Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Days 14 and 15): Hobetsu to Sapporo

Our approximate route for the two days:

Inevitably on the last few days of our annual cycle trips here in Hokkaido, I stop taking photos. Things get familiar, and I am less inclined to take out the camera. But that’s not to say that our route on these last two days was not any fun. The rural surrounding areas of Sapporo are a delight to travel by bicycle in. And especially at this time of the year: right on harvest time means plenty of very cheap local produce to be had (and hauled back home on a groaning bicycle).

We got away from Hobetsu campground fairly early after a solid breakfast.

Breakfast on a cycle tour across Hokkaido, Japan

And it must be the season for dragonflies, because they were everywhere…seeking the highest spot to bask in the morning sunlight…such as my head…

Friendly dragonflies at Hobetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

The day would turn out to be a scorcher. By the time we got to Yubari – the town famous for going bankrupt…and for producing very delicious melons – it was almost 30 degrees Celsius. A 300 yen watermelon was the perfect treat for parched bodies.

A watery melon snack in Yubari, Hokkaido, Japan

A watery melon snack in Yubari, Hokkaido, Japan

The day was mostly downhill or flat. Until we decided to try to find the free-range egg farm whose eggs we often buy in Sapporo. Whenever we buy the eggs from the sellers at markets in Sapporo, they encourage us to come for a visit. So we went for a visit.

Yuni Farm was the place we were aiming at, and it was up a rather steep hill. Or at least it seemed steep to two hungry, sun-beaten, tired cyclists. The promise of fresh bread from their bakery kept our spirits up.

Until we got there and the place was shut.

Plan B was quickly put into action. It was already 12:30pm, and we just wanted something to eat, but we decided to hightail it to the Yuni Hotspring Onsen Spa Resort, 5km away. We had been there once before, and were impressed by their great restaurant and baths. From the onsen it was only a 2km ride to Yuni Campground.

Up hill and down dale, we made it to the onsen just before 2pm. We were well ready for some lunch.

Lunch and a hot spring soak later, we cycled to the campground, another spot we’d stayed before.

The name of the game the next day was just to get to Sapporo, via the Kita-Hiroshima/Shiroishi Cycleway. Highlights along the way included discovering an awesome bakery in Naganuma Town (with free coffee)…

A great bakery in Naganuma, Hokkaido, Japan

A great bakery in Naganuma, Hokkaido, Japan

And an inspiring group of people mosaic-ing the walls of one of the underpasses on the cycleway.

Mosaic work on the Shiroishi Cycling Road, Sapporo, Japan

We were back home in our apartment in Sapporo by 4pm. And thus brought to a close the cycle across Hokkaido summer trip of 2014.

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 13): Hidaka to Hobetsu

Route for today:

There are some great cycle shops in Sapporo City, where Haidee and I live. Some are better than others, and usually it’s not the stuff they stock that makes them great. It’s the people working there. Nakamura Cycles is one such shop. Mr. Nakamura himself – the owner – seems stressed most of the time and always in a rush, so I’ve never had much of a conversation with him. But Ken Sarai, one of the long-time mechanics at the shop is a great guy, and often has nice tidbits of information for great bikepacking routes in Hokkaido. One time I was in the shop talking to him about Haidee and I’s ill-fated Hobetsu adventure, and he mentioned in passing a place called Niniu. “It’s like a forgotten world,” he described it. “Like they just dropped their tools and left.”

Looking the place up on my map back at home, the area did look interesting. A warren of half-finished closed and unconnected roads, with one massive new expressway bypassing the lot. I decided I just had to visit there some day.

And that day was today.

No sooner had we turned off the main road past Shimukappu did we find ourselves in an eerily deserted world. There had obviously been some serious public work done in recent history, but now the place looked abandoned.

Road towards Niniu, Hokkaido, Japan

The only traffic we saw for most of the morning was a postman Pat-esque red postal van scurrying around the winding track.

Gorgeous river valley near Niniu, Hokkaido, Japan

The wild river was a refreshing sight, even here in Hokkaido, where hillside reinforcing and retaining walls often mar the landscape.

We really felt like we had the road to ourselves.

Road towards Niniu, Hokkaido, Japan

We had originally entertained the idea that we might be able to get to Hobetsu Campground – our destination for the night – by lunchtime. By lunchtime we were still meandering along our own private road, so we stopped in at the Niniu Campground to find shade and a spot to cook up some pasta for lunch.

The campground charged a 200 yen per person day use fee, but it was well worth it. We spent about two hours lounging in the cool shade of the trees.

Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

After lunch it was bear-bells on the handlebars…

Bearbell on Haidee's bike in Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

And onwards towards the beginning of a 10km stretch of abandoned, now closed-to-traffic road.

The deserted road beyond Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

Skirting the closed road near Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

The bear bell, in case you were wondering, is to let bears know we are coming. The brown bears of Hokkaido are ever so slightly smaller cousins to the American grizzly, so erring on the side of caution when venturing into not-so-often-trod areas of Hokkaido. And by the looks of things, not many people had come this way in a while.

The closed road near Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

The closed road near Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

The closed road near Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

The closed road near Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

It was a curious sort of road. Clearly there had been great intentions to make it a two-lane route: In parts, there were big wide two-lane bits of road. In others places it was paved single lane, and yet others were just gravel. Curiouser and curiouser.

The closed road near Niniu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

As we were clambering around the road-closed gate, we saw about 20 university under-grad cyclists (at least they had that air about them) grind up the incline towards Hobetsu campground. Upon asking a couple of them (two who had fallen by the wayside, exhausted), they confirmed our wondering: they were a group of 50 cyclists, all headed for the same campground.

As we inched up the uphill, some of the fitter-looking members were flying back down on pannier-less bikes, only to appear from behind us moments later powering back up the hill with someone else’s pannier strapped to their bikes. They obviously had a mix of abilities in the group…

Hobetsu Dam, Hobetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Soon enough we rolled up to the Hobetsu hotspring spa (not the photo above…that’s Hobetsu dam). There were exactly 50 bicycles parked out front. We played the waiting game, and sat around outside for 30 minutes in the shade. By the time 30 minutes was up, the university students were trickling out. The strategy worked. We were able to enjoy a very nice soak in the hotsprings sans gaggles of undergrad cyclists.

We’ve stayed in Hobetsu campground before. It is one of the nicer campgrounds we’ve stayed in. Very nice management, and nice facilities.

Hobetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

Although last time we were here, we didn’t have the company of a cheeky fox. This guy was happy to pester us from about a meter away until he figured out we weren’t giving him any food.

A cheeky fox at Hobetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

A cheeky fox at Hobetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

A cheeky fox at Hobetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

After posting photos of him on Facebook that night, we learned that around 50% of foxes in Hokkaido carry the echinococcus parasite. This nasty parasite gets into a human’s system through the feces of a fox, ensconces itself in the poor human’s liver, and will slowly kill said human. There is no cure, but sometimes sufferers get lucky with invasive surgical removal of bits of their innards. Not a nice thing to have.

So we kept things extra clean after finding that out.

Dinner tonight, by the way, was pumpkin soup. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

The beginnings of pumpkin soup (Hobetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan)

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 12): Rest day in Hidaka

After the long climb and stressful traffic of yesterday’s Nissho Pass route, we decided to lay low today and take it easy. And it was a beautiful day for it. Sunny but cool and breezy. A truly perfect day among the mountains.

An idyllic campsite at the Sunagarekawa Auto-campground in Hidaka, Hokkaido, Japan

We also did some wandering around in town. Haidee was developing some painful saddle sores, so we headed into town and got some steroid cream from a local drug store. The 72 year old chap running the store was happy to tell us that he cycles 10km a day during the summer. “It’s to keep my knees in shape for the skiing season,” he explained. His wife filled in the details: “He always gets first place in his age group for skiing.” Impressive to say the least.

A visit to the local museum was also on the cards. Lesson learned was that the Hidaka mountain region is famous within Japan (and around the world, the museum would have us know) for its geology. The pushing of plates has given the area a unique variety of different rock in slithers running north to south. They even have jade (greenstone) in some places.

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 11): From Arashiyama to Hidaka

Today’s route (the most stressful of the trip):

The campground at Arashiyama was an interesting one. Most campgrounds we had stayed in so far on this trip had lush grass to pitch the tent on. Arashiyama’s tent sites were dirt. Which means that the idyllic photo below somewhat belies the muck that was flicked up onto our tent after a heady downpour the previous night.

Arashimaya Campground (Memuro, Hokkaido, Japan)

The place made up for its shortcomings however, in that the trees were home to at least one squirrel. This one content to scurry about a safe distance away from our tent…exploring the strange contraptions invading its territory.

A squirrel scampering between our bicycle wheels at the Arashimaya Campground (Memuro, Hokkaido, Japan)

Once we had packed up, we were on the road by 8am. The plan was to somehow get to the mountain town of Hidaka. I say somehow, because there were two bad options to get there. One was a 100km route that went around the mountains, one was an 80km route that went over the mountains (including the 1,000m high Nissho Pass). The high pass route would have been a no-brainer, had our map book not warned that the route was known for heavy truck traffic.

We decided to head towards the road that lead to the pass, and see what, if any, the shoulder was like. If things looked dicey, we would commit to the longer but less busy route.

In the approach to the pass route, we continued to pass through idyllic white-birch-lined-farmland scenery.

White birch lined driveway near Mikage, Hokkaido, Japan

And then we hit the Nissho Pass route. Trucks galore, but a decent shoulder. And quite possibly the most considerate truck drivers in the world…if the oncoming lane was empty, they would thunder past on the other side of the road, giving us plenty of room. If there was oncoming traffic, they would slow right down and trundle behind us before passing when safe to do so.

It took us a solid two hours to climb that pass.

And thank goodness it was a fast downhill on the other side. There was essentially no shoulder on the western side of the pass (I pitied the cyclists we saw grinding up from the west). So the name of the game was to hog a lane and keep the pace up.

Avalanche tunnels on the Nissho Pass, Hokkaido, Japan

And once again, if the trucks did pass, they usually gave us plenty of room.

Dodging trucks on the Nissho Pass, Hokkaido, Japan

Our hurtle down the mountain was somewhat helped by regular road-works. There were a couple of spots where only one side of the road was open, so traffic was being ushered through in 8 or 9 truck lots. We would wait for one lot to roar past before carrying on for a few kilometers with no worry of traffic coming up behind.

Tunnels on the Nissho Pass, Hokkaido, Japan

Before long we were in the frontier-feeling town of Hidaka. At altitude 400m, and surrounded by impressively wild mountains, the place had a real wild west feel about it. The air had a clear crisp chill to it also. The town center was more or less simply a truck (and cycle-tourist) stop. Two separate groups of university student cycle touring club people rolled on through while we were stopped in at the only convenience store in town.

We had made it to Hidaka at around 4pm. After the 86km day, we were beat, so headed to the quiet Sunagarae Kawa Campground, cooked up some dinner, and hit the hotspring spa, only a 3 minute walk from the campground.

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 10): From Honbetsu to Arashiyama

I hadn’t mentioned in yesterday’s post that Honbetsu campground is definitely one of the better ones we’ve stayed at in Hokkaido. Lush grass, mature trees, and obviously popular among the locals.

The excellent Honbetsu Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

Soon after we left the campground, it was clear it was going to be a scorcher of a day. We really had it all on this trip…cold in Nemuro, wet for the last few days, and now scorching hot in the sun.

Perhaps understandably, this area of Hokkaido is famous for its vineyards. Tokachi wine is a big Japanese wine brand, and as far as the taste is concerned, it is a fairly passable drop.

Tokachi is a big wine-producing region of Hokkaido (near Ikeda, Hokkaido, Japan)

The area west of Honbetsu is well and truly Tokachi. In addition to the wine, the area is known as being the vege basket of Hokkaido. The atmosphere is very much “comfortably well off farming”.

Haidee meets the locals near Honbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Cashing in on this image is the very upmarket Tokachi Hills gardens. Haidee had found this on a Google search of the region, and despite the stiff 20 minute climb up to the attraction, it was well worth the visit. Not so kind on the wallet, however, as their sweet treats were all too tempting for two sugar-deprived cyclists.

Feeling posh at Tokachi Hills, Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

Our destination for the day was to be Memuro Town, and a campground next to the Arashiyama Ski Resort. Obviously the skiing wasn’t happening at this time of year, but the attached hotel and hot spring spa would be open…a worthy goal for the day.

The scenery for the last 30km or so along quiet country lanes was quintessential Hokkaido. Big skies…

Agricultural views in the Tokachi region, Hokkaido, Japan

Harvest scenes…

Edamame harvesters in the Tokachi region, Hokkaido, Japan

Edamame harvesters in the Tokachi region, Hokkaido, Japan

Edamame harvesters in the Tokachi region, Hokkaido, Japan

and traffic-free roads.

Quiet country lanes in the Tokachi region, Hokkaido, Japan

We arrived at the Coropokkuru-no-sato Campground on dusk. Like a few other nights on this trip, the mosquitoes were out in force, so we decided to head over to the ski resort for an onsen, and decided that if they had a cafeteria, we would eat there. Their cafeteria was awesome. Big portions for both of us for around 800 yen (US$8) each, and were a happy duo.

We also availed ourselves of their coin laundry, doing a large load of well-needed washing.

Dinner at the Arashiyama ski resort in Memuro, Hokkaido, Japan Dinner at the Arashiyama ski resort in Memuro, Hokkaido, Japan

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 9): From Akan to Honbetsu

We had two route options today in order to get to Honbetsu Town.

  1. A 110km down-to-the-coast-then-up-again route that would take us into the bustling city of Kushiro (
  2. A more direct 80km route that would take us across two low ridges via forestry roads (marked on Google but not available for routing).

We chose the latter of the two options, and spent 20km on gorgeous misty gravel roads through quiet Hokkaido forest.

Seeking gravel in Hokkaido...a forestry road connecting Route 222 and Route 242 near Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

The two forest roads connect 1) Route 222 near Akan Town, and Route 242 near Kamishohoro and 2) Route 242 and Route 392 near Kamichahoro. On the excellent Touring Mapple (Hokkaido), they are at I3 and G3 on page 27.

Seeking gravel in Hokkaido...a forestry road connecting Route 222 and Route 242 near Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

The climbs are fairly steep at times on this route, but nothing too out of the ordinary for a forestry road. The gravel is chunky, so we were happy to be on our 2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple tires (drop the pressure, and they’re like magic carpets).

Seeking gravel in Hokkaido...a forestry road connecting Route 222 and Route 242 near Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

Conveniently, at the route 392 end of the route, there is an old school, still operated by the community as a community center (the Shizen-no-ie). An outside washing area made short work of muddy bikes and legs.

Cleaning off at the Nature House (自然の家) on Route 392 near Shiranuka Town, Hokkaido, Japan

By the time lunchtime rolled around, the skies had cleared and it was a scorcher. Our tent and panniers had been damp-ish for a few days, so we took the chance to lay it all out to dry while we had lunch in a covered bus stop.

Drying wet tent and gear near Sensho Pass, Hokkaido, Japan

In this sense, rainy spells on a bike tour are sort of like uphills. They can be tough going, but the reward of fresh dry gear at the end of them is worth the grind.

Our route for the rest of the day was more or less void of stores and people in general. Our road maps warns motorists that it is a 60km stretch of road with no facilities. The first sign of supplies came in the form of a very well stocked honesty-box style vegetable stall. We bought 200g of plum tomatoes (for 100 yen – US$1 equivalent) and ate the lot on the spot.

Honesty-box style local produce stall near Honbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

We were soon freewheeling it into the small, seemingly very prosperous town of Honbetsu. Our priorities were to buy supplies at a supermarket, visit the local hotspring spa, and set up camp at the Honbetsu campground.

The bright lights of Honbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Once we had rolled into town, we learned that the official Honbetsu natural hotsprings were a 5km bike ride away, in the opposite direction of the campground. We were hot and tired, so we opted instead for the more local sento (bath house). We had the place to ourselves, and it did the trick.

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 8): Rest day and eating local foods at Akan

0km logged today. All spent in this general vicinity:

Akan Nature Recreation Campground (Akan, Hokkaido, Japan) | 阿寒自然休養村野営場

Essentially, the Akan Nature Recreation Campground (阿寒自然休養村野営場) is in a perfect location for spending a leisurely day. There is the International Akan Crane Center over the road, as well as a few road-side stalls selling local produce. And the icing on the cake is the Circle House Red Valley onsen hotel just 5 minutes walk away.

So we woke up late, had a look at the crane center (worth the visit), and bought some local veges for a delicious lunch of curried pumpkin and potatoes.

Local produce bought from farm stalls near the International Akan Crane Center (Akan, Hokkaido, Japan)

Stock for the curry was made using local Hokkaido dried shitake mushrooms. Delicious.

Dried Hokkaido shitake mushrooms bought near the International Akan Crane Center (Akan, Hokkaido, Japan)

Even the milk we used for our muesli this morning was local: locally produced milk from the Konsen region.

Local Hokkaido milk (Akan, Hokkaido)

It feels like such a novelty and a luxury to consume locally produced foods…we are such city-kids *sigh*.

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 7): From Lake Shirarutoro to Akan

Route for the day:

Another morning coffee shot. And a shot of coffee. I can’t really recommend the two-cup Bialetti mokapot for use on the MSR Whisperlite stove…too perilous a perch.

A two-cup Bialetti Stainless Steel mokapot on an MSR Whisperlite Internationalle petrol stove (Kayanuma Onsen campground, Hokkaido, Japan)

The campground for last night, however, was great. Quiet, dark (many campgrounds in Hokkaido have the grounds’ lights on all night), and fairly good facilities. The proper outdoor/covered kitchen was just far enough away from our site, however, that we opted for using a makeshift one closer by.

Washing up at the Kayanuma Onsen Campground, Hokkaido, Japan

It wasn’t windy.

Packing up camp (Lake Shirarutoro, Hokkaido, Japan)

Morning shenanigans over, we headed on our way across the Kushiro Shitsugen National park. This 270 kilometer square park is Japan’s largest wetlands national park. And for the adventurous, there is a very nice gravel road running directly across it. We saw one car on the 7km route.

Map showing the Lake Toro and Kushiro Shitsugen area (near Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan)

Gravel road crossing the Kurshiro Shitsugen (wetlands) national park (Hokkaido, Japan)

Gravel road crossing the Kurshiro Shitsugen (wetlands) national park (Hokkaido, Japan)

This route, Route 1060, running from Lake Toro to just south of Tsurui, had half-way a lookout over the wetlands. All rather spectacular.

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (Hokkaido, Japan)

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (Hokkaido, Japan)

If you’ve been following this cycling across Hokkaido mini-series, you will have seen a few references to the endangered red-crested Japanese crane. This crane was thought to have been extinct until half a decade ago. That was until a flock was discovered deep in the wetlands. Since then conservation groups have been supporting the re-population of these massive cranes through feeding programs. Mostly in the wild we’ve seen them wandering in farmers’ fields and nosing around rural homes’ vege patches.

Today, however, we saw a flock of around 15 of them in one of the feeding program fields, just south of Tsurui on route 53. Three of them arrived just after we had arrived, swooping in from the west. Apparently it is quite rare to see the birds in the air.

Red crested Japanese cranes near Tsurui, Hokkaido, Japan

Red crested Japanese crane in flight near Tsurui, Hokkaido, Japan

Across the road from the field with the birds was a garden cafe. Perfect location and timing for an early lunch.

Lunch at a local garden cafe (near Tsurui, Hokkaido, Japan)

As far as food goes on our summer tours here in Hokkaido, we generally eat out for lunch (between 700yen and 1,000yen each), and cook dinner at a campground using locally sourced veges and drygoods.

Speeding downhill to Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

 Following lunch we carried on over the low hills to the Akan International Crane center. Across the road from there is a very nice campground, as well as a michi-no-eki (road station with stalls to buy local produce), and to top it off an onsen (hotspring spa). We more or less decided on the spot that this would be a great place to make tomorrow a day off the bikes.

Akan Nature Recreation Campground (Akan, Hokkaido, Japan) | 阿寒自然休養村野営場

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 6): From Akkeshi to Shirarutoro Lake

After the impending drama and doom of last night’s heavy rain, we woke to a much more demure morning: no rain, just low clouds and all-round dampness.

Chikushikoi Campground in Akkeshi, Hokkaido, Japan

As any good (especially wet) mornings should, this morning started with some nice brewed coffee.

Real coffee in the morning while cycle touring in Hokkaido, Japan

And of course Haidee’s amazing home-made muesli.

A typical morning on the road while cycle touring in Hokkaido, Japan

The big plan for today was to head towards Shirarutoro Lake, right on the edge of Japan’s largest wetland, the Kushiro Wetlands. This would have us cut across rich dairy farm territory, a main industry for Hokkaido as a region.

Unfortunately, we’ve cycled through so much farmland in Hokkaido, that not much of it now inspires me into taking pictures of it. So here’s a nice red bridge we cycled over in Akkeshi at the beginning of the day.

The famous red bridge in Akkeshi, Hokkaido, Japan

The really interesting stuff came as we neared the Kushiro wetlands. This 270km square national park is the biggest in Japan, and among other things is home to the red crested crane. Tonight we would be camping at a hot-spring hotel campground just before heading across the wetlands the next day.

Before hitting the wetland lakes proper, we stumbled upon the Toro Nature Center. This small nature tours business has a cafe run by a woman who used to live in New Zealand for 16 years. She made a mean flat white coffee, and the Hokkaido wild deer hamburger pattie was pretty good (if not a little overpriced at 1,200yen – US$12 equiv).

Hokkaido Wild Deer burger at the Toro Nature Center, Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

Bellies full of good food, we carried on towards Lake Toro through quiet cool woods.

Sleepy forest near Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

We didn’t really know what to expect from the big blue ponds marked on our maps, but the real thing was really quite idyllic. Lake Toro was a swampy sort of lake, and had it not been quite so hot in the direct sun, we’d have probably been tempted by the canoe tours on offer.

Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

As it was, we amused ourselves with feeding a family of rabbits outside the canoe tour building. Someone had dumped a bucket full of clover flower weeds in front of the rabbit pen…obviously there to get tourists to do the work of actually feeding the wee critters.

Cute bunnies at Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

We tore ourselves away from the fluffballs and headed over the road to the local history museum. Hokkaido is full of fairly recent settler history. In Japan history terms, we’re talking super recent. Like only 160 years ago. Until then, it was mostly the indigenous tribal Ainu people who lived in Hokkaido. Then the ethnic Japanese arrived, ‘modernized’ the place, weren’t very nice to the indigenous peoples (like many colonizing forces), and now we have Hokkaido, a part of Japan proud of it’s ‘frontier spirit’.

Pioneer history and ecology museum at Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

The museum also has a fascinating stuffed creatures floor on the second floor. Birds, mammals, insects….

Pioneer history and ecology museum at Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

Really quite fascinating.

Pioneer history and ecology museum at Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

All housed in a not-very-Japanese-at-all building.

Pioneer history and ecology museum at Lake Toro, Hokkaido, Japan

After getting our fill of local history, we headed on towards our final destination for the day, the Kayanuma Hot Spring campground, on the western side of Lake Shirarutoro. Managed by a more upmarket hotel, the campground is a simple grass clearing, with the normal Japanese campground facilities: clean flushing toilets, and a covered washing/cooking area. Like many other campgrounds we’ve stayed in in Hokkaido, this one of course also had a hot spring facility right next to it. A perfect ending to the day.

Lake Shirarutoro, Hokkaido, Japan


Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 5): From Kiritappu to Akkeshi

The weather forecast was for rain today, but the morning started out stunning, with golden light as we prepared breakfast. Did we mention this campground is free for tents?

Kiritappu Cape campground (free) at Kiritappu, Hokkaido, Japan

Out of all the campgrounds we would end up in on this trip, this was by far the busiest. There were four other cyclists, and probably half a dozen or so motorcyclists, plus people camping in their cars in the parking lot.

Kiritappu Cape campground (free) at Kiritappu, Hokkaido, Japan

The name of the cape is Kiritappu, and the kanji (Chinese characters) used to represent the name more or less mean ‘a lot of fog’. Indeed, there was a little fog around in the morning, but all in all it was a very clear view out to sea.

Morning clouds near Kiritappu, Hokkaido, Japan

Haidee managed to capture some nice pictures of the wild flowers common around these parts. Very delicate specimens, but special because the area only sees around four or five months of greenery before succumbing to a long snowy winter.

Wild flowers at Kiritappu, Hokkaido, Japan

Once away from the campground, it was a fairly relaxed start to the day again. We spotted a boardwalk that jutted out into the wetlands, so we went to the end of it to see what there was to see.

Kurshiro wetlands near Kiritappu, Hokkaido, Japan

Just more ‘wet’ really.

Wild flowers in the Kushiro wetlands near Kiritappu, Hokkaido, Japan

We would follow the very quiet Route 123 along the coast all day, and while the morning stayed damp with a slight fog…

On route 123 approaching Akkeshi, Hokkaido, Japan

The day soon dried out as we cycled up and down the hilly coastal route.

On route 123 approaching Akkeshi, Hokkaido, Japan

By the time we arrived in Akkeshi Town, however, the rain had returned with a vengeance. A right royal downpour, which had us scampering for the local michi-no-eki (Road Station – a rest stop for travellers). While we didn’t know it beforehand, it turns out Akkeshi is famous for its oysters. Which made lunch menu choices for Haidee rather limited, but for me, it was heaven.

I went for a deep-fried oyster and pork on rice bowl…phenomenally delicious.

Pork-rice (buta-don) with fried oysters in Akkeshi, Hokkaido, Japan

The camera didn’t get taken out for the remainder of the day. The rain still hadn’t stopped by the time we left the road station, but we knew we only had around 5km to cycle back to the local campground (Chikushikoi Campground). We stocked up on food at a local supermarket and got to the campground around 3pm. Amazingly, the campground had hot showers (pretty rare at Japanese campgrounds to have showers at all). A drenched cyclist’s dream.

The drama of the night came around 8pm or so, just after we had snuggled into our sleeping bags in our tent. The campsite manager approached our tent and insisted that we move to one of the bungalows. “We won’t charge you any extra, because look! Your tent is surrounded by water!”

Indeed, in places around our tent, the grass had about two or three centimeters of water puddling. I had chosen our site carefully, however, and figured we’d need to get about 10cm of water gathered before we’d get any significant puddles under our tent. In any case, I said OK sir, whatever you say sir, and he seemed happy to know that we would be moving into the bungalow.

The problem is that moving one’s belongings from a tent to somewhere else in driving rain is all rather bothersome. So I was only half-convinced by the prospect of shifting to the bungalow. Even so, just to make sure we were not missing out on five-star luxury for the price of a tent site, I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and the tent to check the alternative accommodation out.

Opening the door, the place looked OK. Until I looked up. A 3cm wide spider had taken up residence in the bungalow, weaving a massive web, cordoning off the far right corner of the 3m x 3m bungalow.

I have a pathological fear of spiders, so it was quite clear that at the least I would not be sleeping in that spider’s nest that night.

I hurried off back to the tent, reported the situation to Haidee, and we resolved to stick it out in the tent and hope for the best.