BumblebeeMum
Hokkaido with Kids (December 2014) Part 4: Chitose, Lake Shikotsu, Niseko, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Rusutsu

The drive from Tomamu to Niseko was extremely long and I wouldn’t recommend doing it in a day.  We didn’t plan to do this drive in a day initially.  Our initial plan was to go:

Tomamu -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Niseko -> Rusutsu.

However, due to accommodation cost (doing that would have put us in Niseko over a weekend which would have been exorbitant), we ended up going:

Tomamu -> Niseko -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya  -> Rusutsu

Which resulted in us having to do the loooong Tomamu -> Niseko drive (but we saved a few hundred bucks on our Niseko accomodation).

We planned a lunch stop mid-point at Chitose Rera Outlet.  Chitose Rera Outlet was a great place to visit with kids.

There were many shops selling kids stuff and areas for kids to play – indoor and outdoor playgrounds, kiddy rides, mazes etc.  The indoor play room was a particularly great hideout during winter.  And it was free to play!

The kids had so much fun in the indoor play room that they didn’t want to leave.  After we finally persuaded them to leave, we continued our drive to Niseko, stopping by Lake Shikotsu to buy my favourite cheese imo mochi.

I found Lake Shikotsu much more beautiful in winter compare to summer because of the snow-capped mountains around the lake.

Read More: Our visit to Lake Shikotsu in June 2014

The drive to Niseko was absolutely terrifying.  Driving after sunset in heavy snowfall (which was common for Niseko) meant ZERO visibility.  It is something I would really advise against, so if you are planning to drive to Niseko, please try to get there by 4pm latest so that there’ll still be daylight.

We eventually made it safe and sound (amidst MF ranting, “Why are we not there yet? Why are you driving so slowly?” non-stop) to Hilton Niseko Village where we would be staying for the next 2 nights.   Since we were too tired after the traumatizing drive to Niseko to venture anywhere for dinner, we had dinner at the super overpriced tourist-trap Niseko Village beside the hotel.  I was just so happy to have made it to Niseko alive that I didn’t care about paying more than I should for average food.  Here’s a disheveled celebratory shot at Niseko Village to mark my survival.

Day 11: Niseko

The next morning, we decided to drive to Hirafu for breakfast, because we reckoned everything in Niseko Village was overpriced.  But before that, we had to figure our two things:

1) Which car was ours;

2) How to get our car out from under all that snow.

Ah.. the joys of driving in winter.  After sweeping off enough snow off the windows and windscreen with the teeny brush provided in the rental car, I hopped into the car and switched on the heater at full blast to defrost my frozen hands.  As for the rest of the snow on top of the car, never mind them.  I drove to the lobby of Hilton Niseko and there were staff there armed with large brushes (much bigger than the one the car rental company provided) who efficiently swept off the snow on the roof of the car for me.  And off to Hirafu we went!

After breakfast, we went to the Grand Hirafu Base where the kids snow park was supposed to be located – but the snow park was not ready yet! The website said it would be open from 6 Dec, we were there on the 12th and it was not open.  Grrr… Lesson learnt: Don’t trust the opening dates on the websites (the same thing happened at Rusutsu resort, I will come to that later.)  So the kids just hung around and threw the snow around until they were covered in snow and decided they wanted to go back to the hotel.

Not that it really bothered the boys, who had fun just throwing snow around.  Until they were quite frozen.

We drove back to Hilton and MF decided that he wanted to learn to ski.  So hubby brought MF for a ski lesson.  They offered ski lessons for kids aged 3 and above at Hilton.  Their ski instructors came from all over the world so no worries about language barrier.  (In fact, everyone at Hilton was speaking English.  I didn’t hear a word of Japanese during my stay there.)

The kids ski area at Hilton was great because it had a travelator to bring the kids (and adult beginners) up the slope. (I remember when I went Australia and took my first ski lesson, I spent all my energy climbing up the slope just to ski back down in seconds.)  After just one lesson, MF could go up the travelator and ski down the beginner slope on his own!!

Hilton also offered drop off services.  You can drop off your kids for half a day and there would be staff to look after them while they played in a designated playroom and attended a ski lesson.  However, MF refused to be dropped of so hubby stayed with him throughout his lesson.

So what was MY and I doing while MF was having his ski lesson? Eating!  During lunch hours, Prativo at Niseko Milk Kobo offered semi-buffet lunch sets (you get a main dish plus salad and dessert buffet).

The desserts at the buffet bar was produced by Niseko Milk Kobo no less.  And the highlight was their award-winning yoghurt drink which you could drink as much as you liked.

If the weather is good, you can enjoyed a view of Mount Yotei while dining at Prativo.   Too bad, our luck wasn’t very good.  But having been to Niseko a couple of times, trust me, it could have been much worse.

Also Read: Our visit to Niseko in June 2016

After we finished our lunch, the sky was pretty clear and we quickly made our drive back to the hotel.  Because when it starts snowing, even driving a couple of kilometres would be a real pain!

Back at the hotel, MY took his afternoon nap and I just bummed around waiting for MF to finish his ski lesson.   Oh, did I mention that our room at Hilton Niseko had a view of Mount Yotei? Yeah, I didn’t even realise it until the afternoon of our second day when the snow finally cleared enough for me to get a glimpse of the mountain.  Even then, I never got a totally clear view because of that pesky bit of cloud that hung around the top of the mountain.  Reminded me of my first visit to Mount Fuji.

In the evening, we took the hotel shuttle bus to Hirafu for dinner.  I didn’t fancy driving around Niseko in the dark, so it was a good thing that Hilton ran shuttle buses in the evening for guests who wish to have dinner at Hirafu.  The shuttle bus was super packed and it was a good thing we stayed at Hilton.  The bus subsequently went to Green Leaf Niseko Village to pick up the guests there but half of them couldn’t board because the bus was full.  And those at Kasara could forget about boarding.

We had dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso which was super expensive and totally blah. The appetizers and entrees were good, but the steak was tough and definitely not worth the price.  I’m not sure why they had such good reviews on TripAdvisor, but I guess taste is subjective.  Just like not everyone agrees with the stuff I write on this blog.  :p

Read More: Our Top 10 Restaurants in Hokkaido (2016 Picks)

After dinner, we were walking back towards to shuttle bus pick-up point near Hirafu intersection when we passed by a quaint-looking cafe called Cafe IF.  We decided to hop in for some desserts, since the dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso was rather unsatisfying.

The hot chocolate and cheesecake here were heavenly! I was so glad we decided to take some times to visit Cafe IF and go back by the later shuttle.  However, do keep track of your time and make sure you have ample time for a visit to Cafe IF because waiting time was pretty long even when there were no other customers in the cafe.  The cafe owners took their time to slowly heat up and whisk that hot chocolate and cheesecake.  But it was well worth the wait.

Day 12: Niseko – Lake Toya – Noboribetsu

Following morning, for convenience, we decided to have breakfast at Niseko Village.  Like we didn’t learn our lesson from our dinner on our first evening here. But there are times we would rather pay for convenience.

We only found one cafe in Niseko Village open for breakfast.  Ordered a drink, a cake and waffles and paid 4000 yen.  Blah.  The breakfast we had the previous morning at Hirafu was way better.  Definitely.

After breakfast, we let the kids play for a bit in the kids play room at the hotel lobby before checking out.  The kids play room required the room card to enter, so it was strictly for staying guests only. (i.e. if you are just going to Niseko Village for a day to ski, you can’t make use of this play room.)

Overall, I am not sure if I would recommend staying at Hilton Niseko.  I liked it for the hassle-free skiing, but I disliked the fact that everything in Niseko Village was so touristy and overpriced.  Also, at Hilton Niseko, I didn’t feel like I was in Japan at all.  Everyone spoke English and it was over-run by overseas tourists.  They had an onsen, but many people disobeyed bathing rules like not talking loudly and not bringing towels into the onsen.  Personally, I would not come back to Niseko during ski season. (Okay, I may come back as a day trip just to eat at Prativo and Cafe IF.)  I would go to Tomamu instead.

After checking out of Hilton Niseko, we dropped by Niseko Milk Kobo to buy some tarts, ice-cream and cream puffs.  I so love everything at Milk Kobo!

From there, we drove to Lake Toya for lunch.

We ate at our favourite restaurant at Lake Toya, Sendoan.

After lunch, we continued our drive to Noboribetsu via Orofure Pass.  The scenery along Orofure Pass was incredible.  We felt like we were driving through Narnia!

But here’s a word of caution.  Only use the Orofure Pass if the weather is bright and sunny.  DO NOT use the pass if it is snowing.  You won’t see a thing and it’ll probably be quite traumatising.

Around the mid-point of the pass, there was a parking area with pretty good scenery.  Of course we pulled over to snap a couple of photos.

Be sure that you have proper snow boots before you start hopping around the parking area.  You can’t see this, but I was actually standing in knee deep snow.

We arrived at Hotel Mahoroba at Noboribetsu just in time for check-in.  Right after checking in, I brought MF to the onsen which had an outdoor slide which MF had so much fun with!

In the evening, we had buffet dinner at the hotel.  The dinner spread here was fantastic! It was one of the highlights of our trip, I kid you not.

Free flow sashimi, checked.

Free flow crabs, checked.

Free flow grilled hotate, OMG.

Free flow wagyu beef, done medium rare the way I liked my beef.

And I have to show you the marbling of the beef they served.  One slice of this beef cost a bomb in Singapore.  I couldn’t believe we were having them buffet style here!

After dinner, we went to the arcade where the kids had a lot of fun.  Usually arcades at onsen hotels are pretty sad with a few outdated machines, but the arcade at Hotel Mahoroba was on par with a Timezone arcade.  The machines were very new and there were lots of games to play.  And there was a lady who went around with a cloth wiping each machine after it has been used.. Amazing.

Day 13: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya

The next morning, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel before checking out and driving to Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE.

Initially I thought visiting an aquarium during winter would be a good idea since it would be indoors and warm.  I was dead wrong.

It was freaking cold at NIXE and we had to go into the cold to get between the different buildings and to watch the penguin parade!

Overall, NIXE wasn’t very fun and I wouldn’t recommend it as much as Asahiyama Zoo.  The admission fee was expensive, dining option was sad and the displays were pretty small (mostly small tanks of creatures) – nothing like our S.E.A. Aquarium.

On the positive side, they had a sea lion show and a dolphin show which the kids loved.  And we could get really close to the penguins during the penguin parade just like at Asahiyama Zoo.  The good thing about the penguin parade at Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE was that they had it throughout the year.  Whereas Asahiyama Zoo only had their penguin parade for a limited time during winter.

From NIXE, we drove to Lake Toya and checked in to Toya Kohantei.

We did the usual take turns to go onsen, go for buffet dinner and go to sleep.  The dinner at Kohantei was nothing to shout about.  Not after the dinner we had the previous evening at Hotel Mahoroba.

Day 14: Lake Toya – Rusutsu – Sapporo

The next morning, we had an amazing view of Lake Toya from our hotel!

We went for a stroll around the lake after breakfast before driving on to Rusutsu.

If you are going to Lake Toya with kids, I would recommend Toya Sunpalace where we stayed in June more than Toya Kohantei because of the swimming pool at Sunpalace.

Along the way to Rusutsu, we passed a place called Silo Observatory where many tour buses were parked and decided to check it out.

It was no wonder all the tour buses made a stop at the Silo Observatory.  The view was amazing on this beautiful morning!

Few things make me happier than a clear blue sky when travelling.  Especially in Hokkaido, where the weather can be far from perfect.

Take note that the snow around Silo Observatory beyond the shovelled path can be very deep.  I wanted to venture around to take photos, but realised I was sinking into the snow and decided to keep to the paths.

My only gripe was that the piece of cloud around Mount Yotei never went away throughout our entire time here! So just like our trip in June, we left without seeing Mount Yotei in all its glory.

Read More: Our visit to Niseko in June 2014

Our main purpose for visiting Rusutsu was for the Crayon Shinchan Kids Park.  Before we went, the website said that they would be open from 13 December and we were there on 15th.  Initially, we even wanted to stay at Rusutsu Resort for 2 nights because it looked so fun with the kids park and snow activities like dog sledding.  But from 13 December onwards, they doubled their room rates and it cost more than SGD400 per night without any meals to stay there, so we changed our mind and decided to go there as a day trip.  THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT because it turned out that the snow park was not ready yet when we were there.  Can you imagine if we had spent SGD800+ to stay there for 2 nights only to find that the kids park was not open?? I would have condemned them totally.

So after learning that the kids park was not open, I contemplated if we should just drive back to Sapporo.  But hubby said that since we were there already, we should just rent skis for MF to practice skiing.  So we did that.  But because there was no travelator here, MF couldn’t go up the slope on his own! Hubby ended up having to push him up the slope and it was freaking tiring so that didn’t turn out too well.  To add to the disappointment, I wanted to go dog sledding but it was fully booked.  Zzzz…

From Rusutsu, we drove back to Sapporo via Nakayama Pass.  Along the way, we stopped by a roadside shop, Kinoko Ou Koku.

Kinoko Ou Koku specializes in selling mushrooms and mushroom products.  So we grab some mushroom snacks like mushroom tempura and mushroom sausage before hitting the road again.

Posts from the same trip:

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

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23 Comments

  • sl says:

    My family of 4 planning a f&e winter skii trip to hokkaido, we are from dec 5-13, and i plan to ski in later part of my vacation. Planning to do a 2 night stays at ski resorts. This is our 1st time to ski. Have been to Hokkaido during June period some times back, hence i have some places in mind such as sappora, otaru.
    But i also like to cover some scenic areas, any recommendation on the itinerary?
    For ski resort, is Tomamu resort suitable for kids 10-15yrs old.? or any recommendation?

    Pls. advise about transport arrangement.

    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      All major ski resorts in Hokkaido such as Niseko, Tomamu and Rusutsu will have classes for children / teens. I like Tomamu mostly for the ice village at night.

      The scenic areas I generally recommend in December is the Akan National Park region where you can see the cranes gather at feeding grounds near Tsurui, as well as the beautiful Lake Mashu, Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo and Iozan. You will need to self-drive around Akan National Park. If you are concerned about driving in winter, I recommend you take the train till Kushiro and rent a car for 2 days just to explore the Akan area.

      A rough itinerary would be something like this:

      5 Dec: CTS – Sapporo
      6 Dec: Sapporo
      7 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru by train)
      8 Dec: Sapporo – Kushiro by train
      9 Dec: Kushiro – Tsurui – Lake Akan by car
      10 Dec: Akan National Park – Kushiro by car
      11 Dec: Kushiro – Tomamu
      12 Dec: Tomamu
      13 Dec: Tomamu – CTS

  • SP Ang says:

    Dear Bumbleemum
    We are in ski resort at Niseko now, and booked for 2 nights at Lake Toya, but it’s supposedly difficult to get around once in Lake Toya. Is 2 nights too much (actually too late to cancel now, without paying charges) Any suggestions or advice? sorry to end such last minute questios!

  • Glissa says:

    Hi BBM,

    Can you advise should our rental car is equipped w a Multilingual GPS, do we key in phone numbers of places of interest to navigate?
    If yes, how did you navigate to Lake Toya? I cant seem to find its number on the internet T_T

    Many thanks,
    Glissa

  • Elaine says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I am planning a trip to hokkaido from 25 Dec 2017 to 6Jan 2018.

    May I know between Lake Toya, Noboribetsu and Lake Shikotsu, which destination should I give up for one night stay? And if you could tell me pros and cons of each of these three. I’ve been having difficulty deciding.

    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Between the 3, I would drop Lake Shikotsu. It is nearest to CTS and I usually just drop by the lake for a while on the way to or from the airport. I have never found a reason to spend a night there, unless I happen to be there during the Chitose – Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, but your dates don’t coincide with it.

      Also in terms of sightseeing, I find Lake Toya has the most things to see. Followed by Noboribetsu.

      But if you are someone who likes to get away from touristy crowds and just enjoy a nice quiet onsen experience, then you should go to Lake Shikotsu. Lake Toya and Noboribetsu are pretty touristy.

  • JC says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Good day to you. So excited to read your bog.

    Our family will go to Hokkaido from mid of November for 10 days. Could you please suggest where are the good places to visit during this off season time ? Is it possible to do some skiing or at least to see some snow ? Is it best to rent a car or by public transport ?
    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In Mid Nov, you probably should head up to Niseko for snow and skiing.

      For off-season, I usually recommend visiting the major cities (Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate) and spending at least a night at an onsen town such as Lake Toya or Noboribetsu.

      If you are visiting Sapporo / Otaru / Hakodate / Niseko mainly, public transport should suffice.

  • Sandy says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum! Your blogs are so informative, really helps a lot in my itinerary planning for winter Hokkaido. Can I ask did you bring snow boots for everyone or buy them at Hokkaido?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      My kids and I bought our snow boots from Hokkaido (at the Mitsui Outlet in Sapporo). My husband used his army boots.

      • Sandy says:

        Oic. Thanks for your prompt reply! My family of 4 (2 adults & 2 kids, 4 & 6y/o) plan to visit Hokkaido during the last 2 weeks of Dec 2017. Would you be able to advise if the following itinerary is feasible?

        Day 1: SIN-Tokyo Hanade (overnight flight)
        Day 2: Asakusa,Sensoji Temple & Shibuya
        Day 3: Tokyo-Hakodate via JR, Mt Hakodate
        Day 4: Hakodate-Tomamu resort
        Day 5: Tomamu-Sapporo-Mitsui Outlet Park
        Day 6: Sapporo-Asahikawa Zoo-German Christmas Market
        Day 7: Ishiya Choc Factory-Otaru Canal-Sapporo Beer Garden
        Day 8: Sapporo-Hakodate Red Brick Warehouse
        Day 9: Hakodate morning market-Tokyo via JR
        Day 10: Tokyo Disneyland
        Day 11: Evening flight back to SIN

        We have done self-drive in Hokkaido during summer a few years back & main objective of this trip is to let our kids experience a white Christmas. I feel that 7 days in Hokkaido is rather short. We have never ski before so my initial plan was to stay 2 nights at Tomamu but that cannot be done due to the restricted 7-day JR pass (next option is 14-day pass which is out of our budget).

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmmm.. It looks too rushed. With the time you have, my suggestion is for you to just do Tomamu as a day trip from Sapporo.

          Day 3: Tokyo-Hakodate via JR, Mt Hakodate
          Day 4: Hakodate – Sapporo (visit Mitsui Oulet Park)
          Day 5: Sapporo (day trip to Tomamu)
          Day 6: Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama Zoo, visit White Illumination & German Christmas Market after you return to Sapporo in the evening)
          Day 7: Sapporo (Ishiya Choc Factory-Otaru Canal-Sapporo Beer Garden) – I assume you are just going Sapporo Beer Garden for dinner? It’s too rushed if you want to visit the beer museum.
          Day 8: Sapporo-Hakodate Red Brick Warehouse
          Day 9: Hakodate morning market-Tokyo via JR

      • Sandy says:

        Your suggested itinerary look perfect! I just found out it cost about SGD1400/night at Hoshino Tomamu resort 😱… Shall make it as a day trip from Sapporo instead. Thank you so much for taking time to reply!

  • Annie Lai says:

    hi bumblebeemum, need your help

    renting car and my itinerary will be as below:-
    1) arrive at new chitose airport, collect car and go to otaru
    2) spending 2 nights there.. will go to otaru aquarium (recommend to go?)
    3) after otaru, will go to noboreibetsu.. will go to bear park and hell valley, onsen too.. where to stay? heard review on hotel mahoroba that d hotel is old and the food is not as good as last time… that’s y i am wondering where to stay.. is the NIX worth to go? I am going in December and the famous zoo has yet to have their penguin parade..
    4) after noboreibetsu, i am going to hakodate… isit good place to go end november? and with kids?
    5) will spend 2 nights there.. any nearby cities i can drop by?
    6) after hakodate will go back to sapporo for few nights…

    wish to go lake toya and asahikiwa too…

    • Queen Bee says:

      2) I haven’t been to Otaru Aquarium myself, so can’t really comment if it’s worth going. I guess if your kids like aquarium and you’re worried that they will be bored, it’s a place where you can keep them happy for a while. Some more I’ve always encountered terrible weather whenever I go to Otaru, so it sounds like a good wet weather plan. Haha…

      3) If you’re going to Otaru Aquarium, then I wouldn’t suggest you go to NIXE. Just choose one of them I feel. The most interesting about NIXE was the penguin parade, so unless you want to see that, I didn’t think it was really worth the admission fee. Hotel Mahoroba is old, no doubt. It cannot be compared to the higher-end ryokans for sure, which are pitched at a different price point and offer exquisite kaiseki meals and modern rooms & facilities. It’s an old ryokan with a great food selection at the food buffet for the price they are charging. For me, I think Hotel Mahoroba is a good balance between price and quality.

      4) Hakodate is a nice city to visit regardless of time of the year. They don’t specifically have attractions for kids, though if you drive there, about an hour before you reach Hakodate, there is a rest stop along the expressway called PA Yakumo with indoor play areas for kids and an outdoor park if weather is good. We stopped there on both ways when we drove to Hakodate in June 2014:
      http://bumblebeemum.net/travel/hokkaido-self-drive-with-kids-june-2014/

      5) Near Hakodate, you can visit Onuma Koen.

      Lake Toya can be easily fit in. You can spend a night at Lake Toya on your way back from Hakodate to Sapporo.

      If you still have time in Sapporo, Asahikawa can be done as a day trip from Sapporo. But I suggest you do that using train, not drive.

    • Grace Chin says:

      Otaru Aquarium will be closed 28 Nov 17 until 16 Dec 17 to prepare itself for winter exhibits. Please double check on their official website. This info is true when I checked in July 2017 when I’m planning for my itinerary.

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