Home >> Japan Travel,Japan Travel Tips >> Money-saving tips for free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido

Last December, our family went on a self-drive 17-day holiday to Hokkaido.  We went around almost the whole of Hokkaido and our total expenditure for 2 adult and 2 kids was less than SGD8000.  This includes ALL expenditures (airfares, 16 nights of accommodation, transport, food, admission to attractions etc etc.)  Many of my friends were asking me how we kept the cost for such a long trip so low since Japan was supposed to be a notoriously expensive country to visit.  While it did help that Japanese Yen plunged at that time (which was an important reason why the trip was so cheap), I thought I would write a post to share some money-saving tips for anyone planning a free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido feature

1.  Saving on Car Rental

[disclaim]Update: Tabirai now has an English website for Japan car rental.  Their rates are very attractive and much less confusing than Tocoo.  Hence I recommend checking out Tabirai instead of Tocoo if you do not know Japanese.[/disclaim]

I usually encourage readers to use Tocoo for car rental in Japan if you do not know Japanese.  However, they may not be the cheapest option.  Ever since they introduced their own insurance (if you book through them, you need to buy their insurance which costs 100 – 800 yen PER DAY depending on the rental company on top of the car rental price which is a hefty sum for long trips), I stopped booking through them.

Instead, I surf the individual car rental company’s websites to compare prices.  If you can read Japanese (or using a translator), head to their Japanese websites.  

Car rental companies often run campaigns that are only advertised on their Japanese websites.

For example, I once found the price on Mazda’s Japanese website to be way cheaper than what was quoted in the English website (50000 Yen vs 80000 Yen). However, I couldn’t book through their Japanese website using an English name, so I booked through the English website but under the comments, I requested for the price on the Japanese website.  They emailed me to confirm that my rental would be the cheaper price as quoted by the Japanese website.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Example of campaigns on a car rental company's Japanese website.

Example of campaigns on a car rental company’s Japanese website.

 

Also, signing up for membership on their website may give you further discounts.

Sign ups are usually FREE.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Example of membership discount.

Example of membership discount.

 

If you are able to speak a little Japanese, you will have even more options from smaller companies.  You can do a search on Rakuten instead of Tocoo and you’ll be surprised how much cheaper it can be.  But bear in mind that the smaller companies usually do not have English-speaking staff so I would not advise you to rent through them if you do not know Japanese at all.  In the event of an accident, you need to be able to communicate with the staff over the phone. Bigger companies such as Toyota offer English helplines and would be a better (though more expensive) option for non-Japanese speaking travelers.

All car companies will also ask you if you wish pay for additional insurance to cover the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW).

Opt out of CDW if your travel insurance already covers it.

When I buy my travel insurance, I make sure my travel insurance covers CDW, hence there is no need to purchase the extra insurance from car rental companies.

 

2. Ditch the car and subway in Sapporo city centre.  Walk.

Parking in Sapporo city centre (Sapporo station / Odori / Susukino area) is crazy expensive and so are subway tickets.  The whole area from Sapporo station to Susukino is entirely walkable and well-connected by an underground walkway so you can easily walk all the way between Sapporo and Susukino stations rain or shine or snow.   (The distance between Sapporo and Susukino is about 2km, but you won’t really feel it because there are shops along the walkway to keep you entertained and many cafes you can sit down and rest at if you get tired.)  It also runs beneath Odori Park from Odori station to Sapporo TV Tower.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - The underground shopping arcade (highlighted in red) links Sapporo, Odori and Susukino stations, making the entire area reachable on foot and saving you money on parking or subway tickets.

The underground shopping arcade (highlighted in red) links Sapporo, Odori and Susukino stations, making the entire area reachable on foot and saving you money on parking or subway tickets.

 

If you are staying in Susukino, on top of being able to walk North to Sapporo station, you can also walk South to Nakajima Koen.  Nakajima Koen is one of the sites for the Hokkaido Shrine Festival in June and a beautiful park to visit in Autumn.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Nakajima Koen is one stop from Susukino, but you can walk there in 10-15 minutes and save the money on subway tickets or parking.

Nakajima Koen is one stop from Susukino, but you can walk there in 10-15 minutes and save the money on subway tickets or parking.

 

3.  Start / End your trip in Sapporo

If you are not using the car in Sapporo, starting / ending the trip in Sapporo will save you a few days of car rental.  For e.g. if you are ending your trip in Sapporo, you can pick up the rental car at the airport and return it at Sapporo and explore Sapporo without the car for the last few days (similarly if you start your trip in Sapporo, you can pick up your rental car only when you are leaving Sapporo and return it at the airport outlet at the end of your trip).  Almost all car rental companies have offices at both Sapporo city centre and New Chitose Airport and some of them do not charge a drop-off fee for returning the car to a different office within Sapporo / Chitose (or charge a nominal fee to do so).  This not only saves you the rental fee for the few days in Sapporo, you also save on expensive parking in Sapporo which is at least 1000 yen per day even if you just leave your car at the hotel.

 

4.  Rent an ETC card if you are planning to use the tollway.

Having an ETC card can save you plenty of money on the tollway.  For e.g. from Sapporo to Asahikawa, the toll fee is 3000+ yen, but with ETC card it can cost you as low as only 1000+ yen depending on what time you are travelling.  Some car rental companies can rent you an ETC card for a nominal fee (e.g. Nissan rents out ETC card for just 300 yen).  You can also rent one from Tocoo if you are booking through them.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - ETC Card Rental advertisement on Tocoo website.

ETC Card Rental advertisement on Tocoo website.

 

If you are using the tollway A LOT, you may want to consider getting the Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP).  However, you must be renting from one of the Handling shops listed on their website to be able to get one.

Read more about HEP and ETC here: Hokkaido Expressway Pass vs ETC Card + Hokkaido Toll Fees

hokkaido-expressway-pass

 

5.  Saving on Petrol

At most manned petrol kiosks, the price for petrol when you pay using credit card versus cash is different.  It is cheaper to pay in cash.

 

6.  Saving on Toll Fee

If you are not using HEP, you can save money by avoiding toll ways.  Some GPS models allow you to choose your route.  Look for an option that says something along the line of ‘5 ルート’ (meaning 5 routes) and choose ‘有料回避’ (avoid tollways) and compare the distances between the tollway and non-toll way.

Read more here: How to use Japanese GPS and set it to avoid toll ways.

Note that the estimated timing for tollway is usually quite accurate but not very accurate for non-toll ways. I often find myself taking close to the GPS estimated timing for toll ways but much shorter than the GPS estimated timing on non-toll ways.  The GPS estimated timing is based on driving around 100km/h on tollways and 50km/h on non-tollways, but in reality you will be driving much faster than 50 on non-tollways.  Hence, looking at the distance will give you a better idea of whether or not it is worth it to take the toll way.

In summary, the following popular tourist routes are the ones I would opt for non-toll (or partial toll) ways:

1) Between Noboribetsu and Lake Toya

The GPS would recommend taking the toll way, but using the Orofure Pass gets you between the two places in a shorter distance.  But do note that Orofure Pass is closed from 5pm to 9am during winter months and during bad weather.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - GPS recommended route from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya using tollway (55km)

GPS recommended route from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya using tollway (55km)

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Avoid the tollway by using the Orofure Pass to get from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya (45 km)

Avoid the tollway by using the Orofure Pass to get from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya (45 km)

 

2) From Sapporo to Furano

The GPS would recommend taking the toll way all the way up to Takikawa, but I will exit earlier at Mikasa and drive through Mikasa to Furano.  The timing is about the same as exiting at Takikawa, but the toll fee is less.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - GPS recommended route from Sapporo to Furano, exiting the tollway at Takikawa.

GPS recommended route from Sapporo to Furano, exiting the tollway at Takikawa.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Ignore the GPS and exit at Mikasa to save on toll fee. After exiting, the GPS will find a new route for you through Mikasa to Furano so you no need to worry about getting lost.

Ignore the GPS and exit at Mikasa to save on toll fee. After exiting, the GPS will find a new route for you through Mikasa to Furano so you no need to worry about getting lost.

 

3) From Sapporo to Lake Toya

The GPS will recommend that you take the tollway to Lake Toya.  However, you can take the Nakayama Pass and avoid the tollway totally. You may even get there faster if the weather is good because the distance via Nakayama Pass is much shorter.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - GPS recommended route from Sapporo to Lake Toya using tollway (about 150 km)

GPS recommended route from Sapporo to Lake Toya using tollway (about 150 km)

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - GPS recommended route from Sapporo to Lake Toya using tollway (about 150 km)

GPS recommended route from Sapporo to Lake Toya using tollway (about 150 km)

 

4) From Obihiro to Kushiro

Getting between Obihiro and Kushiro, the non-tollway is a weee bit shorter than the GPS recommended route using the Doutou expressway partially.  However, the traffic along this stretch of road can get quite heavy so you may spend quite a lot of time on the road if you choose to avoid the tollway here.

Screenshot-(229)

Of course, saving on transport alone is not enough.  Air tickets and accommodation also contribute to a large part of a vacation expenditure.  Here are my money-saving tips on these areas:

7. Saving on Air tickets

When it comes to flying to Hokkaido, there are currently no direct commercial flights from Singapore to Hokkaido (some travel companies charter direct flights, but they are usually for their tour package customers).  Explore your options to try to get the best fare deal.

Option #1

Book air tickets from Singapore all the way to Hokkaido with ANA or JAL with a transit in Tokyo.  In June 2014, ANA was having a promotion and we flew there for about SGD800 per adult.  Do note that although this option allows you to do your check in all the way to Hokkaido from Singapore airport, you are still required to collect your luggage upon arrival at Tokyo and drop it off at the domestic transfer counter.  The greatest advantage of this option is that you need not fly in and out of the same city in Hokkaido since ANA and JAL have numerous flights from Haneda / Narita to various cities of Hokkaido.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - JAL flight preparing to depart from New Chitose Airport.

JAL flight preparing to depart from New Chitose Airport.

 

Option #2

Try airlines that transit in a different country.  E.g. Cathay Pacific flies from Singapore to Chitose with a stop in Hong Kong, Thai Airways with a stop in Bangkok, Korean Air with a stop in Seoul.  This method of flying is actually the most hassle free, because your luggage will be checked in all the way through to Chitose.  In this recent trip, we flew by Thai Airways for slightly more than SGD700 per adult with one of their credit card promotions.

(Update) Scoot Airlines started flying from Singapore to Chitose with a transit in Taipei.  Read more about it here:  Scoot Airlines Flies SIN to CTS – Is it a good deal?

 

Option #3

Book seperate tickets from Singapore to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Hokkaido.  For e.g. I once booked a ticket from Singapore to Tokyo on Delta airlines during their promotion for around SGD600 per adult and bought budget airlines tickets on Jetstar and Air Asia for flight between Tokyo and Chitose for about SGD100 per way.   This option requires careful planning, bearing in mind that Tokyo has 2 airports: Narita and Haneda.  You do not want to be arriving into Narita and having to fly out of Haneda for the domestic leg (or vice versa).  You should also look for flights with ample time for you to do the transfer.  Clearing the customs in Japan takes super long with all the photo-taking and finger-printing and you may need to transfer between different terminals at the airport with all your luggage and then check in again for your domestic flight.  It is the most tedious option, so I would only choose this option if it saves me a significant amount of money.  The greatest advantage of this method is that it allows you to stopover at Tokyo for a few days either on the way there or back at no additional cost since you decide when you want to take the domestic flights.

Option #4 (new)

In March 2016, Hokkaido Shinkansen started operations connecting Tokyo to Hakodate.  This ride is covered by the Japan Rail Pass and MAY be a viable money-saving option if you are planning a rail travel that includes Hakodate.

Read more here:  Hokkaido Shinkansen – Is it a good alternative to domestic flights?

 

8.  Save on City hotels, splurge on the ryokans at onsen towns

One of the best part of a Hokkaido vacation is staying in a ryokan with onsen.  There are numerous onsen towns around Hokkaido, but to stay in them throughout an entire vacation would burn a big hole in your pocket.  So when I plan a trip, I try to have a mix of city hotels as well as onsen stays.  When booking city hotels, I will try to book the cheapest option available.  I never spend more than SGD100 per room per night on a city hotel anywhere in Hokkaido.  City hotels are very cheap in Hokkaido, very much unlike Tokyo. For e.g. so far, the prices of my hotel rooms in Sapporo range from SGD50 – 80+ per night.  This way, I can spend more on the onsen hotels with half-board while still keeping the total cost of the vacation within reasonable budget.

(Note: Accommodation prices rocket during festival periods and peak travel seasons in July – Aug, Golden Week and end of year around Christmas – New Year. So if your travel coincides with any major festival or is during their peak season, you would have to expect to pay A LOT more for accommodation.)

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - I had a very pleasant stay at Richmond Hotel right opposite Obihiro station at only SGD60 per room per night.

I had a very pleasant stay at Richmond Hotel right opposite Obihiro station at only SGD60 per room per night. (Image Source)

 

Within Sapporo, I find that hotels in the Susukino area are generally cheaper than those in the Odori or Sapporo station area.  If there is no real need for you to be near Sapporo station, try the hotels around Susukino instead.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - My most recent stay at ANA Holiday Inn Sapporo Susukino only cost SGD50 per room per night!

My most recent stay at ANA Holiday Inn Sapporo Susukino only cost SGD50 per room per night! (Image Source)

 

9.  For city hotels, choose option without breakfast if it’s cheaper

I seldom eat breakfast in the hotels in the city areas even if they are provided free of charge.  Part of free and easy travel in Hokkaido is going around the try all the wonderful food available,  so skip the hotel breakfast.  This applies especially at cities with morning markets such as Sapporo, Hakodate and Kushiro since the morning markets will be on your itinerary anyway and there are plenty of fabulous food at the markets.

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Why have breakfast in the hotel when you can have this instead?

Why have breakfast in the hotel when you can have this instead?

 

For onsen hotels, though, I usually have the hotel breakfasts because there are usually not many eateries available at onsen towns (unless you do not mind a bun from a convenience store – which actually can be quite delicious).

free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido - Yummy cream puff from Lawson convenience store at Lake Akan onsen town - I don't mind eating this for breakfast everyday!

Yummy cream puff from Lawson convenience store at Lake Akan onsen town – I don’t mind eating this for breakfast everyday!

 

Hope this post has been helpful to you! Enjoy your free and easy self-drive holiday to Hokkaido! Always remember.. Drive safe! Safety comes first, do not try to save money at the expense of driving dangerously.


Posts of my Self-Drive trips to Hokkaido:

Hokkaido in Winter (March 2010)
10-days Eastern Hokkaido Self-Drive to visit Snow Festivals

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

Hokkaido in Winter with kids (December 2014)
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

Other Travel Tips relating to Hokkaido Travel:

 

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371Comments

  1. Ricky says:

    Hi bumblebeemum! Very lovely and informative travel blog you have! However, I need to ask, how much do you think it costs/how much you spent for a typical 7 days trip to Hokkaido including everything (+self drive)?

    Reason being, I am trying to plan one for my family (2 parents and a brother) but the costs seems to be either about the same as a package tour or maybe more. Given the hassle-free and convenience of a package tour + they are able to go to many places some not easily accessible by free and easy, it seems free and easy is not as feasible.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Thank you for visiting my blog. :)

      If I were to do a very rough estimate, for 4 adults 7 days, it would be around:

      Air tickets $800 per pax = 3200
      Car rental (7 days) = 500
      Hotel (Avg 200 per night X 6 nights × 2 rooms) = 2400
      Expenses (50 per pax per day × 7 days) = 1400
      Total = 7500

      Usually when I plan my trip, I work around my budget. Let’s say I budget 2000 per pax, means I have 8000 to play around. I will first check and deduct air tix and car rental. If I manage to snitch good deals, then I have more money for hotels and plan more onsen / resort stays. If not, I cut back on hotels by staying in cheaper budget city hotels for more nights to keep the overall cost within my budget.

      similarly for expenses, if I want to cut cost, I will limit to one restaurant meal a day. Rest of the time just eat fast food (as in Japanese fast food like beef bowl, ramen, upon chains) or snack along the way.

      I always travel free and easy because my main purpose of going Hokkaido is to eat. But if your main purpose is to sightsee, them tour groups may allow u to take in more sights at a lower cost.

      • Ricky says:

        Hi

        Thank you for the very prompt reply 😀 and sorry I can only reply now after work.

        In any case, your calculations seem very appealing. If I can keep it to S$2000 per person would be great.

        Probably due to late booking now, my flight costs about S$1000 per person now, and car rental i initially calculated based on toyotarentacar website which quoted S$620 for 5 days.

        However the biggest worry for me is the unknown expenditure like fuel, parking and food.

        Following your rough estimate, mine will become:

        Flight S$1000 X 4 person = S$4000
        Car rental (5 days) = S$620
        Hotel/ryokan (following your estimate S$200 per night for 6 nights, 2 rooms) = S$2400
        Subtotal = S$7020

        Which leaves us with about S$980 for misc expenses to be within budget (S$8000).

        Probably we can save by following your recommendations for the car rental, though toyotarentacar do have more models for bigger families.

        Our goal for the trip is mainly for onsen and sightseeing (thus driving and exploring Shikotsu-Toya National Park).

        Guess I still need to do more research (on onsen price/availability etc). I do hope I can plan one that is less than what Chan brothers are offering S$2800+ per person and enjoy more flexibility.

        This will be my first free and easy, thus the extra “kan cheongness” and worries.

        Thank you very much again for your help and reply! Your travel blog is one of the rare few excellent local guide! 😀

        • Ah.. it is a bit tough if your air tix is already 1000 per pax. So far I have kept my air tix to 800 through promos. Have you tried Thai Airways? Not sure if they still have the Mastercard promo where air tix was only around 700.

          Maybe you can use Tocoo website instead of toyota website for car rental. How many people are there in your company? If you all can pack light and fit into a 5 seater sedan, it would save a lot of money compared to a 7 seater.

          You probably only need 1 tank of petrol so budget about 100 for it. Toll wise, if u share with me your itinerary, I could help do a rough gauge of the cost. With your itinerary I can also estimate your parking fees.

          2800+ sounds expensive to me for a one week trip actually. Unless your travel date run into Golden Week, free and easy shouldn’t cost that much.

          • Ricky says:

            To be honest, the initial plan was my parents wanted to book a trip to Hokkaido prioritizing onsen in the 11 April – 18 April period. They waited till recent NATAS fair and booked the Chan bros package for about S$2800+.

            Unfortunately, they emailed us this Monday to inform the dates we selected were not available due to insufficient people and we cannot change dates because of booked leave.

            Which eventually led us to make a last minute decision to do our own F&E. And whilst reading, I stumble upon your very helpful travel blog.

            So the itinerary wise is still very vague/rough. We will be trying to go afew places in Hokkaido and trying to experience the better onsens. Roughly, it will be:

            1. To Chitose -> Sapporo, where we will go the usual attractions like Odori park, clock tower and Mount Moiwa.

            2. Then to Otaru, for the Otaru canal and Sakaimachi street.

            3. Next to Noboribetsu for the wonderful onsen experience. From here we will be exploring the Shikotsu-Toya National Park area.

            4. And finally to Hakodate for the view and return flight to Narita/Changi.

            The initially plan was to rent a reasonably big car for 4 adults and our bulky luggage. But seeing the costs of the car rental, might instead op for the 7 day rail pass for roughly S$300+ only. But of course with car we have more flexibility to go to more places quicker.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Is there any reason you all specifically want to go Hokkaido? The dates you mentioned is not a good time for Hokkaido. It is actually Sakura season in other parts of Japan! If I were to go Japan in April, I would go Sakura hunting instead. Air tix will be cheaper too (flying to Tokyo).

              April is not so good for Hokkaido because there will be a lot of melting snow and driving may be dangerous. Train connectivity in Hokkaido is not that great either. I would really recommend going other parts of Japan where sakura is in bloom.

              • Ricky says:

                Well there are 2 main reasons why we would want to go Hokkaido. First is previously we went to the central part of Japan, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. So Hokkaido is our next destination. Next reason is my mom absolutely loves onsen! And we hear Hokkaido has one of the best onsen, so that’s why.

                The timing wise is because of the booked leaves of me and my brother. So should be only that period of time

                And actually we thought April is not a peak period, so it should be better for the driving and booking of hotels etc.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  I see.. Well, you are right about Hokkaido having good onsens!

                  Looking at the places you want to visit, if you self-drive, this will be the approximate parking / toll fees:

                  Start with Sapporo without a car. Start your car rental only on the day you are leaving Sapporo.

                  Sapporo -> Otaru (Toll around 800 yen. Park at hotel to save on parking fee. Approx 1000 yen per night for hotel parking)
                  Otaru -> Lake Toya (Non-toll way. Parking around Lake Toya is generally free. Unless you are going to Usuzan ropeway, the parking there is 500 yen.)
                  Lake Toya -> Noboribetsu (Use Orofure Pass which is a non-toll way. Park at your accomodation to save money. Otherwise, parking at Jigokudani is 500 yen.)
                  Noboribetsu -> Hakodate (Toll around 4000 yen. Park at hotel in Hakodate, approx 1000 yen per night for hotel parking)

                  If you stay at onsen hotels in Lake Toya / Noboribetsu, hotel parking should be free. City hotels generally charge around 1000 yen for parking per night.

                  If you wish to travel by rail, look into the Hokkaido Rail pass instead of the JR Rail Pass.
                  http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/08/02/rail-passes-in-japan-hokkaido-rail-pass/

                  • Ricky says:

                    Woah thanks again for the info. At least some of my worries are elevated. Seems like parking isn’t as expensive as I thought.

                    I believe the info I gotten should be more or less somewhere there. The rest I will have to plan myself carefully. The “tools” I use are: Skyscanner (for flights), japanican (for hotel booking), and toyotarentacar (for car rental). Japan-guide is also very useful for a rough idea of the attractions and basic information of the places.

                    We talked about the flights, the hotel stay, the car rental, the train, time to go and even road condition due to melting snow. I believe all these will be useful for many other Singaporeans planning a trip to Hokkaido.

                    And for the others planning a similar trip, please remember to plan early! With that, I thank you again for all your help! :D:D:D

  2. Chuan says:

    Really enjoyed your post and your other parts as well! its very informative!

    I am going on the 9th of May but my trip will only be 5 days so I need to choose the places i visit carefully.

    Would u be able to advice if we should spend the night at Lake Toya or Noboribetsu? We are looking for a natural Onsen with a nice view and preferably if my Wife and I can bath together? As I know they are mostly gender specific? Any recommendation would be great.

    Also Due to our travel time of May, I saw you still had a great time in Furano & Biei, would u recommend spending a night there? Or just Day trips is enough?

    By Any chance did u travel to the east of Hokkaido?

    Any advice in advance is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Thank you for visiting my blog, glad you enjoyed reading it! :)

      Between Lake Toya and Noboribetsu, Lake Toya definitely has a better view. Lake View Toya Nonokaze has a private onsen which you can book and enjoy with your wife! :)

      Nope, I do not recommend visiting Furano and Biei in May. It’s way to early for flowering season in that region.

      In May, given you only have 5 days, you would need to choose either sakura down South, or shibazakura and tulips up North.

      For sakura, going South starting from Sapporo, places you should visit are:
      Sapporo’s popular sakura spots in Maruyama Park, Hokkaido Shrine and Moerenuma Park.
      Noboribetsu’s avenue of sakura trees.
      Hakodate is one of the best places in Hokkaido to view sakura. Definitely visit Goryokaku Park. Another popular sakura spot is Hakodate Park.
      If you have time to go even further south, Matsumae Castle is Hokkaido’s top sakura spot with 10,000 sakura trees.

      For shibazakura and tulips, places to visit are:
      Takinoue Park
      Higashimokoto shibazakura park
      Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park

      If you decide to do the route to the North to see shibazakura and tulips, I would suggest you skip Lake Toya and go Lake Akan instead because Lake Toya is in the opposite direction. Lake Akan is pretty similar to Lake Toya (onsen towns along the lake). Akan Yuku No Sato at Lake Akan has family baths if you wish to visit the onsen with your wife.

      Yes, I have travelled to Eastern Hokkaido twice. You can read about them here:
      Eastern Hokkaido self-drive in 2010
      Days 6 to 10 of my December 2014 Trip

      • Chuan says:

        Hi Again! Thanks to your wonderful recommendation we have decided to do

        Takinoue Park
        Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park

        But due to my flights I am really conflicted. If you do not mind Could i go through my itinerary for your opinion.

        Day 1, I land at 2.35pm At Asahikawa Airport (Cannot Change this point). I was originally thinking of getting the rental car and getting closer to Takinoue or Kamiyubetsu but there are no hotels along the way unless I I drive directly to Mombetsu But I am not sure if this is the best way.

        Another way is to spend the night in Asahikawa. I saw Asahiyama park has nice Sakura viewing early May. I saw you posted about Asahikawa before but just about the zoo. Is there anything else to do? May i ask where u stayed in Asahikawa before? I see the Grand hotel is highly rated.

        Day 2, leave early and do a Day trip of Takinoue Park and Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park going a circle and back Through Biei (Panorama Road etc) and staying over night in Kami Furano (La Terre Hotel for Hot spring)

        Day 3, Continue through Ningle Terrace and Whatever that is in Bloom in Furano. From there proceed to Sapporo. Have not planned in detail from here but roughly….

        Day 4, travel around Sapporo. Was thinking of Otaru but seems like there is lots to do and see in Sapporo as well.

        Day 5, Enjoy last morning in Sapporo and off to New Chitose to Osaka on the 2pm flight. (also cannot change)

        Really sad that we have to skip Noboribetsu and Lake Toya but I cannot seem to make it work. So i guess net time from Chitose to Hakodate.

        I do know you said the that Biei and Furano are not fantastic in May but I cannot see how else to split the drive from Kamiyubetsu to Sapporo or anywhere else. Any advise would be great. I am quite lost as have not been to Hokkaido at all before.

        Thanks once again for your kind advice as always!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Day 1: If you arrive at 2.35pm, chances are it’s getting dark by the time you clear customs and collect your rental car and make it to Asahikawa city centre. I stayed at Loisir Asahikawa. I also considered Grand Hotel, but Loisir was cheaper for my date. Grand Hotel has slightly better location in terms of getting to the main shopping street on foot. (Please note that their shopping street is nothing like Orchard Rd.. Just a pedestrain pathway with shops lined on the two side and a department store opposite McDonalds where you can find Daiso.)

          I doubt you have enough time to visit Asahiyama Park for the sakura on Day 1. I suggest you go there on Day 2, before driving on to Takinoue / Kamiyubetsu.

          Day 2: Most people do Takinoue and Kamiyubetsu as a day trip from Asahikawa. If you do not wish to return to Asahikawa and want to stay in an onsen hotel, I recommend Sounkyo Onsen instead of Kami Furano. Kami Furano is too far. You would be rushing through Takinoue and Kamiyubetsu if you want to get to Kami Furano before dark and in time for dinner. The road to Kami Furano through Biei is rural, so for safety reasons, I really do not advice you try to rush the drive there. I recommend Choyo Tei at Sounkyo Onsen, I stayed there in 2010 and enjoyed it a lot.

          Day 3: Take your time to drive through Biei and Furano before finally back to Sapporo. Biei’s countryside scenery is beautiful in all seasons, do give it some time.

          There is a sakura spot at Furano:
          http://www.rurubu.com/season/spring/sakura/detail.aspx?SozaiNo=010018
          http://blog.princehotels.co.jp/ski/furano/2014/05/post_677.html

          Day 4: I suggest staying at Sapporo since it is sakura season. Sapporo has beautiful sakura spots, but not Otaru.

          Hokkaido is pretty big, for a 5 days trip, you can only cover a very specific area. So yup, plan a longer trip next time to explore the other areas! I have been to Hokkaido 4 times and haven’t even finished exploring everything. -_-

        • If you want private onsen at Sounkyo, try Sounkyo Kankou Hotel.http://sounkyo-kankou.co.jp/onsen/
          They have rooms with private onsen.

  3. Bee bee says:

    Hi Bumble Bee mum,

    Read your interesting self drive in Hokkdaido.I’m planing to do self drive nut not sure how far form the place I wish to visit. Can you advise how far between these location
    1.Sapporo – Noboridtesu Onsen (1 nite )
    2.Noboribetsu Onsen – Lake Toya (1 nite)
    3.Lake Toya – Oturu ) ( 1 nite)
    4.Otaru – Asakikiwa (1 nite)
    5.Asakikiwa – Furano – Biei (2 nite )
    6.Furano -Sapporo – 2 nite

    or will you have a better suggestion ?

    Bee Bee

    • Hi,

      Here are the approximate driving times:

      1. Sapporo – Noboribetsu (about 2 hours)
      2. Noboribetsu – Lake Toya (about 1 hour)
      3. Lake Toya – Otaru (about 2.5 hours)
      4. Otaru – Asahikawa (about 2.5 hours)
      5. Asahikawa – Biei (about 1 hour) and Biei – Furano (about 1 hour)
      6. Furano – Sapporo (about 3 hours)

      Your itinerary looks comfortable, not too rushed. If you are arriving at New Chitose Airport, you can consider driving straight to Noboribetsu from New Chitose Airport, rather than going to Sapporo and driving to Noboribetsu from Sapporo. New Chitose Airport is located in between Sapporo and Noboribetsu.

      For Asahikawa to Furano, it would make more sense to go to Biei enroute to Furano because Biei is located in between Asahikawa and Furano. Biei accommodations are very limited, so I recommend spending two nights at Furano. So for Day 5, after leaving Asahikawa, drive around Biei for the day, and then go to Furano for the night. The next day, you can continue touring around Furano and return to the same hotel.

  4. Sera says:

    Hi
    Thanks for such detailed blog on your Hokkaido trip. Very helpful for my planning for year end trip. My hubby and I plan to rent a car from Hakodate to travel to otaru and then to sounkyo and back to sapporo. The trip is in early dec this year. Hope you can advise me. Is it too early to book for car?I searched the Japanese website and the calendar is not open for December. What was the car model you have selected. Is it 4 wheel drive? Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      It is still too early to book for December. You can try again in September, the winter plans should be out by then.

      Actually for the places you named (Hakodate, Otaru, Sounkyo, Sapporo), you don’t really need a car. Have you considered getting the Hokkaido rail pass instead? Use it to get you from Hakodate to Sapporo to Otaru. For Sounkyo, you can use the rail pass to get to Asahikawa and catch a bus from there. The reason I’m suggesting this is because the snow was extremely heavy around Asahikawa and Sounkyo when I was there in Dec. I couldn’t see lane markings and road signs at all, and wouldn’t even know if I was driving into oncoming traffic or off the road into ditch at the side. I had to drive dead slow and the drives took very long, taking a train would have been much faster.

      The car I rented was just a normal sedan with snow tyres. There is no need for 4-wheel drive in Hokkaido.

      • Betsy Lee says:

        Hi Bumble Bee Mum,
        I’m so glad I came across your blog!
        Me and hubby making our first trip to Tokyo/Hokkaido for X’mas 2016 and it’s our first trip to Japan – Free n Easy! So excited but worried as well.. haha..
        We plan to stay 3 full days in Tokyo and 5 full days in Hokkaido.
        Is 5 full days enough? We hv never driven in the snow before so I guess we hv to opt for the Hokkaido Rail Pass!! Thanks for much for sharing so much information and experience!!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Like I always tell my friends, even if you give me 1 month in Hokkaido, I wouldn’t think it’s enough. But if you have 5 days, you can just plan for 5 days.

          If you want to use the 5-day rail pass for Hokkaido, I suggest you pay a bit more for the 7-days Japan Rail Pass and use the shinkansen to get from Tokyo to Hakodate. So what you can do is this:

          Day 1 – 3: Tokyo
          Day 4 (start JR Pass): Tokyo – Hakodate
          Day 5: Hakodate – Sapporo
          Day 6: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
          Day 7: Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama Zoo)
          Day 8: Sapporo – Niseko
          Day 9: Niseko – Hakodate
          Day 10 (last day of JR Pass): Hakodate – Tokyo

  5. Liting says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum!

    Your post is really informative! But I still have some doubts! It will be great if you can help me with it! I will be travelling to Hokkaido from 22nd June to 28th June. I am thinking of renting a car for the trip, but may I ask if I need to opt for the HEP pass? or the ETC pass? Or I can go fine just without it? May I ask what are the hotels you stay in Biei, Furano, Asahikawa area? And I read about your trip to the Unkai Terrace, did you stay at the resort?

    Here is my itinerary:

    Day 1 (22/6) – Sapporo
    Day 2 (23/6) – Lake Toya
    Day 3 (24/6) – Tomamu for Unkai Terrace
    Day 4 (25/6) – Head to Biei, Furano, Asahikawa area
    Day 5 (26/6) – Still around the same area
    Day 6 (27/6) – Back to Sapporo

    Hope you can help me with my planning! Sorry if I have too many questions! Thank you in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Looking at your itinerary, I don’t think it’s worth it to get HEP. If your car rental company can rent you an ETC card, you should rent it. Or you can rent one from Tocoo if you book the car through them. As long as you use the expressway, even if it’s just once, you should try to get an ETC card. It gives great discount on toll fees. You will probably be using the tollway between Lake Toya and Tomamu and between Asahikawa / Furano and Sapporo.

      For Biei / Furano / Asahikawa area, I stayed at Hotel Edel Warme in Furano. It is a bit dated, but the quad room with 4 beds was very spacious and reasonably priced.

      For Unkai Terrace, yes, I stayed at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu. I recommend staying there, because to visit Unkai Terrace, you need to be up there really early.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. I’ll be happy to help you where I can.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Hi,

    May i know which company did you buy your travel insurance from? Is CDW under Vehicle Excess charge? Thanks a million for your help!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      I bought my insurance from a friend who does insurance. He looks into various options and finds the cheapest option that suits my needs. For example he has bought Great Eastern TravelSmart and Tenet Sompo Insurance TravelJoy for my last two trips.

      And yup, I think CDW and Vehicle Excess charge are talking about the same thing.

      • BC says:

        2 points to add :
        1) CDW insurance is covered by your own travel insurance’s “Car Rental Excess”. However, do note the coverage amount which ranges from $300 to $1500. Insurers will only compensate the driver, even if there are 2 named drivers who r both similarly insured. (ie if mum & dad both insured for $1k excess each, & the excess is $1.5k, the claim is still capped at $1k)
        2) More importantly, there is also the Non-Operating Charge (NOC) that could be payable under the car rental agreement. This NOC (ranges from jpy 30k to jpy 70k depending on vehicle & extent of damage) DOES NOT seem to be covered by our own travel insurance.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Thanks for sharing. Yup, the CDW is capped at per car rental, regardless of the number of people insured. I never thought about the NOC charge though – thanks for highlighting it!

  7. Anna says:

    Hi, thanks for posting this. For Orofure Pass, is the road winding hilly kind? Thanks!

  8. Lynn says:

    Hi.we r family of 4 planning to travel to hokkaido tis dec 5th to 10th.self drive.here is our iternary. .new chitoes to toya 2 days
    Toya to Hakodate 3 days
    Hakodate to niseko 1day
    Nisekko to Sapporo 3 days
    Kindly recommend us the hotel base on ur travel experience in each stopping point and what’s the driving time between each location.I was hoping I can keep my budget below 7k including air tickets. Thank you

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      For driving time, you can use google map to do an estimate. But please be aware that you are going in winter. If it snows heavily, your driving time will be DOUBLE of what Google estimates. So e.g. if Google estimates a 2 hours driving time, you should give yourself 4 hours to complete that drive before sunset (which is around 4pm in winter).

      For Lake Toya, I recommend Toya Sun Palace. They have a nice indoor pool for kids, though I’m not sure if you want to use it in winter. I was there in Summer and even then, I didn’t think their heating worked wonderful. Alternatively, if you don’t mind spending a bit more for a better onsen hotel, try Lake View Nonokaze.

      For Hakodate, I stayed at Hakodate Kokusai Hotel. The location was fantastic, in between the morning market and Red Brick Warehouse District. Since you have allocated 3 days, you may want to consider spending 1 night at Yunokawa Onsen. It is famous for the monkeys bathing in the hot spring!

      For Niseko, the most hassle-free hotels for skiing are Hilton Niseko Village at Niseko Village, or Hotel Niseko Alpen at Hirafu Village. Hirafu Village is more happening whereas Niseko Village is more up-market and self-contained. Are you planning to ski at Niseko? If you are, I advise staying at least 2 nights at Niseko. You can do just 1 day Lake Toya.

      For Sapporo, I recommend Mercure Hotel. You can read more about it on this post.

  9. Alice says:

    Hi Hi,

    I’m planning to Hokkaido self drive during 23rd dec to 2nd jan. Place that i’ll like to visit will be as below.

    Hokodate, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu,, niseko, Jozankei, Otaru

    As I drive in autumn before, i’ll like to try driving during this period. Can you let me know is it dangerous to drive during this period?

    And I usually will try to rent the car from Toyota. Is there any test that Toyota will ask us to do before driving?

    could you recommend nice onsen hotel in this few place? I’ll always go for the kaiseki dinner in this onsen hotel.

  10. J says:

    Hi bumblebeemum

    How do I use the hokkaido expressway pass? do i need the ETC card?

    I intend to travel from
    1) sapporo – furano
    2) furano – biei
    3) biei – furano
    4) furano – tomamu
    5) tomamu – noboribetsu
    6) noboribetsu – toya
    7) toya – sapporo

    I intend to rent from toyota but i cant rent the ETC card from the sapporo east station

    Any advice?

    thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      The Hokkaido Expressway Pass comes in the form of the ETC Card. You basically insert the card into the ETC unit in the car and just leave it there. Then you can drive freely through the ETC gantries when entering / exiting the tollways.

      Looking at your itinerary, you do not need the Hokkaido Expressway Pass. If you want to get an ETC card, you can try booking through Tocoo and renting the ETC card from them.
      http://www2.tocoo.jp/en

  11. Mil says:

    Hi have been reading all your posts on hokkaido and must say it is fantastic and really detailed! The posts are all full of really practical tips and I must say it has really helped me in planning :)

    2 of us are planning to spend about 2 weeks in hokkaido this late July to early August and we are relatively budget-conscious. We have currently bought plane tickets between Singapore to Tokyo. Just wanted to ask and would be really grateful if you could help:

    1. How long should I plan as buffer time between landing in Tokyo Narita and taking a separate flight to New Chitose Airport?

    2. Currently my itinerary as planned is as follows:

    Day 1: Land in New Chitose Airport. Stay in Chitose

    Day 2: Rent car. Drive to Obihiro

    Day 3: Kushiro

    Day 4: Shibetsu

    Day 5: Abashiri

    Day 6: Sounkyo

    Day 7: Asahikawa

    Day 8: Furano

    Day 9: Otaru

    Day 10: Lake Toya or Noboribetsu

    Day 11: Lake Toya or Noboribetsu (depending on where we stayed in Day 10)

    Day 12: Return the car at New Chitose Airport and travel to Sapporo

    Day 13: Sapporo

    Day 14: Back to Tokyo

    I was just wondering if it’s too ambitious? Is it doable or should I cut out some stuff and stay more than 1 night at some places?

    3. If I should splurge on 1 or 2 nice places to stay in my trip, where should I splurge on?

    I would of course prefer if it was not too pricey too. I think max splurge will be SGD $400 per night for a 2 person room. Or maybe it’s just my wishful thinking as it is the peak domestic tourism season…

    4. Does the type of car matter alot when renting to drive in Hokkaido?

    We are looking at the cheapest cars currently on TooCoo (since there are only 2 of us) but my one concern is whether it can get us around without too much trouble (e.g. cannot go through mountainous roads, strong winds etc)

    5. Aside from an English GPS and ETC card, would you advice getting a wireless plan too or is there no need for one?

    Sorry for the super long post and look forward to hearing from you!

    And do keep up the good work! Thanks for sharing all your knowledge with everyone!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Thank you for visiting my blog and your kinds words.

      Firstly, late July / early August is peak season for Hokkaido Travel. It may not be as budget as you would hope, especially in Furano. I heard accommodation in Furano especially are either fully booked or extremely expensive. Not to deter you but, just a warning because you mentioned that you are budget-conscious.

      1. You should plan for at least 2 hours buffer time. Please make sure that your domestic flight departs from Narita Airport as well, and NOT Haneda airport.

      2. Your itinerary looks doable. But I feel 1 day in Furano is a tad too short. Late July / early August is peak flowering season and flower fields are concentrated around Furano / Biei. I recommend at least 2 nights stay in Furano. I would skip the night at Noboribetsu, visiting it as a day trip. This is my recommendation:
      Day 8: Furano
      Day 9: Furano
      Day 10: Otaru
      Day 11: Lake Toya
      Day 12: Go to Noboribetsu as a day trip before returning the car at New Chitose Airport.

      3. The places you should splurge on are the onsen towns. That will be Sounkyo and Lake Toya. If you want to cut cost further on accommodation, you can consider staying at Asahikawa on the nights you plan to go to Furano. i.e. if you take my recommendation to spend more time at Furano, you can consider staying 3 nights at Asahikawa from Day 7 to 9. You can do day trips to Biei and Furano from Asahikawa. That will cut your accommodation cost by A LOT. The last I checked for my friend who is going in end July, a night at Asahikawa Grand Hotel was $100 while a night at Furano was $400+.

      4. It doesn’t matter. Roads in Hokkaido are very well-maintained. You are unlikely to run into problems, especially in Summer. Of course if you encounter things like typhoon *TOUCH WOOD*, just don’t drive out.

      5. Whether or not to get a wireless plan is a very personal choice. If you want a sense of security and are worried you may get lost or have problem communicating with the locals, then you can consider getting a wireless plan. Personally, I don’t get wireless plan when I go for vacations. Because it makes me very tempted to keep using the phone, but I want to focus on admiring the scenery rather than posting photos on Facebook, know what I mean? But that’s just me and I’m quite a phone addict. Having wireless plan may be a good idea, especially if you don’t speak Japanese and are going Japan for the first time since it gives you access to google translator and google map.

      Thank you for your encouragement! It’s very motivating! :)

      • Mil says:

        Thanks so very much for such a comprehensive reply! It has been a great great help 😀

        Just one more somewhat stupid question: How do I know when parking is free or when I will have to pay? Do they have those coin meter things or is it by coupon or any other method?

        Thanks so much once again!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          In the cities, there will be big big signs at the carpark entrance stating the parking fee if it is not free. Some uses gantries which issues a coupon, some use this electronic hump thingy that will trap your vehicle wheels once you are parked and you put money into the machine when you come back to release it, some use elevator lifts (but these will have attendants who will guide you how to pay when you want to collect your vehicle) etc. At tourist attractions, usually a parking attendant will be on the spot to collect parking fee the moment you drive into the carpark. If there is no parking attendant around, you can assume it is free parking.

  12. Amanda says:

    Hi bumblebee mum,

    I read your blog with great interest especially your Japan travel blog, it is so informative!

    My hubby and I plan to travel Hokkaido this Sep (6th-14th). This is our first trip to Hokkaido and we plan to self-drive. We are taking Thai airways and will reach Chitose airport around 8.30am on 7 Sep. Below is our brief itinerary:

    7/9 Chitose airport – Lake Toya
    collect car rental at Chitose and drive to Lake Toya. On the way, stop at Lake Shikotsu, Kinoku outlet and Sobetsu fruit village for fruit picking. Is that worth while to go for ice cream making? Stay a nite at one of the onsen resort.

    8/9 Lake Toya – Hakodate
    Visit Goryokaku Tower, Red Brick warehouse then to mount Hakodate for night view. Stay a night at Hakodate

    9/9 Hakodate – Noboribetsu
    Visit Hakodate morning mkt, motomachi district visit Hakodate public hall then drive to mt showa to visit the showa shinzan bear ranch. Drive to Noboribetsu and stay a nite at onsen

    10/9 Noboribetsu – Furano
    Visit Jigokudani, Dyunuma. Drive to Sounkyo Gorge for its two famous waterfalls, Sounkyo Kurodate Ropeway then heading to Furano for a night. Any suggestions on other places to visit in Noberibetsu?

    11/9 Furano – Biei – Sapporo
    Visit Shikisai No Oka, Furano Cheese Factory, Farm Tomita, Furano winery. Drive to Biei for its beautiful scenary then drive to Sapporo. Stay 3 nites at Sapporo

    12/9 Sapporo – Otaru
    Return car rental at Chitose airport then taking JR Rail to Otaru. Visit Otaru canal, Sakaimachi Street, music box museum, Hokkaido Jingu Shrine, back to Sapporo visit Susukino

    13/9 Sapporo
    nijo market, Ishiya chocolate factory, Odari Park, beer factory, Tannuki Koji, underground shopping mall. Sapporo JR station

    14/9 morning flight to Bangkok

    Actually we want to visit the Asahikawa Ramen Village as well but don’t know where to slot in this into our itinerary. Would appreciate your advise on the feasibility of our itinerary, hotel suggestion and approx driving time n route to take from one place to another.

    Thank you very much :)

    Regards,
    Amanda

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Your itinerary generally looks okay, but some changes I would recommend are below:

      10/9: That is a lot of distance you are covering in a day. I suggest you end the day at Asahikawa. So in the morning, visit Noboribetsu, then go to Sounkyo as planned, but go to Asahikawa to spend the night. There are two ways you can slot Asahikawa Ramen Village in. You can either go to Asahikawa Ramen Village for dinner if you stay at Asahikawa for the night, or you can go there for lunch between Noboribetsu and Sounkyo (it is along the way). I would recommend doing lunch, because dining options at Sounkyo is limited, and it allows you to take a break from the long drive. And I don’t think you need to visit more places in Noboribetsu because you have quite a bit of distance to cover.

      11/9: From Asahikawa, visit Biei first, followed by Furano before going back to Sapporo. You should return your rental car at Sapporo when you get back. Every car company will have outlets at both New Chitose Airport and Sapporo. Find out which outlet is nearest to your hotel and return your car there. Some companies do not charge a drop-off fee within the Chitose / Sapporo area, some will charge you a nominal fee to do so. Most likely, the drop-off fee is going to be cheaper than your parking at Sapporo for the night. And it saves you the hassle of driving to the airport just to return the car the next day and taking a train to Otaru again – it is totally not along the way.

      12/9: Hokkaido Jingu Shrine is in Sapporo, not Otaru.

      Other than that, your itinerary looks good and well planned! :)

      With regards to ice-cream making, if you have time, just try it out. It is an experience.

      • Amanda says:

        Hi,

        Thanks for your quick reply and advise. Really appreciate it.

        I will change my itinerary on 10/9 as per your suggestion. Any recommendation for hotel at Noboribetsu, Asahikawa and Sapporo? Our budget is ard $200 avg per nite per your advise to others previously.

        As we also like to save on the toll charges and this is our first time driving in Japan, is it possible for you to advise which route to take base on my itinerary?

        Thanks a million. Have a great day!

        Regards,
        Amanda

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hi,

          For Noboribetsu, you can try Hotel Mahoroba.

          For Asahikawa, try Asahikawa Grand Hotel.

          For Sapporo, I would just search hotel booking websites to find any cheap hotel near either Sapporo or Odori or Susukino station. These 3 stations are connected by the underground shopping arcade and they each have their advantage:

          Sapporo is the transport hub between subway lines and JR lines. It is most convenient when you are using JR lines which will bring you to Otaru and New Chitose Airport).

          Odori is the transport hub between the 3 subway lines which gives you direct access to Ishiya chocolate factory which is on the Tozai subway Line. It is in the middle of the underground shopping arcade, which means you can easily walk to Sapporo station or Susukino station from there.

          Susukino is the heart of nightlife in Sapporo. So you won’t go bored at night, with 24 hour eateries and shopping available. There is an airport limousine bus to go back to the airport from Susukino.

          Odori Park, Tanukikoji and Nijo Market (which is located at the Eastern end of Tanukikoji) are easily reached on foot from Odori and Susukino stations.

          To go to Sapporo Beer Factory, you can take the Loop 88 bus from near Sapporo or Odori stations.

          So judging from the places you want to go, it really doesn’t make much difference which of the 3 stations you stay at. I’ll just pick the cheapest.

          As for toll charges, looking at your itinerary, it is a bit hard to save on toll charges. Generally to go to Hakodate or Asahikawa, it is a bit hard to avoid the tollway. You may want to consider getting the Hokkaido Expressway Pass because it looks like you will be on the tollway everyday other than the first day.

          • Amanda says:

            Thanks once again for your comprehensive reply. It’s a great help indeed!

            Is it possible for you to give me the estimated driving time for the following places:

            1. Chitose airport – Lake Toya
            2. Lake Toya – Hakodate
            3. Hakodate – Noboribetsu
            4. Noboribetsu – Asahikawa
            5. Asahikawa – Sapporo

            What is the different between HEP and ETC card?

            Thank you and keep up the good job!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              1. CTS – Lake Toya (2 hours)
              2. Lake Toya – Hakodate (2.5 hours)
              3. Hakodate – Noboribetsu (3 hours)
              4. Noboribetsu – Asahikawa (3 hours)
              5. Asahikawa – Sapporo (2 hours)

              HEP offers unlimited travel on the expressways for a flat fee (like a concession pass) whereas ETC card charges for each trip you make. They both come in the form of a card (similar to our cashcard) to be inserted into the ETC unit (similar to our IU) and allows you to drive through the ETC gantries at the toll gates. The toll fee will be charged to the card.

              • Amanda says:

                Hi Bumblebeemum,

                Thanks for your info. I am currently looking at Toyota and Nippon rent a car websites for my car rental option.

                As per your advice, I need the HEP for toll way travel but I am a bit confused with HEP and ETC card. Nippon rent a car booking form has an option for HEP however it says please select ETC card together. Does it mean I need to rent both HEP and ETC card? Here is their website link https://www.nrh.co.jp/reserve_v3/form_en.shtml?id=REQGOX5E4V&cid=LXE4U3B1ND. It would be great if you could help to take a look at the booking form and let me know whether I can just opt for HEP card. Sorry to border you about this as this is my first time renting a car in Japan. I went to ToCoo website too but it seems that they don’t have HEP for rent.

                Thank you for your time and help on this. Really appreciate it.

                Have a great day ahead!

                Cheers,
                Amanda

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Hmmm.. Since they said to select ETC Card together, I guess you need to tick ETC Card as well. Toyota didn’t charge me additional for ETC Card when I rented the car from them with HEP. They only charged the price of the HEP. Not sure why Nippon has an additional charge for ETC Card on top of the cost of HEP. If it bothers you, go with Toyota then.

                  As for Tocoo, maybe you can try emailing them to ask if they can help you request for HEP if you book a car from one of the HEP handling offices through them.

                  • Amanda says:

                    Thanks for your super quick reply. Will try Toyota then as I not sure if Tocoo has English speaking staff whom can help me in case I need it.

                    Oh ya, one more thing. I will be driving from Chitose airport to Lake Shikotsu then to Lake Toya. I can use non toll way all the way right? so I do not need HEP for my day 1 trip correct?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Quite sure Tocoo has English speaking staff actually. They are supposed to be like the middle-man between non-Japanese speaking visitors and the Japanese car rental companies. But booking through Toyota directly may be more convenient since you can request the HEP directly from them.

                      Yup, Chitose to Lake Shikotsu to Lake Toya is non-toll. But the way HEP works is, you have to get the HEP for the WHOLE RENTAL DURATION. From the day you pick-up the car to the day you return the car, regardless of how many days in between you actually use the toll way.

  13. Shan says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Thanks for all the information on driving in Hokkaido.

    I am planning a self-drive cum train trip to hokkaido in July.

    Thinking to take the train to ashihikawa and rent a car from ashihikawa to self drive around furano area.

    Have u tried or heard review from https://www.jrh-rentacar.com ?

    I am thinking to rent from them as it seems cheap?

    If not, what is your recommendation?

    Also,
    I’ve only driven in Australia and New Zealand for road trips.. hardly drive in Singapore.
    Would it be easy to drive in Hokkaido?

    Hope to hear from u soon.

    Thank you :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Yup I heard of JR Rent A Car though I have never used them before. They should be pretty reliable since JR is a huge company (they run most of the train in Japan) but I am not sure how well the Hokkaido branch deals with foreigners. If you know some Japanese, then no problem, you can go ahead and just rent from the cheapest company you can find. If not, have you tried searching through Tocoo?

      Driving in Hokkaido is much easier than driving in Singapore because there is very little traffic. Since you won’t be driving to Sapporo, you shouldn’t have a problem. If you are concerned about driving in cities where traffic is heavier and GPS sometimes goes a bit crazy, you may want to rent a car from Biei or Furano. I find the rural parts of Hokkaido (such as Biei and Furano) very similar to New Zealand south island.

  14. Joanne says:

    Hello Bumblebee Mum, I chanced upon your blog while researching for Hokkaido. I’m going to make a trip there next week and will be going Furano-Biei area from Asashikawa. Due to the lack of public transport options (to visit some flower farms etc) I was thinking to rent a car after I arrive at Asahikawa.

    Some questions I have are:

    1) is it easy to drive in Hokkaido? (I have a SG driving license but I have not driven a car ever since I’ve a license (dec 2013))

    2) GPS systems reliable ? if i key in mapcodes / phone numbers – based on what you advised…

    3) and lastly if you have any idea how much the petrol costs will be estimated from Asahikawa – Biei – Furano, then the next day, Furano (in the town) and then to Tomita Farm and back, and the last day to the station and return the car…

    I’m sorry if that’s too much to ask for but i’m so totally clueless.. >.<

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) Yes it is easy to drive in Hokkaido. But ermm… You may want to practice driving a bit in Singapore before venturing into a foreign land? Also, you need to apply for International Driving Permit to drive in Japan. There are no tests to take, you just need to go down to AA to apply for it.

      2) Yes, it is reliable. Though I find it works better in rural areas like Biei / Furano than built-up areas like Asahikawa. You may want to start your rental in Biei or Furano instead.

      3) If I have to give a very rough estimate… Maybe 2000-3000 yen? I don’t think it’ll be a lot. Asahikawa to Furano is not that far by Hokkaido standards.

      Will you be travelling alone or with companions? Are your companions able to drive? It will be a lot better if you have a travel companion who knows how to drive. I feel a bit concerned when you say you have never driven since you got your license. It is not easy to drive AND navigate on the GPS at the same time on your own. I drive frequently in Japan, but I still get my husband to navigate for me when I drive there. He will look at the GPS and watch the road and tell me when to turn while I keep my eyes on the road.

  15. CJ says:

    Hello bumblebee Mum,
    Thanks for your blog! The amount of information you have is really useful to visit Hokkaido. It gives me confidence that I could do self-drive instead.

    I have booked my holiday to Hokkaido this August and I didn’t want to do self drive until I came across your blog. I’m hoping to get some advice from you on how I should rent the car (Eg. throughout the whole trip or partial, should I get HEP) even that the hotels has been booked .

    Here’s my itinerary:

    2 Aug: arrive in New Chitose Airport at 8am.

    2-4 Aug: Staying in Noboribetsu. Planning to cisit Lake Toya if I’m driving.

    4-6 Aug: Hakodate

    6-10 Aug: Sapporo. Visiting Cape Kamui and Biei

    10-11 Aug: staying at airport hotel to do some last minute shopping and my flight is at 8am on the day of departure.

    If I have decided to self drive before the hotels are booked, it will be easier to change my itinerary around. I’m really torn as I know I don’t need a car in Sapporo.

    There will be 4 of us, myself, my BFF and our mums.

    Greatly appreciate any advice from you.

    Thanks!
    CJ

    • bumblebeemum says:

      With 4 adults, I would opt to drive all the way. Summer is a good time to drive, unlike winter. And train tickets for 4 adults would not be much cheaper than car rental + toll. Usually I recommend starting the tour at Sapporo so that you don’t need to rent the car for the first few days in Sapporo. You can pick up the car only when you are leaving Sapporo and return it at the New Chitose Airport branch.

      2 Aug: New Chitose Airport – Sapporo
      3 Aug: Sapporo
      4 Aug: Rent car, drive to Otaru + Cape Kamui. Stay in Otaru.
      5 Aug: Otaru – Lake Toya. Stay in Lake Toya.
      6 Aug: Lake Toya – Hakodate. Stay in Hakodate.
      7 Aug: Hakodate – Noboribetsu. Stay in Noboribetsu.
      8 Aug: Noboribetsu – Furano. Stay in Furano.
      9 Aug: Furano / Biei flower fields. Stay in Furano.
      10 Aug: Furano – New Chitose Airport. Return car. Stay at New Chitose Airport

      • CJ says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum,

        Thanks for the suggestion. I have booked my car and can’t wait for this Saturday to come.

        Do you have any accommodation recommendation for Furano or Biei?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Ermmm… what? You mean you haven’t booked your accommodation at Furano / Biei? Please go and book something RIGHT NOW. I don’t have any recommendation except whatever is still available… It’s peak period! Okay, I tried Agoda and the only hotels with vacancy for your dates are Hotel Park Hills and Taisetsuzan Shiroganekankou Hotel. Hotel Park Hills looks much cheaper, I would probably go with that.

  16. Bryan loy says:

    Hi bumblebeemum!

    I read your blog and found that it was pretty entertaining and enriching. I just have a question, what would be the places in hokkaido that i should visit should i not wish to self drive?(by rail) And my trip would be about 7d6n at around next year March. However, i would also really like to visit otaru and lake toya, is i accessible by rail? I would greatly appreciate your advice! Thank you!

    Regards
    Bryan

  17. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I’m really glad I stumbled on your blog! So informative and at least now I have a very rough idea of how to do a self drive in Hokkaido. Prior to reading your blog I was totally clueless ha ha.

    My hubby and I are thinking of going from 1 to maybe 11 Sept and thinking of covering these places. Can help me see if this is feasible? At this stage, we have not booked anything yet. It will be our first self drive trip in Hokkaido.

    Sapporo (2 nights)
    Land at New Chitose airport and take train or bus to Sapporo. 2 nights in Sapporo, will explore using buses and subway. Can you recommend a hotel that is near the train station or the airport limousine buses will go to?

    Furano (2 nights)
    Pick up rental car at Sapporo and head off to Furano. How do you usually make your way to the rental car co in Sapporo?

    Asahikawa (1 night)

    Otaru (1 night)

    Toya (2 nights)

    Lake Shikotsu (1 or 2 nights)

    Head to New Chitose airport from Shikotsu for flight home

    I did not include Hakodate as I don’t want it to be a rushed trip and I prefer small towns rather than big cities.

    You think this itin looks ok? Thanks in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Your itinerary looks okay, pretty relaxed. I would reduce 1 night in Lake Toya. If I have extra time, I would spend more time in Furano / Biei.

      Generally, at onsen towns such as Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu, I would only spend 1 night. Because staying 2 nights would mean eating the same food, using the same onsen and looking at the same scenery. With the number of days you have, if you don’t want to go far, there are other onsen towns to explore such as Jozankei Onsen (between Otaru and Lake Toya), Noboribetsu (not far from Lake Shikotsu / Lake Toya) and Shirogane onsen (near Biei). You can go onsen resort hopping!

      In Sapporo, I recommend Mercure Hotel. It is diagonally opposite the road from the Airport Limousine bus stop for Susukino. There is also a Toyoto car rental outlet just opposite the hotel.
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/01/21/japan-hotel-review-hotel-mercure-sapporo-hokkaido/

  18. Lilian says:

    Wow thanks so much! I will discuss this with my hubby and probably will have more questions to ask you again after that!

  19. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    It’s me again. I have just booked my air tickets to Hokkaido (2 to 12 Sept) and we will have total 10 nights there. I have made minor changes to my itin and need your help again.

    Sapporo (2 nights)
    Land at New Chitose airport and take train or bus to Sapporo. 2 nights in Sapporo, will explore using buses and subway.

    Furano (2 nights)
    Pick up rental car at Sapporo and head off to Furano.

    Asahikawa (2 nights or 1 night Asahikawa and 1 night at Shirogane onsen (near Biei). What would you recommend?

    Otaru (1 night)

    Hakodate (1 night)

    Toya (1 night)

    Lake Shikotsu (1 night)

    Head to New Chitose airport from Shikotsu for flight home.

    Previously I omitted Hakodate as I did not want to rush. Now that we have 10 nights, I was thinking of adding this in or would you suggest I spend this extra night elsewhere? Can you also advise the driving time from Otaru to Hakodate?

    Do they sell data plan at Chitose airport?

    Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      For Asahikawa, 1 night is enough. Asahikawa city itself has nothing particularly interesting other than the zoo. I would opt for Shirogane Onsen. You should go in the order Furano -> Shirogane Onsen -> Asahikawa.

      I would also swap Hakodate and Lake Toya. Lake Toya would break up the drive between Otaru and Hakodate. So the order you should go is
      Otaru (1 night)
      Lake Toya (1 night)
      Hakodate (1 night)
      Lake Shikotsu (1 night)

      The driving time from Otaru to Hakodate is 4 hours. If you break it up, Otaru to Lake Toya is 2 hours, Lake Toya to Hakodate is 2.5 hours.

      However, on your way back, Hakodate to Lake Shikotsu is 4 hours. If you find the Hakodate – Lake Shikotsu drive too long, you can change Lake Shikotsu to Noboribetsu, another onsen town. Hakodate to Noboribetsu is a 3 hours drive and Noboribetsu to CTS is 1 hour drive.

      Given the amount of time you have, I would recommend going to Hakodate. The morning market there is my favourite market in Hokkaido, and the night view from Mount Hakodate is really beautiful.

  20. Amanda says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    It is me again! Firstly, thank you for giving me so much insights and useful info to my earlier few questions.

    Someone told me that mid Sept is the start of autumn foliage season in Daisetsuzan National Park and one of the places for koyo is Ginsendai. From Sounkyo there is shuttle connection to Ginsendai starting Sept 12 this year. So I am thinking to reshuffle my itinerary. Please advise whether my revised itinerary is feasible or not (if it is better than my earlier plan, then I have to change all my hotel booking).

    7/9 Chitose – Sapporo
    Arrive Chitose airport around 8.30am. Take JR train to Sapporo. Visit Ishiya chocolate factory, Odari Park, beer factory, Tannuki Koji, underground shopping mall, Sapporo JR station, Hokkaido Jingu Shrine. Stay a nite a Sapporo

    8/9 Sapporo – Lake Toya
    Collect car rental and drive to Lake Toya. On the way, stop at Lake Shikotsu and Sobetsu fruit village for fruit picking. Stay a nite Lake Toya

    9/9 Lake Toya – Hakodate
    Drive to Hakodate. Visit Goryokaku Tower, Red Brick warehouse then to mount Hakodate for night view. Stay a night at Hakodate. May visit Onuma Quasi-National Park if time allows

    10/9 – Hakodate – Noboribetsu
    Visit Hakodate morning mkt, motomachi district, Hakodate public hall then drive to Noboribetsu. Visit Jigokudani and Oyunuma foot bath and stay a night at Noboribetsu

    11/9 Noboribetsu – Furano – Biei – Asahikawa
    Drive to Furano, visit Furano Cheese Factory, Farm Tomita and Furano winery then to Biei visit Shikisai No Oka then heading to Asahikawa Ramen village for dinner and stay a night there.

    12/9 Asahikawa – Sounkyo – Sapporo
    Drive to Lake Daisetsuko and take the shuttle bus to Ginsendai. Visit Sounkyo Gorge and Sounkyo Kurodate Ropeway. Is there any place we can take our lunch at Sounkyo? Heading to Sapporo. Return car rental and stay for 2 nights at Sapporo

    13/9 Sapporo – Otaru
    Visit Curb Market then take JR Train to Otaru. Back to Sapporo visit Susukino area

    14/9 Morning flight back to Singapore

    Btw, do you know Fukagawa? is it worth a visit there? I may want to visit Fukagawa if I were to stick to my earlier itinerary plan.

    Thank you for your time and hope to hear from soon.

    Cheers,
    Amanda

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, mid-end Sept is the start of autumn in Hokkaido but there is no guarantee as autumn foliage arrival differs by year. But you are right, Daisetsuzan region is your best chance to catch autumn foliage. Taking the ropeway at Asahidake or Sounkyo gives you the best chance to see autumn foliage, since they start at higher elevations. You can read last year’s autumn reports to have a better idea:
      http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/koyo14/140917.html
      http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/koyo14/140918.html

      Your itinerary for 11th and 12th is WAY too rushed. I would advise you to just omit going back to Sapporo at the end of the trip if you want to visit Daisetsuzan region. My recommendation is to do this:

      11/9: Noboribetsu – Furano (the flower fields around Furano are still very beautiful in Autumn. Do give them some time)
      12/9: Furano – Biei (Biei is also very beautiful in autumn. The flower fields in the region are still blooming.) – Asahikawa
      13/9: Ashikawa – Sounkyo (Kurodake ropeway) – New Chitose Airport
      14/9: Morning flight back

      Your first day also looks a bit ambitious, especially if you do not have rental car. Prioritize the places you want to visit in Sapporo and be prepared to miss some of them. Otherwise, just get a rental car from CTS and drive all the way.

      For lunch at Sounkyo, there are restaurants around the onsen town.

      As for Fukagawa, depending on what time you depart Sounkyo, you may be able to visit it enroute from Sounkyo to New Chitose Airport since it is totally along the way. I have never been there, but no harm KIVing it.

      • Amanda says:

        Hi bumblebeemum,

        Good day to you and many thanks for your advice. After discussing with my hubby, we decided to give Hakodate a miss this time and here is our revised itinerary.

        7/9 Chitose – Sapporo
        Arrive Chitose airport around 8.30am. Take JR train to Sapporo. Visit Ishiya chocolate factory, Odari Park, Sapporo Bier Garten & beer museum, Tannuki Koji underground shopping mall then to Susukino. Stay 2 nights at Sapporo

        8/9 Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
        In the morning, visit Sapporo’s central wholesale market and Curb Market then having lunch there before heading to Otaru. Spend the rest of the day exploring glassware shops, music box museums, Sakaimaci street, Otaru canal and have dinner before going back to Sapporo

        9/9 Sapporo – Lake Toya
        Collect car rental and drive to Lake Toya. On the way, stop at Lake Shikotsu and Sobetsu fruit village for fruit picking. Stay a night at Lake Toya

        10/9 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
        Visit Usuzan then to Noboribetsu Jigokudani and Oyunuma foot bath. Visit Lake Kuttara and Poroto Kotan (optional). Stay a night at Noboribetsu onsen. If we want to eat lunch at Kani Goten, is it on the way from Usuzan to Noboribetsu? Is Poroto Kotan worth a visit or we can skip this? Do you think we have time to include the scenic site of Chikyu Misaki?

        11/9 Noboribetsu – Furano
        Drive to Furano. Visit Furano cheese factory, Furano winery, Farm Tomita and Flower Land Kamifurano. Stay a night at Furano. Is it an expressway from Noboribetsu to Furano? any hotel recommendation in Furano?

        12/9 Furano – Biei – Asahikawa
        Drive to Blue Pond then to Biei, visit Shikisai No Oka, Patchwork Road and Panorama Road. Heading to Asahikawa Ramen Village for dinner and stay a night here. Any recommendation for lunch at Biei?

        13/9 Asahikawa – Sounkyo – Chitose
        Drive to Sounkyo Kurodake Ropeway then to Sounkyo Gorge. Drive to Chitose, return car rental and stay a night there. Any hotel recommendation at Chitose?

        14/9 Morning flight back home

        Looking at our itinerary, do you think we need HEP or just ETC will do?

        Thanks in advance for your kind assistance and advice and look forward to hearing from you soon.

        • Amanda says:

          Hi Bumblebeemum,

          Have been busy over the weekend? Sorry to border you but would really appreciate your comments and advice on my revised itinerary and my queries. I would like to finalise my hotel booking and car rental as soon as possible so that I can sit down to do a detail planning of my itinerary,

          Thank you for your time and have a good weekend ahead!

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Oh dear… How did I miss out your previous comment?? So sorry about that.

            8/9 Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo:
            You either need to head out early to curb market on this day, or try not to spend too much time there. The shops at Otaru along Sakaimachi close quite early. And that yummy chou cream from Kitakaro sometimes gets sold out by afternoon. :p

            9/9 Sapporo – Lake Toya:
            Just note that Lake Shikotsu is not along the way from Sapporo to Lake Toya. If you want to go to Lake Shikotsu, it is a bit of a detour.

            10/9 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu:
            Nope, Kani Goten is not along the way from Usuzan to Noboribetsu. However, it doesn’t look that far of from Noboribetsu, you can detour there if you have time. I am not a fan of Ainu culture and prefer spending my time looking at the scenery or soaking in the onsen. But if you are interested to find out more about Ainu culture, you can visit Poroto Kotan.
            As for Chikyu Misaki, it depends on how long you spend at Usuzan. Some people visit Usuzan briefly (just take gondola up, soak in the scenery and come down), some people will go for the crater walks which may take hours. You can KIV Chikyu Misaki. If you come down from Usuzan by, say 11am, then take the detour to see Chikyu Misaki. And if you go to Chikyu Misaki, you probably would not have time for Poroto Kotan. So it’s really what kind of destination you prefer. I’m a big fan of scenic capes, I would personally opt for Chikyu Misaki.

            11/9 Noboribetsu – Furano
            It is partial expressway from Noboribetsu to Furano. From Noboribetsu, you will take the expressway all the way to Shimukappu, after it is another 1 hour drive through rural roads till you arrive at Furano.
            You may not have time for Flower Land Kamifurano because it is a long drive from Noboribetsu to Furano. The most popular hotel at Furano is New Furano Prince Hotel, because it is home to Ningle Terrace and other facilities such as onsen and Furano ropeway.

            12/9 Furano – Biei – Asahikawa
            For lunch at Biei, I recommend Farm Restaurant Chiyoda if you take beef. You can also pop by the little cottage called Sanai No Chaya Curve, located near Sanai No Oka for drinks. They have awesome affogato.

            13/9 Asahikawa – Sounkyo – Chitose
            I recommend staying at Air Terminal Hotel within New Chitose Airport.

            For your itinerary, ETC card will do.

            • Amanda says:

              No worries, bumblebeemum :) Thanks for your detail explanation and information given. It really enlighten me so much about travelling around Hokkaido. I feel really grateful to have ‘bumped’ into your travel blog, keep up the good work!

              I still have few more questions hope you don’t mind. Do you think it’s feasible to rope in Usuzan on 9/9 before or after Sobetsu fruit village? If it is doable, then I will visit Chikyu Misaki, Jigokudani, Oyunuma on 10/9. I am a scenic person too. So I am thinking to visit Lake Kuttara on the same day. Do you think it is possible? How about the Nakanoshima cruise? Have you tried before?

              Is Ginsendai far from Kurodake? Will it be too ambitious if I were to visit Ginsendai as well on 13/9?

              Many thanks once again.

              • bumblebeemum says:

                Yes, it is possible to do Usuzan and Sobetsu fruit village on the same day. They are both very near to Lake Toya. You can go Sobetsu first, then have lunch at Sendoan along Lake Toya and head up to Usuzan ropeway. But in that case, you may want to drop Lake Shikotsu.

                If you visit Usuzan on 9/9, you will definitely have enough time to drive to Chikyu Misaki. You will even have time to go for lunch at Kani Goten.

                I have never tried Nakanoshima cruise. But if you want, you can catch the fireworks cruise on 9/9, since you probably won’t have time for a daytime cruise.

                Hmm.. It does seem a bit ambitious to visit Ginsendai. Not forgetting you have quite a bit of driving to do that day. If you want to hike, why not hike at Kurodake instead? Since you are planning to go for the ropeway.
                http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/koyo13/130921.html

                • Amanda says:

                  Thanks for your comments and suggestions, Bumblebeemum. May I know what type of train pass should we buy? We will travel from New Chitose airport to Sapporo by train or subway? For our trip from Sapporo to Otaru, is it also by train? Do they have something like our EZ-link card which allow us to travel on bus and MRT conveniently?

                  • bumblebeemum says:

                    They do have an EZ link card equivalent called Kitaca. But you won’t really need it since you are just going to be taking public transport for 2 days. I recommend getting the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass:
                    http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/railpass/welcome.html

                    It comes with return train tickets between Sapporo and Otaru, and a 1-day Sapporo subway pass. Head to the JR Tourist Services Centre at Sapporo station once you reach Sapporo to buy it. This is so that you can start using the subway pass immediately for your first day. Then use the return train tickets for Otaru when you go Otaru the next day.

  21. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, thanks so much for all your help! Really appreciate it.

  22. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, need your help again.

    I have just finalized all my hotel bookings and this is my itin:

    2/9 Head to Sapporo by train or airport bus (I will be staying at Holiday Inn ANA Susukino)
    3/9 Explore Sapporo using public transport. Stay Sapporo
    4/9 Pick up rental car and head off to Furano. Stay Furano
    5/9 Furano. Stay Furano
    6/9 Head to Biei. Stay Biei
    7/8 Head to Asahikawa. Stay Asahikawa
    8/9 Head to Otaru. Stay Otaru
    9/9 Head to Lake Toya. Stay Lake Toya
    10/9 Head to Hakodate. Stay Hakodate
    11/9 Head to Noboribetsu. Stay Noboribetsu.
    12/9 Head to New Chitose airport, return car and fly home

    Please help me with these enquiries:

    1. Based on my itin, should I get the HEP? Should I get the HEP for 8 days or 9 days (if the last day from Noboribetsu to airport is non toll?) or will the ETC be better? I’m still kinda confused by these 2 cards.

    2. I was thinking of renting the car from Toyota as I should be able to walk to their Susukino branch from Holiday Inn ANA right? Can I get the HEP or the ETC directly from them when I pick up the car?

    3. I was thinking if I should visit Sounkyo as I read their autumn foliage is beautiful. Do you think I can slot this into my itin and which day would you advise?

    Thank you once again for all your help!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. Based on your itinerary, if you purchase HEP, it will be for 9 days. HEP goes by calendar dates. ETC card will be better since there are many days where you will not be on the toll road. HEP and ETC uses the same smart-chip card, just that HEP is like a concession pass (pay for the number of days and get unlimited use on the toll ways for those days) whereas for ETC card, you pay for what you use. It’s a bit like our EZ link card. Even if you buy season pass, you still use the same EZ link card to tap in tap out, but you pay like a monthly fee for unlimited travel. But if you don’t purchase season pass, you just use the EZ link card and you are charged per trip based on how far you travel.

      2. You cannot get HEP if you are returning a car to an outlet that is different from where you picked the car up from. One of the condition for HEP is that the car must be picked up and returned to the same outlet. I am not sure if Toyota rents out ETC card, you will need to check with them. I know Nissan and Nippon Rent A Car has ETC card rental options. Alternatively, rent through Tocoo and you can get an ETC card from Tocoo.

      3. Your travel dates are a bit early for autumn foliage. If you really want to try your luck to see autumn foliage at Sounkyo, you will need to put that right at the end of your trip to increase your chances. I am not sure if you can still do that since you already booked your accommodation. Sounkyo can be done via a day trip from Asahikawa.

  23. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, need your help on one more thing. Would you have any idea about their data plans or wifi router? What did you use when you go to Hokkaido and how much did you pay? Thanks again.

  24. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Would you be able to tell me if Shokudou Misaki お食事処 みさき would be along the way from Otaru to Lake Toya?

    Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It is not along the way but quite a detour. It is, however, a scenic detour with Cape Shakotan and Cape Kamui alone the route. It makes for a trip on its own, but you need to allocate a day for it.

  25. sohkoong says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, would appreciate if you could advise me where to stay in Shiretoko Hokkaido? Thank you………..sk

  26. XSL says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,

    Ur posts are indeed details and helpful!

    Appreciate if u can advice on my coming trip to Hokkaido in this early December. We planned to stay in Hokkaido for 7 nights from 5/12 to 12/12 with a group of 4 adults n 5 kids (2 of them below 5yrs old). Initially we wanted to self drive, but after reading ur posts we changed our mind coz we have no snow driving experience.

    Do u happens to have any itenery which can be accessible by public transport? We planned to visit the zoo (famous with penguin walking) and maybe some good Onsen. We also hope to visit a ski resort to let the kids ski.

    Thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      Firstly, the penguin walk would not have started yet in early December. It only starts in late December (actual date varies year by year as it is weather dependent). If you want to see penguin parade in early December, you can do so at Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE. It is easily accessible by train (Noboribetsu station).

      For skiing, you can visit Niseko. Hilton Niseko should still be quite cheap for your dates (their prices sky-rocket after mid-Dec). They have good English-speaking instructors and child-caring services within the resort, ultra-convenient. And the best part is that they have this travellator thingy to bring the kids up the slope for them to ski down again. Hilton has an onsen, though I don’t find it good.

      For onsen, I recommend Lake Toya. I love the view there. For travel with kids, you can try Toya Sunpalace. They have a huge swimming cum onsen complex. They offer free shuttle services from Sapporo for guests, which you would need to pre-arrange with them if you do not wish to drive.

      • XSL says:

        Hi bumberbeemum,

        Really thanks for ur advice above. I noted that the penguin walk will only started in mid/end December, we though it would be a great experience to visit a zoo in a snowing environment.We have done some checks on the Hilton Niseko, the price is ard 3++ per nite. Is it norm? if we bund in 2 adult n 2 kids in a room, do we need to book a room that can fit in 4? Or can we simply choose a room with 2 single bed (as stated in website to fit 2A1C)?

        Thanks again.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Asahiyama zoo is a really nice zoo and there will be loads of snow there. If you don’t mind missing the penguin parade, go ahead with it.

          Hmm… I only paid $100+ for Hilton Niseko when I went there in early December. I booked a twin room and my 2 & 4 year old kids bunked in for free.

  27. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    For airport bus from New Chitose Airport to Susukino (as I will be staying at Holiday Inn ANA Susukino), do I jus take any bus that goes to Susukino? Is there a specific bus number? Will there be any announcements from the bus driver when the bus stops at various locations along the way? Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Take the bus bound for Sapporo City Centre (札幌市中央). I don’t recall any bus number. There is no announcement, so when you board the bus, tell the driver ‘SUSUKINO’ and he will alert you when it’s time to alight. I have plotted out the location of the bus stop with directions to Holiday INN ANA Susukino:
      https://goo.gl/maps/bYIgN

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Oh yah.. Actually there is an electronic board at the front of the bus that will display the name of the upcoming stop. I cannot remember if there is English, but in case there isn’t, the name of Susukino in Japanese looks like this:
      すすきの
      So when you see that on the board, get ready to alight.

      • Lilian says:

        Thank you so much for all your help! Really really appreciate it!!

          • XSL says:

            Thanks for your advice above. Need ur advice on the following itenery.

            Day 1- New chitose airport to otaru (overnight)
            Day 2 – otaru to niseko alpine hirafu
            Day 3 – niseko alpine hirafu
            Day 4 – niseko to Sapporo
            Day 5 – Sapporo to asahiyama zoo (day trip)
            Day 6 – Sapporo
            Day 7 Sapporo flight to Osaka

            If u have any recommendation for Sapporo it will be wonderful!

            Thanks

            XSL

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Is there any reason you are going to Otaru then to Niseko? I would probably opt to go to Otaru as a day trip from Sapporo. i.e.

              Day 1- CTS niseko alpine hirafu
              Day 2 – niseko alpine hirafu
              Day 3 – niseko to Sapporo
              Day 4 – Sapporo to Otaru (day trip)
              (the rest unchanged)

              For Sapporo, you can visit Jyogai Ichiba in the morning for breakfast at Kita No Gourmet if you love seafood. After that, first timers usually visit Shiroi Koibito Park and Sapporo Beer Museum. In the evening, you can take the Mount Moiwa Ropeway, I love the sunset / night view there. At night, visit Susukino. The restaurants there open late and there is a 24-hour duty free shop along Tanukikoji.

  28. XSL says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,

    There is no particular reason, we though it would be easier to travel in this way? Ur suggested route are great! Can we know from CTS to niseko by bus or train easier?

  29. XSL says:

    Thanks for ur advice.

    Is it very dangerous or difficult to drive in Hokkaido based on our traveling date? Especially way up to niseko Hirafu? We have done self drive in several countries but never tried on snowing season. Initially we though it good be easier because we have few kids in the group n also luggage.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, it will be difficult and dangerous to a certain extent to drive in Hokkaido in December. Niseko is especially bad since it is a ski resort (and naturally gets more snow which means poor, almost zero, visibility). Niseko is well-served by shuttle buses from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport, there is really no need for you to drive there.

  30. XSL says:

    Thanks.

    Is it advisable to stay in Sapporo for 2 nights then take a bus up to niseko for 2 nights then back to sapporo again? Our flight from Osaka to CTS will be arriving in late afternoon hence if we take a bus from CTS to hirafu will reach in night since the journey take ard 5hrs.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If your flight is arriving in the late afternoon, you should either spend the night at Air Terminal Hotel within the airport before taking a shuttle bus the next morning to Niseko, or head to Sapporo first.

      It is actually a good idea to stay in Sapporo for a bit and go to Niseko for a side trip before returning to Sapporo again. Doing so, you can leave your big luggage cases with the hotel in Sapporo and just bring a small backpack with 2 nights of clothing to Niseko.

  31. XSL says:

    Great! Just wonder if all hotels allow us to leave the luggage for 2 nights? Need to make prior arrangement with them?

  32. Jasline Ang says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum,

    You have shared very clear write-up in Hokkaido, and really appreciated. Thank you!

    My family has last min decision to Hokkaido in Dec 2015 and managed to book all within 2 weeks, our 1st time.

    I have more issues on the timing, as we arrived in New Chitose Airport in the night 20:25, is there JR train or any kind of public transport available to bring us to Sappora? I am staying in Sapporo Monterey Hotel.

    We intend to rent a car in Sapporo after we check out from Sapporo Monterey Hotel to Otaru (1 nite) – Niseko (2nites) – Noboribestu (2 nites [either Takimoto Inn or Hotel Route Inn Tomakomai Ekimae] ) – New Chitose Airport. However, my flight out of Sapporo is at 8am. I have to reach Airport by 6am, can I return my car rental at this early hours? or I have to find alternative?

    We are travelling from 22 Dec to 30 Dec.

    Thank you.

    Jasline

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I did a quick check using today’s train timetable on hyperdia, the last train leaving CTS bound for Sapporo leaves CTS at 22:53, so you should have no problem catching a train to Sapporo.

      You should plan to spend your last night at Air Terminal Hotel within New Chitose Airport if your flight is so early in the morning. So return the car the day before.

      Please remember that you are driving in winter. Never drive in the dark and plan to reach your destination at 4pm (the sky turns dark at 4+ in winter). So on your second last day, return the car by 4pm and just spend the rest of the evening at the airport.

  33. elian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Thank you for creating such an informative and detailed blog. I am inspired to do a self drive tour of Hokkaido next year June 13-26 with my family. Have been to Hakodate but this will be our first time self drive in Japan.

    Our tentative plan is :

    Jun 13 Arrive at Chitose Airport at 8.30 am . Stay Sapporo.

    Jun 14 Sapporo

    Jun 15 Day trip to Otaru / Sapporo

    Jun 16 Lake Toya

    Jun 17 Noboritetsu ( not sure if staying a night is necessary )

    Jun 18 Cape Erimo ( long drive ! )

    June 19 Obihiro

    Jun 20 Obihiro or Tomamu ?

    Jun 21 Furano

    Jun 22 Furano

    Jun 23 Furano ( day trip to Biei )

    Jun 24 Asahikawa

    Jun 25 Return car & stay at Chitose Airport Hotel

    Jun 26 Morning flight out at 8.55 am

    Am trying not to rush the trip and go slowly. at leisure and am not sure should squeeze in Tomamu – Unkai Terrace ?

    I left out Kushiro and opted for Cape Erimo as the cranes are not that many in summer, right ?

    Would appreciate your suggestions on how best to tweak our itinerary.

    Thanks very much for your help.

    elian
    malaysia

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your trip looks relaxing, you will have plenty of the time to soak in the scenery and enjoy the food!

      I am not sure if you want to adjust your itinerary to be in Sapporo on 16 June. That’s the day the parade for the Hokkaido Shrine Festival takes place:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/06/23/sapporo-festival-hokkaido-shrine-festival-in-june/

      And yup, I would skip Kushiro in Summer and visit it in winter when the cranes gather. You can’t find them gathered in large numbers at the feeding grounds in summer.

      Noboribetsu to Obihiro looks like a pretty long drive. I would use Tomamu to break up the drive. i.e. Noboribetsu (1 night) -> Tomamu (1 night) -> Obihiro.

      What are you planning to do at Obihiro by the way? I would only spend 1 night at Obihiro, or better still Tokachigawa Onsen. Obihiro is not that interesting to spend 2 nights at. What I would suggest is to shift 1 of the nights at Obihiro to Sahoro. Sahoro is mid-point between Obihiro and Furano, it helps to break up the drive. You can visit Sahoro Bear Mountain.
      http://www.sahoro.co.jp/language/english/green/bear/bear.html

      • elian says:

        hi bumblebeemum,

        Thank you very much for your quick reply !

        Really appreciate your suggestions. Will incorporate Tomamu and Sahoro ( wow.. bears ! ) into the itinerary as mentioned.

        Was considering Obihiro for 2 nights just to stay a while longer in a town & rest – as we are spending 1 nite in most of the places.

        I presume renting a HEP will be more economical for my travel plans rather than ETC ? Most roads seem to be tolled.

        For the Sapporo Shrine Festival highlight on 16 June , if we leave Sapporo for Lake Toya after lunch / late afternoon , that should give us enough time to admire the floats in the city ? Not sure about extending 1 more night in Sapporo & which other town to sacrifice .

        thanks for your help !

        elian

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Haha.. I know what you mean about spending 1 night in each hotel. When my friend did that for her recent Hokkaido trip, she said she felt like a refugee! But most small towns / cities in Hokkaido are not really worth spending more than 1 night. Since distances between major sightseeing cities are quite far, all these 1 night stays are necessary to break up long drives.

          Actually no, HEP will not be better because the whole period of time you are in Furano, you will not be using toll roads. Just rent an ETC card would be better.

          I have a map of the parade route with timings on my post about the Hokkaido Shrine Festival. If you place yourself at the start of the parade route, you will be able to catch the parade in the morning and leave Sapporo after that.
          http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/06/23/sapporo-festival-hokkaido-shrine-festival-in-june/

          • Au elian says:

            Haha…… Thank you so much for taking the time to advice hapless first timers like us !

            really appreciate your input and help.

            Looking forward to our trip next year and using your yummy gourmet Hokkaido eating guide.

            Cheers,

            Elian

  34. elian says:

    hi bumblebeemum,

    Have decided to leave out Cape Erimo and head straight for Obihiro . Stay 2 nights.

    Then Tomamu / unkai terrace – Asahikawa – Biei/Furano – Chitose.

    Should be better , i think ! Unless they are more interesting little towns we can stay in along the route ?

    thanks !

    elian

  35. orange says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    My itenary as follows with my husband and 5&2 yo boys for our 4-18 Sep trip.

    Day 1: Reach Narita airport at 8am. Transit from Terminal 1 to 3 and take domestic flight to New Chitose. Reach Chitose, lunch & explore airport for kids so by the time I check into hotel will be 3pm/4pm+. I think there is only enough time to walk around Susukino/ underground shopping area. I stay in Hotel Monterey Eldedof. Is there anything in Odori Park at night?

    Day 2: Walk to Odori Park/Clock Tower/Hokkaido Govt Building – Nijo Market or Curb Market – head to Shiroi Koibito and then back to Susukino area for dinner

    Day 3: Day trip to Otaru and city/rail museum

    Day 4: Collect our car from Toyota, drive to Loisir Akashikawa. Nothing plan here yet. Is there anything there that we can do? My hub don fancy onsen.

    Day 5: Breakfast and then Asahikawa Zoo. Possible to come out from Zoo to lunch at Ramen Village then go back into zoo again? After zoo, I heard there are some shopping malls near Ramen village. Thinking if we could just settle our dinner there. Any recommendation?

    Day 6: Day trip drive to Sounkyo. Thinking of Sounkyo Gourge, Sounkyo Kurodate ropeway & check out Obako. Do you have a Sonkyo mini guide on which one I should visit first? I was thinking of dropping by Sounkyo Visitor Centre to understand a bit.

    Day 7: Drive to New Furano Prince. Should reach by noon. Any lunch recommendation otw there? I think it’s a 3pm check in time. Thinking of going for the hot air balloon and Furano Ropeway and then dinner and shop around Ningle Terrace.

    Day 8: Drive to Farm Tomita and then to Biei. Do you have a mini guide for Biei on which one to stop by etc? (Inc. Aoi-Ike Blue Pond & Shirahige waterfall)

    Day 9: Furano Cheese Factory & Furano Wine. I think I can still include more places here. Any suggestion?

    Day 10: Check out and drive back to Sapporo and check in into Hotel Mercure. Only need to return car at 6pm, so thinking of driving to Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park, return car at 530 and then find our way back to hotel.

    Day 11: Domestic flight to Narita Airport. Staying in Odaiba for 3days before coming back to SG. May take the train out to Shinjuku & Ueno for one of the days.

    1.Based on the above, do you think I need the HEP pass?
    2.Any fruit farm that I can slot in between Day 4 to 10?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 1: Sapporo TV Tower at Odori Park is open till night, but I don’t find it particularly interesting personally. I would rather go explore the shops / restaurants around Susukino & along Tanukikoji. Susukino is the hub of night life in Sapporo, not Odori Park.

      Day 4: There is nothing really interesting at Asahikawa. I would go to Takino Suzuran Hillside Park on this day. Then drive to Asahikawa after that just for the night. One of my readers tried a jingisukan at Asahikawa and said it was pretty good. She said it’s ranked number 1 on TripAdvisor, you may want to check it out for dinner.

      Day 5: I would do the zoo, the ramen village and all the shopping on at Asahikawa on this day. I have never been to the ramen village so not sure about the shopping there. But I doubt shopping at Asahikawa would be better than Sapporo.

      Day 6: Sounkyo area is pretty compact and there is just one road running to the sightseeing spots, with clear signs in English along the way. You can pop by the visitor centre to find out more if any of the autumn foliage spots are worth visiting yet. Your dates are a bit early for autumn foliage, but just try your luck.

      Day 7: I would visit Biei and Shirogane onsen (Blue pond / shirohige waterfall) enroute from Asahikawa to Furano. That way, I don’t need to backtrack to Biei again on Day 8. There are basically 3 main sightseeing areas:

      1) Patchwork Road
      2) Panorama Road
      3) Shirogane Onsen

      You should go in the above order since you are moving South. For Patchwork Road and Panorama Road, you can refer to the post below:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2014/10/23/hokkaido-self-drive-with-kids-june-2014-part-3-furano-biei-tomamu-obihiro-new-chitose-airport/

      Shirogane Onsen basically only has the blue pond and 2 waterfalls. Maybe you can pop by the tourist centre to find out more:
      http://www.furanotourism.com/en/spot/spot_D.php?id=412

      Day 8: Shift all your Furano sightseeing from Day 7 to this day.

      Below is a list of places you can consider visiting in the Furano / Biei region:
      Furano:
      Tomita Farm + Tomita Melon House
      Flower Land Kamifurano
      Nakafurano Choei Lavender Park
      Furano Jam Garden + Rokugou Observatory
      Furano Cheese Factory
      Furano Wine Factory
      Campana Rokkatei
      Furano Delice
      Kumagera (my favourite restaurant in Furano)

      Biei (Panorama Road)
      – Shikisai No Oka
      – Sanai No Oka + Sanai No Chaya Cafe Curve
      – Shinnei No Oka
      – Farm Restaurant Chiyoda + Chiyoda Farm

      Biei (Patchwork Road)
      – Hokusei No Oka
      – Hill of Zerebu
      – Celebrity Trees

      Biei (Shirogane Onsen)
      – Blue Pond
      Shirohige Waterfall
      Shirogane Fudo Falls
      Mount Tokachi Observatory

      Day 10: If you have already visited Takino Suzuran Hillside Park earlier, you can spend more time at Furano / Biei before going back to Sapporo.

      Regarding HEP, nope, you will not need HEP for your itinerary.

      September is too late for the cherry farm and melon farm at Furano. If you want to go fruit-picking in September, you can go to Yamamoto Sightseeing Orchard near Otaru on Day 3. However you would need a car to get there:
      http://www.fruits-yamamoto.net/en/

  36. Lilian says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    My hubby and I just completed our hokkaido self drive (2 to 13 sept) and I just want to say a big Thank You for all your help and tips earlier. We had a really good time and already we are planning to go back again, hopefully next year. I took note of most of your recommended eating places and they are really good! We loved the Tonkatsu at Tadumura, the cheese tarts at Kinotoya, the puffs at Kitakaro, beef sashimi rice at Kumagera, just to name a few. You also suggested I try Shirogane onsen area and we loved that place! Ulu, but so peaceful and scenic, with waterfalls just behind the hotel (we stayed Parkhill). Lake Toya was our favorite place (we stayed Lake Toya Nonokaze and it was worth every dollar). Your blog was really so informative and saved me so much time having to do my own research ha ha. Thank you once again!!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Thank you for coming back to share your experience. Glad to hear you had a great time! I am starting to miss all those food you mentioned already!!

      So Nonokaze does live up to its reputation. Maybe when the kids are older, I should go there with my hubby to enjoy ourselves. :p

      Shirogane onsen sounds fab. Haven’t had the time to visit that area yet.. Shall put it down for my next trip. Parkhill is so near the waterfall? Cool.. Shall KIV them if I’m in Biei again. :)

  37. Winnie says:

    When is the best time to go to Hokkaido? I don’t want very cold weather.

  38. Mat says:

    Hi BBM,

    My road trip in Hokkaido looks like this: Sapporo>Furano>Biei>Asahikawa>Sounkyo>Otaru>Yoichi>Shakotan>Iwanai>Niseko>Hakodate>Toya>New Chitose

    Would you know how much tolls I would have to pay in total?

    Also, I’m trying to find the best routes to minimise tolls during my trip.
    From Sapporo to Furano, somehow google maps is telling me to exit at Imamizawa instead of your recommended Takikawa. Which is better?

    Thanks in adv!

  39. Luan Yee says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,

    You are a supermum. It’s not easy planning a trip and travelling with 2 young children but you manage them all.

    I have not been to Hokkaido but I feel I know all the places after reading them in your blog. You are detailed and informative and you write in good English.

    I am planning a trip to Hokkaido and I hope you can help me. I don’t really enjoy very cold weather so I think winter is out for me. If I am planning an autumn or spring holiday, which months would be best?

    We are thinking of Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Sapporo, Biei, Furano, Asahikawa, Soundkyo. We welcome suggestions on other places to visit.

    We are thinking of renting a car but am not sure if we can take the rigour as we are in our fifties. If the driving is for 2-3 hours each day, maybe we can manage.

    Alternatively we can buy the Hokkaido Rail Pass and take the train and bus. But I am not sure if places like Soundkyo can be done with public transport.

    We are thinking of a 14 day holiday but am willing tof strench it to 21 days. Could you suggest an itinerary for us?

    Thank you

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For Autumn, late September to October would be ideal. Because autumn foliage appears at different regions over the season, you can visit different areas depending on when you go. For late Sept – early Oct, I recommend Shiretoko / Daisetsuzan region; For mid-Oct visit Jozankei Onsen / Niseko / Sapporo; For late Oct visit Noboribetsu / Onuma Koen.

      As for Spring, you will be looking at end April – start May. Since cherry blossom season is very short, it is hard to predict the exact time it will occur. But this period coincides with Japan’s golden week – which means everything related to travel from accommodation to transport will be more expensive and crowded.

      It is possible to drive around keeping to 3 hours max a day. It just means you need to change hotels continuously along the way.

      Sounkyo is indeed a bit hard to get to and around via public transport. If you are confident of your driving, a rental car is definitely a lot more convenient and allows you to visit more sights with a lot less walking.

      If you have so much time, I definitely recommend you doing a autumn visit and move around with the autumn foliage. You can fly it to Memanbetsu Airport in the North, and fly out from Hakodate Airport in the South. I recommend you go around 1 – 21st Oct.

      Starting at Memanbetsu airport, go in this order:
      1) Shiretoko Five Lakes
      2) Akan National Park
      3) Sounkyo
      4) Biei + Furano
      5) Sapporo
      6) Jozankei Onsen
      7) Niseko
      8) Lake Toya
      9) Noboribetsu
      10) Onuma Koen + Hakodate

      • Luan Yee says:

        Thank you for your tips and suggested itinerary.
        I think I’ll wait till autumn 2016 for the trip.
        What do you think of a train and drive trip? That is take an intercity train then rent a car for the day to explore the area if it is inconvenient to explore by buses.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          That is possible if your aim is to minimize driving. But it is unlikely to save cost. I find that doing train + drive combination is generally more expensive, because car rental for single day is quite expensive whereas if you rent long term it will be much cheaper.

  40. Luan Yee says:

    Sorry for my earlier post. There is a typing mistake. The second last sentence should read as “We are thinking of a 14 day holiday but am willing to stretch it to 21 days. “

  41. Ann says:

    Dear bumblebee mum
    Can you please suggest an itinerary for my 8 days self drive to Hokkaido on 3rd week May 2016 for a group of four adults?

    Would really appreciate your help.

    Ann

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmm.. 3rd week May? I would head north to Takinoue and Higashimokoto for shibazakura, and Kamiyubetsu for the tulips.
      http://takinoue.com/?english
      http://www.shibazakura.net/
      http://www.town.yubetsu.lg.jp/tulippark/en/

      And if I am heading North, I will also go to Shiretoko, hopefully can see whales and other wildlife on their summer cruises.
      http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6852.html
      http://www.easthokkaido.com/english/guide/rausu/outdoor/index.html

      If you can fly in to Memanbetsu Airport and out from Sapporo Airport, you can save quite a bit of driving time.

      Day 1: Memanbetsu – Shiretoko
      Day 2: Shiretoko
      Day 3: Shiretoko – Higashimokoto
      Day 4: Higashimokoto – Kamiyubetsu
      Day 5: Kamiyubetsu – Takinoue – Asahikawa
      Day 6: Asahikawa – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo
      Day 8: Sapporo – CTS

      • Ann says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum

        Thank you so much for your prompt reply and your suggested itinerary. You are really antastic!

        We have planned to arrive and leave Sapporo airport as domestic flights from Narita are much cheaper with Jetstar or Air Vanilla. We have a total of 9 days and 8 nights. Domestic flights to Memanbetsu airport can be costly.
        What do you think? What about Noboritbesu or Otaru?
        Appreciate your feedback.

        Ann

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yeah, domestic flights to other cities other than CTS can be quite costly. Unless ANA or JAL has promotion and you book the whole trip from Singapore to Hokkaido (any city) via Tokyo as a single trip through them. But in general, to save money, a round-trip to CTS is the way to go. Just that you will have to spend time on the road backtracking.

          You do not have enough time to visit so many places in Hokkaido in 8 days, especially if you do a round-trip from CTS. Hokkaido is HUGE! If you want to slot in Otaru or Noboribetsu, then strike off Higashimokoto and Shiretoko and slot in Otaru and Noboribetsu instead at the end of your trip.

          • Ann says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum
            Thanks once again for your advice.
            I have sort of drafted the itinerary and hope you can give me your feedback.

            1. Chitiose Airport – Asahikiwa
            2. Asahikiwa – Sounkyo
            3. Sounkyo – Takinoue park- Kamiyubetsu- Abashiri
            4. Abashiri- Shiretoko
            5. Shiretiko- Lake Marshu
            6. Lake Marshu- Kushiro
            7. Lake Kushiro- Sapporro
            8. Sapporo
            9. Sapporo- Tokyo

            Please fine tune for me the itinerary. I prefer staying overnight in bigger town.
            Really appreciate your help.

            Ann

            • bumblebeemum says:

              There aren’t many accommodation options around Lake Masshu, the bigger town in the region is Lake Akan. Though when I saw big, it is all relative, the onsen towns in Hokkaido are all pretty small. :p Anyway I would spend the night at Lake Akan instead of Lake Mashu – there is an Ainu village and some shops there.

              Kushiro to Sapporo is an extremely long drive. I will actually shift Sapporo to the start of the trip and drive back to CTS from Kushiro. If you take a look at the map, that would make more sense. So you basically do a loop: CTS – Sapporo – Asahikawa – Sounkyo – Abashiri – Shiretoko – Lake Akan – Kushiro – CTS.

              • Ann says:

                Thank you so much. Will take note. All the best to you & your lovely family.

              • Ann says:

                Hi Bumblebeemum

                It’s me again, Ann

                I was wondering whether it is worth to visit Kushiro ( for Washo market). My last itinerary is Lake Akan – Kushiro- CTS.
                Kushiro – CTS is 3 h 40 min.

                My flight back to Tokyo will be around 3 pm.
                If it is worth, I can also take the 5pm flight.

                Or should I do Lake Akan- Obihiro- CTS as Obihiro to CTS is 2 h 10 min as compare to 3 h 50 min?

                Or should I spend 2 days in Shiretoko and 1 day in Lake Akan and from Lake Akan – straight to Chitose Airport.? 3 h 30 min

                Your advice is appreciated.

                Ann

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  You mean your last night will be spent at Lake Akan and you have a flight out of CTS the next day? Lake Akan to CTS is quite a distance. If I have a flight to catch, I would take the shortest route back to CTS right after breakfast. If I have spare time at CTS, I would just do some shopping and eating at CTS. There are plenty to shop and eat there.

                  I don’t quite understand the part of 2 days in Shiretoko vs 1 day in Lake Akan. Let me know the 2 options of itinerary you are looking at in full so that I can do a better comparison?

                  • Ann says:

                    Hi Bumblebeemum
                    Thanks for your time to reply to my mail.

                    I have 3 options here for my last 3 days in Hokkaido

                    1. Shiretoko- Lake Akan- Kushiro-CTS ( 3 pm flight to Tokyo)
                    2. Shiretoko – Lake Akan- Obihiro- CTS
                    3. Shiretoko ( 2 nights) – Lake Akan – CTS ( no overnight stay in Obihiro or Kushiro), instead 2 nights in Shiretoko.

                    Thanks
                    Ann

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I would probably opt to do 2 nights in Shiretoko. It is such a long drive up, take your time to enjoy the scenery and wildlife there.

                    • Anonymous says:

                      Hi Bumblebeemum

                      Is it true that I need to hire a premium wifi router to use in Hokkaido as the normal ones may not cover all areas in Hokkaido?What would be a reliable one?

                      Ann

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I have never rented a WIFI router in Japan before, but from my understanding, some of the WIFI routers in Japan have lower coverage (meant for travel in the major cities) while some have better coverage (meant for travel to the rural area). For Hokkaido, I would rent the ones that claim to have more than 99% coverage because Hokkaido is considered rural. So yeah, I guess you would need the premium ones with better coverage.

                    • Ann says:

                      Thanks for your suggestion.Will do so

  42. Amanda says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    My hubby and I had completed our self-drive trip in Hokkaido from 6-14 Sep. I wish to say a very BIG THANK YOU to you for your helpful advice and useful tips. We really enjoyed ourselves very very much. I felt so grateful to have bumped into your blog which made my itinerary planning and research so much easier! The eating places you suggested came so handy to us! We especially love the onsen experience at Toya Sun Palace and the breathtaking scenery at Furano and Biei. We didn’t think self-drive in Japan is possible but you have made it possible for us!! We had so much fun and all of our friends have started to ask for our itinerary :)

    Thank you once again. Best wishes to you and your family!

  43. Ting says:

    Hello Bumble Bee Mum,

    I have chanced upon your blog when doing research for self-driving trip to Hokkaido. Your blog sure is informative, entertaining and provide ideas where to eat. I can see that you are sharing your experiences with readers and helping them with their itinerary. I, too, hope to have your kind helps on my 1st self-drive trip to Hokkaido (4th to 8th June 2016) with my family of 5 adults and 1 kid. We have experiences driving in Kansai and Chubu region but not in Hokkaido. Our days in Hokkaido are short as we are also touring Chubu (Tateyama Alpine) after Hokkaido. We only want to visit Sapporo, Otaru, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya and Hakodate. We have yet to buy our domestic fare for Hokkaido and haven’t done any hotel booking yet. Below is my draft planning.

    Day 1: Leave Nagoya airport and arrive New Chitose Airport 1pm. Spent rest of day in Sapporo city (shopping malls and Tanuki street). Stay Sapporo.
    Day 2: Kitano in Curb Market in morning. Visit Otaru rest of day (Otaru canal, Sakimachi street & Toppi Sushi dinner). Stay Sapporo.
    Day 3: Odori park and underground streets in morning. After lunch, rent car (one way) in Sapporo and drive to Noboribetsu (Hells valley, Gukuraku street & onsen). Stay in Noboribetsu.
    Day 4: Morning drive from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya for lunch at Sendoan, then to Hakodate (Red Brick Warehouse, Lucky Pierrot & Mt Hakodate). Return rental car in Hakodate. Stay Hakodate.
    Day 5: Visit Hakodate morning market. Depart from Hakodate airport on noon flight back Nagoya
    airport.

    Questions:
    1. Do you think this itinerary is doable? This itinerary is based on one way rental drive from Sapporo to Hakodate. For this route, it costs about the same as taking train but a substantial amount of time is free up via driving than compared to the infrequent train timing. Any other suggestions you may give? I hope to keep my budget.
    2. Possible to estimate my petrol fee for this route? Maybe ¥4000?
    3. For this route, should I rent ETC or buy HEP? Not sure if HEP validity will extend to Jun 2016. If HEP is not available during Jun, then what will be the estimated toll charges?
    4. If I would like to arrive and depart from New Chitose Airport, what itinerary and route would you recommend, while keeping these attractions?

    Hope that you can give me some advice. Sorry to bother you. Have a great weekend ahead with your
    family! And thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. Your itinerary looks too rushed. I would remove Noboribetsu from the itinerary.
      2. 4000 yen should be enough for this route.
      3. There is no need for HEP for your route.
      4. If you want to depart CTS, there will not be enough time for all the attractions you listed. I suggest you drop Noboribetsu and take a night flight out of CTS that would allow you time to drive back from Hakodate to CTS the last day.

      Day 1: Sapporo
      Day 2: Sapporo + Otaru
      Day 3: Sapporo – Lake Toya
      Day 4: Lake Toya – Hakodate
      Day 5: Hakodate – flight out.
      airport.

      • Ting says:

        Hello Bumble Bee Mum,

        Thank you very much for replying me with your suggestions. I will discuss with my family. Have a nice weekend ahead!

  44. Kelly Tay says:

    Hi bumblebee mum, i have been reading all your posts on hokkaido and must say it is really detailed and informative. It has helped me a lot while I’m still planning for my upcoming trip to hokkaido.

    My boyfriend and I are planning to spend about 10 days in hokkaido this coming May (13-22). We are quite budget-consicous when it comes to planning for accommodation and rental of cars (we will be self driving). We would appreciate if you could help us to take a look at our itinerary before we really settle on them (haven’t book accommodation and also car rental). We are taking peach aviation and will reach chitose airport around 5pm on 13 May. Below is our brief itinerary as planned:

    13/5 Chitose Airport – Lake Akan (plan to stay 2 nights here).

    14/5 Driving to lake Mashu
    planning to hike lake mashu (not confirmed) – drive to mount iō – drive to lake kussharo – will be visiting ainu village on the way back to lake akan. Would also love to go for a star gazing session at lake onneto.

    15/5 Lake akan – furano (plan to stay 2 nights)
    will be exploring the area around lake akan in the morning/canoeing – visit shikaribetsu-ko while driving to furano – farm tomita and melon house – asahikawa ramen village – Asahigaoka Sogotshi Park for cherry blossoms

    16/5 Driving to mount asahidake
    plan to trek at mount asahidake

    17/5 Furano youth hostel – Hakodate (plan to stay 2 nights)
    stopping by blue pond outside biei – stopping by lake toya before arriving at hakodate

    18/5 Exploring hakodate
    morning market – cherry blossoms

    19/5 Hakodate – sapporo ( plan to spend 3 nights here)
    We will be returning our rental car here so it’s purely on public transport.

    20/5 Sapporo

    21/5 Sapporo

    10 days in hokkaido is actually quite a short time so we would like to maximize our time while we are there.

    1) do you think if this itinerary is too pack? is it doable?
    2) how is the weather like in may? is there a drastic difference in temperature during the day and night? what kind of clothes should we bring?
    3) is it possible to do trekking in may? we are quite a adventurous couple so we would love to go trekking if possible.
    4) Have you been star gazing before? where is the best place to star gaze?
    5) Is it a good time to visit Furano/biei during May? I understand that the flowers may not have bloomed but where else can we drive to if we want to visit hakodate for cherry blossoms and the morning market.
    6) I am not sure if we are spending too much time at sapporo because we actually prefer the non-city areas but we are not sure what we can do with the itinerary. please help!
    7) we would like to splurge on just one place to stay at, where would you recommend? do you know of places with private onsen in the room itself?
    8) If we’re going to be driving this much, do you know how much petrol will cost? are petrol stations easy to locate?
    9) should we start booking our accomodations and car now? or wait?

    I’m sorry for the long post and many questions. I hope you can help us with your advice! Looking forward to your reply!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) Your itinerary looks all over the place and extremely rushed. I don’t think it’s doable.

      2) It will be cold, though not sub-zero kind of cold. I would still layer and bring a thick jacket for night time.

      3) You need to check carefully wether the trekking trails are open. They may not be open yet in May. For outdoor adventure in Furano, you can check with Furano Outdoor Adventure Centre on what kind of activities will be available in May:
      http://www.alpn.co.jp/english/
      It looks like they do have stuff like rafting starting in end April.

      4) I haven’t been star gazing before, but I heard Furano is pretty good for it.
      http://www.asobiya.jp/en/program_f_01/index_05.html

      5) If you are looking for flowers, Furano / Biei is the wrong place to be in May. You can see tulips at Kamiyubetsu and shibazakura in Takinoue instead:
      http://takinoue.com/?english
      http://www.town.yubetsu.lg.jp/tulippark/en/

      You may be a bit too late for cherry blossom too. Unless you start your trip at Hakodate, there is still a chance you can catch the last of cherry blossoms. If it’s cherry blossoms you are after, Matsumae Castle is your best bet, but it’s all the way in the South:
      http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5380.html

      6) If you prefer non-city, then you can just skip Sapporo actually. I go to Sapporo to eat. Otherwise yeah, Sapporo is not very exciting when it comes to sightseeing.

      7) Lake View Toya Nonokaze at Lake Toya has room with private onsen. If I have the money, I would go there. But I don’t.. haha.. But I always recommend Nonokaze to readers who are looking to splurge. So far reviews have been good.
      http://en.nonokaze-resort.com/room

      8) Petrol is not as expensive as you would think. I would say about 10,000 yen would be sufficient for petrol. Most towns will have a petrol station or you can top up at SA (service area) along expressways.

      9) You can see if the accommodations you are looking at are open for booking yet. If they are open already, you can go ahead and book once you have firmed up your itinerary. As for car rental, they may not be open for booking yet. Try about 3 months before your travel for car rental.

      You got to redo your itinerary and be more selective about where you want to visit. There is not point trying to squeeze in a lot of places because you will just end up spending all your time on the road. Hokkaido is a place for relaxing, sightseeing and eating. Do less places, spend more time at each destination soaking in the nature and enjoying the good food. It’ll be much more enjoyable that way.

      • Kelly Tay says:

        Thank you for your quick reply. It’s going to be helpful in planning our trip now that you have answered our questions.

        After discussing with my boyfriend, we have decided to not visit hakodate since the main reason of going there was to see cherry blossoms and also the morning market.

        However, could you give us some suggestions on our itinerary now that we have decided to skip hakodate and also to only stay 2 nights in sapporo. We would want to start our journey at lake akan and end at sapporo.

        1. Since our first stop is lake akan, do you think we should stay a night or 2 at tomamu before heading off to furano?
        2. If yes, what’s there to do at tomamu besides the unkai?
        3. Will it be a good idea to stay at furano and then drive takinoue for the tulips?
        4. besides the morning market at sapporo, are there any other morning markets that we can visit?
        5. are fruit farms available in may?

        It’s our first time to hokkaido so we are not sure how we should space out our time to enjoy the best of hokkaido in May, so we appreciate your help in replying our questions :)

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1. Firstly, if your flight arrives at CTS at 5pm, I do not recommend you go to Lake Akan for your first night as it is too far. I would suggest you spend the night at Sapporo. Which means it’s probably better to start your trip at Sapporo than end it at Sapporo. As for Tomamu, you need to check their opening date for Unkai Terrace carefully. As reference, in 2015, the Unkai Terrace only opened from 16 May. So your dates are kinda iffy.

          2. They have stuff like ice-cream making and bread-making experiences. There is also an indoor pool and onsen.

          3. Furano to Takinoue is a bit far. I would recommend staying at Asahikawa instead. And Takinoue is the place for shibazakura, not tulips. The tulip park is at Kamiyubetsu which is even further than Takinoue.

          4. If you are headed towards Lake Akan, I recommend visiting Washo Market at Kushiro.

          5. Nope, May is too early for fruit-picking.

          Looking at the places you want to visit, I would recommend you the following route:

          CTS – Sapporo – Tomamu – Kushiro – Lake Akan – Kamiyubetsu (Tulips) – Takinoue (Shibazakura) – Furano – CTS

          I would plan it this way:

          13/5 Chitose Airport – Sapporo
          14/5 Sapporo
          15/5 Sapporo – Tomamu (provided Unkai Terrace is open. If it is not open, I will replace this with Obihiro)
          16/5 Tomamu – Kushiro (visit Washo market) – Lake Akan
          17/5 Lake Akan
          18/5: Lake Akan – Kamiyubetsu – Takinoue – Asahikawa
          19/5: Asahikawa – Furano
          20/5: Furano
          21/5: Furano – CTS

          If you have a morning flight to catch on 21/5, I suggest you return to CTS on 20/5 and spend the last night at Air Terminal Hotel.

          Previously you asked about nice onsen resorts. If you are going to Lake Akan instead of Lake Toya, you can try Tsuruga:
          http://www.tsuruga.com/en/

  45. Wong Cheng Heng says:

    HI Bumble bee mum,

    Thank you for sharing your travel experience with us, your blog is amazing. In fact, i plan to do self drive in end April (from 22 April to 2 May). Do you think this is good timing for travelling in Hokkaido?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, it’s a good time for cherry blossoms in Hokkaido. But you are running into Golden Week so accommodation will be expensive and tourists spots will be crowded during that time.

      • Wong Cheng Heng says:

        Thank you for your prompt response. I am going to follow your travel plan ( The 12 days in June 2014), but please advise me if you have any better idea. Thank you very much

  46. Si wei says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum,

    Stumbled across your blog as I was looking for some Hokkaido travel tips. I’m planning to travel Hokkaido in end may – early June 2015 (have yet to firm up my flights or leave so I’m open to suggestions). So far, my draft itinerary would be:

    Day 1: Hakodate
    Day 2: Hakodate – Lake Toya
    Day 3: Lake Toya – Sapporo
    Day 4: Sapporo (Otaru Day trip)
    Day 5: Sapporo – Furano – Biei – Asahikawa
    Day 6: Asahikawa (Takinoue + Yubetsu)
    Day 7: Asahikawa – Akan National park
    Day 8: Akan National park – Kushiro- Sapporo
    Day 9: Sapporo – Singapore

    A few questions:

    1. Do you think that the itinerary is slightly packed? If yes, where do you suggest I skip (Since it’s summer – I’m assuming Furano would not be full of lavender)

    2. Should I change my travel dates slightly later to mid-end June? End may – early june should be pink moss and tulips season while july – aug would be lavender season. Is there a possibility of seeing both at the same time? Also, what are the weather forecast? I would prefer a slightly chill weather.

    3. I’m planning to do Day 1-3 by public transport and then rent a car from Day 5 onwards to save cost (pick up and drop off at Sapporo). Would it be easy to get around from Hakodate – Lake Toya – Sapporo with public transport? Or should I just rent a car for the whole period – if yes, should i pick up at hakodate and drop off at Kushiro then fly out from Kushiro?

    5. Day 8 – I’m planning to depart from Akan early in the morning and take a short break at Kushiro before heading back to Sapporo. Would the drive be possible?

    Is there any places I’ve missed out?

    Thank you for your help!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. The ending part does look pretty rushed, but the first 6 days actually look okay.

      Day 5: I am not sure which are the places you want to visit in Furano and Biei. But since it’s not yet lavender or flowering season, I guess a full day should suffice if you set off early.

      Day 6: I suggest you spend the night at Abashiri to cut down on the driving.

      Day 8: Kushiro to Sapporo is a terribly long drive. If you can, add in one more night at Tomamu between Kushiro and Sapporo. In fact, you can drive back to CTS from Tomamu.

      2. No, it is not possible to see both unfortunately. If you want to see shibazakura and tulips, you need to go end May – early June. If you want to see lavender and the peak of the flower fields at Furano / Biei, you need to go July and August. If you prefer slightly chilly weather, you should go end May – early June. It is usually pretty hot in July / August.

      3. Lake Toya requires a bus ride from Toya station. And bus frequency in Hokkaido is not great. If you want to be able to do more sightseeing, having a car will save you a lot of time. But it will be more expensive. Picking up at Hakodate and dropping off at Kushiro will incur a drop-off fee in addition to the additional days of rental. How many people are there in your group? If there are not many of you, train will be much cheaper. You can just cab around Lake Toya if need be. Although cabs are not cheap in Japan, it will probably still be cheaper than the additional car rental costs.

      Also, if you stay at hotels such as Toya Sunpalace, they offer free shuttle bus service to Sapporo after your stay (Reservation required.) So with that, I would probably opt to start car rental on Day 5 from Sapporo.

      5. As I mentioned earlier, the drive from Kushiro to Sapporo is very long. I advise you to break it up. I would make two stops: One at Kushiro to visit Washo Market and one at Obihiro to eat buta don, and spend the night at Tomamu. I love Tomamu resort. Unkai Terrace should be open by the time you are there:
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/summer/unkai/

  47. Lai Mei Ying says:

    Hi Bumble Mum,

    I come across to your blog recently and its was very informative. Appreciate your generosity in sharing. My family and I (4 adults) are planning a trip to Hokkaido from 21st – 29th June ’16. We are considering of self – drive (1st time in oversea). I would appreciate if you could assist us in our itinerary and some valuable advise.

    Day 1 – Arrive Chitose Airport at 8:20 am
    Drive to Hakodate (over night)

    Day 2 – Hakodate to Noboribetsu
    & Day 3 on the way, stop-by Lake Toya
    stay at Kashoutei Hanaya (2 nights) – is this hotel convenient to move around

    Day 4 – Noboribetsu to Sapporo (base at Sapporo)
    (stay 4 or 5 nights in Sapporo)

    Day 5 – Asahikawa Zoo
    Odori Park, Chocolate Factory

    Day 6 – Curb Market
    Biei & Furano
    (return car in the evening at Sapporo)

    Day 7 – Otaru (by public transport)

    Day 8 – depart flight home 8:55am

    1) Is the above itinerary doable? Please feel free and adjust.
    2) Any places of interest that I should not miss?
    3) Should I return the car on Day 6 at Sapporo or on Day 8 at the airport?
    4) Is there any other accommodation at the airport beside Air Terminal Hotel?

    Thanking you in advance.

    Regards,

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Kashoutei Hanaya looks a bit far from the main hub of Noboribetsu. I personally like Hotel Mahoroba for its location, food and onsen.

      If you are going to base yourself at Sapporo from Day 4 onwards, Asahikawa will take up one whole day. Biei and Furano will also take up the whole day. So it is not advisable to try to fit in other destinations on Day 5 and 6.

      Looking at your dates, I would spend more time at Furano & Biei. This is how I would do it:

      Day 1: CTS – Noboribetsu
      Day 2: Noboribetsu – Hakodate
      Day 3: Hakodate – Lake Toya (sightseeing) – Otaru
      Day 4: Otaru (sightseeing) – Sapporo
      Day 5: Sapporo (Odori Park, Curb Market, Chocolate Facotry)
      Day 6: Sapporo – Furano / Biei
      Day 7: Furano / Biei – CTS
      Day 8: Flight back

      Air Terminal is the only hotel at CTS.

  48. Samantha says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum, I’m trying to plan a roadtrip in hokkaido for mar 2016 and chanced upon your blog. Was wondering if you are able to advise me on how do I go about checking out the toll price in hokkaido?

  49. H says:

    Hi! Your site is so helpful, i’m grateful to have stumbled on it!

    Am a bit undecided about at my itinerary, would you mind helping to take a look please? i will be going end July/beg Aug, 3 adults (one being a mobile elderly). I only know after reading your posts that this is actually the peak period =(
    (i thought i should have enough time, so am actually panicking a bit as concerned about the accomodation as i havent booked any yet! )

    Day 1 arrive CTS airport late afternoon, overnight at Sapporo
    (not sure if i will be driving but doesnt matter where exactly i stay, like the car rental companies should be quite accessible regardless from susukino/odori/sapporo station areas, is that right to assume?)

    Day 2 Otaru day trip via train

    Day 3 Sapporo

    Day 4 Biei
    (pick up car in Sapporo city if driving, or do i have to pick up car overnight, like that’s better so i can drive off first thing in the morning? but i will incur one more day of rent and parking right? i’m not in a rush, but wonder how early i can pick up the car, and because i dont know if i should be driving as yet?)

    Day 5 Furano

    (I saw from a previous post that you mentioned that hotel might be expensive in Furano/Biei so i can probably stay at Ashikawa and do day trips on day 4 and 5?) (I should do Biei first if i am staying at Ashikawa, right?)

    Day 6 Lake Toya
    (is the distance ok to drive from Biei/Furano? or would you suggest i stop over somewhere interesting instead? or would it be ok if i take the train?)

    Day 7 Noboribetsu
    (initially I had wanted to do Hakodate on day 7 and fly out from Hokkaido airport instead but a lot of websites/blogs suggest making round trips to/from CTA, i think as it would be costly to drop off at different location? but i dont know how much price difference. would you know a gauge perhaps? also i guess it’s hard to drive back from Hakodate to CTS, even if stopping halfway for a night, is that right? maybe i should choose another location instead of Noboribetsu instead that would be more worth my time? especially as i think noboribetsu might not have a lot of activities, except the Hell Valley? I’m feeling a bit sad that i most probably cant do Hakodate this trip as i dont know when i can go back to Hokkaido anytime foreseeable. anyway, if i dont do Hakodate i am fine to consider anything for day 7 that would be easy to get to from Lake Toya the day before and then to CTS on day 8. Any suggestion?)

    Day 8 afternoon flight out of CTS
    (am thinking of a flight out around noon, maybe i can go to the outlet mall, you think worth the time? just for a few hours in the morning, enroute perhaps?)
    (I’m actually flying in and out of Tokyo Haneda airport and taking domestic flight to Hokkaido so will extend a couple more days in Tokyo after Day 8, so I should have flexibility of time out of CTS, that is if i can get domestic flight tickets at good timings)

    Ultimately, I also wonder if i should drive or just take the JR/rail (as it seems like my itinerary is ok to just use the rail? like hotels and tourist spots are generally accessible via rail?) how does it look cost wise for my itinerary? i mean if there’s not a lot of cost difference i guess driving is more convenient?

    Many thanks if you can shed some light.

    Panicky H

    • bumblebeemum says:

      On Day 1, yes, you should be able to find a car rental company around Sapporo Station / Odori Station / Susukino area quite easily. But do reserve a car in advance from the outlet near your hotel because it is peak period.

      On day 4, you’re right. If you pick up the car the day before, you can leave earlier the next morning. But you need to pay for parking, which should be about 1200yen per night. Considering Biei is quite far and there is a lot to see there, I would just pay for the parking and pick up the car the night before so that I can spend more time sightseeing at Biei.

      Staying at Asahikawa is the way to save money, but you will find yourself driving to and fro on Days 4 and 5. If I were to stay in Asahikawa, I would do it in this order to minimise the detours:

      Day 4: Drive from Sapporo to Furano, complete sightseeing in Furano area, then drive to Asahikawa for the night.
      Day 5: Sightseeing around Biei. Back to Asahikawa for the night.

      On Day 6, I think the drive from Asahikawa to Lake Toya is too far. I would shift Noboribetsu up. After Asahikawa, go to Noboribetsu first, then Lake Toya.

      Regarding round-trip CTS versus one-way travel in Hokkaido, there are 3 things that drive the cost of one-way travel up:
      1) Air ticket prices
      2) Car rental prices
      3) Drop-off fees for car rental

      For air tickets, if you are using ANA or JAL, I don’t think there is a price difference between air tickets whether you fly in to CTS and out from Hakodate or do a round-flight between Tokyo and CTS. Flying round-trip CTS saves on airfare for people who don’t mind using budget carriers like Jetstar, Peach, Vanilla etc because these airlines only serve CTS. Or let’s say they don’t plan to stop over in Tokyo and use other airlines like Cathay Pacific or Thai Airways which again only serve CTS. But if you have already decided you want to stop over in Tokyo, most likely you are looking at ANA or JAL which makes flying out from Hakodate a viable option.

      As for car rental fees, the problem is not every car rental company has an office in Hakodate or allow one-way rentals. This means you are restricted in your choice of car rental companies. With less choices available, you may end up having to make do with a more expensive option.

      Drop off fee is typically about 7000yen in Hokkaido.

      If you really want to do a one-way rental, my advice to you is to fly in to Asahikawa and out of Hakodate. This way you save TIME more than anything. If you are going to pay for the drop-off fees, might as well make it worth, know what I mean? You can try something like this:

      Day 1: Fly into Asahikawa.
      Day 2: Biei day trip from Asahikawa.
      Day 3: Furano day trip from Asahikawa.
      Day 4: Asahikawa to Sapporo.
      Day 5: Sapporo to Otaru.
      Day 6: Otaru to Lake Toya.
      Day 7: Lake Toya to Hakodate.
      Day 8: Fly out from Hakodate.

      • H says:

        Thanks much for your prompt reply Bumblebeemum.

        Sure, I will definitely reserve a car first, but was thinking to find accommodation first and so hoping I won’t be restricted by lack of pick up options thereafter. I do hope I can book the car before fixing hotel in Sapporo if I can help it – think there are more accommodation options there ya?

        Shall do the swap for day 4 and 5 as you suggest if I have to stay at asahikawa, that’s just in case I cant get reasonably priced accommodation in biei and furano. I am ok to pick up the car the day before too. But if I can stay at biei and furano on the two separate nights, then should the sequence be biei, furano and then on to noboribestu, which is even better than to drive from asahikawa ya? (shall swap days 6 and 7 in any case, just wasn’t sure if it’ll make much difference from asahikawa/biei/furano as I understand the driving distance between them is like 35 mins. unless there is a shortcut that you know?)

        Given my itinerary, sounds like driving is better (like driving around furano etc) is easier than trying to take public transport, right?

        Yes I think the air ticket price is not a problem/no difference, but given high drop off fee and limited options, I believe I will do the round trip still. Thanks for this decisive advice.

        best regards

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You can do that too – choosing your car rental outlet before booking the hotel. Some rental car offices are located at hotels.

          Definitely if you stay at Biei or Furano, it is better than staying at Asahikawa. The only reason to stay at Asahikawa would be to save money. But if you are able to find an accommodation at Biei / Furano that is within your budget, I recommend staying at Biei / Furano. There is only one straight road joining Asahikawa to Biei to Furano, no short cuts. If you stay at Asahikawa, you will be going back and forth that road.

          For Furano area, definitely driving is a better idea.

      • H says:

        oh, sorry, do you have recommendations for biei hotel, or should i just stay for 2 nights at furano is fine?

  50. JJ says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    1. May I know how did u manage to join Times car rental membership as they require a Japan residential address to register as member ( hotel address is not allowed).
    As I read through your blog, there are only member promotion discount for car rental campaign indicated on the Japanese website.
    Currently, there’s no 20% discount for foreign nationality. :(

    2. Should I email the car rental company for ETC card rental after i have made booking?

    3. 2 adults + 1 child + 2 luggage + car seat can choose C1G class?

    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. Ummm.. I didn’t join in the end because they had the 20% discount for foreign nationalities when I used them. Maybe they don’t allow foreigners to sign up for their membership then. :(

      2. For TIMES, yes, you have to make a request for the ETC card only after you have made the booking:
      http://www.timescar-rental.com/beginner/etc/etccard.html
      (Scroll down to ‘How to make a reservation’)

      3. Should be okay since you can put one of the luggage in the back seat.

      3.

  51. isabelle says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum!

    It is a blessing to be able to stumble upon your blog. Would love to have your advice on the below.

    We will be going Hokkaido/Tokyo from the 10th-20th Sept. Our itinerary is as such:

    10th sept: arrive in New chitose airport > take the JR train to asahikawa stn > pick up our car from asahikawa stn > drive down to Biei > stay for the night at Yumoto Shirogane-Onsen Hotel

    11th sept: Drive down to Furano in the morning > explore our way up > If we’ll be able to cover biei, it will be good. If not, we will leave it to 12 sept morning.

    12th Sept: Either tour around Biei (if it has been covered on the 11th) OR drive down to Daisetsuzan National Park to visit the autum foilage > drive to Asahikawa Stn to return the car > take the JR train and head to Sapporo.

    12th-16th Sept: Spent in Sapporo (have yet to plan our itinerary), but Staying at Mercure Hotel

    16th Sept: take the JR line to New Chitose Airport for our flight to Tokyo, arriving in Haneda Airport > Take the JR line from the airport to Tokyo Station > head to our accomodation.

    16th-20th Sept: Planning to tour around tokyo using the tokyo metro pass.

    20th Sept: Take the Narita Express from tokyo station to Narita Airport

    Also, I’ve got 2 questions:

    1. Do we need a HEP or ETC for our self-drive from asahikawa stn > biei > furano? Actually i’m not quite sure what the both of them do.

    2. Is it worth buying a 7 Days JR pass for our trip?

    Many thanks in advance! Would love to hear from you soon! (:

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. Nope. The area around Biei and Furano is toll free. The HEP / ETC cards allow you to go through toll gates without having to stop and pay cash. Without it, you can just collect a ticket when entering a toll road and pay cash when exiting.

      2. If you are just staying in Tokyo, there is no need for the JR Pass. JR Pass is only useful if you are, say, making a round trip between Tokyo and Osaka. If you want to save money on train in Tokyo, don’t use the Narita Express. The Keisei line between Narita Airport and Ueno station is only about 1000yen per way.

      • isabelle says:

        Hi bumblebeemum, thanks for your reply!

        The road from asahikawa station to biei is also toll fee?

        Also, the journey from to and fro Chitose airport > Asahikawa stn, and also from hanade airport > Tokyo station will require me to travel on the JR line right? The overall cost will not be able to cover the JR pass?

        • isabelle says:

          Also, would you recommend us to drive up to Daisetsuzan National Park to visit the autum foilage when we’re driving back from Biei to Asahikawa to return the car? Many thanks!

          • bumblebeemum says:

            I suggest you play by ear. Check for autumn foliage reports and see how much autumn foliage there is before you decide if it is worth the while to drive all the way to Asahidake. Your dates look a bit too early for autumn foliage, but we never know since cherry blossoms is blooming earlier than usual this year.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yup, the road from Asahikawa to Biei is toll free.

          Between CTS and Asahikawa you need to use JR. But the distance / fare is not enough to warrant the use of JR Pass I feel. Similarly, between Haneda Airport and Tokyo Station is just a very short trip. JR Pass is more for long distance travel by shinkansen.

  52. xh says:

    Hi Bunblebeemum
    Thanks for the informative travel guides you have shared. We (family of 4 adults and 2 kids)are planning to go Hokkaido at the end of the year. i have few questions and would like to get your advises.
    My itinerary will be
    Day 1 Fly to CTS and stay at Sapporo city for 2 nights (sightseeing and shopping)
    Day 3 Rent car and drive to Kiroro and stay for 3 nights (our main purpose to Hokkaido).
    Day 5 Drive to Onsen town (Jozankei or Lake Toya) for 1 nights.
    Day 6 Drive to CTS and return the car. Fly back to SG

    1. When can I book my hotels and ski resort? I noticed most of the ski resorts and onsen hotels can only be booked 3 months ahead.
    2. What is your experience of driving in early December? I know it is not safe to drive in winter if we never in snowy places before. My hubby has rented car and driven hundreds of miles few times in US and considering early December, a lot of buses to/from ski resorts are not available in weekdays, it will be easy if we drive.
    3. Jozankei and Lake Toya which one would you recommend?

    Many thanks and hope to hear from you soon
    xh

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1. You need to check the ski resort website from time to time to see when they open their booking for the winter season. 3 months before sounds about right. But for hotels in general, you can try searching 6 months before your trip. What you can do is to secure available rooms with free cancellation first about 6 months in advance. Then check back again every month to see if you can find better deals.

      2. Are you going early or end December? Most ski resorts’ snow activities only open towards the end of December. Kiroro may not be open yet in early December, depending on how early you are there. But regarding driving, snow is usually heavier at snow resort areas. Just drive slow, you should be fine. You can read my winter driving tips on this post:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

      3. I prefer Lake Toya.

  53. Yak says:

    Hi,
    You mentioned that it is worth to splurge on Ryokan, can you tell me which ryokan I should enquire?
    Thanks.

  54. MK says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Thanks for sharing all the precious tips. My husband and I are planning to go Hokkaido from 21 May to 4 Jun (2 weeks), self-drive the entire trip except the last few days in Sapporo. This is our first time to Hokkaido. Attached is my tentative itinerary for your comments please.

    Day 1 Fly to CTS (arrive at 2pm), rent car and drive to Tokachigawa
    Day 2 Tokachigawa – Kushiro
    Day 3 Kushiro – Lake Akan
    Day 4 Lake Akan (Akan National Park)
    Day 5 Lake Akan – Higashimokoto town – Shiretoko
    Day 6 Shiretoko
    Day 7 Shiretoko
    Day 8 Shiretoko – Abashiri – Kamiyubetsu – Mombetsu
    Day 9 Mombetsu – Takinoue Park – Sounkyo
    Day 10 Sounkyo – KumiFuramo – Biei – Furano
    Day 11 Furano – Sapporo, return car
    Day 12 Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
    Day 13 Sapporo
    Day 14 Sapporo, CTS and fly back to SG

    I realised there is not enough time to cover the southern part – Hakodate.
    Do you think I should forego some places like Shiretoko and include Hakodate instead?

    Many thanks and hope to hear from you soon.

    Grace always

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For a 2-weeks Hokkaido trip, I recommend only choosing one between Shiretoko and Hakodate, definitely not both otherwise you will be spending too much time on the route. Looking at your dates, I would forego Hakodate.

      Your itinerary looks good. Only think is KumiFurano – is it Kamifurano? If it’s Kamifurano, the order you would go would be Sounkyo – Biei – Kamifurano – Furano for day 10.

  55. Fil says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum!!

    I just want to say, your blog has inspired me so much in the planning for my upcoming Hokkaido trip in late June-early July. I really need some advice for my itinerary after cracking my brain to save up on the accommodation costs. Hopefully you can provide more tips to save money based on my itinerary. I understand that this period may be a peak period but nonetheless, got to save as much as I can haha!

    Also, I really need advice on the driving, HEP cards and travelling time. I’ve TRIED to include some potential travelling durations so do correct me if I’m wrong. :) And if you have any rearrangements I should make, do let me know! Sadly, I’ve fixed the airports so I have to work around that > Cape Kamui to Lake Toya (3hrs?)
    Day 5) Noburibetsu & Cape Chikyu

    – Transport: This is when I start to get a rental car. (I’m still confused as to whether to reserve through Tocoo or Toyata due to cost concerns and also the availability of English GPS. Furthermore I saw from Honda’s Japanese rental website there is currently some 40% discount thing which I don’t understand LOL)
    – Accommodation: I’m looking at Lake Toya’s Sun Palace over two nights (is this recommended?)

    Day 6) Depart Lake Toya to Hakodate (3hrs?)
    Day 7) Exploring Hakodate

    – Accommodation: Trying to find an Airbnb with free parking so I don’t have to drive for these 1.5 days.

    Day 8) Depart Hakodate for Tomamu (5hrs???? This is the trickiest part.)

    – Accommodation: Likewise I would love to visit Unkai Terrace and the Church on Water so Hoshino Resorts would be ideal for one night. I also want to spend some time in the resort during the day so I was thinking to drive out from Hakodate earlier and perhaps arrive at the resort at about 3pm. But driving continuously would kill me, so I’m wondering if there is anywhere new I should stop by for a break?

    Day 9) Depart Tomamu to Lake Shikeribetsu (3hrs?) –> Sounkyo (I’m not sure what there is here except maybe for an onsen break) –> Asahikawa
    Day 10) Biei & Furano
    Day 11) Asahikawa Zoo (Flying off at 8pm from Asahikawa Airport)

    – Accommodation: I’m looking at Airbnb again here but its REALLY pathetic. Hotels in Asahikawa somehow cost quite a bit (or is there any you could recommend?) OR should I stay in Sounkyo and still be able to access Day 10 and 11 places easily?

    So that’s about it! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING! Hope to hear from you soon :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Regarding car rental, you can book using their English website but ask if they can apply the 40% discount to your booking at the end.

      As for Toya Sunpalace, I enjoyed my stay there. The kids love the pool.

      The drive from Hakodate to Tomamu is very long. If you going to Noboribetsu and Lake Toya, I usually recommend using them to break up the Hakodate drive. You can stay at Lake Toya while driving South and use Noboribetsu to break up the Hakodate and Tomamu drive. i.e. You don’t go Lake Toya and Noboribetsu together – split them up before and after Hakodate. Know what I mean?

      For your dates, I would just skip Lake Shikaribetsu and Sounkyo and spend more time and Furano and Biei instead. What I would do is:
      Day 9: Tomamu – Furano
      Day 10: Furano – Biei – Ashikawa

      You can read more about visiting Furano & Biei during your dates on this post:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2016/04/12/hokkaido-furano-biei-best-attractions-in-summer-july-august/

      Is accommodation in Asahikawa that expensive? BnB options in Hokkaido are very limited beyond Sapporo. There are many hotels in Asahikawa and they are usually quite reasonably priced. At least compared to the Furano & Biei region in summer. Sounkyo will be more expensive than Asahikawa I would think.

      • Fil says:

        Thanks so much for the reply! I’m not sure why my first 4 days of the itinerary are cut off :(

        But just to reiterate,

        Day 1-3) Sapporo and Otaru
        And Day 4 would be driving out from Sapporo to Cape Kamui and then to Lake Toya.

        ====

        Sure! I will try to ask if the discount is applicable then because it actually ends midway during my trip haha.

        Going by your recommendation to split the journey from Hakodate to Tomamu, do you know roughly how long it would take? My initial idea was to be able to check in at Tomamu at around 3-4pm (which is already near sunset) and hopefully be able to find time to relax at the premise. So, this can let me plan how long it would be good to stay at Noboribetsu.

        And given the above, so I can put Lake Toya (and Mt Usu) and Cape Chikyu on Day 5 and leave Noboribetsu for Day 8 is that right?

        Seems like there’s really a lot in Furano to explore! I shall do that. Just wondering, would it also possible to do
        Day 9: Tomamu – Furano (Stay in Asahikawa)
        Day 10: Furano – Biei (Stay in Asahikawa)?
        I guess driving to and fro wouldn’t be an issue given the amazing views.
        Currently the hotel I found in Asahikawa costs about $222 for 2 nights.

        ===

        All in all, do you feel that the itinerary is doable? :)
        Thank you!!!

      • Fil says:

        Hi sorry,

        Can i just ask, based on my itinerary, what would be the recommended use of the toll cards (HEP/ETC)?

        Thank you!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Okay, let me see if I got your itinerary right:

          Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo
          Day 3: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
          Day 4 (pick up rental car): Sapporo – Camp Kamui – Lake Toya
          Day 5: Lake Toya (Mount Usu) – Hakodate
          Day 6: Hakodate
          Day 7: Hakodate – Noboribetsu
          Day 8: Noboribetsu – Tomamu
          Day 9: Tomamu – Furano – Asahikawa
          Day 10: Asahikawa – Biei – Asahikawa
          Day 11: Asahikawa – CTS ??

          If you pick up the car from Sapporo and return it to CTS, you cannot use the HEP because one of the condition is that the car needs to be returned the the branch you picked it up from. If you can get an ETC for a nominal fee (like less than 1000 yen) then just get one. If it costs a lot to get the ETC card then just pay cash.

          • Fil says:

            I managed to secure the 40% discount from Honda! which is REALLY AWESOME HAHA! Thanks for the tip 😀 (and hopefully other readers reading this will note too!)

            Sadly they cant rent out the ETC card. Wondering if I really need it based on the itinerary I have below

            Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
            Day 2: Sapporo
            Day 3: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
            Day 4 (pick up rental car): Sapporo –> Camp Kamui – Lake Toya
            Day 5: Lake Toya area (Mount Usu) – Cape Chikyu
            Day 6: Lake Toya -> Hakodate
            Day 7: Hakodate
            Day 8: Hakodate -> Noboribetsu – Tomamu
            Day 9: Tomamu –> Furano – Asahikawa
            Day 10: Asahikawa – Biei – Asahikawa
            Day 11: Asahikawa (Asahikawa Airport & drop off here)

  56. Lyra says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Thank you so much for your informative blog, it inspired me alot on planning hokkaido trip with my family later in mid of August. We will be travelling from 11Aug(midnight) until 17Aug.

    I really need some advice on the itinerary, it will be like:
    12- CTS – Furano
    13- furano – biei – Asahikawa
    14- Asahikawa – tomamu
    15- tomamu – Sapporo
    16- Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
    17- Sapporo – CTS

    It seems like not enough time to explore more in Hokkaido :(
    Let me know if i can change anything in the itinerary so that i can visit as much places as i can! It will be good if you can also show me the hours of travelling from one place to another. Btw, we will be renting a car for travelling around.
    Last question, how much time do i need to spend in Sapporo?

    Thank you so much! hope to hear from you soon!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      6 days is a pretty short time for Hokkaido. So yeah, just focus on a small area, you won’t be able to cover much.

      For driving times from place to place, you can use Google map. Google maps’ driving time is a pretty good estimate for Summer driving.

      How much time to spend in Sapporo depends on what you want to do. Shop? Eat? Sightsee? Anyway you don’t have many days, so you just have to work with the 1 or 2 days.

      The order of your itinerary is not very efficient. I would rearrange it this way:

      12- CTS – Tomamu
      13- Tomamu – Furano
      14- furano – biei – Asahikawa
      14- Asahikawa – Hokuryu (for sunflower) – Otaru
      15- Otaru – Sapporo
      16- Sapporo
      17- Sapporo – CTS

      • Lyra says:

        Thanks for your reply! I will be following the re-arranged itinerary from you. Can I know on the first day, what can I do in Tomamu? My plan to go there is for unkai only, not sure any other attraction can I go for.

        • Lyra says:

          One more question, can you advice where can i stay which is nearby Tomamu unkai terrace? I found that Hoshino resort is too pricey to me.

          • bumblebeemum says:

            To answer both your questions together, if you find Hoshino Resort too pricey and worry about the lack of activities, just skip it. Go straight to Furano from CTS. At Furano, visit New Furano Prince Hotel. In August, the ropeway at New Furano Prince Hotel should be in operation and if you are lucky, you may be able to see unkai there too.

            • au elian says:

              hi ,

              Hope this helps. i am also visiting the tomamu unkai terrace in June and booked accom thru Airbnb for 6 pax. The apt is located at the Village Alpha , just beside the Hoshino Towers. It worked out to be Euro 177 for the entire apartment.

              cheers,

              elian

              • bumblebeemum says:

                Wow, thank you so much for sharing! I never knew what Village Alpha was and frankly I thought it was a closed down wing of the resort coz it always looks so quiet. So it’s actually a B&B! Cool.. Sounds like a great alternative for families who can’t fit into a single room at Hoshino Resort!

                • au elian says:

                  Hi bumblebeemum,

                  You’re welcome. Just giving back to your blogspot after all your assistance !

                  Here is the Airbnb link in case anyone is interested.

                  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8532167?check_in=2016-06-28&guests=1&check_out=2016-06-29

                  • Lyra says:

                    Omg.. I just read your reply! the place is great! but is fully booking during my travel date. Anyway, thanks for your suggestion! It will be very useful for those in big group and tight budget :)

                    Hey bumblebeemum, I would like to know if I can collect the ETC card one day before my booking of car rental? Because I will stay with Airbnb and it stated there, they will only send to hotel but not any Airbnb accomodation.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Who are you getting the ETC card from? If it’s Tocoo, you may want to request to pick it up from a post office instead?

                    • Lyra says:

                      I’m getting from toocoo.. Any post office (in Sapporo city) will do? They only show me 2 option, either post office in airport or hotel.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      What time is your arrival flight at CTS? If it is within working hours, check with Tocoo if you can pick up the ETC card from the airport post office on the day you arrive.

  57. Wei Peng says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum,

    Your blog is very informative and it has helped me a lot in planning for my Hokkaido trip.

    Here is my itinerary, can you help me see if it’s good to go. I’m landing in Chitose on 23 May, 1145am and leaving on 3 June. Will be renting car for the first 9 days

    Day 1 – Chitose – Furano – Biei – stay Asahikawa

    Day 2 – Asahikawa and surrounding area – stay Asahikawa

    Day 3 – Asahikawa – Takinoue – Yubetsu – Lake Saroma – stay Abashiri

    Day 4 – Abashiri – Lake Mashu – Lake Akan – stay Obihiro

    Day 5 – Obihiro – Hell Valley – stay Noboribetsu

    Day 6 – Noboribetsu – Hakodate

    Day 7 – Hakodate

    Day 8 – Hakodate – stay Lake Toya

    Day 9 – lake Toya – Sapporo ( return car )

    Day 10 – Sapporo – Otaru – stay Sapporo

    Day 11 – Sapporo

    Day 12 – Sapporo – Chitose – home

    I have a few questions;
    1. Do we need HEP pass?
    2. I have friends who can help me book the car from Japanese website, which is cheaper comparing to English one. Should I just go ahead with that although I can’t speak English.
    3. Our initial planning includes Shiretoko but decided to ditch it due to time constraint. Do you think we should include Shiretoko?
    4. Is Google map navigation reliable if we decided to use that? I find that easier to use than Gps. Also do you think we can go by the route that avoids the toll altogether?

    Sorry for the lengthy post. Hope you can give your valuable opinions. Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks good. The only thing I would do differently is to spend the first night at Furano instead of Asahikawa. Reason being it will be afternoon by the time you pick up your rental car and usually after a flight, everyone is tired and nobody is in the mood to spend so much more time in a car. Stopping at Furano instead of Asahikawa will shave off 2 hours driving time on Day 1.

      1. If you pick up your car at CTS and return to Sapporo, you can’t get the HEP. HEP requires the car to be returned to the same outlet it was picked up from.

      2. Yes, I usually book from Japanese websites because it is cheaper. But please ask your friend to inform them that you all do not speak Japanese. Some smaller companies do require someone who knows Japanese around to explain and sign the documents. If you’re booking from the big companies than it should not be an issue.

      3. Between Shiretoko and Hakodate, I would only pick one since they are on extreme ends of Hokkaido. If you want to go Shiretoko, drop Hakodate.

      4. You mean use Google map while you are there? I am not sure how good internet connection will be when you are out in the rural areas of Hokkaido. Google map should be pretty reliable as long as there is internet. While it is technically possible to avoid tolls, it is not advisable. Some stretches are best done by toll roads to save time. E.g. From CTS to Furano, Obihiro to Noboribetsu, and to & fro Hakodate, I would just pay toll and get the drive over and done with.

  58. Andy says:

    HI Bumblebeemun, really enjoy reading your post. I will be doing my 1st self drive in hokkaido in late May. I was thinking of getting a mobile plan in case of emergency, e.g. car breakdown. Any recommendation on the mobile plan (for hokkaido) or experience to share ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Ermm… I haven’t gotten a mobile plan before. When I had an emergency last time, I just used my Singapore phone to call. Just made sure my phone could roam. :p If you are not going to be using the phone regularly throughout your trip, I don’t think it is economical to get a mobile plan. If it is just for emergency, you can just call with roaming when you need it. I don’t think the phone bill would be more than the cost of a mobile plan? But if you really want, you can rent a mobile phone in Japan. Just google for ‘Japan mobile phone rental’.

  59. cheng zheng cong kelvin says:

    hi Bumblebee mum, came across your website for hokkaido. Me and and wife are going to hokkaido this coming 19 jun for our honeymoon and plan to self drive. We will arrive at chitose airport on sunday from tokyo about 230 pm and flying back to tokyo on 26 jun around 1pm. So we have about 6 days.

    Can we have some advice from you regarding the itinerary?

    I got this from other pages of your website. But it is for early june. Is it still applicable?

    Day 1: CTS – Lake Shikotsu – Lake Toya
    Day 2: Lake Toya – Hakodate
    Day 3: Hakodate / Mount Esan
    Day 4: Hakodate – Niseko
    Day 5: Niseko
    Day 6: Niseko – Shakotan Peninsular – Otaru
    Day 7: Otaru – Sapporo – airport

    Also, isit better to get the unlimited highway pass?

    Thank you so much for your help!
    really appreciate it.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Personally if I were going in late June, I would go to Furano / Biei region instead. Driving around Furano and Biei is a lot more scenic than driving to Hakodate and back.

      But given the above itinerary, I don’t think you need the Hokkaido Expressway Pass.

      • Kelvin says:

        Thank you so much for your quick reply! Really appreciate it!

        Does it mean that we head from lake toya to furano and biei straight? Thank you!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I would go Furano and Biei at the end of the trip.. Give the lavender and flowers more time to bloom. So something like this:

          Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
          Day 2: Sapporo – Otaru
          Day 3: Otaru – Shakotan Peninsular – Niseko
          Day 4: Niseko – Lake Toya – Lake Shikotsu
          Day 5: Lake Shikotsu – Furano
          Day 6: Furano / Biei
          Day 7: Furano – airport

  60. Minghui says:

    Hi there Bumblebee Mum, thanks for your very detailed and helpful comments on travelling through Hokkaido. My family of four will be there in the first week of June this year and am thinking of a renting a car. My basic itinerary for driving should be:

    Day 1 – Sapporo to Furano/Biei (day trip)
    Day 2 – Sapporo to Lake Toya
    Day 3 – Lake Toya
    Day 4 – Lake Toya to Chitose Airport

    Based on the driving routes for these destinations, would you advise renting an ETC card and using it? From japan-guide.com, I see that one-way tolls from Sapporo to Furano should come up to about 1,250 yen.

    Thanks!

  61. MS says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Your blog is always my first stop when planning a trip to Hokkaido. Thank you for your great work.

    Just noticed: The photos for the Obihiro – Kushiro maps actually show Chitose – Obihiro. :)

    MS

  62. Connie says:

    Hi! Really enjoyed your beautiful, helpful & informative blog! Thanks so much for d hard work:) Need your help here as we’ll be visiting Hokkaido for d 1st time, we will be staying at Mercure Hotel Sapporo for 1st few days in Sapporo. May I check with you, on Day 5, we plan to drive from Sapporo-Hakodate , then Day 6 Hakodate-Niseko & Day 6 Niseko-Furano.. From d above itinerary, do we need to rent a ETC Card or HEP card? If we only rent an ETC card, which car rental outlet would you suggest that’s near to Mercure Hotel pls? And when we return to Sapporo on Day 8, we will be staying at Hotel Ibis Sapporo, which car rental outlet would you recommend we return d car to? This is bcos we’ll be traveling with a 5yo & an elderly. TIA for your kind attention and help! :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It sounds like getting a HEP may be worthwhile for your trip. HEP requires the car to be returned to the same branch where you picked it up from. Hotel Ibis is some distance from Mercure, so you can only choose an outlet near one of them. Usually what I do if the rental company is some distance from the hotel is that I would drop everyone and the luggage off first and go return the car on my own.

      Referring to the list of car rental outlets that can provide HEP:
      http://www.driveplaza.com/trip/drawari/hokkaido_expass/shoplist_en.html

      The ones near Mercure would be:
      TOYOTA Rent a Car SAPPORO, Susukino Minami 4-jo Office
      Times Car Rental, Susukino

      • Connie says:

        Dear Bumblebeemum,
        Thanks So Much for your kind help! Your reply has eased so many questions swimming in my head. Great! I’ll get a HEP @ TOYOTA Rent a Car SAPPORO, Susukino Minami 4-jo Office as per your kind advice. *Thumbs up**
        Last question, do we need to rent a wifi router or purchase a prepaid data SIM card to access google map or internet while self-driving in d country areas? Million thanks again, your kind answers really help more than words can describe. Cheers.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          If you feel unsafe without having access to internet on the go and want to have Google map as a back-up, then yes you will need to rent a WIFI router or prepaid data SIM card. But if you are adventurous enough, the car’s GPS works pretty well and if you really do get lost, the good ol’ fashion way of asking for directions should work even if you don’t have internet.

  63. Jenny Yeoh says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum
    I shall be in Hokkaido from 25 June to 1 July. My itinerary is :
    Day 1 arrive in Sapporo
    Day 2 Otaru
    Day 3 Sapporo
    Day 4 Furano
    Day 5 Biei
    Day 6 Sapporo
    Day 7 fly home
    I was initially planning to take the train to Furano and Biei but after reading your blog, I am tempted to drive to Furano/Biei because of the convenience. There will be 2 of us. I am not sure of the following:
    1. whether it’s worthwhile to get the ETC or HEP to drive to Furano
    2. which car rental companies after checking out tocoo, Toyota and Nissan
    3. Which type of vehicle as Nissan request to fill up the vehicle class with a drop down window with a long list eg P0, P1 etc etc
    I would appreciate your advice.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I think Nissan is slightly cheaper than Toyota? If you drive on Day 4 or 5 happen to be on a weekend, you can consider getting an ETC card from Nissan. I think they only charge a nominal fee for it. HEP will not be necessary.

      For vehicle class, depends on how much luggage you have. I think they have an indication of how many people / how many pieces of luggage the car can fit? Use that as a gauge.

  64. Jenny Yeoh says:

    Thank you for your reply. When I planned to go to Furano, I read that you have to book 3 days ahead for the train ticket which was why I choose to go to Furano on Day 4. Iis on a Tuesday. I was trying to find out the cost of the toll but have difficulty because you need the select the expressway and I don’t. Will it be any cheaper getting an ETC than paying cash as I understand there are no toll roads between Furano and Biei?
    I also saw in your blog you captured a shot of all the map codes of the sightseeing spots. Is there a website that I can go and extract them at one go instead of going to each individual website?
    I was also thinking of getting my international car license closer to my travel date but I think you need to key in the driving kicense no.when booking the rental car?
    Many thanks in advance for your advice.

  65. farmie says:

    hi bumblebee mum, 3
    did u sign up for times car rental in their Japanese site?
    they asked for address in japan. What did you fill in?

    Do you know of any cheap car rental for 1 month?

    Thanks

  66. JJ says:

    Dear bumblebee mum,

    May I know

    1. Which buffet restaurant / name of restaurant that you would recommend at Tomamu the Hoshino?

    2. Roughly what time to take free shuttle bus to sea clouds gondola station?

    3. Have you tried hot spa at Tomamu resort?

    Thank u very much :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There is only one buffet restaurant at Tomamu I think.. The one where breakfast is served. It’s called Buffet Dining Hal:
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/summer/en/restaurant/hal.php

      We always have our breakfast there. But for dinner, we would try something else.
      http://www.snowtomamu.jp/summer/en/restaurant/

      I haven’t finished trying all of them. Only tried the Italian and Hokkaido Bar – both were decent. Not exactly WOW but not too bad. I only look forward to breakfast when I’m at Tomamu.. haha..

      You can take the free shuttle anytime from like 4.30am? Last gondola up is at 8am, but that would be quite rushed because last gondola down is at 9am. You can wake up at 5.30am to check if there is Unkai. If there isn’t, go back to sleep. If there is, start waking everyone up to wash up and go.

      Never tried the hot spa before.

    • JJ says:

      How to know the unkai status? Broadcast the day before or on the day?
      Yeah, I saw ur breakfast pic. Looking forward to that too :)

      Thank you ^_^

  67. Apple says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum

    Thank you for much for taking time and providing us with such good details about traveling to Japan!

    I have booked my tix to NRT for 3 to 17 Dec, would like to go to Hokkaido upon arrival but my flight only arrive at 6.30pm. Any suggestions how can I go about? I check through some budget sits like skymark, vanilla, peach, jetstar but seems like rates for Dec is not up yet?

    Thank you!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yeah, domestic air ticket prices on the budget airlines are not out so early. Not sure if there are domestic flights that late though. You may have to spend the night around Narita Airport and take the flight on the next morning.

  68. Uli says:

    Dear Bumblebee Mum,

    I’m going to Hokkaido in a week’s time and my friend recommended your blog to me. I love your posts as they are incredibly insightful. I only wish I had read it earlier.

    Anyway, I recently booked a car with Tocoo! for 6 days. Actual car rental fee is 22,000yen which is alright. The thing is, even though my email stated that the ‘ToCoo! additional support fee’ was 5620yen/ 52USD, I called my bank only to find out I was charged a whopping $81.1USD (which includes the actual 5620 yen conversion + 3 transactions of 1USD + 1 transaction of 16.19USD to a merchant named Aviation Osaka Japan).

    I feel very anxious and puzzled as the latter separate transactions were not stated clearly during the booking process. Hence, I wanted to chat with you and find out if charges like this are usual or if you have experienced it. I am in the midst of thinking if I should cancel my booking with ToCoo! completely and go with Rakuten instead, but I am scared that the same kind of charges would happen again without my knowledge. Another factor preventing me from hopping to Rakuten is the fact that I don’t speak Japanese…

    Thank you so much for your time. Your tips would really help and make me feel less anxious about my first car rental. :’)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      To be honest, ever since Tocoo started introducing this additional support fee, I stopped booking from them. Did you send an email to Tocoo to enquire about that 16.19 USD?

      If I’m not mistaken, even if you cancel your Tocoo booking completely, you will still lose out on conversion fees. My experience for Rakuten has been very good so far because they do not charge my credit card. I always pay to the merchants directly when I arrive in Japan for my Rakuten bookings. They do have an English website, though prices on the English website tend to be more expensive than their Japanese website:
      http://travel.rakuten.com/cars/

      If you find that Tocoo, after factoring in the USD81.10, is still cheaper than booking direct from the car companies or Rakuten, then stick with your Tocoo booking. But if you find that with this additional charge, booking direct or through Rakuten is cheaper, then cancel the Tocoo booking and re-book elsewhere. Though be prepared for conversion rate differences and possible non-refundable administrative fees.

      Anyway first thing I would do is to email Tocoo to ask about that 16.19USD and see what they say.

  69. iFatfat says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum…

    Need some advise… my itinerary are as follows, wondering if I need the HEP?

    Day 1 – Chitose (Airport) – Otaru
    Day 2 – Otaru – Lake Toya
    Day 3 – Lake Toya – Hakodate
    Day 4 – Hakodate – Noboribetsu
    Day 5 – Noboribetsu – Chitose
    Day 6 – Chitose
    Day 7 – Chitose – Tomamu
    Day 8 – Tomamu – Obihiro (day trip)
    Day 9 – Tomamu – Furano (day trip)
    Day 10 – Tomamu – Furano – Asahikawa
    Day 11 – Asahikawa
    Day 12 – Asahikawa – Sapporo
    Day 13 – Sapporo
    Day 14 – Sapporo – Chitose (Airport)

    Would appreciate it if you could also help to estimate the parking fees. We are still undecided if we should keep the car for the sapporo days since my partner and I have different views. Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In the cities (Otaru, Hakodate, Chitose, Asahikawa, Sapporo), hotels typically charge an average of 1000yen per night for parking. If you drive out and park in the city, parking rates vary roughly anywhere from 100yen to 400yen per 30min block. In onsen towns (Noboribetsu) and resorts (like Hoshino resort Tomamu), parking is usually free at the accommodation.

      It looks like a HEP may be worthwhile for your trip. You are doing quite a bit of long distance drives on the tollways.

  70. wawa says:

    hi , im driving from furano to CTS airport. do i have options to avoid toll?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There is always an option to avoid toll, it is only a matter of whether it is worth the time to do so. Sometimes, I would rather pay the toll fee than the spend hours on the non-toll roads getting stuck behind slow-moving trucks. Most roads in Hokkaido are one-lane and it can be very frustrating getting stuck behind trucks when you have hundred of kilometres to cover. Between Furano and CTS, I would take the toll way between Shimukappu and and CTS.
      > Click here for route on Google map

      If you really want to save on toll fees and you have time to spare, what you can do is to visit Yubari and Yuni Garden. So you only use the tollway between Shimukappu and Yubari. From Yubari to Yuni Garden, you can use the non-toll road and from Yuni Garden to CTS, it is also non-toll. However, I would only do this in Summer. In winter, I wouldn’t bother going to Yubari and Yuni Garden.
      > Click here for route on Google Map

  71. JENNY YEOH says:

    Hello again, I read from 1 of your readers FIL on 18/4/2016 that he has managed to secure 40% discount from Honda. I would like to find out from the reader how did he manage to do it? I wrote to Honda but I didn’t get any response.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It may be a seasonal campaign. Car rental companies often have seasonal campaigns (e.g. summer campaign, autumn campaign, winter campaign etc). You need to check the car rental company’s Japanese website about 2-3 months before your travel date to see if they have any campaign for your travel date.

      • au elian says:

        hi, Bumble Bee Mum, just to share. I also got the 40% discount from Honda after reading about the offer in this website. I just came back from my 13 day Hokkaido self drive trip. It was a spring/summer campaign and only advertised in their Japanese website. I booked my car first through the English website . After receiving the confirmation I then asked whether I qualified for the 40% discount. Honda replied Yes and quoted me the new price. FYI, The standard of English for Honda personnel is not as good as Toyota . Hope this helps !

        • Sally says:

          Hi Au Elian, may I ask after you receive the confirmation, did you call or email to ask for a discount? Does Honda take long to revert? thanks

          • au elian says:

            hi Sally,

            I emailed them and they replied by the next day. Later, I had to pick up the car one hour earlier than scheduled and they didn’t charge extra . I tried calling Honda Sapporo but their English comprehension is pretty bad and they didn’t have an English speaking personnel. But it all worked out ok and am happy with their service.

            • Sally says:

              Hi Au Elian

              Thank you very much for replying and sharing your experience.

              May I also confirm that the 40% is only on the base rental? I mean the insurance portion will still be at normal rate. Thanks again! :)

              • au elian says:

                Hi Sally,

                Yes. 40% is on base rate. The insurance package quoted on their website is just the basic one. We took up the comprehensive insurance package ie inclusive car breakdown assistance etc which was about YEN 960 per day for Honda Stepwagon. They will ask if you want to take up the additional insurance during car pick up.

                • JENNY YEOH says:

                  Hi, I got back from Hokkaido and pleased to confirm that I received the 40% discount. Like Au Elian, I completed a form and wrote via email enquiring about the discount. Unlike the earlier reader, I asked for ETC card rental and they provided me one. In total, I paid 17064 yen for 56 hours for a Honda Fit. This includes comprehensive insurance + NOC (1080 + 864 per day) and ETC card rental (540 yen per day). Petrol and toll charges incurred for driving to/fro Sapporo/Furano/Biei came up to about another 5000 yen.

                  • Sally says:

                    Thanks Au Elian and Jenny for your replies. I just came back from Hokkaido too. yeah..it was a last min trip for us.

                    We did not take up the additional ins of 864 per day since as with bumblebeemum, our own travel insurance covered the NOC. The Honda front desk (a lady who does not speak much English) originally insisted that our discounted price (after 40%) does not include any insurance. So after spending half an hour explaining with calculations to her superior, they finally agreed that the discounted price they have quoted includes the basic insurance.

                    Just for sharing, the 40% is on a per day rate so additional hours rental (for us it was 3 hours) will not be entitled the discount. We were ok with that since the hours were needed in our itinerary.

  72. Looi Lai Wah says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Can you enlighten me on this? I booked a room which states ‘double room with small double bed’ at a hotel in Muroran, Hokkaido. I come across this statement frequently in their description of their double room which stays two persons. How big is their small double bed? Is it good enough for two persons to sleep on?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      A small double bed (sometimes called semi-double in Japan) is maybe the size of a super single bed? It is definitely smaller than a normal double bed, but my husband and I having been using rooms with small double beds to save money. It really depends on your comfort level.

  73. Le Marque says:

    Hi there

    I was looking around on tripadvisor, and based on your advice above, seem to be unable to find hotels <$100/room/night in the city!

    Was looking at Richmond hotel and it's about S$120+ and ANA is S$150+.
    Is there something that I'm missing out here? Thanks in advance!

  74. Sally says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum

    I am so glad to chance upon your blog while planning for a last min trip to Hokkaido (only have 2 weeks to plan and fly). Your blog makes a great time saver!

    As it is so last min, it is a costly trip. I am trying to safe where ever I can.

    On car rental, through Tocoo, I notice that other than the CDW Tocoo is charging, the individual rental company (I am looking at Nissan) has the option for compensation coverage as well.

    My question: Does it mean that if our personal travel plan has a Rental Vehicle Excess Cover, we also do not need to take up the rental company’s Compensation cover?

    I am not familiar with motor insurance claim but will say, third party injury due to accident be covered under personal liability in our travel insurance?

    Thanks very much for your help!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Sorry for the late reply. Not sure why I missed out on your comment.

      If your personal travel plan covers rental excess, then there is no need to take up the rental company’s cover. However, sometimes the personal travel plan may not cover the excess fully. For e.g. your travel insurance may cover SGD500 in rental car excess. But the car company’s excess may be 50,000 yen. In case of accident, you would have to make up the difference.

      As for injury, you need to check with the travel insurance company how it is covered.

  75. Buibou says:

    Hi BumblebeeMum,
    Am so thankful to have chanced upon your write ups on Hokkaido!!

    Hubby and I are planning a 9D8N trip there mid Oct with our two boys age 5months and 2 years old then. As it is our first trip to Hokkaido and with our toddlers we do not mind driving but would prefer to take train or public transport (if its more convenient and cost effective) to substitute for anything longer than 3hrs of non-stop driving.

    I know it’s impossible to have a relaxing trip since there are just too many nice spots we wouldn’t want to miss. However, our interest for this trip are to experience the best food gourmet which you recommended, scenic spots (that aren’t too touristy),onsen ryokan and some shopping. Our timing are quite flexible and can even add on 1 or 2 days to make the trip less hectic.

    With this, it would be of great value add if you may suggest an itinerary and route which is suitable for our situation based on your experience.

    Thank you so much and really look forward to your kind advice!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Actually, I find driving much more convenient with kids. Because they can sleep during the long car rides. Maybe it’s just my boys – they get too excited when we use the train and refuse to sleep on trains. Then when they reach the destination, they complain they are tired, don’t want to walk etc. Whereas when we drive, they sleep for most of the long distance drives and when we reach the destination, they are awake and happy.

      Anyway if you keep your itinerary close to Sapporo, it is unlikely you will have to do drives as long as 3-hours. In Mid-October, you can visit Sapporo, Otaru, Jozankei, Lake Toya and Noboribetsu at a pretty relaxing pace with 9 days. There should be autumn foliage around the region so it’ll be pretty scenic. And there is no lack of good food around Sapporo, Otaru and Lake Toya.

      A possible itinerary would go something like this:

      Day 1: CTS – Noboribetsu (onsen stay)
      Day 2: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
      Day 3: Lake Toya
      Day 4: Lake Toya – Jozankei Onsen
      Day 5: Jozankei Onsen – Otaru
      Day 6: Otaru – Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo
      Day 8: Sapporo
      Day 9: Sapporo – CTS

      If you do not like to keep changing hotels, it is possible to visit Jozankei and Otaru as a day trip from Sapporo. You can get more ideas from our trip in mid Oct:
      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/

  76. Buibou says:

    Thanks for the super prompt reply!

    Just wondering is it worth covering Biei, Furano Tomamu and Obihiro as well during mid Oct. If so (and provided not too packed), how should I go about re-arranging the itinerary so that I can stay overnight in Noboribetsu onsen, Sapporo and Tomamu while minimising the number of days renting car?

    Also, would like your opinion on the best Noboribetsu onsen with natural surrounding which we can just chill in and relax. Plus is it worth adding the meal package or eateries are easily available nearby? Appreciate if you could also kindly recommend a website where we can book the accommodation at discounted rates (we can’t read japanese).

    • Buibou says:

      Hi again,
      I just read your Jun itinerary on LAKE TOYA (SOBETSU FRUIT VILLAGE, WAKASAIMO, LAKE HILL FARM, TOYA SUN PALACE) and decided perhaps Lake Toya has more activities compared to Noboribetsu hence we may stay overnight in Toya instead. How many days would you recommend and which hotel with good location, food and lodging (jap style) and onsen?
      Thanks in advanced for your suggestion!

      • bumblebeemum says:

        At Lake Toya, for something more budget-friendly, you can try Toya Sunpalace. For something more upmarket, you can try Lake View Nonokaze.

        • Buibou says:

          I tried booking Toya Sun Palace via Agoda, booking.com for early Oct and it’s all sold out even on weekdays? Is Oct peak season? However, when I searched in http://www.japanican.com/ there’s room availability but the rate for 2 adults and 2 infants are over 30K YEN (incl breakfast and dinner). Are the breakfast buffet style and children under 2 eat for free? How about dinner? Should I order separate meal for my 2 yr old? Also, they charges 2,700Y per infant, did this happened to you last time?

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Yes, there is usually a charge for infants at onsen ryokan even if they do not need bedding. It is usually 2000+ yen for infants and 5000+ yen for older children. So 2700 yen sounds about right. Your children can dine at the buffet hall if you are booking with buffet meal plans.

            Did you try Rakuten? I did a quick search on Rakuten for Toya Sun Palace for a weekday in Oct and the total for 2 Adults + 2 children (without bedding) was 26,400 yen.
            http://travel.rakuten.com/hotel/info/17810/

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It will be quite packed if you want to visit Biei, Furano and Tomamu as well. Obihiro seems a bit too far with the number of days you have. If you want to fit in Biei, Furano and Tomamu, this is what you can do, but it will be pretty hectic:

      Day 1: CTS – Noboribetsu (onsen stay)
      Day 2: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
      Day 3: Lake Toya – Jozankei Onsen – Otaru
      Day 4: Otaru – Sapporo
      Day 5: Sapporo
      Day 6: Sapporo – Furano
      Day 7: Furano (day trip to Biei)
      Day 8: Furano – Tomamu
      Day 9: Tomamu – CTS

      You will need the car throughout the trip for this.

      For Noboribetsu, I like Hotel Mahoroba:
      http://www.h-mahoroba.jp/

      For onsen stays, I recommend you book it with meals (dinner and breakfast) included. Dining options are usually pretty scarce at onsen towns (coz most people will dine at their ryokans).

      I usually compared hotel booking sites like Agoda, Booking.com and Hotels.com to find the cheapest deal for hotels. You can compare their prices to booking direct from the hotel or from Rakuten.

      • Buibou says:

        Would it help to save on travelling time and car rental by flying in to Obihiro airport and fly out from CTS? Is Obihiro a popular place to pick up rental car?

      • Buibou says:

        I’d decided to fly in and out of CTS for the various cost saving reasons. My tentative itinerary for 10days would be as follows..
        Day 1: CTS > Furano
        Day 2: Furano > Biei (day trip)
        Day 3: Furano
        Day 4: Furano > Sapporo
        Day 5: Sapporo > Otaru (day trip)
        Day 6: Sapporo
        Day 7: Sapporo > Jozankei > Niseko > Lake Toya
        Day 8: Lake Toya
        Day 9: Lake Toya > Noboribetsu
        Day 10: Noboribetsu > CTS

        How much would average daily car rental cost (incl all insurance + petrol + parking fees)?

        Do you think the sequence of my route is cost effective and time efficient?

        Thanks once again for your advise!

        • Buibou says:

          Hi Bumblebeemum,
          I’d booked my flight arriving CTS on 8:30am on 3rd Oct and flying out at 10:30am on 13 Oct.

          Sorry if I’m posting too many questions here as it’s my first time travelling in Japan let alone self-driving with two toddlers. Am really looking forward to your feedback on my itinerary above before I will book car rental and accommodation.

          I initially wanted to do sapporo last so that i can return the car early and do public within sapporo, otaru and back to CTS. Would that be more cost saving? How would you rearrange the itinerary if so without having to detour.

          Does Day 7 sound too ambitious?

          In addition, will staying one night in Tomamu make sense and not too rush? If so, where should I insert this in the trip?

          I checked that most nice onsen hotels are fully booked around the period i’m there hence I really appreciate your prompt reply. Thanks a million!! :)

          • bumblebeemum says:

            No worries about the question and my apologies for taking so long to get back to you. Been crazy busy the past week.

            If you want to end your trip at Sapporo, this is what you can do with minimal detour:

            Day 1: CTS > Furano
            Day 2: Furano > Biei (day trip)
            Day 3: Furano
            Day 4: Furano > Noboribetsu
            Day 5: Noboribetsu > Lake Toya
            Day 6: Lake Toya > Niseko
            Day 7: Niseko > Jozankei > Otaru
            Day 8: Otaru > Sapporo (return car)
            Day 9: Sapporo
            Day 10: Sapporo
            Day 11: Sapporo > CTS

          • bumblebeemum says:

            Oops sorry, clicked ‘reply’ to fast.. haha.. Forgot to answer the Tomamu part. If you want to fit in Tomamu, it will go something like this:

            Day 1: CTS > Furano
            Day 2: Furano > Biei (day trip)
            Day 3: Furano
            Day 4: Furano > Tomamu
            Day 5: Tomamu > Noboribetsu
            Day 6: Noboribetsu > Lake Toya
            Day 7: Lake Toya > Niseko
            Day 8: Niseko > Jozankei > Otaru
            Day 9: Otaru > Sapporo (return car)
            Day 10: Sapporo
            Day 11: Sapporo > CTS

        • bumblebeemum says:

          What kind of car are you planning to rent? Car rental cost varies quite a bit depending on the car model. Renting a 5-seater sedan be easily half the price of renting an 8-seater wagon.

          The sequence of your itinerary looks right. Just that Day 7 looks a bit rushed. You may want to consider ending Day 7 at Niseko.

          • Buibou says:

            Glad to hear from you as always Bbm! Your suggested route is so much more cost effective!! Wish I’d thought abt the earlier but oh well i had booked all my accommodation with few being non refundable hence I can only stick to my original plan as below:
            Day 1: CTS > Furano
            Day 2: Furano > Biei (day trip)
            Day 3: Furano
            Day 4: Furano > Sapporo
            Day 5: Sapporo > Otaru (day trip)
            Day 6: Sapporo
            Day 7: Sapporo > Jozankei > Niseko > Lake Toya (may omit Jozankei)
            Day 8: Lake Toya
            Day 9: Lake Toya > Noboribetsu
            Day 10: Noboribetsu > CTS

            I have few doubts which I hope you may enlighten me…

            1)understand that we can walk within the attractions in Sapporo so we will not need to either drive or subway. In this case, to avoid redundancy of our rental car is it possible to return it once we arrive Sapporo then pick it up again when leaving for Jozankei? How shd we go about it to maximize savings?

            2) as for the type of car, we are wondering if a 5 seater compact car can fit 2 strollers, 1 big suitcase and 1 cabin baggage. We’ll be renting two child seats as well for our boys.

            3) whether is it too risky to drive from Noboribetsu to catch our flight at CTS at 1030am?

            4) I have yet to book car rental as after comparing the rates from numerous companies the best I could find for a compact car per day cost about $70 not including child seat…if I were to upgrade to a sedan due to luggage space constraint that would easily top up additional $20~30? For this, appreciate if you can suggest a budget friendly website that charges reasonable rate since early Oct shd not be a peak season?

            Much thanks for your guidance once again!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Oops, so sorry about that. Wish I had replied you earlier!

              1) If you are just going to be in Sapporo for a day, you may find it makes no difference to car rental pricing if you return the car just for a day. Because sometimes car rental companies have weekly plans which works out to be cheaper for you to keep the car all the way. In addition keeping it all the way means you are doing a round-trip rental from CTS which gives you wider car rental option than you one-way (pick up CTS, drop off Sapporo and vice versa). Looking at your current itinerary, I would opt to keep the car all the way.

              2) If you want to rent a 5 seater, I would advise you to bring only 1 stroller. Usually when we rent a 5-seater compact car, the boot can only fit one large luggage case – that’s all. The two child seats will be at the back row. We will slot the stroller into the leg space in front of the kids and the cabin luggage goes on the seat in between the kids.

              3) Does sound a bit rushed. For morning flight out of CTS, I always spend my last night at Air Terminal Hotel.

              4) Have you tried Tabirai?

  77. Tony says:

    hi Bumblebeemum,
    You have a fantastic and informative blog on Hokkaido. Going thru yr blog and the advices u gave to the others, I have planned the following itinerary.
    Day Date Day
    1 01-Sep-16 Thursday Singapore- Haneda – Asahikawa
    2 02-Sep-16 Friday Asahikawa- Biei-Furano
    3 03-Sep-16 Saturday Furano – Sapporo
    4 04-Sep-16 Sunday Sapporo-Otaru-Sapporo
    5 05-Sep-16 Monday Sapporo
    6 06-Sep-16 Tuesday Sapporo – Lake Toya
    7 07-Sep-16 Wednesday Lake Toya – Hakodate
    8 08-Sep-16 Thursday Hakodate – Haneda
    9 09-Sep-16 Friday Haneda
    10 10-Sep-16 Saturday Haneda-Singapore

    I be departing on 31 Aug night, and arriving Tokyo(Haneda), 0630hrs. And then the flight to Asahikawa at 1115hrs, arriving 1250hrs.

    I be collecting rental car at Asahikawa, and returning at Hakodate. Yes, there’s extra drop off fee.

    Please give me yr advice to my planned itinerary.

    Also there will be six adults, including one elderly. I am in 2 minds as whether to take 2 cars as there could be problem with luggage for 1 Alphahard MPV.
    Thanks for yr advice.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks good. :)

      In our recent trip, my friends’ car had 6 people and they had 4 pieces of large suitcases. They managed to squeeze into an 8 seater. NOT 7-seater. For 7-seater, you will only be able to fit in two suitcases max. I have blogged briefly about this here:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2016/07/01/hokkaido-trip-budgeting/

      If you can keep all your luggage to 4 pieces, driving one car is a lot more convenient than 2 separate cars. You also save on petrol, parking and toll fees.

      • Tony says:

        Thanks for yr very good advice Bumblebeemum.

        I just went to the websites u pointed above Rakuten and Car Rental Hokkaido. Looks like they don’t have car pick up at Asahikawa, or they do not allow drop-off at different places. Oh-oh.

        I recall Tocco have. I will search further but if u know of one website that do, please let me know. 😉 Thanks.

        I have booked my air tickets. Now is to finalise the hotels and car rental.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Another reader just recommended me to check out Tabirai, maybe you can have a look there too:
          http://en.tabirai.net/car/

          • Tony says:

            Great. Will go take a look.

            btw, based on my itinerary, do you think I need a ETC card?

            Also, as I surf the webs, I found this very useful pdf handbook “Must-have Handbook for Driving in Hokkaido”. I think every driver have to read this before going there as it informs of the various traffic signs, how to use the in-car GPS, Japanese phrases, etc. Not sure how to share this as attachment.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Is it this one?
              http://www.hkd.mlit.go.jp/topics/toukei/chousa/h20keikaku/e/e_all.pdf

              Tadah.. Just copy and paste the link here can le. Thanks for sharing! :)

              Anyway doesn’t look like you will be using the toll roads that much. Only from Furano to Sapporo, Sapporo to Otaru & back and Lake Toya to Hakodate. If it is easy to get an ETC card from your car rental company then no harm having one. But if it’s a hassle (complicated rental fees, hefty deposit required etc), then I won’t bother getting one.

              • Tony says:

                Haha, yes that’s the Handbook. You are fantastic !

                I have just booked the car from Tabirai. Reason: Tocco has several add-on (compulsory) and the final price is not what I started out with. Also cars in Tocco is also in Tabirai (website in English and clear). But not cheap man… spending abt 88,000Yen for a 8 days trip on a 8-seater.

                Later go check on the hotels… comparing prices.

                Thanks for all yr help Bumblebeemum. Yr blog and yr quick reply to my questions -it’s really awesome. Cant thank you enough. :-)

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Tocoo is really losing their competitiveness! 10 years ago, they were the default go-to for car rentals and I have always booked my rental cars through them. Until like 3 years ago? They started imposing their own compulsory this and that fees and made it all so confusing, I gave up on them and went to Japanese websites. But I haven’t been able to find an alternative good English booking website for car rental to recommend to non-Japanese speaking travellers. So quite happy when my reader shared with me about Tabirai. I hope Tabirai gives Tocoo a good run for their money!

                  But yes, 8-seaters tend to be expensive – more expensive than renting two 5-seaters sometimes.

                  Okay, for the records I don’t always reply questions that fast. Sometimes (like when I’m on vacation or rushing to meet a campaign deadline) my backlog of comments get piled up until it takes me a week to reply. Just happens I’m having writer’s block today and decided to chat with readers instead of writing. Lol…

                  • Anonymous says:

                    Yes, Tocoo is horrible unlike what they were 3 years ago. I just used them in June 2016 and was very disappointed, not only they have new “charges”, they were also unhelpful. During my june trip, the car rental firm wanted to charge me 6% for paying via Visa, Tocoo didn’t want to intervene to help and basically told me it has nothing to do with them. Then the car rented has no brake lights, rental company didnt help, tocoo didnt offer to help either. Tocoo should QC the rental companies.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Hmmm.. Seems quite ironic when they impose an additional ‘ToCoo Additional Support’ fee (which is compulsory) and then distance themselves when a dispute between a customer and car rental company occurs?

                      But I’m surprised by the problems you had with your rental. To be fair, it is really not uncommon for businesses in Japan to charge more for using credit cards. But to rent out a faulty car is something I have never heard of. Usually the Japanese are very meticulous.

  78. James says:

    Enjoyed your blog Ms Bumblebeemum and thanks for sharing you tips and experiences.

    My wife and I are travelling to Tokyo in early Sep via JAL. Since I have been to Japan several times but not Hokkaido, I thought of spending 5 days there. JAL has domestic air fares at 10,800 per sector and open jaw is allowed. We are not fast paced travelers but prefer to take a leisurely pace.

    Given the time limitation and weather at this time of the year, we will have to compromise on the no of places to visit. I made some inquiries at travel agents like JTB and am thinking of covering these if possible :

    Asahikawa airport – arrival
    Furano, Biei, blue pond
    Asahidake ropeway
    Sounkyo, Mt Kurodake ropeway

    Sapporo
    Noboribetsu
    New Chitose – depart

    Would appreciate your comments on the attractions as well as the itinerary. Eg is if possible to include Hakodate ? Was initially thinking of taking train from Asahikawa to Sapporo if its a long boring drive.

    Thanks and keep blogging !

    • bumblebeemum says:

      JTB is pretty spot on in recommending the Daisetsuzan region and Furano / Biei for that time of the year. I would have recommended the same. If you visit this region, with 5 days, it is not feasible to squeeze in Hakodate. And if you really want to take it slow, I wouldn’t even go to Noboribetsu. With 5 days, I would do one day Sounkyo, one day Asahidake, one day Biei, one day Furano, one day Sapporo – that’s it.

  79. baobao says:

    hi Bumblebee mum, i came across your website for hokkaido. i will be arriving at CTS airport on 11 sep 1pm

    Im planning for
    Day 1: CTS passby Lake toya – Hakodate (stay 1 night)
    Day 2: Hakodate passby Otaru/Niseko – Sapporo (stay 2 nights)
    Day 3: Sapporo – airport

    Shld i get the unlimited highway pass?

    Thank you !!
    :)

  80. Jim Foo says:

    Hi Bumble Bee Mum,
    Your blog is of a great help for me to plan my on coming winter Tokyo/Hokkaido trip. Regarding the car rental, I’m planning to rent from Car Rental Hokkaido for my trip from Sapporo to Niseko to Noboribetsu. May I ask? Most of the travel insurance I see only covers the deductible portion. Is it that I still have to take up the CDW & NOC from the car rental company. Thank you for your kind advise

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If you do not want the hassle of dealing with compensations in the event of any accident, then you should take up the car rental company’s comprehensive coverage.

      I usually don’t get the additional coverage because my personal travel insurance can cover CDW (though I don’t think it covers NOC). In the event of accident, I would have to pay the company for the damages first, get paperwork from them to come back to Singapore to claim – which can be a hassle. But weighing the risk and cost of the comprehensive coverage, I just decided to opt out. It’s just a risk I was willing to take.

      • Jim Foo says:

        Dear Bumble Bee Mum,
        Thanks for the advise.

      • mdhu manning says:

        Hi great blog! Am planning a trip to Hokkaido in Oct. This is our planned itinerary:
        Arrive Sapporo 7oct – 2 nights. Air Bnb

        Oct 8 – drive to Otaru in morning..lunch..drive back.
        Explore Sapporo – Odori park/covered shopping area – dinner or go to Chitose out let mall

        Oct 9 check out
        Drive to Lake Toya..explore
        Drive to Noboribetsu – stay the night
        Drive to Furano – explore and stay the night? Or Drive to Beie?

        Oct 11-12 Drive to ashikawa
        Daisetsuzan National Park and Sounkyo Grand Ryokan

        Oct 13 – drive to Kushiro and stay 2 nights or stay 1 night and drive to Sapporo and stay 1 night

        Oct 15 fly to TYO

        Would you advise hiring the car via Tabiri now? They seem to be more cost effective!
        What about Times car Hire? They are also recommended?
        Do you think the ETC card is suitable for our journey?
        Do the firms make a fuss if you decline the insurance?
        Is NOC compulsory??

        Appreciate any advise!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Oct 8: I don’t think you have time for both Otaru and Chitose outlet mall. Just choose one.

          Between Sounkyo and Kushiro, I recommend you spend a night at Lake Akan.

          A few of my readers have told me Tabirai is pretty good, no harm checking them out if they are cheaper than renting direct from the rental companies.

          Yup, I have used Times before. No issues with them.

          If your rental company can offer you an ETC card for a nominal fee without much deposit, I don’t see any harm in getting one. You do have some long travels on the toll roads to cover, though not everyday.

          Neh, the firms don’t make a fuss about insurance. I always tell them I don’t need the additional insurance and they are perfectly okay with it. NOC is what you need to pay in the event the car cannot operate anymore during an accident. You can purchase an insurance to cover that, but again the insurance for that is not compulsory.

  81. Jennifer says:

    Dear Bumble Bee Mum,

    I chanced upon your blog and find it very informative and organised. I am planning to go hokkaido from Nov30(reaching in the morning) to 6 Dec(morning) and would love to hear your suggestion on the places to go. Is there any place where I will get the best chance to see snow streaming down from the sky? Any advice would be much appreciated!!!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yes, there is chance of seeing snow in Hokkaido at that time. If you go to the ski resorts, there should be lots of snow by then. Since you’re not there for long, maybe you can base yourself in Sapporo and take sides trips to Otaru, Asahikawa and Tomamu. And maybe spend a night a Noboribetsu or Lake Toya.

      • Jennifer says:

        Thanks for the reply. Do you think it is good idea to drive and do I need to get ETC or HEP if I am going for the itinerary you have suggested.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          For day trips to Otaru, Asahikawa and Tomamau from Sapporo, I recommend using the train. As for Lake Toya and Noboribetsu, I recommend finding a ryokan that has free shuttle service between Sapporo and the ryokan.

  82. workingmum says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Your blog really inspired me visiting Hokkaido ! such a wonderful and informative blog.

    Am planning to be there this coming Nov 5 until 12 Nov with my 2 teenage sons, 4 of us and was wondering is there much to see in Furano and Biei during this period ?

    my draft itinerary ……….

    Day 1 arrival in Shin Chitose after red eye flight and head straight to Sapporo and may be staying in Mercure Sapporo Hotel
    Day 2 most likely in Sapporo area and Otaru
    Day 3 planning to self drive to Furano and Biei (if there is still much to see !)
    Day 4 self driving from Shin Chitose to Hokodate
    Day 5 from Hokadate to Lake Toya and night in Noboribetsu
    Day 6 from Noboribetsu to Shin Chintose (staying in Air Terminal Hotel)
    Day 7 early departure from Shin Chitose

    Notice from one of your blog that there is a connecting bus near Mercure Sapporo Hotel to Mitsui Outlet. Is that correct ?

    Since we will be driving from Shin Chitose to Hokadate is it advisable to rent a ETC card or would it be better to use the HEP ?

    Hope to receive your valuable advise and information.

    Thanks.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Ermm, neh.. I wouldn’t go to Furano and Biei in November. I would just spend one more day in Sapporo.

      Yes, there is a public bus that runs from Sapporo city centre to Mitsui Outlet. You need to check the map for the exact bus stop to catch the bus from:
      http://www.31op.com/sapporo/access/#trainTitle

      Are you renting the car all the way? If you are picking the car up from Sapporo and returning to CTS, you cannot get the HEP. HEP requires you to return the car to the same branch that you picked it up from. If you can get an ETC card for a nominal fee, then no harm getting one, especially if you will be using the toll road on weekends.

      • workingmum says:

        thanks so much for your reply.

        Hmmm since it is not recommended to visit Furana and Biei in November is there any other suggestion on places to visit as we plan to hire a car to drive on Day 3 in Sapporo.

        My plan to Hokadate is on Day 4 to rent a car in CTS and return the same a day before our flight departure. I google some car rental co. and noted that some have offer for HEP and ETC together. Do we need to pick both or otherwise ?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Maybe you can split up Lake Toya and Noboribetsu. Go to Lake Toya on the way from Sapporo to Hakodate and then go to Noboribetsu on the way from Hakodate to CTS. Then you can also throw in Onuma Koen before leaving Hakodate. i.e.

          Day 3: Sapporo – Lake Toya
          Day 4: Lake Toya – Hakodate
          Day 5: Hakodate – Onuma Koen – Noboribetsu
          Day 6: Noboribetsu – CTS

          Why would you want to rent a car from CTS when you are leaving from Sapporo? You still need to travel from Sapporo to CTS by public transport to do that and that would cost money – maybe even more than the drop-off fee or any savings that an ETC card / HEP could save you. Usually drop-off fee for pick-up in Sapporo and drop off in CTS is pretty nominal.

  83. Estee says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I like to read your blog. It was really informative for me to visitHokkaido ! We will be there 22Nov to 1Dec for 10 days with my 2 kids (7 & 14) , 4 of us. Don’t ask me why I going in this period as no choice of leaves n kids school holidays. My main purpose is to explore. We had went to Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka last year.

    I have planned the itinerary. I hope you can help me to check is it too ambitious. I think it will be just an exploring to Hokkaido for first time. Next time will be more relax.

    Day 1 reach CTS at 5pm. So have to stay a night at Sapporo
    Day 2 self drive to Furano-Biei-Asahikawa. Stay 2N at Asahikawa
    Day 3 Mt. Kurodake Ropeway-Asahiyama Zoo-Ramen village
    Day 4 drive to Niseko stay 1N
    Day 5 drive to Goryokaku-Morning Mkt-Motomachi Park-Red Brick-Mt. Hakodate- stay 1N
    Day 6 drive to Usuzan Ropeway-Showa Shinza- Lake Toya stay 1N
    Day 7 drive to Noboribetsu-Jigokudani-Shiraoi Ainu Museum-Sapporo (stay 3N)
    Day 8 day trip to Otaru by train
    Day 9-10 in Sapporo fly from CTS

    I would like to ask do I need HEP or just ETC?
    Do I need a car booster for 7 yrs old girl around 21kg?
    Is it ok for just hire snow tyre without 4WD? As we has no experience on snow drive.
    Is my trip to long especially from Asahikawa to Niseko? (take 3h & 30min)

    Appreciate your effort in it.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 2: What do you want to do in Furano and Biei in November? It’s not an easy place to navigate in winter if it’s snowing (Biei was where our car fell into a ditch) and the flowers the region is famous for will all be gone by then.

      Day 3: In winter, you probably only have time to do Asahiyama Zoo and ramen village after that. Don’t think you have time to squeeze in Kurodake ropeway.

      Your itinerary looks a bit all over the place. I suggest you rearrange it this way:

      Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
      Day 2: Sapporo
      Day 3: Sapporo – Otaru – Sapporo
      Day 4: Sapporo – Asahikawa
      Day 5: Asahikawa
      Day 6: Asahikawa – Noboribetsu
      Day 7: Noboribetsu – Hakodate
      Day 8: HAkodate – Lake Toya
      Day 9: Lake Toya – CTS
      Day 10: Flight home

      If you pick up the car from Sapporo and return to CTS, you can’t get the HEP. If you can get a ETC card, it would be good. You will be using the toll roads quite a bit.

      Does your girl use booster seat usually? If she does then you should continue using.

      I’ve been driving around Hokkaido in winter just snow tyre and didn’t have problems. Never driven a 4WD before. :p

      Yeah, Asahikawa to Niseko is too long a drive for winter.

      • Estee says:

        Thanks so much for your reply. I guess I’ll let go Asahiyama Zoo and go for Kurodake Ropeway instead. How is the road condition from Asahikawa to Kurodake Ropeway?

        Compare with Usuzan Ropeway, what the differences? Or maybe I just concentrate on South parts will do.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          You can expect snow in the region. Kurodake is part of Daisetsuzan region, which means ‘Big Snow Mountains’ in Japanese. So you can imagine.

          For November, I would recommend Usuzan ropeway over Kurodake ropeway. If you are not planning to visit Asahiyama Zoo, then yes, perhaps you can just focus on the Southern region where the weather is milder.

  84. Amanda Hwee says:

    Hi!

    We are planning on doing a day trip by driving from Sapporo to Furano/Biei then back to Sapporo. How much is the toll for this route if we go for the cheapest toll route? And is it necessary to purchase the ETC card for our rental car?

  85. Kuromitan says:

    Hi Bubble bee Mum,
    I really enjoy reading your blog but but but….i m still confuse in planning my own itinerary..I really need your help.
    I have 4 kids to start with..18 yo gal,15 yo guy,11 yo guy and 18 months baby gal…This will be our first family trip with the add on member so its very significant to our family!
    My kids wanted to try skiing so we decided on Hokkaido.
    We want to spent 7 days in Hokkaido and 5 days in Tokyo..Do u have any good advise for me?Oh ya,we can only travel late Nov to mid Dec..

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Wow.. With a family of your size, I would keep movement to a minimum. I would stay in one apartment in Tokyo for all 5 days. Then in Hokkaido, maybe split 3 days at Niseko and 4 days in Sapporo. From Sapporo, you can do day trips to Otaru and Asahiyama zoo.

      • Kuromitan says:

        Hi Bumblebeemum,
        Thanks for your reply..With your suggestion,which airport should i opt for?I plan to stay in Hokkaido then go to Tokyo last..My hubby plan to self drive too..

  86. Angie.S says:

    Hi BumbleBeeMum

    Thanks for your super informative Hokkaido travelling tips! We are travelling to Hokkaido for our family’s 1st ski vacation this December. Can you take a look at our itinerary and suggest any improvements to it?

    Day 1. Arrive at Sapporo New Chitose Airport at 8.30pm. Take the Rapid Airport Train from New Chitose Airport Station to Sapporo Station (56 mins). Check into hotel and rest for the night.

    Day 2. Day Trip to Otaru via JR Train.

    Day 3. Day Trip to Asahiyama Zoo.

    Day 4. Check out of Sapporo Hotel, pick up rental car and self-drive to Lake Toya via via scenic route Orofure Pass (3.5 hours?). Check into hotel and explore Lake Toya. What are some attractions we can see in Toya?

    Day 5. Should we continue exploring Lake Toya region (or is 1 day enough)? Should we drive to explore nearby Noboribetsu since we have the rental car? I am also thinking if there would be sufficient time for us to drive to Hakodate and stay 1 night? That means Lake Toya 1 night and Hakodate 1 Night.

    Day 6. Check out of Lake Toya hotel and self-drive to Niseko (1 hour drive). Check into Niseko Resort. Rest and relax.

    Day 7 to 11. Niseko. My daughter will be joining the Kids Ski Camp. Dunno what we are going to do there while she skis.

    Day 12. Check out of Niseko Resort. Make our way to Chitose Airport via the Niseko Airport Shuttle Scheduled Coach. Flight is at 9pm.

    We managed to book a car with the help of our Sapporo Hotel with Toyota at this pricing:

    6 to 8 Dec 2016 (2 days’ hire)
    The P3 car (http://www.rent-a-lease.com/english/car/normal/fielder.html) Total JPY 21940 inclusive of discounted 5% with Credit card payment. This rate includes English GPS, child seat and insurance.

    Is the car rental pricing reasonable? Do we need any of those HEC cards?

    Our Lake Toya hotel actually provides free one way shuttle from Sapporo. But if we don’t self-drive, we may have problems going to Niseko from Lake Toya later. Any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Day 4: The drive from Sapporo to Lake Toya uses the Nakayama Pass. Not super scenic, but it’s the shortest route (though not necessarily fastest) between Sapporo and Lake Toya. The scenic Orofure Pass links Lake Toya and Noboribetsu.

      Around Lake Toya you can ride the Usuzan Ropeway / walk around the crater, drive to the free vantage point at Silo Observatory, have gelato at Lake Hill Farm, take the Lake Toya cruise or check out the earthquake wreckage.

      Day 5: I wouldn’t drive to Hakodate as a day trip in winter because of slow driving speed and short daylight hours. You can definitely fit in Noboribetsu if you want to.

      Day 7 – 11: You can visit Fukidashi Park and Milk Kobo. Niseko is really not that interesting in December if you don’t ski / snowboard coz the snow activities (snow rafting, tubing, snow mobile etc.) are not running yet till late December. I guess you can just go around to eat. All the restaurants would be up and running during ski season, so no lack of restaurants for you to try out. The good thing is that if you are not skiing, you can do lunch which is usually cheaper at the restaurants than dinner. So you should hit the restaurants like Prativo and Lupicia during lunch time.

      You are doing one-way rental with pick-up at Sapporo and drop off at Niseko yah? If that’s the case, I think your car rental price is okay because you don’t really have much choice when it comes to one-way rentals and there is usually a drop-off fee.

      You won’t need a HEP / ETC because it is possible to do the route from Sapporo to Lake Toya to Niseko via toll-free roads. But you need to set the GPS to take the toll-free roads, otherwise by default they will usually ask you to use the toll road between Sapporo / Lake Toya and between Lake Toya / Noboribetsu.

      Yes, it is a real hassle to get between Lake Toya and Niseko by public transport. Even around Lake Toya, it is easier to get around with a car. I would drive for those two days.

  87. Cheng says:

    Hi there, may I know if parking is free in Shiroi Koibito Park??

  88. B says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your sharings!

    I’d planned my route as below and intend to take Non-toll roads except on the last day from Noboribetsu to CTS which I will be catching a 1030am flight and hence would skip the risk. Any feedback on this would be helpful.

    Based on your experience, what are the speed limit on Non-toll way and the expressway respectively?

    Day 1(4 Oct): CTS > Tomamu
    Day 2(5 Oct): Tomamu > Furano
    Day 3(6 Oct): Furano > Biei (day trip)
    Day 4(7 Oct): Furano
    Day 5(8 Oct): Furano > Sapporo
    Day 6(9 Oct): Sapporo> Otaru (day trip)
    Day 7(10 Oct): Sapporo
    Day 8(11 Oct): Sapporo > Jozankei > Niseko > Lake Toya
    Day 9(12 Oct): Lake Toya > Noboribetsu
    Day 10(13 Oct): Noboribetsu > CTS

  89. yipphy says:

    Dear Bumblebeemum,

    ENjoy reading yr blog and inspired to do a self drive tour instead of taking JL.
    Below is our itinerary and appreciate yr comment.

    Day 1, 20/11 Sunday : Chitose – Asahikawa (overnight at Asahikawa)
    – Arrive in Shin-Chitose at 3pm, collect car and drive to Asahikawa
    – Dinner at Asahikawa Raman Village

    Day 2, 21/11 Monday : Asahikawa – Biei – Furano (overnight at Furano)
    – Asahiyama Zoo
    – Biei Senka
    – Blue pond

    Day 3, 22/11 Tuesday: Furano – Otaru (overnight at Otaru)
    – Flower Land Kamifurano / Farm Tomita (Is it still worth to visit the farm since it is end of autumn?)
    – Cheese Factory
    – Otaru canal (actually if we skip Otaru, any other place to visit? As we have visit Otaru in year 2008)

    Day 4 23/11 Wednesday – Thursday: Otaru – Hakodate (2 nights in Hokodate?)
    -Goryokaku park
    -Kanemori red brick house
    -night view at the peak
    -morning market

    Day 6, 24 Friday Hakodate – Lake Toyako – Noboribetsu (overnight at Noboribetsu, onsen hotel)
    -Lake Toyako
    -Onuma Park
    -Hell valley

    Day 7, 25/11, Saturday – Noboribetsu – Saporro (overnight at Saporro)

    Day 8, 26/11, Sunday – shopping at Saporro then depart to Airport on 12 noon. Flight 4pm

    1) Is my itinerary too rush? Any improvement? We would like to stay 1 night at ski resort (play snow rafting, tubing and sledding activities) and 1 night Onsen hotel, any recommendation?

    2) My husband has no experience driving during winter period. Is it too dangerous? The trip only 2 of us and my gal, 7yrs old

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary is way too rushed! In November, it is already winter in Hokkaido and daylight hours are very short. With 8 days, I would take out Furano and Biei altogether.

      If you arrive at 3pm, I suggest you spend the night at Sapporo or CTS and not drive out on the first day – because you will be driving in the dark. This is what you can do:

      Day 1: CTS – Sapporo (by public transport)
      Day 2: Sapporo
      Day 3: Sapporo
      Day 4: Sapporo – Lake Toya
      Day 5: Lake Toya – Hakodate
      Day 6: Hakodate
      Day 7: Hakodate – Noboribetsu
      Day 8: Noboribetsu – CTS

      If you want to visit Otaru or Asahiyama Zoo, you can do them as day trips using train. You can rent a car from Day 4 to Day 8.

      November is a bit too early for snow activities like tubing and snow rafting unfortunately. These usually only start in late December.

      If you drive slow, keep your itinerary loose so that you don’t have to rush and drive in bright daylight, the driving should be manageable.

      • yipphy says:

        hi, bumblebee mum,
        Thanks for your advice and really appreciated.

        1) How abt blue pond?
        2) Do we need to get JR 3 days pass? 2 adults and 1 child
        3) Do you have recommendation on the hotspring resort or ski resort to stay basis the abv itinerary?
        4) For the car rental, i have read few post. They advised better to get it fm toyota, am i correct?

        Thanks.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1) With the time you have, you need to choose between either Hakodate or Furano / Biei (where blue pond is), not both. For your date, Hakodate would be a better choice. If you have the chance to visit Hokkaido again in Summer / Autumn, you can visit the blue pond then. :)

          2) Which 3 days are you planning to use them for? You need to use Hyperdia to add up the individual costs of the train rides and compare it to the price of the rail pass to see if it’s worth it:
          hyperdia.com/en/

          3) For hotspring resort, you can try Toya Sunpalace and Lake Toya and Hotel Mahoroba at Noboribetsu. It is a bit too early for ski resorts in November, unless you specially go to Niseko.

          4) Toyota has great support for drivers who do not speak Japanese, but they are not cheap. I would go with them for a peace of mind, but if you really want to save money, there are cheaper options if you search Tabirai:
          http://en.tabirai.net/car/index.aspx

          • Sharilyn says:

            Hi bumblebee, how abt if I change my itinerary as below
            Chitose – (1 night) – Noboribetsu(1 night)- niseko  (2night)- otaro (1night, or any other place)- Saporro 2 night?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Are you planning to ski / snowboard? The ski areas seem to start operation only on 23 Nov according to this schedule:
              http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en/lift/index.html

              So you probably have to push Niseko all the way to the end of the trip.

              • sharilyn says:

                hi Bumblemum, As read fm your few blog stated the Niseko is tourist attraction and the price abit on high side and full of tourist, hence i revised my itinerary asf:

                Sunday : Chitose – Saporro Hotel Mercure (take car)
                Day 2, 21/11 Monday : Rusutsu-Lake Toya (overnight Lake Toya)
                Day 3, 22/11 Tuesday: Noboribetsu (overnight at Noboribetsu, onsen hotel)
                Day 4, 23/11 Wednesday: Any other place to go?
                Day 5, 24/11, Thurs Will return car.
                Day 6, 25/11, Fri one day trip to Asahikawa (via CHiou bus) – overnight at Hotel Mercure
                Day 7, 26/11, Sat Overnight Hoshino Resort Tomamu (wat is yr recommendation? a day trip to Tomamu or stay overnight? They just open on 26 Nov
                Day 8, 27/11 4pm flight to HKG

                We have reserved our rental car through TOCOO, car type: honda fit (with English GPS) 5 day rental worth 28,815 yen. We would like to check if you opt their Compensation Coverage option? I have check most of the travel insurance coverage in singapore, they only cover the excess rental.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Day 2 – I don’t think Rusutsu has opened for their winter season yet on 21 Nov? I went to their website to see, it seems they only open for booking starting from 26 Nov.

                  21/11 CTS – Sapporo
                  22/11 Sapporo
                  23/11 Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)
                  24/11 Pick up rental car, Sapporo – Lake Toya
                  25/11 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
                  26/11 Noboribetsu – Tomamu
                  27/11 Tomamu – CTS

                  Regarding insurance, this is how it works:

                  Let’s say you don’t take up the insurance from the car rental company. In the event of accident, there is a cost you need to bear (called the collision damage waiver or CDW or excess). You would need to pay that amount to the car rental company first. Then if your travel insurance covers the CDW, you need to get the receipt and documentation (check with the insurance company what they need), then claim the money from your insurance company when you come back.

                  On top of CDW, most car rental companies have something called NOC, which is non-operation charge. This is the fee you need to pay ON TOP of CDW in the event the car cannot move after an accident. If let’s say you get into a minor accident and can still drive the car back to the rental office, then you only need to pay CDW. If the accident results in your car being unable to move from the accident scene (i.e. tow truck required), then you also need to pay NOC on top of CDW. Most travel insurances DO NOT cover NOC. So it’s a risk you need to bear if you do not take up the car rental company’s additional insurance coverage.

                  If you do not want to have to deal with having to pay for anything in the event of an accident, then you should take the car rental company’s comprehensive insurance which usually covers BOTH CDW and NOC.

                  • yipphy says:

                    20/11 CTS – Sapporo
                    21/11 Sapporo
                    22/11 Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)
                    23/11 Pick up rental car, Sapporo – Lake Toya
                    24/11 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
                    25/11 Noboribetsu – Tomamu
                    26/11 Tomamu – CTS

                    Dear bumblemum, I still have 1 day free time. Any suggestion where to go? So basis abv itinerary, u suggest we stay 1 day at Tomamu I/o day trip fm Saporro? We will depart CTS on 27/1 @4pm. Do you think it is safe to go blue pond?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Driving to blue pond is a bit tricky in winter because the snow in the region is pretty heavy and the roads there are rather rural. Going to Otaru by train would be safer. If you are leaving on 27/11 at 4pm, this is what I would suggest:

                      20/11 CTS – Sapporo
                      21/11 Sapporo
                      22/11 Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
                      23/11 Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa)
                      24/11 Pick up rental car, Sapporo – Lake Toya
                      25/11 Lake Toya – Noboribetsu
                      26/11 Noboribetsu – Tomamu
                      27/11 Tomamu – CTS

                      And yup, I suggest you spend a night at Tomamu rather than do a day trip there.

  90. WT says:

    Hi bumblebeemum!

    I just came along your blog while googling n WOW its great with lots of useful information.

    Would like to ask you more about Hokkaido, hope you don’t mind. :)

    Its our first time(2 of us) going Hokkaido this coming Nov from 12-26. We would prefer to travel slow, taking our time to relax n explore the places. Most probably staying at least 2 days each area so we don’t have to check out n bring along the luggage everyday.

    Our initial plan is to travel by public transport as we feel it is better, but we are also interested in renting a car so we are still not very sure if it is cheaper/better as compare to taking public transport. And I have never drive in winter before.

    Is it safe to drive in Nov? How is parking charges like around Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya and Asahikawa?

    We plan to visit the below places and stay put at Sapporo for the last few days before flying back.

    1)Hakodate
    2)Noboribetsu
    3)Lake Toya
    4)Asahikawa
    5)Otaru
    6)Sapporo

    Thank you very much and have a Good Day!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I don’t think you need a car for the places you want to visit. Hakodate, Asahikawa, Otaru and Sapporo are easily accessible by train. As for Noboribetsu and Lake Toya, the onsen towns are a short cab ride from the nearest train station. I would probably go by rail if it’s just two person.

      • WT says:

        I see. thanks a lot.

        Any other place that is recommended to go during this period ?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmm.. Within the same region, you can also visit Onuma Koen and Lake Shikotsu. If you want to experience snow, you can go to Niseko.

          • CT says:

            Can we still visit niseko in nov? Though we dont ski, but it looks beautiful . Maybe can go and have a look.

            We will be adding few days to tokyo. Is the JR East South Hokkaido pass worth it? We have nv taken shinkansen before, can also have a feel of it.

            Now trying to see if we can find good pricing for flying to narita and back from sapporo. If not will stick 2 way to narita or sapporo.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Yup, you can definitely go to Niseko to take a look. Nobody will stop you, the hotels would probably love you. Hahaha.. The snowy mountains are beautiful, that’s true, but I wouldn’t stay more than a night if not skiing.

              If you are going to take the shinkansen to and fro Tokyo and Hokkaido, then yes, you should get the JR East South Hokkaido pass. But if you are only going to take the shinkansen one way, it depends on what other train routes you will be taking that will also be covered by the pass? You need to add up the train fares of all your train rides using Hyperdia and compare it to the price of the rail pass:
              http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

              • CT says:

                We are lucky to be able to get the tickets to NRT first and fly back from CTS to SG.

                The JR East South Pass seems gd for my usage but it does not covers Asahikawa. Not sure if it cover Kutchan too.
                Need to plan my itinerary tobmake full use of the 6 days flexi pass.

                Thanks alot

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Yeah, that the downside of the JR East South Hokkaido pass – it only covers Southern Hokkaido up to Sapporo / Otaru and not any further. I think Kutchan should be covered since Kutchan is to the South of Otaru.

  91. Jayne says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,
    So I decided to go on an impromptu trip to Hokkaido with the parents. Its my first time there and we will be driving – I am actually starting to regret this very last min decision of mine, as I am really clueless about wat to expect and have to look after 2 elders…
    So I have drafted a rough itinerary which I am not sure makes sense or not… hoping you can provide some guidance :
    20/10/2016: Changi -> New Chitose Airport -> Sapporo
    21/10/2016: Sapporo
    22/10/2016: Sapporo -> Jozankei & Houheikyou Dam -> niseko
    23/10/2016: Niseko -> Hakodate
    24/10/2016: Hakodate -> Toya-ko
    25/10/2016: Toya-ko > muroran -> Noboribetsu (Overnight in Furano)
    26/10/2016: Furano -> Biei (Overnight in Furano)
    27/10/2016: Furano -> Otaru
    28/10/2016: Otaru -> Yoichi -> -> Shakotan Peninsula
    29/10/2016: Otaru -> chitose

    Does the itinerary make sense? especially from hakodate to lake toya? the reason i am trying to make it down there is because i read about squid catching and the parents are into such stuff. Not sure if the squid catching is worth the trip down? Also, i know Otaru would make more sense but the folks would most likely wanna bring some fruits back, so i planned it to the back

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For fruits picking in Japan, usually we eat the fruits while picking them instead of bringing the fruits back. I know fruit farms in some countries like the ones I visited in Australia charge by the punnet and you fill as much as you can and then you can either bring the punnet home or eat them on the spot. But in Japan, the fruit farms usually charge based on per pax admission and all-you-can-eat while you are there.

      That being said, there is no need for you to plan fruits picking at the end and by moving Otaru up with Sapporo / Jozankei, it will cut down some driving time. If they really want to buy fruits home, you can ask them to buy some Yubari melons back instead. Super classic. So just drop by Yubari on your way from Furano back to CTS – it’s totally along the way.

      You can rearrange the itinerary this way:

      20/10/2016: Changi -> New Chitose Airport -> Sapporo
      21/10/2016: Sapporo
      22/10/2016: Sapporo -> Jozankei & Houheikyou Dam -> Otaru
      23/10/2016: Otaru
      24/10/2016: Otaru -> Yoichi -> Shakotan -> Niseko
      25/10/2016: Niseko -> Toyako -> Hakodate
      26/10/2016: Hakodate -> Onuma Koen -> Noboribetsu
      27/10/2016: Noboribetsu -> Furano
      28/10/2016: Furano -> Biei (Overnight in Furano)
      29/10/2016: Furano -> Yubari -> CTS (not sure what time your flight is.. hopefully it’s late.)

      • Jayne says:

        Hi Bumblebee mum!
        Thanks for your detailed reply, but unfortunately my hotels were booked by the time i saw your reply =( So i’d have to stay on with my planned route! Hopefully it will still turn up okay! *fingers crossed**

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Oops. Your itinerary should be fine too, just a bit more driving especially at the Furano – Otaru part. Try to set off earlier each day because the sun would set really early by the time you are there. Prioritize what you want to do at each place.. You’ll be surprised how little you can do with short daylight hours.

  92. Charlotte says:

    Hi BumbleBeeMum,
    I have been reading your blog since April this year. I am planning a year end trip (5 Dec to 16 Dec) to Hokkaido for my family (5pax). I have booked an apartment through Airbnb and will be staying in Sapporo throughout my 12 days there. I have rented a car through Tocoo early September to drive around. I am lost because initially I wanted to use Hokkaido Rail Pass to move around and stay at a fix place (Thats why I booked an apartment for 12 days). But my husband’s friend recommended us to rent a car which will be more cost effective for 5 of us (so I rented a car for 12 days). Now, if I were to visit the places of interests in Hokkaido, my departure point will always start with Sapporo. With this in place, may I have some opinions from you as to how I should plan my travelling route? Also, may I know how much do I need to set aside for meals (we don’t fancy high end restaurants, a nice budget meal will be fine for us). Hope to hear from you. Thanks in advance :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmmm… This is a tough one. While it is more cost-effective to drive with 5 pax, driving takes longer than using the train. And in December, daylight hours and short, plus driving in the dark when it’s snowing is dangerous. So while it is safe to take train after dark, it is not safe to drive after dark.

      So for e.g. if you want to take a day trip to Asahiyama Zoo from Sapporo. While it is highly feasible to do so with train, it is not feasible to do so by driving if you want to avoid driving after dark. Because firstly, the train gets you to Asahikawa in 1.5 hours, but we took 4 hours to drive to Asahikawa in Dec when it was snowing heavily. And by the time you finish visiting the zoo at say 4pm, the sky would be getting dark. If you go back by the train, that’s not a problem. But if you drive, you will be driving that 4 hours in the dark. It is both tiring and dangerous.

      The same can be said for a day trip to say Tomamu. If you go to Tomamu, you would probably want to stay for the Ice Village. But it is only open after dark. So if you drive, you need to drive back in the dark.

      So my advise is, if you stick to your plan of doing day trips from Sapporo, do a mixture of driving and train. Some places nearer to Sapporo like Lake Toya and Noboribetsu are easy to do as day trips with a car. But places that are further like Asahikawa and Tomamu, use the train.

  93. dewi says:

    Hi BBM,

    i try to book some accommodation for May 2017 from now on. i think 7 months in advance is good enough, but apparently many hotels are sold out or come with a high price.

    do you think it’s really sold out and i just take the cheapest option right now, or is it too soon and should i just wait 1-2 months later to book the hotels and ryokan?

    what website do you use for booking hotels and ryokan?

    thanks in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I think the hotels have not opened up for booking yet. Try searching again 6 months or 3 months before your travel date. If there is free cancellation, you can book the cheapest option with free cancellation first. Then later on if something cheaper comes along, just cancel and rebook.

      For Japanese ryokan, I usually use Rakuten or Japanican.
      http://travel.rakuten.com/
      http://www.japanican.com/en

      For hotels, I usually use Agoda or booking.com or Expedia or Hotels.com.

  94. Joling says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,
    Thank you so much for all the sharing of information and tips on your blog. My bf and I are planning to go Hokkaido from 15 Jan to 23 Jan, self-drive the entire trip except the last few days in Sapporo. This is our first time to Hokkaido and we have planned the following itinerary:
    15/1 – CTS (arrive at 8.30am) >> Noboribetsu
    16/1 – Noboribetsu >> Hakodate
    17/1 – Hakodate >> Lake Toya
    18/1 – Lake Toya >> Niseko
    19/1 – Niseko >> Otaru
    20/1 – Otaru >> Sapporo
    21/1 – Sapporo
    22/1 – Sapporo
    23/1 – Sapporo (Depart 11am)

    1. Please give me yr advice to the planned itinerary. Do you think that the itinerary is slightly packed for a winter vacation?
    2. Initially we planned to stay 2 nights in Niseko. But the accommodation is way too expensive for our budget.
    3. After some calculation, I think of getting HEP which is more cost effective compare to ETC. Based on the driving routes, would you advise getting the HEP? But our drop off location is not the same and I guess I can’t get the HEP for this itinerary. Any suggestion?
    Many thanks in advance and hope to hear from you soon! :)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks okay – pretty standard itinerary.

      Yeah, you cannot get the HEP because you’re dropping the car off at a different location from pick-up. You’ll just have to pay the tolls by cash or ETC card if your car rental company can provide you with one.

  95. […] back to a loved one, don’t bother wrapping it before you return home. On the off chance that http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/01/30/money-saving-tips-for-free-easy-self-drive-holiday-to-hokkaido/ is inspected, it will have to be unwrapped […]

  96. Jennifer Tan says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I have planned for holiday in Hokkaido selfdrive with family in Dec 16. May I seek you advise is it safe to self drive during winter to the following places :

    22/12 – arrive at 1735 >> Chitose New Airport
    23/12 – Chitose >> Nobribetsu/Lake Toya
    24/12 – Noboribetsu/Lake Toya >> Hakodate (for 2 nights)
    26/12 – Hakodate >> Niseko
    27/12 – Niseko >> Otaru / Sapporo (for 2 nights)
    29/12 – Sapporo >> Asahikawa
    30/12 – Asahikawa >> Biei/ Furano
    31/12 – Furano >> Chitose
    2/17 – Depart to Sin

    What are the things that I need to take note for self drive?

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Many Thanks in advance.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In short, there are definite dangers to driving in Hokkaido in winter. But some areas in Hokkaido are extremely hard to get around without a car. You can refer to this post (the section on driving) for tips on winter driving:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

      But actually, for your itinerary, it is possible to use the rail and avoid driving – Except in Furano / Biei region. It is a bit hard to get around Furano / Biei without a car. Anyway why do you want to go to Furano / Biei in winter? I really do not recommend visiting the region in winter. It is one of the hardest regions to drive around in winter because of heavy snowfall and curvy roads with super sharp turns at some points.

      What I would suggest to you is to take out Biei / Furano, do a day trip to Asahikawa from Sapporo and spend 1 more night in Niseko. It would be more relaxing that way and would reduce your change of hotels. (Changing hotels is quite a pain in winter if you are not driving. Dragging luggage around in the snow is not fun.)

      I’m a bit confused by the “2/17” in your itinerary. Is your last date 2/1/17 or 1/1/17? If it’s 2 Jan, you’re missing 1 Jan?

      I would suggest the following route via public transport:

      22/12 – arrive at 1735 >> Chitose New Airport
      23/12 – Chitose >> Nobribetsu/Lake Toya (train + bus/cab)
      24/12 – Nobribetsu/Lake Toya >> Hakodate (train + bus/cab)
      25/12 – Hakodate
      26/12 – Hakodate >> Niseko (train to Kutchan and catch the Niseko shuttle from there)
      27/12 – Niseko
      28/12 – Niseko >> Sapporo (direct bus)
      29/12 – Sapporo (day trip to Otaru by train)
      30/12 – Sapporo (day trip to Asahikawa by train)
      31/12 – Sapporo
      1/1 – Sapporo >> CTS
      2/1 – Flight back

      Note that Noboribetsu and Lake Toya onsen towns are not exactly at where the train stations are. You will need to cab / bus between the nearest train station and the onsen town.

  97. wo says:

    Hi Bumble Bee mum, for driving in Hokkaido, understood that need to apply international license. If were to drive 8 seater cars – Nissan Serena, Honda StepWGN, are these car categorised as W4 vehicle where need to apply D class license? Looking for your reply. Many thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The naming of vehicle class category differs from company to company. For e.g. W4 refers to an 8-seater at Nissan, whereas W4 refers to a 10-seater at Toyota. In Japan, for 8-seaters, our normal class 3 license with an IDP would suffice.

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