This year we experienced our first full summer in Shanghai with hot and humid weather that feels like right out of hell or to be precise, according to our weather app like 46°C every day!
So when it came to planning our summer vacation, we wanted to stay in Asia, but go somewhere with decent weather. After lengthy research we read about Hokkaido, which is an island in the north of Japan and close to Russia, which is not very touristy yet and has fabulous weather of around 26°C in the summer. Reading about the flower fields, volcanoes and national parks, we were quickly convinced and created a detailed itinerary of places to go, rented a car and off we went!
First two days: Hakodate
He actually took the new high speed train from Tokyo to Hakodate (takes just about 3 hours!) and I flew into Sapporo and took a more traditional train down to this lovely port city. Being from Hamburg, I love port cities and felt at home straight away. After a long journey, we dropped our bags at a cosy guesthouse and as we approached the port area, we were invited by friendly, welcoming Japanese sailing club. They were having a party outside of their boat house and invited us to delicious beer, sake and sashimi. That’s what I call a warm welcome! We talked about sailing (not that we know anything about it), Japanese culture and the differences to our Western culture for hours! Once we’ve said our goodbyes, we took a stroll along the brick houses at the harbour… Oh we wish we could join the Hakodate Sailing Club!
The next morning we visited the Morning Market, which comprises many food stalls and little restaurants, most of which offer fresh seafood and all sort of melon products. We can now confirm: the seafood was extremely fresh. So fresh, that it seemed like his squid was still alive. After it almost jumped back at him when he poked it with his chopsticks, we were relieved when the waitress offered to chop it up. I have to say, that spoiled my appetite for breakfast.
After our interesting breakfast we visited Hokkaido’s old star-shaped fort Goryokaku, where we visited the star-shaped park, the rebuilt traditional registration office in the heart of the fort and the tower from where you get amazing views not just over the fort, but also the airport, sea, mountains and most of the city.
Day 3: Lake Toya
The first day was unfortunately a rainy day, but luckily our only one. On our way to Lake Toya, we stopped at Onuma Quasi-National Park, which is known for its spectacular volcano views and a unique lake with lots of tiny islands dotted along. We went on a boat ride around the river and walked around the lake, but it would have been so much more beautiful if the weather hadn’t been so miserable.
Once we arrived at our ryokan hotel at Lake Toya, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of this traditional Japanese room with its tatami mats, futon beds, a tea ceremony area and views over the lake. We had never stayed in a ryokan before and fully embraced it by wearing the yukatas in our room (a spa robe), had our tea ceremony and shortly after went into the hotel’s outdoor onsen (hot spring bath). To round this wonderful night off, we watched the firework above Lake Toya.
Day 4: Noboribetsu
We could have easily spent more time exploring the lake, but we didn’t have that much time left and wanted to explore Mount Usu where you can see volcanic craters. It’s a short drive away from the lake and you can go up the mountain by ropeway with spectacular views over the mountains and volcanic areas. When we arrived at the top, it was so cloudy that we couldn’t see the surroundings, so we decided to go to longest and steep hiking route, which almost no other tourists bothered to walk along, and were rewarded with fantastic views onto the craters and down to the village. When we reached the end of the trail in semi-wilderness I was a bit concerned when I saw a warning sign that there are bears in this area and as we walked back he said we should pick up our speed when alarm sirens started going off in the village below us. We didn’t know what the alarm was for, but being on an active volcano with bears near us and frequent earthquakes didn’t feel like the best place to find out.
After this little adventure, we made our way to our hotel near Noboribetsu, just dropped off our suitcases and drove to Hell Valley (Jigokudani). This place was much more touristy than Mount Usu, but also a lot more spectacular! We walked along a path through the thermal water and craters and it was fascinating to watch it as you walk along. We would love to come back and see it at night!
We booked a hotel with sea views including half board and the hotel had dished up the most beautiful seafood dinner I’ve ever seen. There was hairy crab, snails, miso soup, prawns, salmon… and all things from the sea that you can think of. Unfortunately I’m not that adventurous when it comes to seafood, but it was just interesting to look at it and he was happy to try everything.
I hope you enjoyed our stories and photos of the first part of our road trip in Hokkaido. We’ll post about our second part of the journey to Sapporo and Furano shortly!