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
If you want to know how to search for Map Codes for Hokkaido (or anywhere in Japan), check out my post:
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.
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
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.
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.
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
This post is archived under my Japan Travel Blog: