BumblebeeMum
Hokkaido with Kids (December 2014) Part 2: Asahikawa, Akan National Park

Day 4: Sapporo – Asahikawa

The drive from Sapporo to Asahiyama Zoo took us slightly more than 4 hours because of heavy snow (in good weather, it should take about 3 hours).    The drive was rather stressful, to a point I did wonder if it would have been a better idea to take the train from Sapporo to Asahikawa instead.  However, it was the kids’ first winter drive and they were super excited over the sight of snow and ‘Christmas Trees’ along the way.

We finally arrived at Asahiyama zoo slightly after 12noon.  The staff highlighted to us that some of the exhibits closed at 1pm, so off we went!

After checking our the penguins near the entrance, the boys decided that they were more interested in playing with snow than looking at animals.  Can’t blame them since this was their first time encountering snow!

After some persuasion, they dropped the snow and headed off to check out more animals.  The seal enclosure was one of their favourite exhibit at Asahiyama Zoo.  They loved waiting at the see-through column for the seal to shoot through.

We came to the lion enclosure and the lion was SO CLOSE to us on the other side of the glass.  What made this different from seeing the lions through the glass at Singapore Zoo was that when the lion breathed, we could see its breath condensed on the glass!

The kids decided they had enough of animals again and continued playing with snow.

Basically our visit to Asahiyama Zoo was like see animals, play with snow, eat lunch, see animals, play with snow, eat lunch, play with snow, warm up in souvenir shops, play with snow, see animals… So seeing animals actually only made up a rather short part of our visit to the zoo.

But don’t get me wrong.  Asahiyama Zoo was a nice zoo with many animals that we don’t get to see at Singapore Zoo.   I particularly liked the wolf’s den where there was an underground passage we could enter and pop our head out right inside the wolf’s den to observe them up close.

The zoo closed at 3.30pm in winter.  Since the drive from Sapporo took much longer than expected due to heavy snow and we still had to eat lunch there, plus the kids stopping every 2 steps to make snowballs, we only managed to see half the exhibits at the zoo.  If you are planning to visit Asahiyama Zoo as a day trip from Sapporo in winter, I very much recommend you take the train instead of driving.

Asahiyama zoo is famous for its penguin parade in winter, which according to their website starts in late December so we missed it.  I asked the staff when exactly it would start, she said it was weather-dependent.  (Update: In 2014, the penguin parade started on 20/12/2014)  These photos were from my visit in February 2010, see how close you could get to the penguins? And they were soooo cute!

I definitely recommend visiting Asahiyama Zoo if you are visiting Hokkaido with your kids.  The entry fee was just mind-boggling cheap: 820 yen per adult, free for kids below Secondary School age. (Mind you, Singapore Zoo charges 3 times that price for adults and also charges for kids as young as 3 years old.)

After the zoo closed, we went back to our hotel.  There was snow storm in the evening, so we cancelled our plan to have dinner at Asahikawa Ramen Village and I went out alone to pack McDonald’s for everyone since there was no way we were bringing the kids out in a snow storm.

Day 5: Asahikawa – Lake Akan

The next morning, we woke up to find the sky was clear and blue! But not for long.  We seized the good weather to get on the road, because once it started snowing it would become a lot harer to drive.

The snow storm from the previous day covered all the roads with snow, so it was still highly stressful driving out of the city because we couldn’t see any lane markings or stop lines for pedestrain crossings.

We took a 4+ hour drive to Lake Akan.  I really DO NOT recommend driving from Asahikawa to Lake Akan in a day, we were lucky there was no snow once we passed Daisetsuzan National Park.  If there had been snow all the way, we would probably have spent the whole day on the road.

We arrived at our hotel, Hanayuuka, in Lake Akan at 2pm.   Check-in time was 3pm and our room was not ready yet, so we decided to grab some lunch first.  I had planned to have lunch at Pan de Pan, a bakery cafe right next to Hanayuuka.

But while we were at the reception, we saw many people queueing up to pay for a Sweets Buffet and we decided to try it too.  After all, as hotel guests, we only had to pay 800 yen per adult (it was free for our kids aged 1 and 3).

The buffet selection was nothing like the high tea buffets we get in Singapore, it was pretty limited.  But for 800 yen, I had no complaints.

The highlight of the sweets buffet was probably the parfait, and we had a little parfait decorating competition!

After our very sweet lunch, our room was ready. I loved our room at Hanayuuka!  It had modern furnishing (unlike most other budget-friendly ryokan we have stayed in previously), plus a lovely view of Lake Akan.  My friend commented that we looked like we were on a cruise in the photo below.  Lol…

The facilities within Hanayuuka were pretty limited, so we took the free shuttle bus to the more luxurious Yuku No Sato.  Since Hanayuuka and Yuku No Sato were under the same hotel group (Tsuruga group), guests of Hanayuuka could use all the facilities at Yuku No Sato.

The hotel lobby at Yuku No Sato was huge and luxurious with kimono-clad staff greeting us along the way! There were free onsen eggs, soup bar and steamed potato which guests could help themselves to.  Perfect for cold wintry days! The kids especially loved the soup bar (and so did I).

Lake Akan is known for Marimo, a cute ball-shaped moss which can be found at the bottom of the Lake.  To see Marimo would require taking a sightseeing cruise on Lake Akan, but the cruise does not operate in winter.  So if you want to see Marimo in winter, you would have to find their displays at places like the visitor centre.  Or in our case, we found them at the lobby of Yuku no Sato!

They even had a little tank for guests to touch some Marimo!

And of course, we went to use the onsen at Yuku no Sato too.  Which was waaayyyyy better than the one at Hanayuuka. (The onsen at Hanayuuka was super sad, I didn’t even bother going.)

After warming up in the onsen, we ventured out to the shopping streets and Ainu Folk Village just outside Yuku No Sato before taking the shuttle bus back to Hanayuuka for dinner.

Despite the lack of facilities at Hanayuuka (you get what you pay for), the dinner was pretty good.  Check out the free flow of sashimi!

And desserts.

And the ice-cream they provided was not just any ice-cream but ice-cream from Shiretoco Gelato, a popular ice-creamery in nearby Nakashibetsu.  And since it was a buffet, we could try all the different flavours without feeling the pinch.

After dinner, MF went to the small library at the hotel lobby to read some books (they had a few English books there) before going back to the room to sleep.

Day 6: Lake Akan – Kushiro

The next morning, we were greeted with a beautiful view of Lake Akan from our hotel room!

We had buffet breakfast at the hotel before checking out.  The breakfast did not disappoint with a mix a western and Japanese selections and many kids-friendly options.

We enjoyed our stay at Hanayuuka very much and I would recommend it for the more budget-conscious travellers.  The facilities within Hanayuuka were very limited and it was a tad far from the main shopping streets, but the shuttle bus that ran on call to Yuku No Sato made it convenient.  Of course, if you do not mind spending a bit more, Yuku No Sato or the adjacent Tsuruga Wings (Yuku No Sato and Tsuruga Wings are linked at the first storey) which have better facilities and location would be better choices.

After checking out, we went for a stroll along the shores of Lake Akan and I just had to pop into Pan de Pan to have a look.

Luckily we just had buffet breakfast, otherwise I would have bought the entire shop.  Okay, that’s exaggerating.  After much deliberation, I chose 3 items to takeaway.

Initially I thought I couldn’t take away the miso pudding because it came in such a nice little jar, but surprisingly I could! Hubby cringed at the sound of ‘miso pudding’, but it tasted much better than it sounded – the kids loved it too! The cream puff was also heavenly, but the strawberry tart was kinda blah.

So these food kept us occupied in the car while we drove through Akan National Park.  Shortly after leaving Akan onsen town, we came across a photo stop that literally translated to ‘Two Lakes Deck’.

I waited in the car with MY while hubby and MF went up to check it out.  He came back and showed me the photo above and I was like, where is the second lake?? And I would never have found it if hubby didn’t point it out to me.  I leave it to you to try to find it.

Driving on… We came to another photo spot.

Frankly, that mountain looked kinda brown and ugly… Here’s a nicer photo that I took at the same spot in March 2010 when the mountain was snow-capped.  That’s what we want to see on winter vacations!

As we drove on, we spotted a wild fox along the road! We pulled over for the kids to have a better look at it and the fox kept circling our car – much to the amusement of the kids.

We bid farewell to the fox and continued our drive to Lake Mashu, my favourite lake in Hokkaido.

It’s not hard to see why Lake Mashu is my favourite lake.  It’s so gorgeous! But to see Lake Mashu required a bit of luck, as Lake Mashu is often shrouded in fog.   We got lucky this time!

When at Lake Mashu, don’t forget to also check out the view from the carpark itself if the weather is good!

Well, the kids didn’t care much for the beautiful lake and they were sleeping the whole time we were there.  We drove on to our next destination, Iozan.  But just before reaching, we stopped by an ice-cream parlour, Cream Douwa, located near the foot of Iozan.

We came all the way from Singapore, must buy the biggest (5 flavoured) cone!  And from Cream Douwa, we could see the fumes of Iozan in the distance.

After enjoying our ice-cream, it was time to work off those calories with a walk around Iozan.  Iozan literally means ‘sulphur mountain’.  And I think it’s not hard to see where it got its name from.

After our walk around Iozan, we drove on to Lake Kussharo.  We wanted to go for lunch at a restaurant called Sora, but when we reached there, we realized they were closed for Winter! So we went to Sunayu at the western shore of Lake Kussharo and had our lunch at the little restaurant there.

After lunch, we went to the shore of Lake Kussharo where the kids had some fun feeding the swans.  Swans arrived in Hokkaido during winter, you won’t see them if you’re here outside of winter.

I was amused that the swans ate popcorns.  MF wasn’t too happy that he got rejected by the swans.  And we discovered that the trick was to just dump the popcorn on the ground and the swans would come over to eat them.

Sunayu was also know for the free foot baths available on the shores.  But since it was winter, it was a bit too much of a hassle to take off our boots and layers of socks for the sake of soaking our feet.  And the last thing I needed was for the kids to get their long pants wet.  So we passed.  Here’s a photo we took in summer instead:

After this, we drove on to Kushiro where we would spend the night.

Posts from the same trip:

Itinerary for 17-day Hokkaido trip with kids in December
Part 1: Sapporo
Part 2: Asahikawa, Akan National Park (You’re on this post now)
Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu
Part 4: Niseko, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Rusutsu
Part 5: Otaru, New Chitose Airport

Posts from our other Hokkaido Trips:

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: New Chitose Airport, Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, Hakodate
Part 2: Onuma Koen, Niseko, Shakotan
Part 3: Otaru
Part 4: Sapporo
Part 5: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport

Visit our Japan Travel Blog

Find more guides and itineraries for Japan travel on our Japan Travel Blog!

15 Comments

  • Kris says:

    You mentioned you do not advise doing the drive from Asahikawa to Lake Akan in a day. What then is a good stopover for a night in the middle in your opinion?

  • Cyn says:

    Hi bumblebee mum,
    We are family of 2 A + 2C.
    Planning our last min 1st trip to hokkaido in end Nov/early dec.
    As it is our first trip to Hok + its winter, we wish to cover the key attractions of hokkaido.

    Could you kindly advise if this sounds right :
    1) SKi resort (3D)
    2)Sapporo (2D)
    3) Day trip via train to Otaru
    4) Day trip to take winter trains (not sure)
    5) Drive to Furano
    6) Drive to Noboribetsu/Lake Toya
    7) Drive to Asahikawa
    8) Airport

    I can decide between Tomamu and Rusutsu resorts.
    Read that Tomamu is further away and may not fit well with my itinerary. However it appears much cheaper than Rusutsu.

    Also not sure about the driving part. We have not drove in snow before. But think with 2 young kids, it seems to make more sense than
    to travel on public transport. Could i seek your opinion.

    And given snow would get worst as we approach year end, perhaps is it better than i reverse my itinerary and do Skiing and Sapporo last.

    I look forward to hearing from your valuable advice. thks!

    rgds,
    Cyn

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For an end Nov to early Dec trip, definitely you should put your ski resort right at the very end of the trip. Tomamu and Rusutsu only open in the tail end of Nov (like 26 Nov this year).

      I don’t think the winter trains have begun operation for your dates. And I would skip Furano for your dates.

      Asahikawa, if you are planning to visit the zoo, can be done as a day trip from Sapporo with the train and zoo bus. Without luggage, taking public transport with kids should be manageable.

      If you are planning to visit Lake Toya and Noboribetsu, Rusutsu will be nearer compared to Tomamu. But yeah, Rusutsu is expensive. In early Dec, Niseko should still be quite reasonably priced? If Niseko is cheaper than Rusutsu, I would go to Niseko instead.

      As for mode of transport, Lake Toya and Noboribetsu is best visited with a car. But you don’t really need a car for the rest of the places. So this is what I would suggest:

      Day 1: (Arrive on morning flight if possible) CTS (pick up rental car) – Noboribetsu
      Day 2: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
      Day 3: Lake Toya – Sapporo (return car)
      Day 4: Sapporo
      Day 5: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru by train)
      Day 6: Sapporo (Day trip to Asahiyama Zoo by train + bus)
      Day 7: Sapporo – Niseko / Rusutsu (bus)
      Day 8: Niseko / Rusutsu
      Day 9: Niseko / Rusutsu
      Day 10: Niseko / Rusutsu – CTS (bus)
      Day 11: Flight back

  • Jaime says:

    Hi,
    Would like to get your opinion to travel from sapporo to lake Akan, driving in feb 2017…. the JR line to the eastern part is now under repair and there’s only buses available at the moment which was kind of unexpected.
    Is it possible to drive up to tomamu, lake Akan and Kushiro? There are sites that said it suicidal.
    What do you suggest? As I’d already paid for all the accommodations.

    Thanks

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Sorry for the late reply as I have been overseas.

      Okay, I’ve done that Tomamu – Kushiro – Lake Akan drive on two separate winter trips and I’m alive. So I won’t say it’s suicidal. But jokes aside, the difficulty of the drive would really depend on how heavy the snow is when you are there. You can refer to this post (the section on driving) on driving tips in winter:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/2015/08/29/free-easy-hokkaido-winter-trip-essential-travel-tips/

      You will also have to relook at your itinerary to see if it is too rushed, because a trip planned for travel by rail may not be feasible when you drive because driving will take much longer, especially when you encounter heavy snow. You may have to give up some sights to ensure you have ample time to complete the drives before it gets dark each day.

      • Jaime Wong says:

        Hi, I’m so grateful for your reply.
        This is my itinerary, I kinda alter it a lot after reading your blog . #Thumbs up#
        Day 1 : Yokohama
        Day 2 : DisneyLand
        Day 3 : DisneySea
        Day 4 : (We cancelled our Disney Day3) Decided to rent a car and drive to Mother Farm instead. Would like to know if it’s better for us to stay put in farm or drive to the German Village? Is it possible to drive in dark?
        Day 5: Flying over to Sapporo, staying in the New Chitose Airport Hotel for 2 nights. Will visit the Snow Festival upon arrival and check in.
        Day 6 : Taking the train to Tomamu. (Wasn’t very confident to drive up the ski mountains – steepness, thickness of the snow – DAY TRIP)
        Day 7 : Renting a car – driving to Lake Akan, staying in Tsuruga Wings.
        Day 8 : Kushiro – the Marshland Observatory, would you suggest that we drive elsewhere around? – staying in Kushiro
        Day 9 : NEED YOUR HELP HERE
        a) Drive back to sapporo or Asahikawa?
        b) As I saw your itinerary, snowing could be quite heavy towards Asahikawa (in FEB), should you advise?
        I had book my hotels in sapporo for the next 3 nights, but if you advise me to stay in Asahikawa, then I’ll do so.
        Day 10 : Asahikawa Zoo (stay in Sapporo)
        Day 11 ; Had not planned anything to do in Sapporo…. probably the Snow Festival, and some lingering around the downtown.
        Day 12 : Return

        What do you think?

        Thanks.
        BTW, I am travelling with 3 children.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          It is possible to drive back to Tokyo after visiting the illumination at Tokyo German Village. It doesn’t really snow in this part of Japan, so driving at night is relatively safe. On roads with street lamps, it is pretty much like driving in Singapore at night – nothing to really worry about. But if you encounter roads with no street lamp and are pitch dark, just switch on your high beam if there is nobody else in front of you and drive slowly. If you catch up with the car in front of you or there is a car coming in the oncoming direction, switch back down to low beam.

          Day 7: The drive from CTS to Lake Akan sounds very long. I suggest you spend a night a Tokachigawa onsen to break up the drive. If you’re there during snow festival period, you should be able to catch the Sairinka festival at Tokachigawa Onsen.

          In Kushiro, I think Washo Market is worth a visit. But your timing looks extremely tight frankly.

          This is what I would suggest from Day 7 onwards:

          Day 7: CTS – Tokachigawa Onsen
          Day 8: Tokachigawa Onsen – Lake Akan
          Day 9: Lake Akan – Lake Kussharo – Iozan – Lake Mashu – Tsurui (crane area) – Kushiro
          Day 10: Kushiro (visit Washo market) – Lake Shikaribetsu
          Day 11: Lake Shikaribetsu – CTS
          Day 12: Flight back

          I am suggesting Lake Shikaribetsu because it is kind of in between Kushiro and CTS. And they have an interesting ice kotan in winter. You can read more about it on this trip:
          http://bumblebeemum.net/2010/03/04/self-drive-trip-to-eastern-hokkaido-february-march-2010/

          But if you find the drive to Lake Shikaribetsu too long, you can use Obihiro to break up the drive from Kushiro back to CTS.

          Actually, what are your exact dates? Does Day 6 coincide with the Asahikawa Winter Festival (7-12 February 2017)? If it does, I suggest you do a day trip to Asahikawa on Day 6 by train instead of Tomamu. Head out in the morning, visit the zoo first, then go for the winter festival after that. And if you do that, you can then use Tomamu to break up your drive back from Kushiro to CTS. If you drive in broad daylight to Tomamu and slowly, you should be fine. Otherwise if you are really scared of driving up to the snow resort at Tomamu, there is a pension called Pension ING at Tomamu which is located along the main road before going up to the resort. You can check with the owner if he can drive you up to the snow resort if you stay with them.
          http://ingtomamu.com/

          • Jaime Wong says:

            Hi Bumblebeemum,

            Alright, I’d changed my itinerary …. Taking your advise… most of it..

            Day 1 (1/2/17) – Day 5 (5/2/17) in Tokyo
            Day 6 (6/2/17) – Arriving at New Chitose Airport on a 5pm plane and would be staying in the airport hotel. Would be taking the trains to Sapporo to see the Day 1 Snow Festival at Odori Park

            Day 7 – Staying in Asahikawa – planning to see the zoo
            Day 8 – Driving to Lake Akan – Staying in Akan Lake area
            Day 9 – to Kushiro – staying in Kushiro City
            Day 10 – Taking a break to stay in Obihiro, the Tokachigawa Onsen area
            Day 11 – Driving Back to Sapporo and be staying in Sapporo
            I was thinking visit the Moerenuma Park if I could arrive earlier in Sapporo
            Day 12 – Has no plans yet
            Day 13 – Return

            If it’s planned this way, I would had probably skipped the Tomamu part…
            What do you think?

            THANKS 🙂

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Hmm.. The start of your trip is snow festival period. I would suggest you spend 1 more day at Sapporo for the Sapporo Snow Festival as it’s HUGE. There are 3 venues for the festival: Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome. It’s a pity to be there during snow festival period and only spend one evening at Odori Park. This is what I would do:

              Day 6 (6/2/17) – Arriving at New Chitose Airport on a 5pm plane, take airport limousine bus to Sapporo. Stay around Susukino and visit the Susukino ice sculptures.
              Day 7 – Visit Odori Park and Tsudome for the snow festival
              Day 8 – Take train to Asahikawa from Sapporo, visit zoo in the day and Asahikawa winter festival in the evening. Spend the night at Asahikawa.
              Day 9 – Pick up a rental car from Asahikawa and drive to Lake Akan. (Note that this is going to be a very long drive.)
              Day 10 – Drive Lake Akan – Tsurui (for the cranes) to Kushiro
              Day 11 – Drive Kushiro to Obihrio to Tokachigawa Onsen OR Tomamu
              Day 12 – Drive Tokachigawa Onsen / Tomamu to CTS
              Day 13 – Flight back

  • shoppiee says:

    i’m planning to visit hokkaido in dec xmas time. any suggestion on itinery if i do not plan to drive?

    • Queen Bee says:

      How long are you visiting? If not long, you can stay in Sapporo and take side trips to Otaru and Asahikawa (to visit Asahiyama Zoo) by train. Then you can also bus to an onsen town like Lake Toya or Noboribetsu. If you have more time, you can train to Hakodate for about 2 days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *