We are back after our 11 day free & easy Hokkaido trip. would like to share some of our experience on your blog :
1) for hotels, I compared prices using Expedia / Agoda (via Shopback), Rakuten JP, JAPANiCan & Jalan.net. Have booked hotels via each of these sites without issues for hotels/resorts in Abashiri, Akan, Tokachi & Sapporo. Some of the onsen resorts provide complimentary pick-up service (unadvertised) from nearest JR station so do ask about it.
2) for car hire, I compared Toyota, Toocoo, Nippon Car, Rakuten & Jalan.net. I booked with Times Car Rental (Mazda Demio 2) via Jalan.net. Look out for the discount coupons from Jalan.net. There are many ongoing promos for car rentals. We got free 4WD, comprehensive insurance, snow tires & JPY2k discount. Extras were ETC card rental (standard Y324 a day) & NOC insurance (Y1080 a day). All in, our 5 day rental cost around JPY29,000, inclusive of a JPY 7560 1-way return charge.
3) Times Car Rental (previously Mazda Car Rental) has many outlets across Hokkaido close to JR stations. Their service is friendly & very good. The car is in good condition. We arrived 90 mins early on pick-up & the staff allowed us to take the car as goodwill … this allowed us to make the 2 hour drive to Shiretoko 5 Lakes on a beautiful day. Dropping off was a quick 10 min process & they allowed us 15 mins grace to drop off our luggage at JR before returning.
4) Driving in snowing condition for the first time
Besides allowing longer braking distance, other things to note when driving while snowing / in snow that are not apparent in SG :
1) cannot see the snow covered curb – as traffic is light, we kept closer to the middle instead
2) cannot see the bends in the road ahead clearly
3) traffic lights are located after the stop line (unlike SG) – brake early, way ahead of the traffic light
4) interior windscreen tends to fog up – learn to use the warm AC controls to blast WS. Best to ask front seat pax to do it, while u concentrate on the road ahead
We drove 100km in snow for 2 hours 15mins from Akan to Obihiro during daytime. On highway 241, we could still manage 50 kmh to 60 kmh. It was a little undulating with some gentle bends .. not too difficult.
Fortunately there was a car in front of us that was going the same way & driving at a comfortable speed for us to follow.