The drive from Sapporo to Asahiyama Zoo took us slightly more than 4 hours because of heavy snow (in good weather, it should take about 3 hours). It was the kids’ first winter drive and they were super excited over the sight of snow and ‘Christmas Trees’ along the way!
We finally arrived at Asahiyama zoo slightly after 12noon. The staff highlighted to us that some of the exhibits closed at 1pm, so off we went!
In reality, the kids were a lot more interested in playing with the snow than looking at animals!
The zoo closed at 3.30pm in winter. Since the drive from Sapporo took much longer than expected due to heavy snow and we still had to eat lunch there, plus the kids stopping every 2 steps to make snowballs, we only managed to see half the exhibits at the zoo. If you are planning to visit Asahiyama Zoo as a day trip from Sapporo in winter, I very much recommend you take the train instead of driving.
Asahiyama zoo is famous for its penguin parade in winter, which according to their website starts in late December so we missed it. I asked the staff when exactly it would start, she said it was weather-dependent. (Update: In 2014, the penguin parade started on 20/12/2014) These photos were from my visit in February 2010, see how close you could get to the penguins? And they were soooo cute!
I definitely recommend visiting Asahiyama Zoo if you are visiting Hokkaido with your kids. The entry fee was just mind-boggling cheap: 820 yen per adult, free for kids below Secondary School age. (Mind you, Singapore Zoo charges 3 times that price for adults and also charges for kids as young as 3 years old.)
After the zoo closed, we went back to our hotel. There was snow storm in the evening, so we cancelled our plan to have dinner at Asahikawa Ramen Village and I went out alone to pack McDonald’s for everyone since there was no way we were bringing the kids out in a snow storm.
The next morning, the sky was clear and blue! But the snow storm from the previous day covered all the roads with snow, so it was still highly stressful driving out of the city because we couldn’t see any lane markings.
We took a 4+ hour drive to Lake Akan. I really DO NOT recommend driving from Asahikawa to Lake Akan in a day, we were lucky there was no snow once we passed Daisetsuzan National Park. If there had been snow all the way, we would probably have spent the whole day on the road.
We arrived at our hotel, Hanayuuka, in Lake Akan at 2pm. At the reception, we saw many people queueing up to pay for a Sweets Buffet and we decided to try it too. After all, as hotel guests, we only had to pay 800 yen per adult (it was free for our kids aged 1 and 3).
The buffet selection was nothing like the high tea buffets we get in Singapore, it was pretty limited. But for 800 yen, I had no complaints.
After eating, our room was ready (check-in time was 3pm). Our room had a lovely view of Lake Akan and I loved the modern decor.
The facilities within Hanayuuka were pretty limited, so we took the free shuttle bus to the more luxurious Yuku No Sato. Since Hanayuuka and Yuku No Sato were under the same hotel group (Tsuruga group), guests of Hanayuuka could use all the facilities at Yuku No Sato.
The hotel lobby at Yuku No Sato was huge and luxurious with kimono-clad staff greeting us along the way! There were free onsen eggs, soup bar and steamed potato which guests could help themselves to.
There were live Marimo on display and you could even touch them!
And of course, we went to use the onsen here which was waaayyyyy better than the one at Hanayuuka. (The onsen at Hanayuuka was super sad, I didn’t even bother going.)
After warming up in the onsen, we ventured out to the shopping streets and Ainu Folk Village just outside Yuku No Sato before taking the shuttle bus back to Hanayuuka for dinner.
After dinner, MF went to the small library at the hotel lobby to read some books (they had a few English books there) before going back to the room to sleep.
The next morning, we were greeted with a beautiful view of Lake Akan from our hotel room!
We had buffet breakfast at the hotel before checking out.
We enjoyed our stay at Hanayuuka very much and I would recommend it for the more budget-conscious travellers. The facilities within Hanayuuka were very limited and it was a tad far from the main shopping streets, but the shuttle bus that ran on call to Yuku No Sato made it convenient. Of course, if you do not mind spending a bit more, Yuku No Sato or the adjacent Tsuruga Wings (Yuku No Sato and Tsuruga Wings are linked at the first storey) which have better facilities and location would be better choices.
After checking out, we went for a stroll along the shores of Lake Akan.
We couldn’t leave Lake Akan without a visit to Pan de Pan, a popular patisserie located just beside Hanayuuka. All the pastries there looked so good!!
Luckily we just had buffet breakfast, otherwise I would have bought the entire shop. Okay, that’s exaggerating. After much deliberation, I chose 3 items to takeaway.
Initially I thought I couldn’t take away the miso pudding because it came in such a nice little jar, but surprisingly I could! Hubby cringed at the sound of ‘miso pudding’, but it tasted much better than it sounded – the kids loved it too! The cream puff was also heavenly, but the strawberry tart was kinda blah.
So these food kept us occupied in the car while we drove through Akan National Park. Shortly after leaving Akan onsen town, we came across a photo stop that literally translated to ‘Two Lakes Deck’.
Let me help you out a little with finding the second lake…
Okay, that was pretty lame. Driving on… We came to another photo spot.
Frankly, that mountain looked kinda brown and ugly… Here’s a nicer photo that I took at the same spot in March 2010 when the mountain was snow-capped.
As we drove on, we spotted a wild fox along the road! We pulled over for the kids to have a better look at it and the fox kept circling our car – much to the amusement of the kids.
We bid farewell to the fox and continued our drive to Lake Mashu, my favourite lake in Hokkaido. I never failed to be awe-struck by its beauty.
Well, the kids didn’t care much for the beautiful lake and they were sleeping the whole time we were there. We drove on to our next destination, Iozan. But just before reaching, we stopped by an ice-cream parlour, Cream Douwa, located near the foot of Iozan.
After enjoying our ice-cream, it was time to work off those calories with a walk around Iozan.
After our walk around Iozan, we drove on to Lake Kussharo. We wanted to go for lunch at a restaurant called Sora, but when we reached there, we realized they were closed for Winter! So we went to Sunayu at the western shore of Lake Kussharo and had our lunch at the little restaurant there.
After eating, we went to the shore of Lake Kussharo where the kids had fun feeding the swans.
After this, we drove to Kushiro where we would spend the night.
Click on the links below for other posts from this trip:
Summarized itinerary for 17-day trip
Part 1: Sapporo
Part 2: Asahikawa, Akan National Park
Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu
Part 4: Niseko, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Rusutsu
Part 5: Otaru, New Chitose Airport
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)
Part 1: Chitose, Lake Toya, Hakodate, Niseko, Otaru
Part 2: Sapporo
Part 3: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport
This post is archived under my Japan Travel Blog: