In Feb 2010, after staying in Sapporo for a month, my friends and I did a self-drive trip of Eastern Hokkaido. It was winter time and the main purpose of the trip was to visit the various snow festivals going on.
Day 1 (23 Feb) Sapporo – Tomamu
We picked up our rental car and left Sapporo in the afternoon as we were busy packing our month’s worth of barang and mailing them back to Singapore as our luggage couldn’t fit all the omiyage we accumulated.
We did not use the expressway to get to Tomamu, so by the time we reached Tomamu, it was already dark. We checked in to our accomodation, Pension ING Tomamu, and drove to Tomamu Resort to visit the ice village. Tomamu resort was pretty huge and confusing. We parked our car near the hotel and had to take the resort shuttle bus to get to the ice village.
Day 2 (24 Feb) Tomamu – Tokachigawa Onsen – Obihiro
Driving further East, we arrived at Obihiro, a city that I coined ‘The Town of Snacks’. Obihrio is famous for its sweets, produced with high quality ingredients grown in the region.
Our first stop was Cranberry. Everyone who goes to Cranberry are there for its sweet potato with custard filling, which of course we ordered. Personally, I was not a fan. It was just… *very expensive* sweet potato with some custard.
Moving on.. we arrived an our next snack destination: Ryugetsu main store. We bought some random snacks and a slice of strawberry short cake. There were some tables for us to sit and eat with free coffee service.
Next stop was Rokkatei main store, the most famous snack destination in Obihiro – Obihiro is almost synonym with Rokkatei! Truth be told, we were in Hokkaido for a month before this and have visited enough Rokkatei stores. So we didn’t spend too much time here.
Having snacked enough, we drove to Tokachigawa Onsen. We dropped by the tourist information centre and asked them to recommend us places to go. They recommended us to take a walk to see the swans and drive up to the observatory. So we started first by heading to the area where the swans gathered, which was a short walk from the tourist information centre.
There were quite a lot of them making their annual migration there.
Then we drove up to the tokachigaoka observatory. It was so peaceful….
We sat around just enjoying the scenery and peacefulness until we decided we were getting too cold. So we went to find a nice open-air onsen to soak in. We heard so much about the tsuru-tsuru (ability to make your skin smooth) moor onsen of Tokachigawa and just had to try it. We obtained a list of onsens from the tourist information centre and went to Kokusai Hotel Tsutsui because it was the cheapest one that offered open-air onsen. And my oh my… was it a good choice!! Kokusai Hotel Tsutsui was located away from the crowd and its open-air onsen was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pure wilderness. I LOVED it! If you are not a staying guest and wish to use their onsen, simply purchase your ticket from the vending machine at the lobby.
After we enjoyed the onsen fully, it was still too early for the Sarinka festival. So we drove back to Obihiro for dinner at the famous buta-don (pork rice bowl) restaurant, Panchou. O-M-G. I hereby declare that my favourite Japanese food is no longer sushi or sashimi.. It is BUTA-DON. It was soooooo good!
Fully satisfied after our buta-don dinner, we drove back to Tokachigawa onsen for the Sarinka festival before spending the night at Toyoko Inn Obihiro Eki-Mae.
Day 3 (25 Feb) Obihiro – Kushiro
Before leaving Obihiro, we decided to visit the Manju shop recommeded in our guide book. Well, not a fan. Manju was basically 包 and they cost a few dollars each – not worth it.
Driving on to Kushiro, our first destination was the Kushiro City Marsh Observatory. It was kind of a waste of money because weather was not good when we were there and we couldn’t see much from the observatory.
So we went for a walk around the boardwalk outside the observatory. It was a gloomy gloomy day and we didn’t see much from the view point either.
We were kind of bored, so I decided to get off the board walk and trample in knee-deep snow, just for the fun of it. We are from Singapore and walking in snow is kind of fun afterall.
Our next destination was the Kushiro Washu market, famous for Katte Don (do-it-yourself seafood rice bowl). Basically you choose the size of rice bowl you want, then you go to the various stalls to choose whatever seafood you like to fill your bowl with. Do not forget to ask for discounts or freebies, the stall owners were quite generous!
After eating, we checked in to our hotel, Super Hotel Kushiro. The triple rooms here were soooo much bigger than the ones at Super Hotel Hakodate! From there, we walked to Fisherman Wharf MOO and the nusamai bridge. Next to MOO, there was a building called EGG which stands for ‘Ever Green Garden’, and we got to see some greenery. We haven’t seen greenery for more than a month! It’s a place you would only appreciate if you have spent long enough time in winter.
What I liked most about Kushiro were the crane designs everywhere! On lamp post, bus stops, train station etc.
Day 4 (26 Feb) Kushiro – Lake Akan
From Kushiro, we drove on in search of the Japanese cranes. Our first stop was the Tancho Observation Centre
If it is winter, I suggest you skip this centre. There are places to see many more cranes for free during winter. One of which was our next destination: Tsuruimidai
There were so many cranes flying and roaming freely here that made me regret spending money on Tancho Observation Centre. But the best was yet to come.. Our next destination was even more impressive: Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary. There were soooo many cranes gathered here!
We spent quite a bit of time here watching the cranes dance. It was so beautiful and elegant.
We bid farewell to the cranes and drove on to Lake Akan.
I love the manhole here, with the crane and marimos.
And a view of the beautiful frozen Lake Akan from our hotel room:
We had some time to burn before dinner and went to walk around the shops surrounding the hotel and the Ainu kotan village. We were pretty amused by the Marimo souvenir shops.
We had dinner at our hotel, Hotel Emerald, had a soak in the onsen and watched fireworks from our room. Ah.. The perfect vacation.
Day 5 (27 Feb) Lake Akan – Kawayu
Gooooood morning!! The past 2 days were foggy and gloomy, but we finally had some good weather!
After breakfast, we went for a walk around the Akan Lake Ice Festival. Then we headed to the visitor centre to see some marimo since it was winter and we couldn’t cruise out to see marimo in the wild.
We left Lake Akan and continued our drive towards Kawayu. We were so happy with the good weather and stopped our car randomly to take photo withthe beautiful mountain scenery.
We arrived at Lake Mashu and I was so glad the weather was good!! Lake Mashu is officially my favourite lake in Hokkaido.. It’s soooooo beautiful!! It’s known to be covered with fog most of the time, but we saw it in clear view when we were there.. Lucky!
There were some wild deers roaming on the slopes around the lake.
At the souvenir shop, there was Mashu Blue soft serve ice-cream… Cute.
As we drove away from Lake Mashu, we spotted a fox along the road! This was really turning out to be our lucky day!
Our next destination was Iozan (sulfur mountain).
And from there, we drove on to Kawayu.
Our aim of visiting Kawayu Onsen was for the Diamond Dust illumination, but I’m not sure why we missed it. So we didn’t do much other than soak our feet in the free foot bath.
Day 6 (28 Feb) Kawayu – Shiretoko
We continued our drive to Shiretoko, arriving first at Oshinkoshin falls.
As we continued our drive, we saw deers EVERYWHERE.
We arrived at the tourist information centre and asked what we could do in the area. They suggested we put on snow boots and take a walk to the Furepe waterfall. So off we went.
Shiretoko is not a great place to visit in winter. The walk was boring and lonely (we were the only ones around) and the waterfall was frozen. We saw so many deers that the excitement of seeing them wore off after a while.
It was getting dark and we drove to our hotel. We passed by a platform called sunset deck and decided to wait there to watch the sunset. I’m glad we did.. t was beautiful!
After dinner, we wanted to go for the Aurora Fantasy but was told it was cancelled due to bad weather. Bummer.
Day 7 (1 March) Shiretoko – Abashiri
In the morning, we had booked a swimming with drift ice adventure. However, we received a call that the tour was cancelled because there was no drift ice that day! So we basically made a wasted trip to Shiretoko, with both Aurora Fantasy and our swim with drift ice cancelled…. How depressing! So we left Shiretoko and drove to Abashiri.
Our first destination was the Okhotsk Ryuhyo museum / Mt. Tento Observatory.
The sky was pretty clear and we could see the scenery around from the observatory. But as we were told, there was no drift ice in the sea that day.
So we had to make do with the drift ice in the museum.
Being super disappointed that there was no drift ice in the sea, I comforted myself with a bottle of beer – Potato draft.
Since there was no drift ice, there was no point going for the icebreaker ship, so we just bummed the day away. In the evening, we decided to back track and drive back to Shiretoko for the Aurora Fantasy. Luckily it was on that day – so it was not a wasted day after all!
We also got to see the illuminated Oshinkoshin falls.
Day 8 (2 March) Abashiri – Monbetsu – Sounkyo
We drove on to Monbetsu and once again, there was no drift ice and we skipped the icebreaker Garinko ship. Where have all the drift ice gone??? Sigh.
Once again, I drowned my disappointment in beer. I wanted to get the drift ice beer, but it was out of stock, so I made do with the sakura beer.
With nothing better to do, we hopped on to an electric bus that took us to the observation tower.
Well, there was nothing much to observe from the observation tower since there was no drift ice that day.
We did some origami of the Clione (sea angel), tiny creatures that live under drift ice. There were some clione on display in a tank at the observation tower.
The rest of Monbetsu wasn’t very interesting. We just took a mandatory photo with the giant crab claw icon and ate a rice bowl with a crab claw made to resemble the icon and drove on to Sounkyo.
By the time we arrived at Sounkyo, it was already dark. We headed for the Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival.
We then checked in to our hotel, Sounkyo Choyo Tei, from which we could have a full view of the festival below.
After dinner, we went to their rooftop open air onsen and watched fireworks while soaking in the onsen. It was an experience I would never forget… To soak in an open-air onsen in sub-zero temperature, seeing the festival below and the sky lighting up with fireworks.
Day 9 (3 March) Sounkyo – Lake Shikaribetsu
The next morning, it was snowing pretty heavily. We contemplated if we should take the Kurodake ropeway in that weather.. and since we had nothing better to do, we decided to go up.
As expected, there was nothing to see in this gloomy weather.
So we just entertained ourselves by hiding in ice caves and sledding with the free sleds available.
After we descended the mountain, we drove to the waterfall of ginga and meteor. They were both frozen, making them icefalls rather than waterfalls. I guess that’s where the name ‘Icefall festival’ came from?
We spotted some brave souls attempting to scale the frozen waterfall. I guess it’s kind of like glacier climbing.
We left Sounkyo and passed by Kamikawa town. We spotted a cute ramen restaurant and decided to have our lunch there.
After lunch, we began our drive to Lake Shikaribetsu. The road to Shikaribetsu was super windy, and because it was snowing heavily that day, we drove very slowly and by the time we arrived, it was almost dark.
We checked in to our hotel for dinner first, before going for a walk around the village.
Day 10 (4 March) Lake Shikaribetsu – New Chitose Airport
The next morning, the weather was much better!
We went for another walk around the igloo village and could see it much better in the good weather. It was actually pretty scenic.
With that, we ended our road trip around Eastern Hokkaido and took our last snowy drive back to New Chitose Airport for our flight to Tokyo.
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