luggage will be heavy enough with all the baby stuff and winter clothing. Don’t bother lugging a car seat there.

      4. Early November is a good time for autumn foliage down South (Noboribetsu and Onuma Koen), so you may want to consider heading South. For self-drive in Nov, I would go Chitose -> Noboribetsu (1 night) -> Onuma Koen -> Hakodate (1 night) -> Lake Toya (1 night) -> Otaru (1 night) -> Sapporo (2 nights) -> Chitose.

      • Xin says:

        Thank you so much for your quick reply! Appreciate it.
        4. Thank you for the suggested itinerary. We have decided to extend our stay in Hokkaido since it seems there is so much to do! Now we are thinking of 11 nights in Hokkaido. What do you suggest? I am thinking:
        Arrive in Chitose – limo bus to Saporro – 3 nights in Saporro – Day 4 drive to Noboribetsu (2 nights) – Day 6 drive to Onuma Koen and stay in Hakodate (2 nights) – Day 8 drive to Lake Toya (1 night) – Day 9 drive to Otaru (2 nights) – Day 11 drive back to Sapporo (1 night) – Day 12 depart for Tokyo

        5. We plan to buy a return ticket SGP – Narita from ANA. If we land in Narita at 8:40am, do you reckon we have enough time to catch the 10:55am Jetstar flight to Sapporo? I read that you need some time to change terminals

        6. Do you have any nice hotels / roykans to recommend for places to stay (besides Sapporo)?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Your itinerary looks good, very relaxing.

          What are you planning to do at Noboribetsu? I usually only recommend spending 1 night there. But if you want to visit NIXE Marine Park, then 2 nights is good.

          You’re going in November yah? Before I forget, when you are in Sapporo, do visit Hokkaido University’s Gingko Avenue. The trees there are supposed to turn golden around Nov / Dec. It’s something I always see in photos that look so beautiful but never witnessed it for myself. Hope you manage to catch it at the right time!

          2 hours transit is cutting it a bit too close. ANA and Jetstar uses different terminals. I would say give it at least 3 hours. Especially with a baby in tow. The baby TOTALLY slows you down. (After arrival still need to change diaper, feed milk, wrap up with winter clothing… etc etc.)

          For Noboribetsu, I like Hotel Mahoroba. For Lake Toya, I like Toya Sunpalace. But these are considered relatively budget options and slighty dated ryokans. If you want a more modern and luxurious experience, at Lake Toya, you can try Lake View Nonokaze.

          • Xin says:

            Happy belated birthday! I hope you had a good one!! Thank you for the above reply, appreciate it.

            We decided to change our dates and go earlier (if not too cold) and the new itinerary so far is

            26th Oct Mon- Arrive 9am. Sapporo
            27th Oct Tue- Sapporro (Won’t forget to see Uni Gingo Ave as you suggested!)
            28th Oct Wed – Pick up rental can and drive to Noboribetsu. Spend night in Noboribetsu
            29th Oct Thu- Drive to Hakodate. Night in Hakodate
            30th Oct Fri – Hakodate
            31st Oct Sat – Drive to Lake Toya. Night in Lake Toya
            1st Nov Sun – Drive to Otaru. Night in Otaru
            2nd Nov Mon – Otaru?
            3rd Nov Tues – Not sure if to return to Saporro? And advice?
            4th Nov Wed – Any ideas?
            5th Nov Thu – Flight departing Chitose to Tokyo at 1pm

            Thank you so much!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Thank you for noticing it was my birthday! 😀

              For the Gingko Avenue, I would recommend you go towards the end of your trip. The later the better for your dates.

              Looking at your itinerary, yeah, I would return to Sapporo again to drop off the car.

              Since you have quite a bit of time at Hakodate, don’t forget to visit Onuma Koen. Your period of travel should correspond to peak autumn foliage season there.

              For Sapporo, you can just do the usual sightseeing and eating. You can get ideas from this website:
              http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2163.html

              My favourite sightseeing spots at Sapporo are Mount Moiwa, Shiroi Koibito Park, Sapporo Beer Museum and the markets (Curb market and Nijo market).

              And for place to eat, you can see my recommendations here:
              http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/03/30/hokkaido-best-food/

  26. Yoshiko says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, I’m so glad to have come across your blog. Looking at your reply to each of the inquiry, it’s not an easy job! I will be traveling from KL to Hokkaido on 12-18 October together with my husband, 15 months old baby, and my parents (my mum is a japanese, dad can speak and read japanese). I would like to get your advice on the itinerary and renting car.

    We will be arriving at New Chitose Airport by 0810 12 October. We plan to explore the airport before heading to collect our rented car because on the day of leaving Hokkaido, our flight is 0920. The rest of the itinerary as below.

    Day 1 New Chitose Airport – Noboribetsu
    Day 2 Noboribetsu – Hakodate
    Day 3 Hakodate – Lake Toya – Sapporo (return the car)
    Day 4 Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
    Day 5 Sapporo
    Day 6 Sapporo
    Day 7 Sapporo – New Chitose Airport

    – In Hakodate, which area is more convenience to stay?
    – Do I need to get HEP for the itinerary above? How do I estimate fuel and parking budget?
    – I wanted to book Mercure Hotel but it was too expensive (around RM490 per night for Privilege Queen Room). As for Hotel Royal Stay, the rooms are not available.
    — Do you have any other recommendation?
    — What do you think of APA Hotel Sapporo Susukino Ekimae?
    – Is buying the Sapporo – Otaru Welcome Pass really worth the price if I would return to Sapporo by night?

    Thanks in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Firstly, I usually spend time at CTS at the end of the trip because there is SO MUCH TO BUY there! If my flight leaves CTS early, I will go back to CTS a day earlier, spending my last night at Air Terminal hotel. But of course, if you prefer not to do that, you can do your shopping along the way. Just a personal preference – coz I like to keep my luggage light and just whack all the shopping at the airport at the end of my trips.

      For Hakodate, the area between morning market and red brick warehouse will be most convenient. You can try La Vista Hakodate Bay or Hakodate Kokusai hotel.

      It does make sense to get the HEP for those 3 days. But the problem with HEP is that you need to return the car to the rental outlet you picked it up from. So it wouldn’t work for your case (picking up in CTS and returning to Sapporo). You may just want to rent an ETC card then.

      For fuel, you won’t be using much, I would say half a tank maybe? Around 3000 yen at most? As for parking, you can park at your hotel. Noboribetsu will most probably be free, but city hotels such as those in Hakodate will charge about 1000yen for parking per day.

      I have not tried APA Hotel Sapporo Susukino Ekimae. Its location looks okay, though I personally prefer to be to the East of Susukino station rather than to the West, because it’s nearer to my favourite Daiso (lol). And Nijo Market / TV Tower. Have you tried Toyoko Inn Susukino? Their location is the best in Susukino imo.

      The Sapporo-Otaru welcome pass comes with a Sapporo-Otaru-Sapporo return train pass and a SEPARATE Sapporo subway 1 day ticket. So you can use the 1 day subway ticket on another day, not necessarily on the same day you go to Otaru. :)

      • Yoshiko says:

        Thanks, bumblebee mum for your reply. Unfortunately, the airport terminal hotel is fully booked.

        My girl would be 17 months old in October. Can she go for onsen? I guess she wouldn’t enjoy it. Perhaps we need to take turn taking care of her.

        I tried websites like booking.com, japanican and rakuten to look for noboribetsu ryokan. However, they did not specify the menu for dinner and breakfast that’s included. What is the best way to be clear of what I book?

        What kind of clothing should I prepare for her? Do you have any post on packing for kids?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yeah, it would probably be better for your spouse and you to take turns to look after your girl while the other goes for onsen. Anyway onsens are usually separated by gender, so it makes no difference whether you all go together or separately.

          Hmm… When I use Rakuten and Agoda, they do specify when meals are provided. I just tried searching for Hotel Mahoroba on Rakuten and Agoda and this were what I saw:

          For Rakuten:

          For Agoda:

          Both showed that breakfast and dinner were provided.

          In October it will be cold, but not sub zero cold. You may want to get Uniqlo heat tech inner wear (infant size) for her to wear inside, followed by normal long sleeve and long pants. Then add 1 more layer of jacket during the daytime. At night, put on ANOTHER layer of coat, particularly if you are going to high altitudes. She should also wear long socks and covered shoes at all times.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I intend to self drive in December but we have never done self drive holidays before and it will be during the winter. Is it advisable to do so with 2 Adults and 2 children (8 and 12)? Is the road condition slippery?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You may not want to do your first overseas self-drive holiday in winter. There are many things to adapt to when driving overseas with a rental car: Getting used to a new car, figuring out the traffic rules of the country, road conditions hat you are unfamiliar with (e.g. winding / hilly / narrowly bending roads that, if you are from Singapore, would probably never have encountered before), fumbling around the GPS, figuring out how to even top up a petrol tank. The last thing you want to deal with is snow and ice on the road and close to zero visibility when it snows heavily. So no, I do not recommend you do a self-drive in Hokkaido in December as your first overseas self-drive venture.

      And yes, the road condition will be slippery.

      But don’t let what I say deter you from doing self-drive holidays. I recommend getting some practice in summer / non-snowy places, so that you know exactly what to expect when self-driving overseas, before you try doing so in winter.

  28. Flynn says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

    Kudos to your comprehensive Hokkaido travel write-ups! We’ll be going to Hokkaido on this coming Oct. Our itinerary:

    Day 1 (Oct 19): Arrive CTS by 8:10am. Pick up car from Budget car rental company. New Chitose airport → Jozankei&Houheikyou Dam → Otaru (Overnight in Otaru)
    Day 2: Otaru → Yoichi → Shakotan Peninsula → Niseko (Overnight in Niseko)
    Day 3: Niseko → Hakodate (Overnight in Hakodate)
    Day 4: Hakodate (Overnight in Hakodate)
    Day 5: Hakodate → Onuma Quasi-National Park → Toya-ko (Overnight in Toya-ko)
    Day 6: Toya-ko → Muroran → Noboribetsu → Furano(Overnight in Furano)
    Day 7: Furano → Biei (Overnight in Furano)
    Day 8: Furano/Biei → Obihiro → Sapporo (Overnight in Sapporo). Return car at Budget car rental outlet in Sapporo city by 8pm
    Day 9: Sapporo (Overnight in Sapporo)
    Day 10: Sapporo (Overnight in Sapporo)
    Day 11 (Oct 29): 11:20am morning flight heading to Tokyo via Jetstar

    Based on our itinerary above, really appreciate if you can help to guide us on driving related questions:

    1. HEP or ETC card, which one should we get? FYI, we made our car rental booking via this website: http://car.hokkaidotour.net. Based on the the car rental plan we’ve chosen, does this mean the car is provided with ETC free of charge? (http://car.hokkaidotour.net/car_search/yoyaku/plan.asp?SEARCH_SUB_AREA=&SEARCH_YYYYMM_FROM=201510&SEARCH_DD_FROM=19&SEARCH_YYYYMM_TO=201510&SEARCH_DD_TO=26&SEARCH_TYPE=%92%86%81E%91%E5%8C%5E&SEARCH_AREA=%90V%90%E7%8D%CE%8B%F3%8D%60%8E%FC%95%D3&SEARCH_AREA2=%8ED%96y%8Es%93%E0%92%86%90S%95%94&KINEN=on&ETC=%8A%F3%96%5D%82%B7%82%E9&INBOUND=on&SEARCH_FLAG=ON&SEARCH_TYPE_CODE=11274&PLAN_ROWID=24250)

    2. Any toll-free route we can take? How can we estimate for the toll fees?

    Thanks in advance. Cheers!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Firstly, looking at your itinerary, I would recommend skipping Obihiro. By the time you reach Furano on Day 6, it should be getting dark. (Sun sets pretty early by that time of the year.) On Day 7, you will be driving up to Biei, which may take the whole day if you also visit Shirogane onsen. So I would keep Day 8 for Furano and give Obihiro a miss.

      Regarding ETC card, nope, it is not included in the car rental. The car rental only includes ETC device. Are you from Singapore? If you are, imagine the device to be our in-vehicle unit. ETC card is like the cash card. So rental cars usually come with the device, but customers need to bring their own card to insert into the unit. Only companies that deal largely with foreigners rent out ETC cards, while smaller companies usually don’t have such service, since most of their customers are locals who have their own ETC card (like how Singaporean drivers will have our own cash cards). Budget doesn’t seem like a very big company, not sure if they rent out ETC cards. They are listed as a handling office for the Hokkaido Expressway Pass though.
      http://www.e-nexco.co.jp/news/pass/

      HOWEVER, because you are picking up the car at CTS and returning it to Sapporo, you cannot get a HEP. HEP required the car to be returned to the same outlet where it is picked up.

      So if you proceed with this booking, you are likely going to have to pash cash for tolls.

      2. When you are in Hokkaido itself, you can set your GPS to avoid toll ways. You can see my instructions here:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/07/07/how-to-use-japanese-gps-to-avoid-tollways/

      To estimate toll fee, Tocoo website has a toll simulator.
      http://www2.tocoo.jp/en/contents/highway_sim/main

  29. Yoshiko says:

    Hi there again, my trip is coming soon in 10 days! I would like to get your view on must-go-places if we only have limited time in Noboribetsu. Appreciate also if you could tell me which of the locations to go first and then. I will be driving, not sure if looking for parking is convenience. I have a 17 months girl, stroller friendly places are more appreciated.
    Here is my plan:

    Day 1: Arrival at New Chitose Airport 8am – Visit Doraemon Park in the Airport – Collect Car at 12pm – Head to Atsuta Ishikari (Toda Memorial Park) – Noboribetsu Sekisuitei

    It would be late evening to arrive Noboribetsu. Therefore we only have the next morning to walk around.

    Day 2: Leave Noboribetsu at 1pm – Arrive Hakodate around 4pm. I’m staying in Hakodate Grand Hotel. We plan to go to the Goryokaku Tower and Park and then dinner. Around 8pm, go to Mt. Hakodate Ropeway.

    Day 3: Hakodate morning market and all around Hakodate – Leave at 12pm to Lake Toya – Leave at 6pm to return Car in Sapporo by 830pm

    Do you think we have enough time to cover all places in Hakodate if we leave by 12pm? What are the must-go-place in Lake Toya?

    Day 4 Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo

    Day 5 Sapporo (Morning Market, Shiroi Koibito Park, Asahi Factory, Beer Garden, Tanukikoji, Susukino)

    Day 6 Sapporo (Odori Park, JR Tower, Clock Tower, Former Govn Office Building) – Air Terminal (took your advice to stay in this hotel)

    Day 7 New Chitose Airport 9:20am flight

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 1: Is there any compelling reason you want to visit Atsuta Ishikari? And Doraemon Sky Park only opens at 10am. It seems like you will be wasting time at the airport waiting for it to open. If I arrive on a morning flight, I would just grab a rental car immediately and head out. So first day, I will allocated it for Noboribetsu (though it is not particularly interesting for kids, and your dates look a bit too early for autumn foliage in the region). If you want something kids-friendly to do at Noboribetsu, you can try the Marine Park:
      http://www.nixe.co.jp/
      The penguin parade there is worth checking out.

      After the aquarium, it there is still daylight by the time you reach the onsen town, you can go for a walk around Jigokudani. Then go back to your hotel for onsen and dinner.

      Day 2: Let’s say you have already spent your first day at Noboribetsu, you should head out to Hakodate right after breakfast. This will give you ample time for Goryokoku Tower, and maybe even the Bay area (where the red brick warehouse district is). And definitely the ropeway at night is a must-do if the sky is clear.

      Day 3: At Lake Toya, I recommend visiting the fruits farms at Sobetsu. Autumn is a great time for fruits picking! I recommend you leave Hakodate right after the morning market (which opens very early), don’t wait until 12. Have a very filling breakfast at Hakodate morning market. Then drive up to Sobetsu for fruits picking first, then have lunch at Sendoan, then go for the ropeway at Usuzan.

      If you are leaving in 10 days means you will be visiting at the peak of some of Hokkaido’s best autumn foliage, but they are not inside your itinerary. It seems a bit of a waste to go all the way to Hokkaido in autumn and not go to the autumn spots. If your accommodation is all booked and cannot be changed, I would recommend you keep the car for 1 more day. On day 4, drive from Sapporo to Jozankei Onsen where Houheikyou Dam is. The autumn foliage around Jozankei and Houheikyou is very beautiful. Then from Jozankei Onsen, drive up to Otaru with a stop at Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area where there will be the autumn gondola:
      http://kouyou.sapporo-kokusai.jp/
      But hmmm… if you’re going in 10 days… It looks like you just missed the gondola which will end its autumn run on 12 Oct. If you are there after 12 Oct then just skip Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area and drive all the way to Otaru. The whole drive from Jozankei to Otaru is pretty scenic.

      You can read more about our drive from Sappporo – Jozankei (Houheikyou Dam) – Otaru -Sapporo on this post (Day 2):
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2013/10/30/self-drive-holiday-to-hokkaido-with-kids-part-2-itinerary-for-autumn-foliage-telephone-numbers-and-map-codes-for-gps/

      Within Sapporo, I highly recommend visiting Makomanai Park for autumn foliage. You can read about it on the above post as well (Day 5).

  30. Dan says:

    Hi bumblebee mum!

    Thanks for your amazing posts on your travels to hokkaido! I’ll be going on a 8 days self-drive trip to Hokkaido with my family in December, would like your opinion with regards to the itinerary that we have planned so far!

    Day 1: Arrive at Chitose Airport in the morning, collect our rental car and drive to Sapporo
    Day 2: Sapporo and Otaru
    Day 3: Spend some time at one of the outlet malls, then drive to Lake Toya to spend the night
    Day 4: Explore lake toya! Lake Toya
    Day 5: Noboribetsu (Marine park!)
    Day 6: Drive to Hakodate
    Day 7: Hakodate
    Day 8: Drive back to sapporo and return rental car at sapporo
    Day 9: Early flight back home (7AM)

    Do you think this is a feasible itinerary, or could we try to squeeze in more in these 8 days?
    In the above itinerary, we will only be exploring the southern part of hokkaido, am not sure if we should visit places furhter up north or eastern like the Tomamu Resort or Asahikawa!

    Also, would I need the HEP or would the ETC card suffice, if I were to stick to this above itinerary?

    Looking forward to hear from you! Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      8 days is not a long time for Hokkaido, so your itinerary looks good as it is. I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere else that is not along the route. At most I would slot in Lake Shikotsu which is in the region.

      The last part: I would drive straight back to CTS on Day 8 and spend the last night Air Terminal Hotel. No point going back to Sapporo especially when you have a early flight the next morning.

      Looking at your itinerary, I would opt for the HEP. It looks like you are going to be on the toll road quite often.

      I would swap the order of Noboribetsu and Lake Toya. i.e. Go Sapporo -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Hakodate

  31. Chrisian says:

    Dear Bumblebee Mom,

    Your post to Hokaido trips was amazing, thanks very much for share it. Me and my husband will travelling for Sapporo for 11 days on early feb. May I ask your favor to give me your opinion about our itin?

    Here is my plan.

    Jan 29 Arrived Narita 2 pm, go to Nagano
    Jan 30 Back to Tokyo
    Jan 31 Fly to Sapporo, arrived 10 am go to tomamu, hoshino tomamu resort
    Feb 1 Tomamu – Obihiro – Tokachigawa / Lake Shikaribetsu
    Feb 2 Obihiro – Kushiro
    Feb 3 Kushiro Shiretoko
    Feb 4 Shiretoko – Abashiri
    Feb 5 Abashiri – Sounkyo
    Feb 6 Sounkyo – Asahikawa – Sapporo
    Feb 7 Sapporo – Lake Shikotsu
    Feb 8 Fly to Hongkong 6.45 pm

    is the schedule is too tight if we change hotel every night? we planned to use JR Pass.
    If too tight, which city we should skip?
    Thanks before

    • bumblebeemum says:

      29-30 Jan: I will skip Nagano and just stay in Tokyo. It is too rushed to go Nagano and back.
      1 Feb: Lake Shikaribetsu is a bit far, I would opt for Tokachigawa.
      6 Feb: I would spend the night at Asahikawa. You are just in time for Asahikawa Winter Festival which starts on 6 Feb 2016. Please don’t miss it.
      7 Feb: I would skip Lake Shikotsu. This is Sapporo Snow Festival period, I would stay in Sapporo for the festival.

      I would skip Shiretoko and replace Shiretoko with Lake Akan. It will be less rushed that way.

      But overall, it does look very packed. Is there any way you can skip Tokyo and fly straight to Hokkaido on 29 Jan? Or are your flight fixed already? IF your flights are fixed, this is what I would do:

      Jan 31 CTS – Tomamu (ice village)
      Feb 1 Tomamu – Obihiro – Tokachigawa (festival)
      Feb 2 Tokachigawa – Kushiro (see the crane)
      Feb 3 Kushiro – Lake Akan (festival)
      Feb 4 Lake Akan – Abashiri (ice breaker cruise)
      Feb 5 Abashiri – Sounkyo (festival)
      Feb 6 Sounkyo – Asahikawa (snow festival)
      Feb 7 Asahikawa – Sapporo (snow festival Tsudome in the day, Odori and Susukino sites after dark)
      Feb 8 Sapporo (snow festival – Odori Park site in the day) – Flight Home

      For the ice-breaker cruise at Abashiri, if there is drift ice on 4 Feb, you should go for the cruise that day. But if there’s no drift ice that day, wait until the next day to see if there is any drift ice.

      This itinerary can only be done if you self-drive all the way. You will not be able to complete it if you use public transport.

  32. Chrisian says:

    thanks for your fast reply Bumblebee Mom..

    Our flight are fixed and the reason we wanna go to Nagano just for snow monkey. is that not worth it?

    And the problem is we don’t self drive. we wanna use JR pass. so could you advise for the best itin to travel with JR, which one we must skip?

    For Obihiro, we better stay in obihiro or Tokachigawa?

    thanks and cheers…

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Well… Depends on how badly you want to see the snow monkeys? I wouldn’t go all the way to Nagano just to see the snow monkeys. But if it’s something in your bucket list that you want to check off, I guess you can go. Looking at your itinerary, I just find it too tiring to be rushing to Nagano and back during the Tokyo stopover.

      There’s a Sairinka festival at Tokachigawa, so it seems a bit of a waste to go to Obihiro but not go to Tokachigawa for the festival. If you don’t want to drive yourself, my advise is for you to book a hotel at Tokachigawa that provides shuttle service between Obihiro station and the hotel. For e.g. Daiichi Hotel has a shuttle service to pick up from Obihiro station at 2.40pm and leaving Daiichi Hotel on the day of check-out at 9.20am. However, reservation by phone is required.
      http://www.daiichihotel.com/service.php

      Then for Lake Akan, I recommend you stay at Tsuruga Akan so that you can make use of their shuttle buses. You can take their bus from Obihiro to their hotel. And after checking out, use their bus to get to Kitami where you can then catch a train to Abashiri. Again, reservations are required for the shuttle buses.
      http://www.tsuruga.com/en/access/shuttlebus.html

      If you don’t drive, I am not sure how you are going to visit the rest of Akan Nation Park though. (Like the crane, Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, Iozan etc.) It looks like the sightseeing buses don’t operate in winter.
      http://www.tsuruga.com/en/access/seasonalbus.html

      Without a car, I will skip Sounkyo. So from Abashiri, you can catch a train to Asahikawa and subsequently train back to Sapporo.

      • Chrisian says:

        Hai bumblebeemum,

        Indonesian cannot drive in japan.

        You told me that after kushiro we better stay at lake.akan on feb 3, right? So after obihiro we stay 1 night in kushiro?

        If we cannot go to crane lake kusharo lozan without car, so what is the other alternatives?

        Our itin would be :
        31 jan tomamu
        1 feb tomamu obihiro tokachigawa
        2 feb obihiro kushiro
        3 feb kushiro lake akan festival
        4 feb lake.akan abashiri
        5 feb abashiri asahikawa
        6 feb asahikawa festival sappooro
        7 feb sapporo
        8 feb flight back

        Last 2014 i visited saporo hakodate lake.onuma n noboribetsu, but without my husband. So this time i wanna try something different, is the eastern hokaido friendly for we as jr pass uses?

        Thanks n cheers..

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You can consider hiring a driver for the Akan region.

          You can get the 7-days Hokkaido Rail Pass for the first 7 days:
          http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/railpass/rail01.html

          And this is how you can use it:

          31 jan CTS – Tomamu (JR Pass)
          1 feb Tomamu – Obihiro (JR Pass)
          2 feb Obihiro – Kushiro (JR Pass)
          3 feb Kushiro – Lake Akan (hire a driver to pick you up at Kushiro, bring you to the crane area, followed by Lake Mashu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo before dropping you off at Lake Akan)
          4 feb Lake Akan – Kitami (by shuttle bus), then Kitami – Abashiri (JR Pass)
          5 feb Abashiri – Asahikawa (JR Pass)
          6 feb Asahikawa – Sapporo (JR Pass)
          7 feb Sapporo
          8 feb flight back

  33. Chrisian says:

    Hi Bumbleebee Mum,

    Daichi is full on feb 1, is there any hotel you recommend?

    Do you know where we should find a driver in kushiro?

    If we don’t go to nagano, so could you recommend us what things to do for 1,5 days in tokyo?

    thanks again

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Sanyoan also has free shuttle between JR Obihiro station and their hotel:
      http://www.sanyoan.com/access.php

      I don’t know of any drivers in Hokkaido. Try googling for them? Here’s one I found on Google that does Akan region:
      http://uu-hokkaido.com/corporate/akanhire.shtml

      For Tokyo, you can visit the key Tokyo sights like Asakusa Temple, Imperial Palace, Hie Shrine, Meiji Jingu for something traditional, or Odaiba, Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku for something modern. You can also visit Tsukiji market!

      • Chrisian says:

        Hai Bumbleebee,

        I found the sightseeing bus akan from kushiro,bring us to kusharo, lozan, lake mashu and drop us at akankonsen. is it enough?

        Unfortunately, for cranes park, akan international crane center, hosooka and kushiro observatory they have different routes. so we have to choose one of them.

        i already visit tokyo sights include tsukiji market. so i have still no idea what things we will do in tokyo instead of nagano.

        Thanks and happy friday…

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yeah, Kussharo, Iozan and Lake Mashu are the main sights of Akan National Park. That should be good enough.

          If you have visited Tokyo before and not interested in visiting again, then I guess you can go to Nagano if you really want to see the monkeys. If I go all the way up to Nagano, I would try to squeeze in a visit to Matsumoto Castle. Just to maximise the effort taken to go all the way there. Matsumoto Castle is very nice.

  34. Eric Yap says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    Your post to Hokaido trips was amazing, thank you very much for sharing.

    I’m just back from Hokkaido self-drive yesterday.

    I got a lot of information from your blogs. It is very useful especially on car rental.
    We can save some $$ using car rental agent TOCOO instead of directly deal with car rental company. The HEP helps to save a lot of tol fees. Strongly recommend to used HEP if using a lot of express way.

    I booked through Nippon rent a car. Their service is excellent. I got multilingual GPS.
    ETS device is FOS. I can pay HEP through Nippon directly. When pass through the tol
    just choose ETC special lane. Thanks for you TEL and MAP code information also for
    those tourist spots.

    I bought a SIM card ( 1G ) for Google MAP because some location may not have Telephone number and MAP code.

    Most of the time I stay in homestay book through Airbnb and it great experience staying with
    the owner and Tatami rooms.

    We also went to some restaurants that you had recommend like Lucky Pierrot and Lake hill farm. The foods is really good and staff are very friendly.

    I will recommend friends to read your blogs for Hokkaido trip.

    Thanks

  35. NT says:

    Hi Bumblebee, its great reading your detailed blog. Tks for sharing so much precious info. I ve a question, I tried to book thru ANA from Spore to Tokyo to Tokyo to CTS. It will reach CTS in the morning but I find the transit time to be quite challenging. For instance, Sin – NRT 00:.35 – 0845 and NRT to CTS 10:05 – 11:50. The transit time is only 1 hr 20 mins! We still need to check out and deposit the luggage at the domestic counter and check in again according to your blog. Have u ever encountered any issues when u take ANA airline? I thought since ANA dare to post such time schedule, she should be confident that it can be done.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There should be enough time since it’s both at Narita Airport and under ANA. You would have checked in for both flights at Changi Airport and received the boarding passes for the domestic sector already. Once you reach Narita airport, clear the customs, pick up your luggage and follow the sign that says ‘DOMESTIC TRANSFER’. It will lead you to the desk where you will drop off your luggage again. Once you’ve dropped off your luggage, you can proceed to the boarding gate for the domestic flight.

  36. NT says:

    Tks very much for your kind advice bumblebeemum.

  37. KEEP CALM N ENJOY says:

    Hi Bubblebeemum!

    Thank you for your effort in coming out with so many detailed and customized (for food-lovers and family) posts! I can’t imagine the sweat and blood (slightly dramatic, but I can imagine the time and effort) you spent in coming out with all these posts! Salute!

    I am planning a free and easy self-drive 8days trip to Hokkaido on the first week of June this year. My travel group consists of 4 adults and 1 child (aged 9yo). This is our first trip to Hokkaido. We will be arriving at New Chitose Airport around 1.30pm.

    1) I have read some of your recommendations above but I’m still having trouble with coming out an ideal itinerary that will not incur much extra charges (eg. Toll fees as we will be doing self-drive). Would really appreciate your kind help in mapping out an itinerary for the 8days as we are on a slightly tight budget (would like to cut cost on toll fees for the self-drive if possible). We are interested in scenic attractions, lavender and sunflowers, fruits and other attractions that are a must-go. We are not very keen to try out the onsen at this moment but willing to pop by to take a look (will it be a waste of time as I understand that we are on a tight schedule). We will be flying back home on the 8th day in the early morning. Would you also be able to advise on the accomodations? We do not mind staying at different hotel or hostel during the whole trip.

    2) I have checked out Toyota rental company and compared it with Tocoo Website and found that there’s a huge price difference in the car rental (tocoo is much much cheaper than toyota rental company) I’m unsure whether am I selecting the choices correctly? Or are there possible reasons, such as Tocoo offers great discounts? Also, what does p2, p3… (the car type) mean? Is it advisable to rent a car on the day i reach New Chitose airport? Would it be more expensive than booking online beforehand? I’m afraid that I might book wrongly online. If i were to book online, tocoo would be a better choice?

    3) Is there any particular car model that you will always choose when you self-drive in Hokkaido? Would it be enough to accomodate 4adults one child and 4 luaggages?

    I apologize for the bombardment of questions as this is my first self-drive trip and would love to let my family members enjoy a fuss-free trip! I’m excited but stretching my hair out at the same time from planning!! ;(

    Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In the first week of June, there is no lavender or sunflowers and it is also a little too early for fruits-picking. I recommend you head up North for shibazakura and tulips instead:
      http://takinoue.com/?english
      http://www.town.yubetsu.lg.jp/tulippark/en/

      Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
      Day 2: Sapporo
      Day 3: Sapporo – Asahikawa
      Day 4: Asahikawa – Takinoue – Kamiyubetsu tulip park – Abashiri
      Day 5: Abashiri – Sounkyo (Daisetsuzan region)
      Day 6: Sounkyo – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
      Day 8: Sapporo – CTS

      You will be using the toll way between Sapporo and Asahikawa to and fro, but I recommend you stick to it. Further north from Asahikawa there will not be any more toll roads.

      2) You only need the car from Day 3 to Day 6. So you can rent the car from Sapporo on Day 3 and return it to the same place on Day 6.

      Tocoo is usually cheaper than booking directly. It’s the same reason why Agoda / Booking.com / hotels.com etc is usually cheaper than booking rooms direct from hotels. However Tocoo has an additional Tocoo support fee that will be added on later in the booking process.

      Besides Tocoo and Toyota website, you can also compare with Japan-Experience.com. Heard from a reader that Japan-experience.com’s pricing is more straightforward than Tocoo though I haven’t tried it before. I will just use whichever is cheapest.

      In my last trip, I used TIMES car rental. They had a 20% discount on their website which you can see if it applies for your trip:
      http://rental.timescar.jp/lp/international/index.html

      3) With 4 adults, 1 child and luggage, you will need a 7-seater. (Mini-van type car)

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Bubblebeemum!

        Thank you for your prompt reply.

        Sad to hear that we will not be able to see the flowers during for my travelling period. :(

        Based on the itinerary that you have kindly planned, are there any child attractions?

        As I would need to use the toll way between Sapporo and Asahikawa to and fro, would I need the HEP or would the ETC card suffice, if I were to stick to this above itinerary?

        We are thinking of squeezing in Furano during our journey from Sapporo to Asahikawa (my mum is interested in seeing the lavender buds), is this feasible and do we need to stay a night in Furano? I have tried googling the journey from Sapporo to Furano to Asahikawa, it will take approx. 3-4 hours drive? Would you recommend staying one night in Furano for other attractions other than Furano farm?

        Would there be any public transport from Chitose Airport to Sapporo?

        Apologies for the bombardment of questions again and really appreciate your patience in answering them!

        Looking forward to your reply and thank you!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          There’s Asahiyama Zoo at Asahikawa. Otherwise my kids are usually quite happy to just roam around the lakes and flower fields.

          You won’t need the HEP. I may not even bother getting an ETC card if it requires a deposit and stuff, since you’ll just be using the expressway twice.

          If you really want to squeeze in Furano, you can do it between Sounkyo and Sapporo.

          Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
          Day 3: Sapporo – Asahikawa
          Day 4: Asahikawa – Takinoue – Kamiyubetsu tulip park – Abashiri
          Day 5: Abashiri – Sounkyo (Daisetsuzan region)
          Day 6: Sounkyo – Furano
          Day 7: Furano – Sapporo
          Day 8: Sapporo – CTS

          Between CTS and Sapporo, there are both bus and train. If you stay at Sapporo station area, train will be faster. If you stay at Susukino, airport limousine bus would be more direct. Either ways cost about 1000yen per pax per way (half price for child).

          • Anonymous says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum (I’m sorry that I got the name wrong twice!)

            We are able to accommodate one more day in our itinerary as we have not confirmed our flights yet. Are there any other places that I should probably visit? Or is there any place (eg. Asahikawa) that I should stay one day or two longer in your opinion?

            Thank you!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              You can spend one more day in Sapporo then. Lots to eat and shop in Sapporo. :)

              • Anonymous says:

                Thank for your reply!

                1) from sapporo to otaru, are there train available to otaru?

                2) we would like to visit Hakodate morning market. But i saw on the map Hakodate is all the way at the bottom. Based on the above itinerary, how should we plan our itinerary? From sapporo on day 7? Will it be too rush? Or should we avoid it? If traveling is Hakodate is ideal, do we still need to purchase any HEP or ETC?

                3) I saw your blogpost for summer 2014, our initial itinerary is roughly ard to the places you went. As we have only 9days in hokkaido, will you be able to advise which places that we can probably skip? Will be able to see tulips or shibazakura?

                Thank you!

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  1) Yes, there is a direct train from Sapporo to Otaru. You can check train routes and schedules on Hyperdia:
                  http://www.hyperdia.com/

                  2) If you want to go to Hakodate, this is what I suggest:

                  Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
                  Day 2: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
                  Day 3: Sapporo – Asahikawa
                  Day 4: Asahikawa (Day trip from Asahikawa to Takinoue & Kamiyubetsu tulip park)
                  Day 5: Asahikawa – Biei – Furano
                  Day 6: Furano – Lake Toya
                  Day 7: Lake Toya – Hakodate
                  Day 8: Hakodate – Sapporo
                  Day 9: Sapporo – CTS

                  With this itinerary, you should purchase the HEP because you will be on the toll road quite a bit.

              • Anonymous says:

                Hi bumblebeemum,

                our confirmed travel is 5 june-14june. I am still considering other possible itinerary for my trip. However, I have came out with one myself and would appreciate your input. :)

                Day 1: CTS –> Sapporo
                Day 2: Sapporo –> Noboribetsu (will there be anything to see during the period we are going? If nothing much, we might want to skip it.)
                Day 3: Noboribetsu –> Hakodate
                Day 4: Hakodate –> Lake Toya
                Day 5: Lake Toya –> Asahikawa
                Day 6: Asahikawa –> Furano –> Biei (or should I go to Biei first then Furano?)
                Day 7: Furano/Biei–> Sapporo (day trip to Sapporo? or should I do it on Day 2?)
                Day 8: Sapporo
                Day 9: Sapporo –> Chitose

                Based on this,

                1) Am I wasting traveling time on the road? Akin to traveling in circles?

                2) Would this be too tiring for the driver? I have roughly googled map the different journey (approx 2-4 hrs?).

                3) Would I still need to rent ETC in this case?

                4) Would traveling on Japan rail cheaper than driving? I have seen the ticket pricing for Japan rail, it roughly ard $42/pax/day?)

                As I am still fine-tuning my itinerary, please feel free to amend my itinerary!

                Thank you for your help once again!

                • Anonymous says:

                  Sorry I meant for Day 7 day trip to Otaru from Sapporo.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  If your dates are 5 to 14 June, you are probably too late for shibazakura and tulips.

                  I do recommend you use Noboribetsu to break up the drive from Sapporo to Hakodate.

                  Day 1: CTS -> Noboribestu
                  Day 2: Noboribetsu –> Hakodate
                  Day 3: Hakodate
                  Day 4: Hakodate –> Lake Toya
                  Day 5: Lake Toya -> Sapporo
                  Day 6: Sapporo
                  Day 7: Sapporo -> Furano
                  Day 8: Furano / Biei
                  Day 9: Furano -> CTS

                  2) If you want to visit both Hakodate and Furano in 9 days, there will be a lot of driving, you cannot avoid it. Unless you are willing to forego one of them.

                  3) With this itinerary, I would get an ETC card.

                  4) You will have to compare the total cost of rail versus car rental to see which is cheaper. If you use rail, you can skip Noboribetsu / Lake Toya and go direct between Sapporo and Hakodate which will save you time more than anything.

                  I will keep the itinerary open until the dates for Yosakoi Soran Festival 2016 is announced and try to be in Sapporo during the festival.

                  • KEEP CALM N ENJOY says:

                    Hi Bumblebeemum,

                    we have decided to skip Hakodate and just travel to Furano. However, you mentioned that for the period that I will be traveling will be too late for Tulips and shibazakura. Then in this case, would this itinerary still work? Would we be able to view other types of flowers? Or would you be able to suggest other possible places for flowers and scenic views?

                    (6june)Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
                    (7june)Day 2: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
                    (8june)Day 3: Sapporo – Asahikawa
                    (9june)Day 4: Asahikawa – Takinoue – Kamiyubetsu tulip park – Abashiri
                    (10june)Day 5: Abashiri – Sounkyo (Daisetsuzan region)
                    (11june)Day 6: Sounkyo – Furano (day trip to Biei)
                    (12june)Day 7: Furano – Sapporo
                    (13june)Day 8: Sapporo
                    (14june)Day 9: Sapporo-CTS

                    1) If this itinerary does work for my traveling dates, could you suggest how I should adjust my itinerary so that I can accommodate Yosakoi festival which would be held from 8-12 june?

                    Thank you for your help again! And thousands of apologies for troubling you again!

                    • KEEP CALM N ENJOY says:

                      Also,

                      I was thinking of after visiting furano and biei on day 6, I will drive back to Sapporo (so I will not be staying a night in Furano). There isn’t much available budget accommodations available in Furano, thus the reason for the decision to drive back to Sapporo and also we can enjoy Yosaiko festival.

                      So my proposed itinerary would be like this,

                      (11june)Day 6: Sounkyo – Furano (day trip to Biei) – Sapporo
                      (12june)Day 7: Sapporo

                      Would like to seek your advice,

                      1) would the day be very packed to the point that we are not able to enjoy sounkyo and furano?

                      2) understand that it will be a tiring drive cos we have to cover quite a few places in one day, however, we have 3 drivers on board? Would this help to lighten the load abit better?

                      3) would you still recommend that it is best to stay a night in Furano to enjoy the place?

                      Thank you for your input!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Oops, just saw this after I replied the other comment. If you still want to go up North towards Sounkyo, it is possible to drive SOunkyo – Biei – Furano – Sapporo in a day if you leave Sounkyo in the morning. Which means you should have done your Sounkyo sightseeing the day before. And you will drive back from Furano to Sapporo in the dark. But I think that’s fine since it’s summer and you have drivers to share the driving. There’s nothing very interesting to see between Furano and Sapporo anyway.

                      Since your dates are not fantastic for Furano, one full day of sightseeing should be sufficient and there’s no need to spend a night there. You can skip most of the flower fields – I suggest you just visit Shikisai no Oka and Tomita Farm and give the rest a miss. You can go to Shirogane Onsen to see the blue pond and waterfalls instead.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Your dates are really not good for seeing flowers. There will be some flowers at Furano / Biei but not a lot. And I’m not sure how much shibazakura and tulips will be left by then – frankly I wouldn’t go there anymore if I’m travelling on your dates.

                      There is a smaller shibazakura area which we visited in Niseko. You can read about it here:
                      http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/06/12/hokkaido-self-drive-with-kids-june-2014-part-3-hakodate-onuma-koen-niseko-milk-kobo-mishima-sans-shibazakura-garden-fukidashi-park/

                      For your dates, I recommend you skip Takinoue and Kamiyubetsu and stay in Sapporo to catch the two festivals:
                      > Yosakoi Soran Festival (8 – 12 June 2016)
                      > Hokkaido Shrine Festival (14 – 16 June 2016)

                      Looking at your dates, I would recommend you go South to Hakodate instead of North to Takinoue / Kamiyubetsu.

                      (6june)Day 1: CTS – Lake Toya
                      (7june)Day 2: Lake Toya – Hakodate
                      (8june)Day 3: Hakodate
                      (9june)Day 4: Hakodate – Niseko
                      (10june)Day 5: Niseko – Sapporo
                      (11june)Day 6: Sapporo
                      (12june)Day 7: Sapporo
                      (13june)Day 8: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
                      (14june)Day 9: Sapporo-CTS

                      For this itinerary, you will be picking up your car from CTS and returning it to Sapporo. So you won’t be able to get the HEP since HEP requires the car to be returned to the same office as pick-up.

                      At Hakodate, you may want to consider going to Mount Esan. Not sure if you will be in time for azaela. I haven’t been there before so I’m really not sure how long the azaela will stay in bloom:
                      http://www.hakodate.travel/en/event/azalea-festival/

                    • Anonymous says:

                      Hi Bumblebee mum,

                      (6june)Day 1: CTS – Asahikawa (toll)
                      (7june)Day 2: Asahikawa – Abashiri – Lake Akan / Shiretoko – Abashiri
                      (8june)Day 3: Abashiri – Sounkyo
                      (9june)Day 4: Sounkyo – Furano -Biei – Sapporo
                      (10june)Day 5: Sapporo- Lake toya – Sapporo
                      (11june)Day 6: Lake Toya – Sapporo
                      (12june)Day 7: Sapporo
                      (13june)Day 8: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
                      (14june) Day 9: Sapporo- CTS

                      1) For this itinerary, do I need to purchase ETC?

                      2) Is it safe to drive in the night? Are there any street lights? Do you know approx. what time does it usually turn dark in Hokkaido in June?

                      3) For car rental, is there any difference between collecting and dropping from the same car location in terms of cost? Meaning to say, if I collect my car from New Chitose airport and return in Sapporo, would it be more expensive as compared to collecting and returning the car in Sapporo? My initial plan was Day 1: CTS – Sapporo and Day 2: Sapporo to Asahikawa.

                      4) For day 2, is it possible to cover both lake akan and Shiretoko national park in one day?

                      5) For Day 4 – 6, would you suggest going to Noboribetsu or Niseko? I have googled and saw that Niseko is more popular for its ski resorts in winter. Will there be anything to see during the june period that I will be travelling? I am travelling with one child and one elderly, so don’t think I am able to do much walking or hiking. Or would you think that it’s fine to visit both Noboribetsu and Niseko? Initially I added it in with reference to your previous recommendations and also I would like to break the drive so that it will not be so tiring for the driver. Or would you recommend just traveling straight to Lake Toya from Sapporo for Day 5 if there is nothing much to see in Noboribetsu?

                      6) Would I need a car when I am in Otaru? Am interested to go to Yoichi Fruit farm. Have googled map and it mentioned that it would need approx. 30 mins from Otaru. Will there be a public bus available that will bring us there? Understand that you mentioned earlier that my traveling period would be too early for fruit picking, but my family and I would still like to visit one or two fruit farms (look look see see). Are there any fruit farms ard for our itinerary? If there are fruit farms ard the places we are traveling, we might skip Yoichi fruit farm (if it requires a car) as we will return the car when we reach Sapporo on Day 7. Also, any scenic hot springs ard for the places we are visiting?

                      7) Would you suggest traveling south first then north? Or the other way round?

                      Thank you for your help!

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      1) No, I do not think a HEP is necessary since you will not be on the toll roads a lot. Remember to opt for the non toll road between Sapporo and Lake Toya, which I have mentioned in this post:
                      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/01/30/money-saving-tips-for-free-easy-self-drive-holiday-to-hokkaido/

                      To get a rough idea how to toggle your GPS to choose the non-toll road, you can refer to this post:
                      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/07/07/how-to-use-japanese-gps-to-avoid-tollways/

                      But if your car rental company is able to provide an ETC card for a nominal fee, you can just rent one for the convenience. You may or may not save on toll fees with the ETC card, depending on the date / time of travel.

                      2) It is pretty safe to drive after dark in summer. There are no street lights other than inside the major cities, so the roads are pitch dark most of the way. Just switch on your high beam when there are no cars in front of you and you should be able to see the road well enough. When you see a car approaching in the opposite direction, switch to low beam so as not to blind the other driver and switch back to high beam once you pass the car.

                      Iirc, the sun sets at about 7pm in June.

                      3) It depends on the car rental company. All rental companies have different drop-off fees. Some waive it for offices between Chitose and Sapporo. Some charge a nominal fee (usually less than 1000 yen) if it’s just between CTS and Sapporo. I usually find the drop-off fee negligible if you consider the fact that you will need to pay for transport between CTS and Sapporo anyway, which cost about 1000 yen per pax. So in the end the drop-off fee is still cheaper – know what I mean?

                      4) No, it is not possible.

                      5) I do not think you have time for Noboribetsu or Niseko. Lake Toya is good for a full day-trip. You can go the cruise, ride the ropeway, visit Lake Hill Farm, visit the Silo Observatory, go for the walking trail to see the earthquake ruins (though I wouldn’t make my elderly parent do it so maybe not) or simply stroll around the perimeter of the lake where there are a lot of sculptures. The drive from Sapporo to Lake Toya is not that long. And if you choose the non-toll way, Noboribetsu is not along the way. This is the non-toll way I recommend:
                      https://goo.gl/maps/moE9UM4YNuk

                      6) If you really want to visit a fruit farm, you can try Sobetsu Fruit Village which is very near Lake Toya. At least you already have the car for that day, so you don’t have to specially rent a car just to go to a fruit farm. You can read about our visit to Sobetsu Fruit Village on this post:
                      http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/06/10/hokkaido-self-drive-with-kids-june-2014-part-1-new-chitose-airport-air-terminal-hotel-lake-shikotsu-lake-toya-sobetsu-fruit-village-wakasaimo-lake-hill-farm-toya-sun-palace/

                      As for hot springs, the ones at Lake Toya overlooking the lake are pretty scenic.
                      The Fruit Farm we visited, Takashina Fruit Farm, may be open for strawberry picking when you are there.
                      http://www.tk-fruit.com/index.html

                      7) I will plan to be in Furano / Biei as late as possible. So I guess your itinerary now is the best I can think of, considering I wouldn’t want to miss the festivals at Sapporo.

  38. NT says:

    Hi BumblebeeMum, am a bit confused abt HEP pass and ETC card, Can explain the difference of how it helps in payment? Tks.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi NT,
      Thanks to BumblebeeMum recommendation I bought HEP to save a lot of tolls fee during
      my Hokkaido self-drive trip in Hokkaido last Dec. I need to pay> 200%(HEP cost) if I used ETC card for my travelling from Sapporo-Hakodate-Sapporo-Asahikawa-Furano-Otaru-Sapporo.

      HEP is Hokkaido Express Pass, is a special rate for non-Japan resident only. HEP is a fixed toll rate for number of day used in Hokkaido express-way.

      You have to pay fixed amount rate(HEP) when you pick-up the car.
      Notes : Only Nippon rent a car and Toyota rent a car selling HEP in Chitose airport.

      ETC charges were base on how much distance you travelled in express-way.
      It will charge to you credit card after you return the car.

      As recommend by BumblebeeMum, you can visit Tocoo website to select your car rental company. You may choose Nippon or Toyota rent a car if you like to use HEP. But is better to confirm with them directly when you make a booking.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The only difference is in the cost. HEP is like a concession pass, you pay based on the number of days you rent the car for, regardless of how much you use the toll roads. ETC will charge you based on the actual toll fees you incur.

  39. Lynn says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum,

    Your blog is really amazing and contains so much helpful information! You must have spent a lot of time researching beforehand and compiling all your experiences into such informative blog posts! Really appreciate the effort and I’m sure there are many like me who have benefited so much from your posts! :) Thank you so much! :)

    I will be planning a self-drive trip for 4 to hokkaido at the end of May, and have come up with this so far! Would be very grateful if you can kindly help me to look through it and offer your feedback :)

    Day1: asahikawa hotel
    – ramen village

    Day2: Kitami hotel (base for visiting the flowers)
    – kamiyubetsu
    – higashimokoto shibazukura park

    Day3: Lake Akan hotel
    – abashiri prison
    – cape noroto

    Day4: Furano hotel
    – sounkyo waterfalls
    – farm tomita
    – other furano attractions?

    Day 5: furano hotel
    – biei area

    Day6 and 7: sapporo hotel
    – sapporo attractions?
    – otaru attractions?

    1) I read in your previous comments that renting HEP requires picking up and returning from the same location. Will an ETC card be alright for this itinerary? Will it be very costly?

    2) Are the hotel locations convenient and not too out of the way? Do you have any suggestions to make it better? :)

    3) Feel free to suggest anything!! from places to go during end-May period or if you feel that any places I’ve planned are not very suitable!

    Thank you very much for reading through this! Very excited to hear from you! :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) The region you are covering is largely toll free. Between Asahikawa, Kitami, Abashiri and Furano, the region has no toll roads. The toll road you will encounter will be between Furano and Sapporo which is maybe 3000 yen max. So I wouldn’t bother getting HEP or ETC card for your case.

      2) Your hotels look fine. Looks like how I would have done it. I’m not sure if there are a lot of hotels in Kitami. If you have problem finding hotel at Kitami, you can consider staying at Abashiri instead. Abashiri will have more hotels I think.

      3) I would have done roughly the same as you for an end May trip. You may also want to see if you can squeeze in Takinoue shibazakura hill, though it’s probably the same as Higashimokoto. I’m just curious which one of the two is better. :p

      And personally, I would skip Furano in end May. Instead, I would go down South to Lake Akan after Abashiri. Akan National Park is very scenic is all seasons. Whereas Furano is better for July / August trips. Of course, going to Akan would mean more driving, so I’m not sure if you want to do so much driving in 7 days.

      • Lynn says:

        Dear Bumblebeemum,

        Thank you very much for your prompt reply and insights! :) Thanks for taking the time to give such detailed suggestions!! :) i feel much more confident that my route will work out with your reassurance :)

        1) okay i see! Im really confused about toll roads and can’t seem to find much information about it so your experience really helps :) From Lake Akan to Furano, will there be toll roads involved?

        2) I’ll keep a look out for both Kitami and Abashiri hotels and probably choose the cheapest :p

        3) I was deliberating about Takinoue and Higashimokoto too actually :p but chose the latter because it seems more convenient for my itinerary! but I would try to pop by Takinoue too and see if there’s any difference! will let you know if i do :p

        4) thanks for your suggestion about furano! :) What about Biei then? :)

        5) i was thinking where else we can go during this period that would be convenient for my parents to go because they can’t really walk for long so exploring the Akan National Park might be too taxing for them :( we are planning to stay at Hanakuuya (and hop over to Yuku no sato like what you wrote in your post :p) to enjoy the lake scenery and pop by Sougakudai for scenery! :) so wondering if there’s anywhere we can replace furnano with!

        Can’t wait to hear from you again :)

        • Lynn says:

          6) one more thing to add so sorry! >< do you think if Shiretoko is worth a visit during end-May period? :p

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1) From Lake Akan to Furano, most likely the GPS will ask you to use the toll road, but I would opt for the non-toll road. Let me map it out on Google map so that you know what I’m talking about:
          > Click here for Google Map route using toll road
          > Click here for Google Map route using non-toll road

          I have written a post before on how to choose between different route options on the GPS:
          http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/07/07/how-to-use-japanese-gps-to-avoid-tollways/

          4) It depends on what is your route and how much time you have. If you have an extra day to spare, it is possible to visit Biei as a day-trip from Asahikawa. Biei is beautiful, even without the flower fields. Though frankly it is a lot more beautiful in July & Aug with the flower fields.

          5) If you have a rental car, there is hardly any walking to do at Akan National Park. The parking lots of Lake Mashu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo are like right next to the lakes / vantage points. If you stay at Hanayuuka and want to visit Ainu Village with minimum walking, you can just drive your car till the parking lot at Ainu Village.

          • Lynn says:

            Dear bumblebeemum,
            sorry for being MIA for a while because i was busy with exams!! back to planning for the trip! :) I’ve amended the itinerary slightly to fit in some things and would like to trouble you to take a look!!

            25 May 2016 (wed): asahikawa airport → biei and furano → furano hotel
            26 (thu): biei and furano → asahikawa ramen lunch → takinoue → kamiyubetsu → abashiri
            27 (fri) : abashiri → shiretoko
            28 (sat): shiretoko → (higashimokoto) → lakes → lake akan
            29 (sun): lake akan → obihiri → sapporo
            30 (mon): sapporo → otaru → sapporo
            31 (tue): sapporo
            1 (wed): sapporo → new chitose airport

            Do you think the flow is okay? would it be too packed? :)

            thanks so much!!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              The flow is okay. Though on 26th looks very packed. Where are the places in Biei and Furano you are planning to visit that morning? I would think that if you don’t do any sightseeing at Biei / Furano and immediately set off after breakfast towards Takinoue and Kamiyubetsu, the timing would be just nice. But if you slot in some sightseeing and lunch at Asahikawa, it won’t leave you much time for Takinoue and Kamiyubetsu.

              You may have to work it out to the exact timing. Let’s say you stay at New Furano Prince Hotel. You have breakfast, set off say 9am? If you drive straight to Takinoue, you will reach there at 12 noon. So you spend 2 hours going around the flower fields and grab a quick bite there for lunch. You leave Takinoue at 2pm, you will arrive at Kamiyubetsu at 3pm. So you spend 1 hour going around, leaving at 4pm. By the time you reach Abashiri it will be 5.30pm already.

              So I guess if you really want, you can squeeze in one more sightseeing spot that doesn’t require a detour. E.g. Tomita Farm. you wake up a bit earlier and set off at 8.30am. You reach Tomita Farm at about 9am. Spend 1.5 hour there, setting off at 10.30am. You will arrive Takinoue at 1pm and following the above, the arrive Kamiyubetsu 4pm and Abashiri 6.30pm.

              • Lynn says:

                thanks for your super speedy reply dear bumblebeemum :)

                thanks so much for pointing out! now that you mapped the timings out so clearly, it really does seem too ambitious! >< i'll go with the second plan to visit farm tomita for a short while! :)

                do you have any hotel recommendations for abashiri and shiretoko? :)

                and would an ETC be sufficient? :)

                thanks so much :)

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  I don’t think you even need an ETC if a fee or deposit is required. You only have one long stretch on the expressway from Obihiro to Sapporo. Other than that, Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo has tolls. So I don’t find that worth the hassle of getting an ETC card. Unless the car rental company can lend you one for a nominal fee and without deposit.

                  What’s your budget for hotels? If you are on a tight budget, you can stay in those chain hotels like Toyoko Inn, Dormy Inn, Route Inn etc. Toyoko Inn has a branch at Abashiri. But if you want to splurge, you can stay at a ryokan along Lake Abashiri. Try one by Tsuruga group – you can’t go wrong with them.

                  Accommodation at Shiretoko is pretty limited. The one I stayed in last night closed down already. You can just search those hotel booking websites and see which one looks decent and matched your budget. Actually if you want to save money, I suggest you stay at Abashiri and go to Shiretoko as a day trip. But if you want to spend more for a nicer vacation, Shiretoko Prince Hotel looks fab.

  40. NT says:

    Tks very much to both of u for the replies. It clears my doubt!

  41. NT says:

    Bumblebeemum, I like your itinerary planned for the 9 days during the beginning of June Hoildays:
    Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
    Day 2: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
    Day 3: Sapporo – Asahikawa
    Day 4: Asahikawa (Day trip from Asahikawa to Takinoue & Kamiyubetsu tulip park)
    Day 5: Asahikawa – Biei – Furano
    Day 6: Furano – Lake Toya
    Day 7: Lake Toya – Hakodate
    Day 8: Hakodate – Sapporo
    Day 9: Sapporo – CTS

    I would like to go for 15 days self drive from beginning to mid June. Apart from the flowers at end of May, can I know what would be recommended for the bal 6 days in Hokkaido? Tks.

  42. NT says:

    Tks for the info Bumblebeemum. I was looking for the Yosakoi Soran Fest date! Most likely I will travel from 28th May to 11th June. I will have to adjust the itinerary to include this event. The other main event will be to catch the Tulips flowering and the moss.

  43. rangersmummy says:

    How is it like to drive in the snow? I am from Singapore and am contemplating going in December but not sure if I shld self drive.. thanks!

  44. Jason Lim says:

    Bumblebeemum, I love to read your blog as I am planning to visit Hokkaido this coming mid May 2016. From your blog it has given me some idea of my planning. I have planned my itinerary as follows and hope that you can give me some of your professional advice.

    Day 1 & 2 : (Self Drive) CTS – Hokadate

    Day 3 : (Self Drive) Hokadate to Lake Toya to Sapporo

    Day 4 : (Self Drive) Sapporo to Biei

    Day 5 : (Self Drive) Sapporo to Noboribetsu

    Day 6 : (Self Drive AM) Sapporo

    Day 7 : (Train) Sapporo to Otaru

    Day 8 to 9 : Sapporo

    Day 10 : CTS to Singapore

    Looking forward to your reply and thank you!

    Regards,
    Jason Lim

  45. Wong Cheng Heng says:

    Good Morning Bumblebeemum,

    I plan to go Hokkaido in End April. Should i go to Furano? Not sure whether is a good time to visit Furano in End April. Please advise. Thank you very much

  46. Chrisian says:

    Dear Bumbleebee Mum,

    I heard that eastern hokkaido has severe winter than the other, so i thinking about another route like below :

    31 Jan CTS Tomamu
    1 Feb Tomamu Hakodate
    2 Feb Hakodate Noboribetsu
    3 Feb Noboribetsu Lake Toya
    4 Feb Lake Toya – Niseko – Sapporo
    5 Feb Sapporo Asahikawa
    6 Feb Asahikawa Sapporo
    7 Feb Sapporo Otaru day trip
    8 Feb Flight back

    is the route above is recomended or not? the itin i decided before is eastern hokkaido from tomamu obihiro tokachigawa kushiro lake akan abashiri asahikawa sapporo n otaru.

    as we are not drive, which one route is the match for us in your opinon? we like to see shops and kuliner. Thanks before.

    Chrisian

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Oh well, Hokkaido’s winter can be rough in general. But imo, the scenery in Eastern Hokkaido is absolutely gorgeous in winter. Especially if you are lucky enough to spot drift ice at Abashiri. Plus there are winter festivals at Tokachigawa onsen and Lake Akan. Plus the cranes at Kushiro. I really enjoyed my Eastern Hokkaido trip in winter, which is why I highly recommend it. It seems a bit of a pity to go Hokkaido during winter festival period and miss the festivals.

  47. Chrisian says:

    Thanks for your opinion, I made up my mind. We go for eastern Hokkaido.

    For aurora drift ice, should we buy advance ticket? if they don’t operate at that day, could we reschedule to the next day?

    and if there’s no drift, it is better to go to to shiretoko/utoro instead of abashiri?

    We will be arrive lake akan at 16.15 and the bus depart for kitami at 9.30 in the morning. are we have enough time to do another things must do besides snow festival at that night? if there is must do in lake akan, i try to find another bus in the afternoon.

    for cranes, we only go to tsurumidai. should we go to akan international crane or kushiro observatory ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There is no need to buy tickets in advance for the ice-breaker cruise. They are not going to refund you if there is no drift ice because the cruise goes on regardless of whether there is drift ice or not. So leave it till the actual day, see if there is any drift ice that day then buy your tickets if there is.

      I don’t think you have enough time to go up to Shiretoko, and Shiretoko is kind of boring in winter frankly. You can KIV the following places in the event there is no drift ice:
      > Ryuhyo Musem
      > Hokkaido Museum of Northern People
      > Ryuhyo Glass Museum
      > Abashiri Prison Museum

      At Lake Akan itself, there are some shops selling wood carvings and the Ainu Kotan. But I think you can just go walk around the area after you arrive and before dinner. If there is an afternoon bus, you may want to consider taking it so that you don’t need to rush your breakfast and can slowly walk around the ice festival site in the morning. If you leave at 9.30am, you may not have time for the activities like snow mobile and ice fishing.

      There are two areas to see the cranes for free in winter: Tsurumidai and Tsurui Itoh Tancho Sanctuary. I recommend you go both. I wouldn’t go to the Akan Internation Crane Centre in winter because there is an admission fee. And Kushiro Observatory was kind of boring imo.

  48. Jessica says:

    Hi bumblebee mum!

    I just bought my ticket to Tokyo and return from Sapporo on 11-22 April with my parents of late 50’s. Excluding the traveling day, we’ll have 10 full day to travel.

    I wanted to bring them touring Tokyo and Hokkaido, so there’s one day we’ll have to decide either to fly into Hokkaido or by train.

    I hope that you can guide me with the itinerary.

    Places we would like to visit in Tokyo:
    Tsukiji fish market
    Kabukicho
    Sensoji temple
    Imperial palace & east garden
    Asakusa
    Tokyo sky tree
    Shibuya
    Harajuku
    Shinjuku
    Ginza
    (not shopping, but just for seeing the environment)

    In Hokkaido:
    Sapporo – beer factory, chocolate factory, nijo fish market (any other to recommend)
    Otaru – canal, sakaimachi street, whisky distillery, music box museum
    Noribetsu – hell valley ( maybe spend a night for onsen)
    Lake toya ( or any other lakes that is as beautiful)
    Blue pond

    We prefer food, sight seeing, cultural, local vendors more than expensive shoppings centers. Honestly I’m so lost, and we’ve never been to Japan, and I’m worried that my parents will be tired if the itinery is too packed and rushing, or I kept bringing them the wrong way ?

    I’m not sure yet how many days and which part should I stay in Tokyo, and Hokkaido. Please add on to recommend any places or festives to visit or to remove, should we use trains or should we self drive in Hokkaido, or overnight at each place.

    Jessy

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Oh well.. Rushing around and getting lost is part and parcel of Tokyo travel unfortunately. Even if you don’t want to rush, the crowd will force you to walk a little faster than you would want to. Remember to keep left on the escalators. 😉

      This is what I suggest:

      Day 1: Asakusa Sensoji Temple + Asakusa Area + Tokyo Sky Tree
      Day 2: Tsukiji Market + Ginza + Imperial Palace
      Day 3: Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Kabukicho
      Day 4: Tokyo – Sapporo (can visit Mount Moiwa for sunset + night view)
      Day 5: Sapporo (Beer Factory, Chocolate Factory)
      Day 6: Odori Park, Nijo Market, Tanukikoji
      Day 7: Day trip to Otaru from Sapporo
      Day 8: Rent a car, drive to Lake Toya
      Day 9: Drive Lake Toya to Noboribetsu
      Day 10: Drive Noboribetsu to Lake Shikotsu to CTS for flight back

      Regarding shopping, in Tokyo you can find the local vendors at Asakusa district. In Sapporo, you will find them at Tanukikoji.

      For Otaru, is the whisky distillery the one at Yoichi? If it is, I suggest you rent a car for the day you are going to Otaru, otherwise you may not have enough time to visit the whisky distillery. If you are just going to Canal, Sakaimachi and Music Box Museum, there is no need for a car.

      I don’t think you have time to visit Blue Pond because it is pretty out of the way.

      • Chrisian says:

        Noted with thanks. I got bus 11.15 from lake akan buat they charge me Yen 1,850 instead of Y 500 (tsuruga bus service). is snow mobiles and ice fishings can go by foot around lake akan?

        I will go to Tsurui Tancho with akan bus. Is the crane always there? i see there is time to feed them.

        How about Chitose Rera outlet mall? is it 1 building with chitose? could we go there before check in our flight?

        I cancell the trip to nagano, and replace it with Kamakura n Yokohama 1 day. Should we get enoshima kamakura freepass ?

        thanks before

  49. Anonymous says:

    Hello Bumblebee mum – Been reading your blog on Japan holiday. In fact I used your blog as a guide to Okinawa last year :) We had so much fun (me and wife).

    Anyway been diligently reading your Hokkaido experience. So many things to decide! lol.
    I will be travelling with our parents in mid May this year so hoping you could share some insight into my itinerary

    (I know you mentioned that the drive from Asahikawa to Akan is a nightmare…still deciding whether to stay in Abashiri…I heard it’s pretty dead town with nothing to see)

    Day 1 : Chitose Airport – Drive to Furano – overnight Furano
    Day 2 : Furano – drive to Asahikawa – overnight in Asahikawa
    Day 3: Daytrip to Sounkyo and surrounding – overnight in Asahikawa
    Day 4 : Drive to Lake Akan ? Or Abashiri ? – Overnight in either Akan/Obishiri
    Day 4 : Overnight in either Akan/Obishiri
    Day 5: Drive to Shiretoko – Overnight in Shiretoko
    Day 6: Explore Shiretoko – Overnight in Shiretoko
    Day 7 : Drive back to Sapporo
    Day 8 : Sapporo
    Day 9 : Sapporo
    Day 10 : Sapporo – SG

    Thanks and keep the travel report coming! :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Glad you had fun in Okinawa! I miss that place.

      If you are travelling in mid May, I suggest you pop by Takinoue Shibazakura Park, Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park and Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park between Asahikawa and Shiretoko. Abashiri can be a base to visit these places. I’m not sure what your exact travel dates are, but shibazakura tends to peak in end May. So let’s say you are travelling mid-end May, you may want to do your itinerary in reverse to be at Takinoue / Higashimokoto at the end of the month.

      For a round trip to Shiretoko, I suggest you do a loop so that you do not drive the same road all the way back to Sapporo – which is kind of long and boring. The loop would go like this:
      Sapporo – Obihiro – Lake Akan – Shiretoko – Abashiri – Asahikawa – Sapporo

  50. Anabelle says:

    Dear bumblebeemum,

    Thank you for all your helpful posts that have been so well documented! Learnt a lot from reading your blog posts! :)

    I’m planning to rent a car from tocoo for an upcoming self drive trip to Hokkaido, and the car I’m planning to rent comes with a ‘free internet plan’ on tocoo. Just wondering, have you used the pocket wifi from tocoo before? Was it good? :)

    Thank you!

  51. Anabelle says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum,

    Thanks for the reply! :) I can’t seem to find any online reviews about Tocoo’s wifi so I’m a bit worried about it’s coverage and speed. Did you rent any pocket wifi devices during your Hokkaido trips? :) Which one would you recommend? :)

  52. ting says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum,

    My husband and I are planning to bring my mum and kids (4 yrs old and 10 mths old by then) to Hokkaido this July. And would appreciate your advise on the following:

    1. Itinerary:

    Day 1: Asahikawa – rest and shop around
    Day 2: Asahikawa – zoo (rent a car)
    Day 3 and 4 : Biei and Furano (rent a car)
    Day 5: Otaru (rent a car)
    Day 6: Shiroi Koibito Park and Takino park before check in to hotel in Sapporo (return the car after check in)
    Day 7: Sapporo
    Day 8: Chitose airport hotel

    Do you think this works with 2 kids in tow??

    2. Car rental:

    The travel insurance I plan to buy only covers rental vehicle excess. So do I need to buy CDW and the ‘norm’ insurance from the rental company? Any insurance company to recommend so I dont have to purchase from rental company?

    3. Accommodation:

    May I know when is a good time to start booking the accommodation so the price is just ‘right’? The price is ridiculously high if I were to book now. And I’m worried we will have no place to stay if I booked too late.

    Thanks……..

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The itinerary looks workable to me.

      If you travel insurance plan covers rental vehicle excess, you don’t need to get any more additional insurance from the car rental company.

      For July travel, you can try searching now. If the hotels have no cancellation charges, you can just book them first and cancel later if you come across a better deal later on. July is peak period, so it is good to at least secure a reasonably priced hotel room as soon as possible.

      • ting says:

        Do you have a rough guide of how much is a resonably priced hotel? thanks….

        • bumblebeemum says:

          For Hokkaido, if it is a hotel in the city and non-peak season, I would try to find something below 10,000 yen per room per night. For peak season, it may double.

          As for ryokans, the price differs quite a lot between the modern ones and the more dated ones. At the more dated ones, I wouldn’t pay more than 10,000yen per person per night. But at the modern ones, you would be looking at at about 15,000 to 20,000 yen per person per night.

  53. ting says:

    Forget to check if my route needs and ETC card?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You will not be on the toll road much. You will use it once from Biei / Furano to Otaru and once more from Otaru to Sapporo. If I were you, I would just pay cash and save the hassle of getting an ETC card – UNLESS the car rental company can offer me one for a nominal fee (like a few hundred yen) with no deposit required.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you so much for taking your time to reply……..:)

      • ting says:

        Is there anyway which I can avoid the toll road? Or do you think its better to return the rental car and take a train there (base in Sapporo)? thank you.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Between Sapporo and Furano / Biei / Asahikawa, I suggest you keep to the toll road. You can also take the train between Sapporo and say, Furano or Asahikawa. Then you just rent a car from there to go around Furano / Biei / Asahikawa. That way you won’t encounter tolls.

  54. Ai ling says:

    Hello!
    Thank you very much for the informative article. My family of 5 adults are planning on a 8 days self-drive trip in July to capture the beauty of summer in Hokkaido.

    I have tried to look for hotels in Furano/Biei. Oh man, more than 80% are fully booked and the remaining ones are changing sky high prices. What are the areas that I can look for accommodation? Asahikawa? Tomura?

    Will it be better to go in early July since Japan summer holidays start on 20 July?

    Would appreciate your advise on it. Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Haha… That’s the way it is in July and August. To save money, stay at Asahikawa instead.

      The flowers won’t be as nice in early July compared to late July. Late July – Early August will be the best time, but of course also the most crowded and expensive time. Give and take. If I had a choice, I would just heck it and join the crowd to be there during the best time, which is late July – early August.

      • Ai ling says:

        Hello dear, thanks for the earlier reply! Need your help on my proposed itinerary from 04 July to 12 July (9 days) on self drive trip.

        Day 1: Sapporo
        Day 2: Asahikawa
        Day 3/4: Asahidake onsen or sounkyo onsen or daisetsuzan national park (which to go?)
        Day 5: Biei
        Day 6: Furano
        Day 7: Lake Toyo
        Day 8: Sapporo
        Day 9: airport

        Is the arrangement ok? Any other places to recommend? Do you think I can slot in Akan if I give lake Toyo a miss? Which place would you choice?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Day 3 & 4: With 2 days, you can go both Asahidake onsen and Sounkyo onsen. They are both part of Daisetsuzan National Park. You can drive around the park and check out the waterfalls and gorges or go hiking.

          Furano to Lake Toya looks like a pretty long drive. The last bit actually looks a bit rushed. I would not go back to Sapporo at the end and spend one more day at Furano since it’s flowering season.

          Day 1: Sapporo
          Day 2: Asahikawa
          Day 3: Asahikawa – Asahidake
          Day 4: Asahidake – Sounkyo
          Day 5: Sounkyo – Biei
          Day 6: Biei – Furano
          Day 7: Furano
          Day 8: Furano – Lake Toya
          Day 9: Lake Toya – CTS

          If you want to slot in Lake Akan, I suggest you skip Lake Toya and Asahidake:

          Day 1: Sapporo
          Day 2: Asahikawa
          Day 3: Asahikawa – Sounkyo
          Day 4: Sounkyo – Lake Akan
          Day 5: Akan National Park
          Day 6: Lake Akan – Furano
          Day 7: Biei / Furano
          Day 8: Biei / Furano
          Day 9: Furano – CTS

          I think I would probably opt for the first one in summer. I heard the hiking around Asahidake and Sounkyo is pretty good in summer.

          • Ai ling says:

            The revised itinerary by you looks very Gd!

            To clarify, you mentioned that you will go for the first one in summer. Is it the itinerary with lake toya or Akan? Thanks a lot!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              The Lake Toya one.

              • Ai ling says:

                sorry to trouble you again…

                My family is good to go for hiking. So Asahidake will be a good choice right? Then should I skip Sounkyo?

                And perhaps allocate a day for Noboribetsu?

                Day 1: Sapporo
                Day 2: Asahikawa
                Day 3: Asahikawa – Asahidake
                Day 4: Asahidake – Biei
                Day 5: Biei – Furano
                Day 6: Furano
                Day 7: Furano – Norobeitsu
                Day 8: Notobeitsu – Lake Toya
                Day 9: Lake Toya – CTS

                Many thanks!

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Both Asahidake and Sounkyo have hiking. But Asahidake looks more along the way if you are heading to Biei. This itinerary looks good.

                  • Ai ling says:

                    Hello dear :)

                    My July Hokkaido trip is nearing!
                    Based on the earlier itinerary that we have discussed as illustrated below.

                    Would like to check if I need ETC or HEP? Are there any significant car park charges to take note of? We are planning our routes to save cost.

                    Collect car at new Chitose airport.
                    Day 1: Sapporo
                    Day 2: Asahikawa
                    Day 3: Asahikawa – Asahidake
                    Day 4: Asahidake – Biei
                    Day 5: Biei – Furano
                    Day 6: Furano
                    Day 7: Furano – Norobeitsu
                    Day 8: Notobeitsu – Lake Toya
                    Day 9: Lake Toya – CTS

  55. Lydia says:

    Hi, appreciate you could advise on our itinerary. We will be tea allying to Hokkaido in coming October. 4 adults and 2 kids (4 and 21 months by then). It inert as below:

    Day 1 & 2
    Sapporo

    Day 3
    Sapporo-day trip to Otaru

    Day 4
    Rent a car to Jozankei, Furano & Biei
    Overnight in Furano

    Day 5
    Noboribetsu, overnight

    Day 6
    Hakodate, overnight

    Day7
    Lake Toya, overnight

    Day 8
    Sapporo Air terminal Hotel

    Is the itinerary workable?
    I am concerning Day 4, are we able to go 3 places in a day? I am planing to Hoheikyo Dam, Futami suspension bridge, Farm Tomita,Flower Land Kamifurano, cheese factury, Furano winery, blue pond and sightseeing Biei.
    Wow, sound crazy huh? Or should we allocate 1 more day?

    Sapporo and Otaru will be on public transport and the rest by rent a car, should I need the HEP?

    Jozankei can easily reach by public transport? As I read that the are free shuttle bus to the Dam and walking distance to the Futami suspension bridge

    Is it a waste if I don’t go Sounkyo in Oct for the beactiful Autumn color?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 4 doesn’t look right. Jozankei is not along the way from Sapporo to Furano / Biei. It is not possible to visit all the places you named. I suggest you rent a car and go Jozankei on Day 3, together with Otaru instead. You can drive Sapporo – Jozankei – Otaru – Sapporo, it is quite a popular route in autumn.

      As for Day 4, I doubt you have time to do with Furano and Biei in 1 day as well. You need 2 days to cover Farm Tomita,Flower Land Kamifurano, cheese factury, Furano winery, blue pond and sightseeing in Biei.

      Depending on whether you are going early or late October, Sounkyo could be a hit or miss. If you are going late Oct, you can skip Sounkyo because the autumn foliage would probably be gone by then. But if it’s early Oct then yes, I recommend you go Sounkyo and drop Hakodate.

      If going in early Oct, I recommend you rent a car all the way and rearranging the itinerary a follows:

      Day 1: CTS – Asahikawa
      Day 2: Sounkyo day trip from Asahikawa
      Day 3: Asahikawa – Biei – Furano
      Day 4: Furano
      Day 5: Furano – Noboribetsu
      Day 6: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya – Jozankei
      Day 7: Jozankei – Otaru – Sapporo
      Day 8: Sapporo – CTS

      For the above itinerary, I don’t think a HEP would be necessary.

      • Lydia says:

        Many thanks. I will be going Hokkaido from 16 to 26 Oct. total 11 days(add 1 more day). I will take your advise on day 3 Jozankei-Otaru-Sapporo. And allocate 2 days for Furano and Biei. I think I will give Sounkyo a miss.

        Thank you so much.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yeah, you dates look a bit too late for autumn foliage at Sounkyo. You may want to do Onuma Koen towards the end of your trip. Onuma Koen is another popular autumn foliage spot and is near Hakodate. The foliage there turns red later than the rest of Hokkaido – so try to go there as late as possible.

          • Lydia says:

            Yes. The Onuma Koen is in our list. We will going there when we are leaving Hakodate and heading to Lake Toya. So with this route do I require the HEP or ETC?? Actually I am confusing with these two devices/ pass. Appreciate if you could help on this. Many thanks.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Are you from Singapore? If you are, imagine HEP and ETC to be like our EZ-link card for taking MRT. ETC card is basically like a normal EZ link card where the fee is deducted each time you ride the train. The HEP is like a concession pass where we pay a fixed fee for a month and are entitled to unlimited rides. But both of them essentially use the same card. So both HEP and ETC uses the same kind of card, very similar to our cashcard which is to be inserted into the car’s ETC unit which is just like our IU. ETC will deduct the toll fee each time you pass through, whereas HEP charges based on number of days regardless of how much you use the toll roads.

              What is your finalised itinerary? In general, if you are using the toll road a lot, like almost everyday, then you need to get the HEP. But for most travels, an ETC card would suffice.

              • Lydia says:

                Thank you for your explaination. My final itinerary as below:
                Day 1 & 2
                Sapporo

                Day 3
                Sapporo (rent a car)-Jozankei-Otaru-Sapporo

                Day 4 & 5
                Furano & Biei, overnight Furano

                Day 6
                Noboribetsu, overnight

                Day 7
                Hakodate, overnight

                Day 8
                Lake Toya, overnight

                Day 9
                Sapporo – Air terminal Hotel

                With this route, do I require the HEP or ETC?
                Many thanks.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Hmm.. You can consider getting an HEP card in your case. Seems you will be on the expressway quite a bit:
                  Otaru – Sapporo
                  Sapporo – Furano
                  Furano – Noboribetsu
                  Noboribetsu – Hakodate
                  Hakodate – Lake Toya
                  Lake Toya – CTS

                  • Lydia says:

                    Muuuaaaakksss…… Many many thanks.

                    • Lydia says:

                      Hi, sorry to border you again. For the HEP, do I require to purchase the 6 days or 7 days pass? If I purchase the 6 days HEP, means that I have to use in consecutive for 6 days? I will be in Furano for 2 days that means I will spend 7 days for the mention route.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      The number of days is calculated based on your car rental, regardless of whether you use the toll road everyday or not. If you pick up the car on Day 3 and return it on Day 9, you will be charged for a 7-days HEP. It goes by calendar dates. So even if you pick up the card at night on Day 3 and return it in the morning on Day 9, you will still be charged for a 7-days HEP.

                    • Lydia says:

                      Thank you for your reply.

  56. Kyra says:

    Hi, thanks for writing about your travels. I love reading them. We have decided to go Hokkaido after reading your blog on summer travel to Hokkaido! I am so looking forward to the food. We are thinking of going there for 9 days self drive tour on 28/5/16 with 2 toddlers in tow. We haven’t booked anything… I know it’s a bit last minute.. Can you suggest a route? It’s our first time there. Many many thanks for taking your time to response! :)

  57. Rachel says:

    Dear bumblebee mum, you’ve been a GREAT help to countless people who intend to travel in Japan ! Thanks so much.

    I’m planning my honeymoon trip this coming July with my fiancé. Below is our itinerary:

    Day 1
    New Chitose Airport to Lake Toya, Toya Sun Palace

    Day 2&3
    Toya to Otaru , stay at Otaru

    Day 4 & 5
    Otaru to Sapporo , stay at Sapporo

    Day 6
    Sapporo to Asahikawa

    Day 7-8
    Asahikawa to Biei, Explore Biei and Furano

    Day 9
    Biei to New Chitose Airport

    Do you advise that we take up the Hokkaido Express Pass or will the ETC card be sufficient for our route?

    Looking forward to your reply!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I don’t think you need the HEP for your route. From CTS to Lake Toya, it is possible to avoid the toll road if you take the route via Lake Shikotsu.
      > Click here for google map route

      You will encounter toll at the following stretches:
      Otaru to Sappporo
      Sapporo to Asahikawa
      Biei to CTS

      I don’t think you need the HEP for the above.

  58. Tammy says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,
    Your website was a great help.
    May I know if I need ETC if I am only driving from Sapporo to Rusutsu, then to Lake toya and then to Chitose thats all.
    Is it worth? Am trying to cut cost :)

    Thank you in advance!

  59. Tristyn says:

    Hi, I read your blog and saw your recommendation to rent the car from Toyota for first timers. I have booked my honeymoon trip (land at Hakodate airport and depart from New Chitose airport), and I tried to search Toyota’s website. It seems like they do not have any car rental locations near Hakodate airport. Would like to check with you if you have any other recommendations :) Will Nissan or Nippon be a better choice in this case?

    Thanks for your help!

  60. monica tham says:

    hi bumblebee mum, i am going to sapporo on 21/6 and leaving 28/6. will be staying put in sapporo itself throughout this trip. i plan to rent car for 2 days to go fruit picking and visit places with nice scenery. plan to take the train to otaru. any suggestion where to go for fruit picking and places i can drive & visit as day trip?
    thank you

  61. Pat says:

    I am planning a trip to Tokyo & Hokkaido first week of November. I have two main concern before I will decide and hope that you would be able to give me some advise. Firstly, I am worried about the weather at that time. Will Hokkaido be raining and too snowy on the 2nd week of November? I would like to do a self-drive and had never driven in winter. However, I had driven in Australia many times. Secondly, will there be things to see in Hokkaido during the 2nd week of November? Like flowers, fruits and so on.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think your email content was meant for Mabel not for me. I will be going in first week of November. Is it a good time to go? Will driving be dangerous?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, it would probably be raining or snowing or combination of both.

      I don’t think there will still be flowers and fruits in 2nd week of November. I recommend you visit the major cities (Sapporo / Hakodate / Otaru) and onsen towns during that time.

  62. Mabel says:

    Hi bumblebee mum, My hubby and myself planning our 8 DAYS trip to Hokkaido (21 Oct-29 Oct’16). Not sure where to start our trip and places to go need your advise. Prefer to drive from Sapporo and return in Sapporo.

    21/10/16 – NIGHT FLIGHT TO SIN-CTS
    22/10/16 – ARRIVING IN MORNING
    22/10/16 – CHECK IN HOTEL MERCURY
    23/10/16 – RENT A CAR
    24/10/16 –
    25/16/16 –
    26/10/16 – OTARU
    27/10/16 – OTARU
    28/10/16 – OUTLET MALL SHOPPING
    29/10/16 – 6.30PM CTS-SIN

    Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Maybe you can go to Furano and Biei since you have the car. There should still be flowers blooming in the region in autumn.

      • Mabel says:

        Hi Bumble Bee Mum, Thanks for the reply.

        Really appreciate if you could help me see below my itinerary. I am thinking do rent the car in city to save some cost. Do I need to travel highway?

        21/10/2016 TOKYO – ASAHIKAWA AIRPORT
        Q: Should I rent the car in the airport or city area?
        Some of the car rental need to input local mobile number

        22/10/2016 JR INN ASAHIKAWA (1 NITE)

        23/10/2016 ASAHIYAMA ZOO
        Q: two hours is this enough to cover?

        23/10/2016 FARM TOMITA

        23/10/2016 TOMITA MELON HOUSE

        24/10/2016 NINGLE TERRACE

        24/10/2016 B&B Furano

        24/10/2016 Sapporo Beer Museum

        24/10/2016 Ishiya Shiroi Koibito Park (Chocolate Factory)

        24-26/10/16 HOTEL MERCURY

        26/10/2016 Noboribetsu Manseikaku
        Q: Neisko or Noboribetsu which one is better?

        27/10/2016 CHITOSE OUTLET MALL REAR

        27/10/2016 AIR TERMINAL HOTEL

        28/10/2016 CTS-SIN

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You don’t really need the car in Asahikawa. There is a bus to go to the zoo from Asahikawa station.

          2 hours is not enough for the zoo. I would allocate a full day for the zoo.

          You can rent the car on the 23rd from Asahikawa city to drive to Furano. On 24th, you can either return the car to Sapporo (but there will be a drop-off fee and toll fee) or return the car to Asahikawa and train back to Sapporo. You need to check which is more cost effective. If you drive from Furano to Sapporo, you will be using the tollway. But if you just drive between Asahikawa and Furano, you will not need the tollway.

          In October, I would go to Noboribetsu instead of Niseko.

          • Mabel says:

            Thanks for quick response😃

            Which hotel in Asahikawa that nearer for car rented? Prefer to stay the hotel near the train easy to travel from airport to the hotel.
            Toyota car rented company request local mobile phone which I don’t have it now. How to reserve the car?
            do I need hep or etc card?
            whixh hotel do you normally stay beside Hotel Metcury?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Car rental companies are usually near the train station, so find a hotel near Asahikawa station such as JR Inn Asahikawa.

              I have always used my Singapore mobile number as my contact telephone number. If they insist on a Japan phone number, then use the hotel phone number.

              You will not need the HEP or ETC if you are just driving around Asahikawa / Furano / Biei. The whole region is toll free.

              In Sapporo, if I can’t get Mercure Hotel, I will just book any hotel within my budget and in the location I want from hotel booking sites like Agoda, Hotels.com, Booking.com etc. I have tried a bunch of hotels in Sapporo but none I like as much as Mercure to particularly recommend them.

  63. MC says:

    Hi bubblebeemum,
    Enjoy reading your blogs. You are really generous and caring in information sharing.
    May i know
    1) is airport limousine bus the most convenience way of public transport from chitose airport to susukino?
    2) I will be staying in Apa Hotel Sapporo Susukino Ekimishi, if i take airport limousine bus where should i get down?
    3) What is the different between Hokkaido Chuo Bus and Hokuto Kotsu?
    4) Are there using the same route? Stop at the same bus stop?
    5) Will both of the buses stop at susukino subway station Exit 4?
    6) Due to my constraint budget, i would like to use non toll road for my 4 days self drive from Sapporo – Lake Toya – Onuma Koen – Hakodate – Niseko – Cape Kamui – Yoichi – Otaru – New Chitose Airport. For this route, is there a complete toll free road available?
    Thank in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) Yup, it is.

      2) You will get off at Susukino. The bus stop is at Tokoyo Inn Sapporo Susukino Kosaten. From there, to get to APA Hotel Sapporo Susukino Ekinishi, you need to walk 600m.
      https://goo.gl/maps/VdqfX3aNp342

      3) Just different bus companies but they ply pretty much the same route. You can hop on whichever comes first.

      4) Yup, they use the same bus stops at CTS and Susukino.

      5) No, they don’t stop at the subway exit 4. They stop at the bus stop beside Tokoyo Inn Sapporo Susukino Kosaten.

      6) There are always non-toll roads available. The problem is that they can be VERY slow compared to using the toll road. So sometimes for long distances (e.g. when going Hakodate), I find that it’s not worth the time to use non-toll roads and I would rather pay the toll fee because I don’t want to spend my entire day stuck behind big trucks on the rural roads.

      • MC says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum,
        Really appreciate your fast and informative reply. The answers that you provided are really very helpful to me.

        I have one more question hope that you can help me to sort out my doubt.

        I don’t understand Japanese language at all, i have two quotations from car rental company, one is directly from Toyota Rent A Car which the rental is ¥16,000 extra as compare to price from Times Car Rental thru tocoo! Due to the price gap is very big and i am in budget trip, do you have any ideas does the staff from Times Car Rental be able to communicate in English if opt for tocoo reservation?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I have not used Times in Hokkaido before, only used Times at Narita Airport and the staff there spoke English. Times is a pretty big company with a good English website, I think it should be okay to go with them.

  64. Jacqueline chua says:

    Hi bumblebee mom. I’m going to hokkaido in Dec and just realised that for our connecting flight to cts, we have to check out from kix n take a shuttle to the domestic airport in itami. I read from many reviews that clearing immigration n custom takes up extremely long time (1.5 to 2hours). Wonder if you have any comment on this? We are flying jal. Arriving 650am n or connecting flight is 1025am. But traveling time between 2 airports is estimated to be 70 minutes.

    • Jacqueline chua says:

      Should we just burn our connecting ticket from itami to cts and buy new ticket from other airlines flying out from kix?we plan to drive from chitose to noboribetsu on our first day, then drive to niseko second day, n return car at Otaru on third day because we can take a train to sapporo from otary. Do you think it is easy to navigate around hokkaido road in winter? .

      • bumblebeemum says:

        Seems like a waste to burn the connecting ticket. If you really miss the flight, I believe JAL should be able to arrange for you to take the next flight to CTS? After all, they sold the connecting flight tickets, they should know whether or not the connection is possible. If you miss the connection because of unexpected delays, JAL should be responsible to find an alternative flight for you. When we missed our connecting flight on Thai Airways because of flight delay, they just put us on their next flight at no extra charge.

        When driving in winter, you just have to drive very slowly and patiently and make sure you allocate plenty of time to do the drive. You can read more on driving in winter on this post:
        http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yeah, clearing immigration in Japan generally takes a while at the major airports because of the photo-taking and finger-printing. But I think you should have enough time because domestic flight only requires you to check-in one hour before the flight, unlike international flights that require 2 hours. If JAL can check you in at Singapore airport (assuming you’re from Singapore, if not your home country’s airport) for your domestic flight as well (which I think they should), then you will have received your boarding pass for the domestic flight already and all you need to do at the domestic airport at Itami is to drop your luggage off and board the plane.

      What I would suggest to you when you arrive at KIX is that if you see the immigration queue is really very long, try to approach an airport staff to highlight that you have a connecting flight at Itami to see if he or she can get your through the immigration queue faster. It may not be as bad as it sounds, because 6.50am seems pretty early, the queue may not be that long.

  65. ellyn says:

    Dear bumblebeemum,

    Thanks for sharing this post! I’ve been referring to your post throughout my entire planning. I will be visiting by next year end of Feb to beginning of March. We’re travelling in family of 4 and we plan to go for self-drive trip (except for sapporo). Thus, might need your advice on my itinerary.

    D1 CTS > Noboribetsu (Date Jidaimura village)
    D2 Noboribetsu (Hell’s valley) > Hakodate
    D3 Hakodate
    D4 Hakodate (Onuma-koen)
    D5 Hakodate (early in the morning)> Niseko
    D6 Niseko (3pm- 4pm) > Otaru
    D7 Otaru > Asahikawa/ Sounkyo
    D8 Asahikawa/ Sounkyo > Sapporo
    D9 Sapporo
    D10 Sapporo > CTS
    D11 New Chitose (9am flight)

    For D8, I’m not sure whether I should stay in Sounkyo or not as I want to see night lights for Ice waterfall festival. But staying in onsen hotel is expensive, so I also thought of driving back to Asahikawa-shi (since it is just 1 hour drive) so that the next day I can depart from there back to sapporo. Do you think it’s wise to do that in winter?

    Also, based on my itinerary, do you think I would need a HEP or ETC? I plan to drive for most of the days except in Sapporo.

    Would really appreciate for your help/ advice please! Thanks! :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 6: Leaving Niseko at 3-4pm means driving in the dark during winter. I do not advise you do that. I would say to leave Niseko by 2pm latest to try to get to Otaru while there is still daylight.

      It is never wise to drive at night in winter. Though I have to admit I have done it before. But on hindsight, it is really not something I would encourage – driving in the dark when it’s snowing is no joke. I would pay for the accommodation at Sounkyo.

      Unfortunately if you pick up your car at CTS and return it to Sapporo, you cannot get the HEP. An ETC card is good to have if your car rental company only charges you a nominal fee for it.

      • ellyn says:

        Hi thanks for your advice. I think I shall leave at around 2pm then from Niseko.

        Aww. does that means my travel course on the road is gonna be hefty without HEP?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmm.. Yeah.. The toll fees to Hakodate and to Asahikawa are quite expensive. But if you can get a cheap car rental deal, it should balance off. Coz the car rental offices that offer HEP may not be the cheapest when it comes to car rental.. So sometimes I just booking from offices that do not have HEP but cheaper car rental, even though HEP can save me on toll fees.. Coz the savings from HEP is not enough to cover the difference in car rental fee.. know what I mean?

  66. Susanna says:

    You have done a great job with the details of travel in Japan. We (2adults, one 5 year olds spn$ have only 2 days in Hokkaido and then go to Tokyo. We are very sad to only have 2 days. We love hiking, the morning markets sound great. Where would u recommend we visit? We can rent a car, take train, etc.
    Did you take your children’s car seats with you when you went to Japan or did you rent one there?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      When are you travelling and how you getting between Hokkaido and Tokyo – shinkansen or air? If by air, which airport? With 2 days, I suggest you go to somewhere close to the city you are flying via, or stay around Hakodate if you are using the shinkansen.

      I rent my car seats from the car rental companies when I’m in Japan.

  67. Quakys says:

    Hello Bumblebeemum!

    I have read alot of your post on Hokkaido and i have literally used your post as a guide for us, thank you for the great work contributing and sharing!

    May i ask for your advise for my trip. It will happen on start March 2017 for 8 days. We should be at the period when snow is going to melt?

    There will be 6 adults and 1 child, We will rent a car to fit all of us (not sure how we will do it.. LOL)

    Can you advise me if my itinerary works?

    Day 1 Evening Reach New Chitose Airport
    We will rent a car and head to Sapporo City,

    Day 2 Otaru Canal

    Day 3 Curb Market, Hokkaido Shrine, Shiroi Koibito Park

    Day 4 Nijo Market, Sapporo Beer Museum, ARIO Sapporo

    Day 5 Noboribetsu (this is where we are unsure, we want to go Niseko, Lake Toya and Noburibetsu, we have not decided if we should stay overnight at these location or should head back to Sapporo City, Assuming we do the following, is it ok?)

    Day 6 Lake Toya

    Day 7 Niseko – Return to Sapporo City

    Day 8 Spend the last day time at Sapporo City then fly back SG during the night

    My concern is

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmm.. The only way you all are going to fit is if you all travel VERY light. Which is difficult to do in winter because winter clothing take up a lot of luggage space – but not impossible. This is my suggestion: Limit your entire group to 2 large suitcases (or 4 medium size suitcases). Carry your winter jackets in your hands and wear your boots, vacuum pack all your clothes, don’t bring unnecessary stuff like hair curlers and extra shoes, bring like only 2 sets of clothing per person and do laundry along the way. Make sure you rent an 8-seater and not a 7-seater. 8-seater has much more boot space, but even then maximum you can squeeze is 4 suitcases when all the seats are up.

      If you want to cover Niseko, Lake Toya and Noboribetsu in the last few days, you need to change hotels along the way. Do a Sapporo – Niseko – Lake Toya – Noboribetsu – CTS loop without going back to Sapporo again:
      https://goo.gl/maps/v7xyJaesUKs

      This is what I suggest:

      Day 1 CTS – Sapporo
      Day 2 Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
      Day 3 Sapporo (Curb Market, Hokkaido Shrine, Shiroi Koibito Park)
      Day 4 Sapporo (Nijo Market, Sapporo Beer Museum, ARIO Sapporo)
      Day 5 Sapporo – Niseko
      Day 6 Niseko – Lake Toya
      Day 7 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
      Day 8 Noboribetsu – CTS

      • Quakys says:

        Ok! Just want to say thank you for the time and effort to read my comment and reply! Really appreciate it as i can imagine you have so many people asking you, it might get tiring sometimes.

        Ill have some discussion with my group and if there are any questions will ask you again via here :)

      • jacqueline chua says:

        oh my…our group of 8 will be renting a vellfire and we limit each person to a luggage not larger than 20″. the Toyota guy gave me details of the available space for luggage n he said the space is enough for 4 big suitcases. I just have to pray hard we can all fit into it. we plan to drive from Lake toya to Otaru only stopping half way for lunch. do you have any recommendations for good lunch place?

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