The drive from Tomamu to Niseko was extremely long and I wouldn’t recommend doing it in a day. We didn’t plan to do this drive in a day initially. Our initial plan was to go Tomamu -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Niseko -> Rusutsu. However, due to accommodation cost (doing that would have put us in Niseko over a weekend which would have been exorbitant), we ended up going Tomamu -> Niseko -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Rusutsu which resulted in us having to do the loooong Tomamu -> Niseko drive (but we saved a few hundred bucks on our Niseko accomodation).
We planned a lunch stop mid-point at Chitose Rera Outlet. Chitose Rera Outlet was a great place to visit with kids. There were many shops selling kids stuff and areas for kids to play – indoor and outdoor playgrounds, kiddy rides, mazes etc.
After we finally persuaded the kids to leave, we continued our drive to Niseko, stopping by Lake Shikotsu to buy my favourite cheese imo mochi.
The drive to Niseko was absolutely terrifying. Driving after sunset in heavy snowfall (which was common for Niseko) meant ZERO visibility. It is something I would really advise against, so if you are planning to drive to Niseko, please try to get there by 4pm latest so that there’ll still be daylight.
We eventually made it safe and sound (amidst MF ranting, “Why are we not there yet? Why are you driving so slowly?” non-stop) to Hilton Niseko Village where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. We had dinner at the super overpriced tourist-trap Niseko Village.
The next morning, we woke up and realized that our room actually had a view of Mount Yotei!
We drove to Hirafu for breakfast because we reckoned everything in Niseko Village was overpriced.
After breakfast, we went to the Grand Hirafu Base where the kids snow park was supposed to be located – but the snow park was not ready yet! The website said it would be open from 6 Dec, we were there on the 12th and it was not open. Grrr… Lesson learnt: Don’t trust the opening dates on the websites (the same thing happened at Rusutsu resort, I will come to that later.) So the kids just hung around and threw the snow around until they were covered in snow and decided they wanted to go back to the hotel.
We drove back to Hilton and MF decided that he wanted to learn to ski. So hubby brought MF for a ski lesson. They offered ski lessons for kids aged 3 and above at Hilton. Their ski instructors came from all over the world so no worries about language barrier. (In fact, everyone at Hilton was speaking English. I didn’t hear a word of Japanese during my stay there.)
The kids ski area at Hilton was great because it had a travelator to bring the kids (and adult beginners) up the slope. (I remember when I went Australia and took my first ski lesson, I spent all my energy climbing up the slope just to ski back down in seconds.) After just one lesson, MF could go up the travelator and ski down the beginner slope on his own!!
Hilton also offered drop off services. You can drop off your kids for half a day and there would be staff to look after them while they played in a designated playroom and attended a ski lesson. However, MF refused to be dropped of so hubby stayed with him throughout his lesson.
So what was MY and I doing while MF was having his ski lesson? Eating! During lunch hours, Prativo at Niseko Milk Kobo offered semi-buffet lunch sets (you get a main dish plus salad and dessert buffet).
After lunch, MY and I went back to the hotel room where MY took his afternoon nap. In the evening, we took the hotel shuttle bus to Hirafu for dinner. I didn’t fancy driving around Niseko in the dark, so it was a good thing that Hilton ran shuttle buses in the evening for guests who wish to have dinner at Hirafu. The shuttle bus was super packed and it was a good thing we stayed at Hilton. The bus subsequently went to Green Leaf Niseko Village to pick up the guests there but half of them couldn’t board because the bus was full. And those at Kasara could forget about boarding.
We had dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso which was super expensive and totally blah. The appetizers and entrees were good, but the steak was tough and definitely not worth the price. I’m not sure why they had such good reviews on TripAdvisor frankly.
After a pretty unsatisfying dinner, we went for dessert at Cafe IF. The hot chocolate and cheesecake here were heavenly! The kids super loved them!
Following morning, for convenience, we had our breakfast at the only cafe in Niseko Village, which was crazily overpriced.
After breakfast, we let the kids play for a bit in the kids play room at the hotel lobby before checking out. The kids play room required the room card to enter, so it was strictly for staying guests only. (i.e. if you are just going to Niseko Village for a day to ski, you can’t make use of this play room.)
Overall, I am not sure if I would recommend staying at Hilton Niseko. I liked it for the hassle-free skiing, but I disliked the fact that everything in Niseko Village was so touristy and overpriced. Also, at Hilton Niseko, I didn’t feel like I was in Japan at all. Everyone spoke English and it was over-run by overseas tourists. They had an onsen, but many people disobeyed bathing rules like not talking loudly and not bringing towels into the onsen. Personally, I would not come back to Niseko during ski season. (Okay, I may come back as a day trip just to eat at Prativo and Cafe IF.) I would go to Tomamu instead.
After checking out of Hilton Niseko, we went to retrieve our car and found it all covered in snow!
We dropped by Niseko Milk Kobo to buy some tarts, ice-cream and cream puffs. I so love everything at Milk Kobo!
From there, we drove to Lake Toya for lunch.
After lunch, we continued our drive to Noboribetsu via Orofure Pass. The scenery along Orofure Pass was incredible. We felt like we were driving through Narnia!
We arrived at Hotel Mahoroba at Noboribetsu just in time for check-in. Right after checking in, I brought MF to the onsen which had an outdoor slide which MF had so much fun with!
In the evening, we had buffet dinner at the hotel. The dinner spread here was fantastic!
After dinner, we went to the arcade where the kids had a lot of fun. Usually arcades at onsen hotels are pretty sad with a few outdated machines, but the arcade at Hotel Mahoroba was on par with a Timezone arcade. The machines were very new and there were lots of games to play. And there was a lady who went around with a cloth wiping each machine after it has been used.. Amazing.
The next morning, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel before checking out and driving to Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE. Initially I thought visiting an aquarium during winter would be a good idea since it would be indoors and warm. I was dead wrong. It was freaking cold at NIXE and we had to go into the cold to get between the different buildings and to watch the penguin parade!
We caught the Sea Lion show, Dolphin show and penguin parade.
Overall, NIXE wasn’t very fun and I woudn’t recommend it as much as Asahiyama Zoo. The admission fee was expensive, dining option was sad and the displays were pretty small (mostly small tanks of creatures) – nothing like our S.E.A. Aquarium. On the positive side, the shows were quite entertaining and you could get really close to the penguins during the penguin parade just like at Asahiyama Zoo.
From NIXE, we drove to Lake Toya and checked in to Toya Kohantei. We did the usual take turns to go onsen, go for buffet dinner and go to sleep.
The next morning, as usual, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel before checking out and driving to Rusutsu.
If you are going to Lake Toya with kids, I would recommend Toya Sunpalace where we stayed in June more than Toya Kohantei because of the swimming pool at Sunpalace.
Along the way to Rusutsu, we passed a place called Silo Observatory where many tour buses were parked and decided to check it out.
Our main purpose for visiting Rusutsu was for the Crayon Shinchan Kids Park. Before we went, the website said that they would be open from 13 December and we were there on 15th. Initially, we even wanted to stay at Rusutsu Resort for 2 nights because it looked so fun with the kids park and snow activities like dog sledding. But from 13 December onwards, they doubled their room rates and it cost more than SGD400 per night without any meals to stay there, so we changed our mind and decided to go there as a day trip. THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT because it turned out that the snow park was not ready yet when we were there. Can you imagine if we had spent SGD800+ to stay there for 2 nights only to find that the kids park was not open?? I would have condemned them totally.
So after learning that the kids park was not open, I contemplated if we should just drive back to Sapporo. But hubby said that since we were there already, we should just rent skis for MF to practice skiing. So we did that. But because there was no travelator here, MF couldn’t go up the slope on his own! Hubby ended up having to push him up the slope and it was freaking tiring so that didn’t turn out too well. To add to the disappointment, I wanted to go dog sledding but it was fully booked.
From Rusutsu, we drove back to Sapporo via Nakayama Pass. Along the way, we stopped by a roadside shop, Kinoko Ou Koku, which specializes in selling mushrooms and mushroom products to grab some snacks.
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: