BumblebeeMum
Hokkaido Self-Drive in Jan / Feb
Hokkaido Self-Drive in Jan / Feb

Hi,

I have been reading your blog and it is so kind of you to share all sorts of things here. Thank you in advance as it helps much with my trip to hokkaido. I am going Hokkaido again but this time during Jan/Feb 2016. I am planning to drive as you gave me the confidence to do so after reading your feedback. I have a few questions regarding driving in Hokkaido. What the difference between HEP and ETC? And I am planning to rent from Nissan Rent A Car, but there is no option stated there for me to request for HEP or ETC in advance although I am planning to rent the car from New Chitose Airport outlet which actually provides HEP. Is it possible to rent the HEP/ETC even after renting the car?

Thanks!

By Edenz on April 25, 2015


Buzzes

69 Comments

  • Edenz says:

    Hi,

    I have been reading your blog and it is so kind of you to share all sorts of things here. Thank you in advance as it helps much with my trip to hokkaido. I am going Hokkaido again but this time during Jan/Feb 2016. I am planning to drive as you gave me the confidence to do so after reading your feedback. I have a few questions regarding driving in Hokkaido. What the difference between HEP and ETC? And I am planning to rent from Nissan Rent A Car, but there is no option stated there for me to request for HEP or ETC in advance although I am planning to rent the car from New Chitose Airport outlet which actually provides HEP. Is it possible to rent the HEP/ETC even after renting the car?

    Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      HEP is a pass that allows unlimited use of the expressway during the period of your car rental. ETC card will just deduct the toll fee based on how much you use the toll way. (It’s like a concession pass vs a normal EZ link card.) Having the ETC card is usually good enough. HEP is only worth it if you use the tollway extensively everyday. I believe Nissan Rent A Car can rent you an ETC card, you should rent one from them. See this page for details.

      For HEP, you have to rent from specific handling offices listed on this page. However, I have found that having ETC card is usually cheaper than HEP. I would only recommend getting HEP for travellers who base themselves in Sapporo and make day trips to neighboring cities via the expressway (i.e. they will use the expressway twice everyday).

      For HEP, you must request for it beforehand, you can’t get it on the spot. As for ETC, I think it’s better to request for it during booking as well.

      • Edenz says:

        I have checked the link that you sent and it is stated there that Nissan Rent A Car has an office handling HEP at New Chitose Airport. Does that means I have to request for it from Nissan Rent A Car beforehand for the HEP? How do we actually find out the price of the expressway with and without the ETC card? My plan is to travel from Sapporo to Noboribetsu then Lake Toya then Jozankei then Niseko then Asahikawa then Furano then back to Sapporo all by expressway within 7 days. Would it be cheaper if I apply for the HEP or ETC card would be chea[er? Thank you for your advise =)

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Looking at the places you want to go, you should swap the order of Jozankei and Niseko. (i.e. From Lake Toya, go to Niseko first then Jozankei then Asahikawa). Be aware that even then, Jozankei is a very long drive to Asahikawa, especially in winter. If you are using Google map to estimate driving times, you may have to double it for winter driving (which means the drive may take you 5 hours in snowy condition). Can I know your reason for visiting Asahikawa and Furano? Furano is not particularly interesting in Winter. And for Asahikawa, if it’s the zoo and the snow festival you want to visit, I strongly advise you to take the train. The Asahikawa and Furano region experiences extremely heavy snowfall.

          You mentioned you are visiting Jan / Feb? That is snow festival period in Hokkaido. I wouldn’t waste my time at Furano if I only have 7 days. There are many spectacular snow festivals going on around Hokkaido that you should try to catch in February. The ones closest to Sapporo are:
          > Sapporo Snow Festival (which will need at least 2 days to enjoy)
          > Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
          > Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
          > Asahikawa Winter Festival

          There are many more festivals such as Sounkyo Icefall festival, Onuma-Hakodate festival, Tomamu Ice Village, Lake Akan festival, Tokachigawa onsen festival etc etc taking place at that time, but I don’t think you have time for all of them if you only have 7 days. And if you still want to ski at Niseko, it’s going to be tight.

          My advise to you is to stay close to Sapporo, spend less time on the road and more time enjoying the festivals or skiing. Which means cut out places like Furano, Jozankei and Noboribetsu from your itinerary, slot in Lake Shikotsu instead (which is close to Sapporo and has a lovely winter festival). If I have 7 days in February (during Sapporo snow Festival season), I would do this:

          Day 1 and 2: Sapporo (Sapporo Snow Festival)
          Day 3: Otaru day trip by train (Otaru Snow Light Path)
          Day 4: Asahikawa day trip by train (Asahiyama zoo and Asahikawa winter festival)
          Day 5: Drive from Sapporo to Lake Toya. Spend the day exploring Lake Toya region. (Use Nakayama Pass to avoid toll way)
          Day 6: Drive from Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu. Visit the Ice Fall Festival and spend the night at Lake Shikotsu.
          Day 7: Drive from Lake Shikotsu to New Chitose Airport and return car at New Chitsose Airport.

          If I want to slot in skiing at Niseko, the itinerary would probably go something like this:

          Day 1 and 2: Sapporo (Sapporo Snow Festival)
          Day 3: Asahikawa day trip by train (Asahiyama zoo and Asahikawa winter festival)
          Day 4: Drive from Sapporo to Niseko
          Day 5: Niseko skiing
          Day 6: Drive from Niseko to Lake Toya. Explore Lake Toya region by the day, then drive to Lake Shikotsu before it gets dark. Visit Lake Shikotsu Icefall festival at night.
          Day 7: Drive from Lake Shikotsu to New Chitose Airport and return car at New Chitsose Airport.

          For these itineraries, you will not be using the tollway at all, so you wouldn’t need an ETC card nor HEP. And you should only pick up your rental car when you are leaving Sapporo to save on rental and parking fees.

          • Edenz says:

            Wowwww thank you so much for your comprehensive reply!! Anyway, my travelling date would be 7 days starting from 29/1/16. I know there are a lot of winter festivals but correct me if im wrong, most of them only starts on the 2nd week of February, that’s why I am most likely to miss them already. As for Asahikawa, yes I am planning to visit the zoo. And as for Furano, I am planning to do the activities listed here http://www.asobiya.jp/en/program_f_02/nightwatching.html

            Have you actually drove to Asahikawa and Furano? Is it that difficult to drive there? I’ve been to Sapporo and Otaru this year that is why I am not keen to spend more days there.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Awww… 29 Jan?? You are going to just miss the festival! Sapporo Snow Festival starts on 5 Feb and Asahikawa / Otaru festivals around then too. Lake Shikotsu festival should have started by the time you’re there.

              Nevertheless, if you can’t change your dates, plan to go Sapporo / Asahikawa towards the end of the trip. The snow sculptures should be completed by then, even if the festival hasn’t started. You can walk around the festival venues and take photos with the snow sculptures, just that the festival stores and activities will not be operating. For Sapporo, yea it’s kinda boring if you visited before, but you should still spend 1 day walking around Odori Park and Susukino to see the snow and ice sculptures.

              When I was there in winter, Asahikawa was very difficult to drive because the snow was extremely heavy. Furano and Biei also experiences very heavy snowfalls. It was in this region our car ended up in a ditch when we encountered unexpected snow storm – and that was in Autumn. The roads were rural and the snow covered all lane markings and its surrounding, we couldn’t tell where the side of the road was, misjudged a turn (because of reduced friction) and our car went off the road. You may want to consider taking the train. Sapporo – Asahikawa – Furano – Sapporo is a well-connected train route.

              • Edenz says:

                I knew I’m gonna miss the festival but nothing much can be done about it because 8th Feb is Chinese New Year already so I just have to end the trip before CNY. Wow sounds like it is very tough to drive at Asahikawa and Furano. What did you do when you got stranded there at that time? So you are suggesting that I combine Lake Toya and Shikotsu on the same day right? And spend the night at Lake Shikotsu?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  A good samaritan lent us his car chain and tried to use his car to pull our car out, but his car was not strong enough to do it. So he helped us wave a postal jeep down which managed to pull us out. :p

                  Your itinerary depends on your direction of travel. If you want to push Sapporo / Asahikawa to the end of the trip to see the snow sculptures, you can go in this order:

                  Day 1: Pick up rental car from New Chitose Airport. Drive to Lake Shikotsu. Lake Shikotsu Icefall festival is more beautiful at night and there are fireworks (not sure if it’s every night, but there were fireworks when I was there). So I recommend spending the night at Lake Shikotsu.
                  Day 2: Drive to Lake Toya. Visit Lake Toya as a day trip, and drive on to Niseko for the night. Make sure you plan ample driving time. Niseko is extremely difficult to drive in winter as well. I suggest leaving Lake Toya by 2pm so that you get to Niseko safely in bright daylight.
                  Day 3: Skiing at Niseko
                  Day 4: Drive to Sapporo and return car. Visit Odori Park and Susukino.
                  Day 5: Take train to Asahikawa. Visit Asahiyama Zoo and site of Asahikawa winter festival.
                  Day 6: Take train to Furano
                  Day 7: Take train to New Chitose Airport.

                  • Edenz says:

                    Wow, sounds abit scary knowing that you got stranded due to heavy snow falls. Even if we drive slowly will it give us problems? And correct me if I’m wrong, the car rental company usually provides something like S.O.S whereby when we are stranded or got into an accident, they will come to our rescue? I heard public transportation in Furano is a little infrequent thats why I thought it would be convenient to have our own modes of transportation there.

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yup, car companies have emergency hotlines. During that ditch incident, I called them and told them what happened and where we were, they told me they would call me back. While waiting, the good samaritan got us out and we drove off. It was much much later (like an hour or two?) that the car company called me back again to ask if we were still stuck! I don’t really blame them actually, because Hokkaido is HUGE and rescue vehicles are probably few and far between and the snow storm that day probably caused more than one accident (because when I first called, the operator asked if I was the person who called earlier). But we would have been sitting in a ditch in the dark in the midst of a snow storm if we depended on the car company’s SOS.

                      Okay, I don’t want to scare you further, but I really learnt a lot about driving in snow from this incident and an earlier near-accident also in Hokkaido during winter. Yes, you will be much safer if you drive REALLY slow. Which is why I mentioned you would probably be spending half your time on the road and you would need to double Google map’s driving time. I drove very slowly (below 50km/h) for my last trip and we did not meet with any incidents. (And that was the 1 out of 3 winter trips I did not meet with any incidents – so you understand why I advise people to minimize driving as much as possible.)

                      You are right that Furano’s transport is pretty limited. I wasn’t sure where you wanted to visit other than the star gazing, and I figured the star gazing company should be able to pick you up from your accommodation? But if you want to go around Furano to the wine factory, cheese factory etc, then yes you would need a rental car.

                      I have written some driving tips on this post, look under the comments section for my reply to Julie. They should help. 🙂

                    • Edenz says:

                      Just read up your feedback there, very comprehensive informations you gave there thanks. Anyway, if we drive slow and steady, to drive from Sapporo to Asahikawa then Furano then Tomamu wouldn’t be a problem I assume? And can you give me your opinion regarding Tomamu? Is it worth visiting? And how much does it cost per night for Tower Hotel at Tomamu?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Do you have more than 7 days? Looking at the places you want to visit, I don’t think it is feasible to still squeeze in Tomamu in 7 days. If you want to visit Tomamu, I would recommend you drop Niseko. Personally I love Tomamu. It is more authentically Japanese compared to Niseko (which is largely ran by foreigners). The skiing there is also cheaper than Niseko. The onsen is much more serene (if you beat the tour bus groups, that is). They have an indoor heated pool so you can even go swimming! On top of that, Tomamu has an Ice Village in winter. So yes, I think Tomamu is worth visiting. (I stayed there twice last year!)

                      The cost depends a lot on your travel date. You would need to check their website for the rates. The rates for this year’s winter season is not out yet, so you can only check later.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi its me again, can you recommend me a reasonable place to stay at Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, and Furano? And do you actually mentioned the number of person during bookings? Is it possible that I book for 1 person but just squeeze in another person in together without mentioning it to them?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For Lake Toya, I like Toya Sunpalace. It’s a bit out-dated though, but my kids like the pool. If you want somewhere more modern, try Lake View Toya Nonokaze. It is more pricey though.

      For Noboribetsu, I have only stayed in Hotel Mahoroba before. I enjoyed my stay there, loved their onsen and dinner.

      For Furano, I stayed at Hotel Edel Warme. Nothing to really shout about, just that it was the cheapest reasonably sized room I could find for my travelling dates. The more famous hotel in Furano is New Furano Prince Hotel which houses Ningle Terrace and the popular Forest Clock Cafe.

      If meals are included in your stay, you will need to include the correct number of people staying because meal coupons will be issued. However, I usually don’t state the number of children because Agoda limits the room choices once I include the kids. But I will check to make sure that the hotels accept children (because some hotels in Japan do not allow children to stay). So I’ll book 2 adults, and when I’m checking in, I pay for the children if required. Usually city hotels don’t charge for young children if they are using the existing bedding, but hot spring resorts will. It is possible to book a room for 1 person first, then at check-in see if they will charge you for the additional people. Some hotels close one eye, some hotels will charge. It is a risk you’re taking, because to pay for extra persons charges at the hotel may be more expensive than what the booking sites charge for 2 people to stay.

      • Edenz says:

        Do you book directly from the hotel website or through Agoda instead? Some of the hotels provided the meals without any option to opt out of it is it true? I’ve looked through the hotels that you recommended. Is it comfortable at those hotels? They doesn’t look too old and run down right?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Depends, sometimes I book through the hotel directly, sometimes I book through Agoda. Usually I book city hotels through Agoda because it is cheaper. But for onsen hotels, I sometimes book through the hotel directly because I get to choose the accommodation plan I want (the room type and the type of meal) unless Agoda is much cheaper.

          The truth is, many onsen resorts in Hokkaido are pretty old and dated. But they are always clean and well-maintained, so I never have a problem with them. However I always read reviewers complain on sites like TripAdvisor or hotel booking websites about the hotels looking old and in need of renewal. My two cents worth is, you pay for what you get. At every onsen town, there will be some newer and more modern resorts, and some older ones. The newer ones easily cost double of what the older ones charge. What you get is a more modern-looking room and facilities and dining areas. But I generally opt for the more budget (and hence older) options which saves me hundreds of dollars. I think they are comfortable enough, but I am really not a very fussy traveller and have pretty low expectations.. hah.

          • Edenz says:

            Icic, thanks for your feedback. Anyway, you stayed at The Tower Tomamu during winter right? How much was it per night? I tried searching at their website but it seems that the bookings and pricelist for January 2016 is not open yet.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Yes I stayed at The Tower. They will only release their winter pricing later in the year. Our twin room cost 12,400 Yen after 90 Day Advanced Purchase discount. Both my kids were below 4 years old and could stay for free. This was in early December which is considered lull period.

              • Edenz says:

                What do you mean by lull period ya? Is 28 Jan 2016 considered as peak period? Where do you booked the tower? Their main website or through agoda?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Yes, January will be considered peak period. Early December was lull period because only part of the ski resort was open (skiing was restricted to the activity centre, which required a shuttle bus ride from The Tower). The Ice Village was only partially completed then. By January, all the facilities (the snow parks, various snow activities and the ski lifts behind The Tower) will be fully operational and The Ice Village should be completed by then. Hence, price will also increase.

                  For Tomamu, I booked through the hotel website.

                  • Edenz says:

                    Alright!! Anyway, you drove from Furano to Tomamu before right? Which road did you took? Was the road very narrow or winding? Or is it some easy drive? And have you drove from Narita Airport to Fuji Five Lakes area before?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I have mapped out the route from Furano to Tomamu on google map:
                      Click here to view

                      The road is a typical rural road in Hokkaido, single lane with some curves and turns and no street lights along the way. In winter, the snow is very heavy in this region so I wouldn’t say it is easy to drive. There is a very sharp turning as you approach the entry to Hoshino Resort.
                      Click here for zoomed in map on the turning

                      It is very easy to miss and it is very easy to turn onto the wrong lane (i.e. into oncoming traffic) if you are unaware of it. There are signboards but they may not be easy to spot if it’s snowing. Just drive dead slow when you approach that junction and remember you are making almost like a V-shaped turn. There is a divider between the the lanes for the 2 directions, if you do a perpendicular turn, you will be turning into the oncoming traffic. You need to go past the divider and do a V-shaped turn back into the lane of your direction.

                      To help you understand what I’m saying, click on > this link <. Imagine yourself coming from the right along route 136. If you take a perpendicular right too early, can you see you will be driving into the wrong direction? You need to go forward a bit more, past the divider (that triangular patch of blue) and do a V-shaped turn. I have never drove from Narita Airport to Fuji Five Lakes before. But it looks like it's expressway all the way. There is little snow in that region so I think it should be a pretty easy drive. Just that toll fees will be expensive.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi, I think I almost finalized my itenary. Could you give some tips or feedback on it?

    Day 1: Narita Airport > Fuji Five Lakes (rent a car) stay at Kawaguchi Lake.
    Day 2: Gotemba and Hakone > Narita Airport stay at a hotel nearby there.
    Day 3: Fly to New Chitose on the earliest flight then rent a car.
    New Chitose > Noboribetsu > Lake Toya (stay here)
    Day 4: Lake Toya > Niseko
    Day 5: Niseko
    Day 6: Niseko > Jozankei > Sapporo (stay here)
    Day 7: Sapporo > Asahikawa > Furano (stay here)
    Day 8: Furano > Tomamu (stay here)
    Day 9: Tomamu > Sapporo (stay here)
    Day 10: Visit Sapporo winter festival then fly back to Narita Airport on the last flight of the day.

    Is it too rushing? Can I know if with these route, do I need to get the HEP or ECT is more worth it if Im driving using the highways wherever possible? Have you drove before from Tokyo Airport to Mount Fuji? Can let me know the details too if possible. Thank you so much =)

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your first two days look very rushed to me. Is your flight confirmed? Is it possible to fly to Haneda airport instead of Narita? Haneda is nearer to Hakone / Mount Fuji than Narita. There are also more frequent domestic flights to Hokkaido from Haneda compared to Narita.

      I checked the train route on Hyperdia on how to get from Narita Aiport to Kawaguchiko. It looks like a nightmare with multiple transfers and the fastest route takes 4 hours. I would recommend you take the train to ODAWARA (which is near Hakone) instead and rent the car from there, spending the first night at Hakone instead of Kawaguchiko. If you use the Narita Express and shinkansen, the ride from Narita Airport to Odawara only requires 1 transfer at Shinagawa and the ride takes only 100 minutes. Alternatively, just rent a car from Narita Express and drive to Hakone / Kawaguchiko. The tolls will be very expensive, but Narita Express and shinkansen are not cheap either. The drive from Narita Airport to Hakone / Kawaguchiko is around 2.5hours.

      The train route from Haneda Airport to Kawaguchiko also requires multiple transfers and takes 3 hours. However, if you fly to Haneda, I would recommend you just rent a car from Haneda Airport to drive to Mount Fuji / Hakone region. The drive will take about 1.5 hours.

      For Day 3, would you want to consider staying in Lake Shikotsu instead of Lake Toya? There is a winter festival at Lake Shikotsu, I wouldn’t want to miss that. If you stay at Lake Shikotsu on Day 3, you can still visit Lake Toya enroute to Niseko on Day 4.

      For Day 6, Sapporo – Asahikawa – Furano is a very long distance you are trying to cover in a day. If you are visiting Asahiyama Zoo, there is definitely not enough time to complete this route before sunset. Always bear in the mind that the sun sets at 4pm in winter and you need to double driving times estimated by google map due to snow.

      Your itinerary definitely looks too rushed for a winter trip. You will have to omit one place from your itinerary. Either Niseko or Asahikawa or Furano or Tomamu.

      ETC card is good enough. Your route will not require HEP since there are many days you will not be on the tollway.

      • Edenz says:

        Wow thanks for your kind explanations. How do u check the price of the tolls between places? How much would the toll be from Narita Airport to Kawaguchi Lake? ETC is good enough for this region? And yes apparently my flight is confirmed to Narita Airport touchdown at 9am. Hmm, I also do think the itenary is kind pack. The reasons for going Furano is so that i can go Tomamu right after that. If i would to omit Furano, what sequence do u think is the best and time saving?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hi, I used Tocoo’s toll simulator. It is a bit troublesome to use though, because you need to know the name of the expressway and entrance/exit names. As for Narita Airport to neighbouring regions, you can refer to this website for approximate toll fees. According to that site, toll fee from Narita Airport to Mount Fuji is 5090 Yen and Narita to Hakone is 4500 Yen approximately. Get an ETC card if you are able to, it should reduce the toll fee pretty significantly.

          You don’t really need to omit Furano, you just need to omit the star gazing activity. You can still fit in a day trip to Furano if you want.
          Day 7: Drive Sapporo to Asahiyama Zoo. Stay at Asahikawa.
          Day 8: Drive from Asahikawa to Furano. You can visit the wine factory and cheese factory at Furano and have lunch at Furano before driving to Tomamu. Alternatively, if you want to spend more time at Tomamu, then drive straight from Asahikawa to Tomamu.

          The sequence of your original itinerary is good. (Though I would really recommend you swap Lake Toya for Lake Shikotsu because of the festival at Lake Shikotsu.) The only problem was with Day 7, where you should plan to stay at Asahikawa instead of Furano to avoid driving after sunset. But you will miss the star gazing you originally planned to do.

          • Edenz says:

            How long do actually spend your time in Asahikawa Zoo? Since you really recommended Lake Shikotsu, i will omit Lake Toya then. But what would my route be now? New Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu > Lake Shikotsu or New Chitose Airport > Lake Shikotsu > Noboribetsu? The next day i would like to depart straight to Niseko for skiing already. Is the road from Lake Shikotsu to Niseko very difficult to drive? From google map I can see a lot of turnings and up and downhill roads haha!

            • bumblebeemum says:

              We didn’t get to spend much time at Asahiyama Zoo because the drive from Sapporo to Asahikawa took super long due to heavy snow. Think we arrived at 1pm and had to leave by 4pm because it was getting dark and it was a snowy drive back to the hotel. We covered at most half the zoo. You would expect to need more time because there would be the penguin parade when you are there. Usually there will be two session of penguin parade a day, at 11am and 2.30pm (please confirm again closer to your travel date). Do plan to leave Sapporo as early as possible.

              If you want to visit the festival at Lake Shikotsu, you should do New Chitose Airport > Noboribetsu > Lake Shikotsu, spending the night at Lake Shikotsu. The festival is more beautiful at night, because of the coloured lighting. If you’re lucky, there may even be fireworks!
              Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
              Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival Fireworks

              All rural roads in Hokkaido have a lot of turnings and mountain passes. Especially so if you are heading to ski resorts since they tend to be at higher altitudes. And ski resorts have the heaviest snow fall. So the drive from Lake Shikotsu to Niseko is not going to be an easy drive, especially when you approach Niseko (the first half of the drive should be okay). But drive slow and safe in bright daylight, you should be fine.

              • Edenz says:

                Alright! Which road did you use from Lake Shikotsu to Niseko? How do I actually check whether the road that I am using is with toll or not? Some of the road they mentioned ‘highway’ for example Furano National Highway, does it means there is toll charge?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  I have mapped out the route from Lake Shikotsu to Niseko on google map:
                  > Click here to view < 国道 (National Highways) are not expressways and have no tolls. They are pretty rural by Singapore standards. Expressways (自動車道) have tolls. If you use Google Map, they will tell you if the route has tolls.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi its me again! Wanted to ask you, do you think departing to noboribetsu from new chitose airport at 12pm then lake toya then stay the night at niseko is doable on 1 day? If u were to choose between noboribetsu and lake toya, which 1 u would prefer? And how is the condition of the road from lake toya to niseko if i were to drive at night?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Erm.. You’re going in Winter yah? Please do not drive at night. It is very dangerous. Especially if you are going Niseko, the snowfall there is crazy heavy and you CANNOT see anything at night if it’s snowing heavily. Your headlights will be reflecting against the snow and blinding you instead of lighting up the road. You won’t be able to see the road at all.

      Between Noboribetsu and Lake Toya, I prefer Lake Toya.

      If you reach New Chitose Airport at 12pm and drive straight to Lake Toya, the sky will already be getting dark by the time you reach there. The sky starts getting dark at around 3pm and by 4+pm it’ll be totally dark in winter.

      Please do not rush a winter trip. Safety is of utmost importance. I would recommend you visit less places and keep your itinerary loose, ensuring you reach your accommodation each day by 4pm latest.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi,

    Can i know whats the differences between renting a car from tocoo and nissan-rent-a-car directly? why is that cheaper at tocoo? can we get the etc card from tocoo? from your previous trips, did u opt for the accident damage waiver or something like that?

    Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Generally I find Tocoo is cheaper than renting from car rental companies directly if you do not know Japanese. Japan car rental companies often have very good promotions that are only advertised to their Japanese customers, so if you know Japanese and book through car rental companies directly using their Japanese campaigns, it can be cheaper than Tocoo.

      Yes, you can get an ETC card from Tocoo. But if you are going to rent from Nissan through Tocoo, I believe you can get the ETC card from Nissan too if you put in a request for it?

      I did not opt for accident damage waiver because my travel insurance has that covered.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi, what would your route suggestion be if i wanna visit niseko 3 nights, tomamu 1 night, lake toya, noboribetsu, lake shikotsu, sapporo, jozankei? Im planning a 7 nights stay in hokkaido. And do u think obihiro and kushiro is worth visitting?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I don’t think you can visit all those places in 7 nights. I would cut out Tomamu because it is away from the rest of your destinations. And Obihiro / Kushiro would be even further. You would need to choose 1: Either cover the central region (Niseko / Jozankei / Lake Toya / Lake Shikotsu / Noboribetsu) OR the eastern region (Tomamu / Obihiro / Kushiro / Lake Akan). In 7 days, there is no way you can cover both.

      A possible 7-nights itinerary would look something like this:

      Day 1: CTS – Sapporo
      Day 2: Sapporo – Jozankei
      Day 3: Jozankei – Niseko
      Day 4: Niseko
      Day 5: Niseko
      Day 6: Niseko – Lake Toya
      Day 7: Lake Toya – Lake Shikotsu OR Noboribetsu
      Day 8: Back to CTS

      • Edenz says:

        What does obihiro and kushiro have to offer? Are they worth visiting? If possible i would not want to stay at those lakes as the accomodation price is very expensive. Probably drive back to the nearest city with cheaper accomodations do u think its okay?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Obihiro itself has nothing much, besides the buta don :p. It is Kushiro that I like to visit in Winter because it is near the cranes’ winter feeding grounds. And nearby Akan National Park (Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, Iozan) is very scenic. Kushiro is a city so accommodation there is pretty cheap. It is possible to drive around Akan National Park as a day trip from Kushiro.

          But then again, Kushiro is pretty far East. I wouldn’t recommend trying to squeeze it into your current itinerary which is quite focused on the central region.

          • Edenz says:

            So it is possible to Drive to Akan National Park (Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, Iozan) in 1 day trip from kushiro? Its just scenery over there? How about activities? Or things to do there?

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Yup, it is possible if you have a full day. I have plotted out Kushiro, Tsurui (the area where the cranes gather), Lake Kussharo, Iozan and Lake Mashu on google map for you:
              https://goo.gl/maps/YY4c9

              If you set out early, you should be able to get back to Kushiro before sun set. It is all just sightseeing, no activities.

              • Edenz says:

                Icic. Hmm, how long do u think the drive is from kushiro back to sapporo in winter? The places seems interesting and nice.

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  The distance from Kushiro to Sapporo is more than 300km! It is definitely not something to be covered in a day. If you drive continuously at 50km/h, it would take 7 hours. Chances are you will not drive continuously for 7 hours, and sometimes when the snow gets super heavy, you will go below 50km/h. If you want to visit Kushiro, I definitely recommend spending at least a night at Tomamu in between. In fact I usually recommend 2 breaks: At Tomamu and Obihiro.

                  • Edenz says:

                    true enough 300km but i see its on dato expressway right? will we still be driving at 50kmh in a highway? my plan is take a flight straight to kushiro, then stay 1 night in kushiro, next morning go to tomamu and stay there, then the next morning drive to niseko instead? will the travelling from tomamu to niseko be tiring and take very long time?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      Yes, it’s expressway all the way. In winter, the speed limit even on expressways is 50km/h. Visibility was very bad when I drove along that expressway last December. 50km/h is actually an optimistic average speed to estimate driving time in winter. It gets way slower than that once you enter city areas because of traffic lights and heavy traffic.

                      Tomamu to Niseko is still a very long drive. 200+ km. If you have plans to visit Lake Shikotsu, you may want to slot it in between Tomamu and Niseko to break up the long drive.

  • Edenz says:

    I read in your blog that you suggested to rent a car through tocoo. Any idea why it is particularly cheaper than renting straight from the company (i.e: nissan rent a car)? And where can i get the ETC as well as hokkaido expressway pass? Do u think i will need them if i am travelling from kushiro > tomamu > noboribetsu > niseko > sapporo > lake shikotsu > new chitose?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hi,

      For your route, a HEP will not be necessary. You can rent an ETC card from Tocoo if you book through them.

      Renting a car through Tocoo is similar to booking a hotel through hotel booking websites such as Agoda / Booking.com etc. You noticed hotel prices on booking websites such as Agoda are usually much cheaper than booking directly with the hotel? It works the same way. The rental companies give Tocoo a good rate, Tocoo brings them customers. It’s a win-win for both. Imagine if the rental company does not offer Tocoo a rate that is better than their own, why would Tocoo help them to get customers? Tocoo plays an important role in bringing rental companies non-Japanese speaking customers as a middle man.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi, I would like to ask regarding the ETC card rental. I am planning to rent a car from Tocoo as you have suggested earlier and it has the ETC card rental option. Does all the cars in Tocoo comes with the ETC device in order to use the ETC card? I am taking the car from Nissan rent a car from Tocoo by the way.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi,

    You told me before you rented from Tocoo previously right? How do you rent the ETC card then? I tried to proceed for the car rental reservations through Tocoo but there was no ETC card option, however there was only ETC device option. How do i actually rent the ETC card via tocoo?

    Thanks!

  • Edenz says:

    Hi,

    I would like to have some advise from you regarding my winter trip to Hokkaido. For a 2 days 1 night, what are the attractions or activities you would suggest me to go in Sapporo? and for a day trip to Jozankei, what is your recommendations as well? The dates are fixed at 30/31 of January 2016. Thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For 30/31 Jan, I would probably go to Lake Shikotsu to catch the winter festival.

      • Edenz says:

        I plan to go to lake shikotsu on 2/2 instead after i cover jozankei and sapporo actually. The festival is still available by then right? So for the 2 days 1 night, what are the attractions or activities you would suggest me to go in Sapporo? and for a day trip to Jozankei, what is your recommendations as well?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I don’t think I would do a day trip to Jozankei. It is an onsen town, so a visit to Jozankei should involve a stay at one of the hot spring resorts. Can you update me what is your itinerary for the rest of the trip first, then I can see what else you can visit for the remaining time?

  • Edenz says:

    Hi,

    I would like to rent from ToCoo as per your advise, but do u think Times Rental Car in ToCoo choices of car companies reliable and can deal well with foreigner? They seemed to rent out Mazda cars =)))

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I have never tried Times Car Rental before. They seem to have a pretty good English website – which is usually a good sign. But in general, for Hokkaido, the people don’t speak much English. Especially for winter drives, I would recommend sticking to companies like Toyota, albeit more expensive but they have English emergency hotlines. You need to make sure that if anything happens *touch wood*, you can communicate where you are and get help.

  • Edenz says:

    Hi,

    Have you booked a car from tocoo before? I have just booked with Tocoo, they give me a confirmation email d. Should i just show this confirmation email to nippon-rent-a-car on the pick up day or will there be a confirmation email from nippon rent a car themselves?

    Thanks!

  • Edenz says:

    I was planning a trip from Niseko to Sapporo via the Shakotan Peninsula way to catch the nice scenery of the ocean and capes. Do u have any idea are they open for visit during winter? And would you recommend me to go for it? Is there any other places which i can have a very nice scenery of the ocean and capes available?

  • Edenz says:

    Why would you go to shakotan penisular in winter? Do you have any idea if they are open or not? And initially for my Kusharo trip, u suggested i do Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary > Lake Kussharo > Iozan > Lake Mashu. Do you mind pointing out the entrance point of these locations on google maps?

    • Edenz says:

      wouldnt*

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I would think it would be open since it’s a nature spot, but I’m really not sure since I haven’t been there in winter before. The restaurants and accommodation in the region are closed in winter, so I imagine the area should be pretty deserted. I went to Shakotan mainly for their seafood, so if the restaurants are not open, I wouldn’t bother driving all the way there. It is quite a big detour.

      Here is the google map location of the scenic spots at Akan National Park in the order Tsurui – Lake Mashu – Iozan – Lake Kussharo – Lake Akan:
      https://goo.gl/maps/L7jirsGWvDS2

    • Edenz says:

      Thanks for your feedback! Shakotan view during winter is nice? Regarding the Akan National park,is it possible todo all those in 1 day then back to stay at Kushiro?

  • edenz says:

    So do u think its possible to do all Tsurui – Lake Mashu – Iozan – Lake Kussharo – Lake Akan in 1 day then back to stay at Kushiro for the night accomodation?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmm.. I would do Tsurui on a separate day. If it’s just Lake Akan, Lake Masshu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo, it is doable if you set off early:

      7 – 9am: Drive Kushiro – Lake Akan
      9 – 10am: Lake Akan sightseeing
      10 – 11.30am: Drive Lake Akan – Lake Mashu
      11.30am – 12 noon: Lake Mashu sightseeing
      12 – 12.30pm: Drive Lake Mashu – Iozan
      12.30 – 1.30pm: Sightseeing + lunch at Iozan
      1.30 – 2pm: Drive Iozan – Lake Kussharo
      2- 2.30pm: Lake Kussharo sightseeing
      2.30pm – 4.30pm: Drive Lake Kussharo – Kushiro

      The sightseeing at Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo and Iozan will not take very long because the carparks are right next to the scenic spots.

      • Edenz says:

        You actually suggested on one of my day in Hokkaido to spend 1 day in Lake Shikotsu to watch their ice festival. If i am to arrive at Lake shikotsu around 12pm, then depart back to my hotel in New Chitose at 7pm, do u think its sufficient for me to see the necessary things over there?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          That’s more than enough time for the festival. The festival is not big, so you don’t need that much time actually. But I recommend going after dark because it’s nicer with the lighting.

  • Sinyee says:

    Bubblebeemum, I am so grateful there is someone like you sharing your travel experience on the web. I chanced upon your blog and it has been so helpful in my planning for my winter Hokkaido trip in 2018. My family (parents at mid-50s) and my husband will be visiting Hokkaido on 27Jan-6Feb 2018. We will unfortunately miss the Sapporo Winter Festival by 1 day (our departure is in the morning). I am writing in hope that you can provide me some insights on my travel plans. Here is the rough outline:

    27 Jan: Arrive in Shin Chitose and head for Niseko on bus
    28 Jan: One night in Niseko
    29 Jan: Rent a car from Niseko and drive to Lake Toya for a night
    30 Jan: Drive from Lake Toya to Noboribetsu
    31 Jan: Spend a day in Noboribetsu
    1 Feb: Noboribetus to Lake Shikotsu
    2 Feb: Lake Shikotsu to Sapporo
    3-4 Feb: No idea what to do yet
    4 – 6 Feb: Explore Jozankei, Otaru as day trip.

    I am struggling between Niseko and Tamamu. Which one do you think is more exciting? We have no experience in skiing and would like to have some lesson. What do you think?

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