Adventure cycling in Muroran City: The Muroran Sky Ride

Following on from our mountain loop bike ride yesterday, Haidee and I headed to the sea today to explore the peninsula-like land-form encircling Muroran Harbor: one of Hokkaido’s largest and busiest harbors.

I call this ride the Muroran Sky Ride, because the route follows a summit road along the ridge of the peninsula. The views of both Muroran City (and the expansive Japan Steel foundries) to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south are just stunning. See the bottom of this post for a detailed route map with elevations.

We started the ride at the Muroran Institute of Technology and headed straight down the Washibetsu River to the sea. Right away we were struck by how clear and blue the sea here is.

Muroran Peninsula Pacific Coast (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

The beaches themselves seem to be mostly forgotten by city administration. A lot of money was obviously put into development at one stage, but now the infrastructure is dilapidated and sand-drifted. Trendy surfers were seen hanging around their cars, looking out to the sea, obviously waiting for the swells.

It wasn’t long before we hit the climbs. A summit road wends its way up along the peninsula ridge, and right away affords magnificent views of the massive Japan Steel foundries.

The heaving steel factory (Muroran City, Hokkaido, Japan)

The sheer proximity of the foundries to the residential areas is quite fascinating.

Muroran cityscape...Japan Steel looming in the distance (Muroran City, Hokkaido, Japan)

A friendly goat on the side of the road liked the taste of my sweat-soaked leather handlebar tape…

Friendly goat on the Muroran Peninsual road (Muroran City, Hokkaido, Japan)

As we climbed higher, the road curved just so…and the entirety of Muroran City to the north came into view.

Looking east over Muroran City, Hokkaido, Japan

It was as if the road was giving us one last view of the madding crowds before shunting us up a little higher, over the other side of the ridge, and straight into a completely different world. The grandeur of the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Muroran Peninsula Pacific Coast (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

A few more bends in the road and we were more or less out of sight of the city.

Muroran Peninsula Pacific Coast (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

We really hadn’t thought too much about planning for today’s excursion, and thought that the 30-odd kilometers around the peninsula would be a walk in the park. But in total for the day we would climb 780m vertically in total, while never going over 150m or so in altitude. By lunch time we were concerned we’d have to cut the trip short and head back into town; we’d not taken any food with us for snacks.

Fortuitously however, one of “Hokkaido’s 100-best natural views” presented itself just on noon: the (apparently) famed Cape Chikyu. Like most famous and touristic spots in Japan, there were a few rudimentary food stalls, and we manged to get a passable lunch.

The views were also passable, although to be honest, this angle below is probably the best you’d get of the cape (unless you were in a boat looking at it from the water).

Cape Chikyu, Muroran City, Hokkaido, Japan

The remainder of the ride was on delightfully quiet roads…

Muroran Peninsula Pacific Coast road (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

With unending clear views (including Mt. Yotei, the Mt. Fuji of the north).

Mt. Yotei in the distance (Mururan Port, Hokkaido, Japan)

And the odd glimpse back towards the reality of the guts of Muroran City.

Looking towards Japan Steel (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

But with crystal clear waters on the Pacific side, and frequent sheltered bays, we are looking forward to exploring the beaches for swimming potential in summer.

Muroran Peninsula Pacific Coast (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)


Hike ‘n biking in Muroran City: The MIT – Dan Para Loop

“I never considered Muroran high on my list of places to live,” Haidee mused a few weeks back. She had just landed a job at Muroran Institute of Technology (MIT) as associate professor, and we were in the process of sorting out a place for her to live there. And I couldn’t help but agree; I’d only ever considered the south-eastern coast of Hokkaido to be windswept, bleak, and rather non-descript. Muroran City itself hadn’t stood out to me as much better. The eastern part of the city involves large swathes of reclaimed land now home to heaving steel foundries, and the place seems to constantly bear the brunt of chilly ocean winds.

Interestingly, however, many of Haidee’s new colleagues did nothing but rave about the place. “This place is paradise,” said one chap from Canada who surfs all year round. The same chap also extolled the great network of mountain biking trails in the hills north of the city. From all indications satisfaction with life seems to be at an all time high with those who live here.

So on my weekend visit this week, I decided to bring my bike on the train so that Haidee and I could explore a little around where she lives near the university (I still live in Sapporo, 1.5 hours by train from Muroran). And long story short, our little excursion today gave us a fresh new perspective on this fascinating city.

We had initially decided on a whim (at around 10am) that we would spend the day climbing Mt. Muroran. This 911m high mountain stands directly to the north of the city; you can’t really go up a hill for very long in Muroran City without eventually getting funneled into a valley that heads up towards the summit.

After an hour of cycling up to the beginning of the walking track (at 450m), however, we were starting to get content with our vertical gain efforts, and decided to head back down. The walking track starts at the Muroran Dan Para Ski Field, so we ate the sandwiches we had on hand in the shelter of the ski field buildings.

It was in one of these buildings that I noticed an old hand-written map that indicated it might be possible to connect the ski field with an old forestry road that weaves its way up the valley where Haidee’s apartment is. Essentially the ski field is at the upper confluence of two valleys; Haidee’s valley and the next valley to the west. If we were able to get to the forestry road from the ski field, we’d have a gravel road downhill straight back to Haidee’s place.

We decided to take the challenge on, and this culminated in ‘discovering’ a very nice and varied “MIT – Dan Para Loop”.

From the ski field buildings it was a short 15 minute bike/hike up the Mt. Muroran hiking trail, past the hakuchou hut (白鳥ヒュッテ) to where the koudai tozan-ro (工大登山路)  walking trail starts on the right of the trail (at the top of the ski field chairlift).

Mountain biking the Mt. Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

Tanpara Ski Field in autumn (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

Muroran Dan Para Ski Field in autumn (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

From here it was all downhill on single-track.

Mountain biking the Mt. Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

Some perfectly rideable…

Mountain biking the Mt. Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

But most in the realm of “get-off-the-bike-and-ease-it-down”…knobbly tires probably would have helped to no end, of course.

Mountain biking the Mt. Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

Mountain biking the Mt. Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

Hike 'n bike on the Mt Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

Hike 'n bike on the Mt Muroran track, Muroran, Japan

The foot track did eventually link up with the mizumoto forestry road, however, and we were very soon wending our way through autumn leaves straight back down to Haidee’s place.

Cycling the mizumoto Forestry Road, Muroran, Japan

Upper reaches of the Washibetsu River, Muroran, Japan

The bike ride left us feeling that Muroran City is a bit of a dark horse: less than 10 minutes on the bike from Haidee’s place we can be deep in the hills. A two-hour bike ride takes us across a couple of ridges and affords expansive views over the city and harbor.

We’re very much looking forward to winter here; snowshoeing tour from door to door, taking in some of the best pacific views in Hokkaido, anyone?

Today’s approximate route

From Muroran Institute of Technology to Dan Para Ski Field:

Then cut across the top of the ski field, slip and slide down the valley to the forestry road, and…

BIG topographical map of the look route

Muroran Kodai (Institute of Technology) - Dan Para Loop - 2 hours by mountain bike (Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt Tarumae Bike ‘n Hike

Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Sapporo City, it is easy to forget that just half a day’s bike ride away is one of Japan’s most pristine volcanic lakes. This past long weekend we combined a bike ride to the lake with a hike up the 1,030m active volcano, Mt Tarumae.

With her new job, Haidee now lives in Muroran city, about 2 hours train ride from Sapporo. Conveniently, Lake Shikotsu is more or less half way between Sapporo and Muroran, so the plan was for her to cycle north, and for Dirk and I to cycle south, and meet in the middle at Lake Shikotsu.

The ride for Dirk and I from Sapporo is one I’ve done a few times now. But the lake never fails to deliver the awesome views.

Blue skies at Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

 The lake is normally a deep blue color, but with recent heavy rainfall, the lake on this day was emerald green.

Blue skies at Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Lunch was fresh grilled trout…local fare all around.

Grilling fresh trout at Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

We made fairly good time across the hills to the lake, so after a leisurely lunch, we joined the throngs of tourists at the popular Shikotsu-ko Spa area for some sightseeing.

Red iron bridge at Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Haidee made very good time after cycling uphill into a headwind most of the day, making it from Muroran to Lake Shikotsu by 2:30pm. We killed some time till the 4pm checkin time at the Morappu Tarumae-so riders’ house, and spent the rest of the night relaxing.

Next morning we were away by 8am, in order to meet another 6 friends who would meet us at the trailhead to Mt Tarumae at 9:30am. We had a 7km uphill ride from the riders’ house to get there. Despite the uphill we were happy we were on bikes, enjoying the autumn colors and forest light.

Route 141 from Lake Shikotsu to Mt Tarumae hiking trail (Hokkaido, Japan)

It transpired that the two cars with the others would end up arriving 30 minutes late, by which time the highest-altitude car-park was full. They had to settle for the lower carpark which necessitated an extra 45 minute walk. This meant that the cycling trio started up the hill ahead…

Mt Tarumae hiking trail overlooking Lake Shikotsu (Hokkaido, Japan)

Reveling in the early clear views…

Mt Tarumae hiking trail overlooking Lake Shikotsu (Hokkaido, Japan)

Including the smoking cork protruding from the floor of Mt Tarumae’s very active-looking crater.

Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

Apart from the smoking depths of the crater, among the more curious curiosities was a couple hiking with their intrepid chihuahua.

Hiking with a chihuahua on Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

The view was equally enticing…

Mt Tarumae overlooking Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

And the wait for the other hikers in our group allowed for some relaxing downtime.

Perfect resting spot on Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

By the time the others had arrived an hour later, however, cloud cover had increased and the wind had picked up, requiring all layers on deck.

Getting chilly on Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

Windy on Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

The way down was the kind of wind-speed that gets the heart pumping.

Windy on Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

So much so that we wondered if the chihuahua made it off the mountain by means other than flying…

Windy on Mt Tarumae, Hokkaido, Japan

Luckily for the whole troupe, the views on the way down were just as spectacular as on the way up.

Mt Tarumae hiking trail overlooking Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Leaving the others with their 45 minute walk down the gravel road to the lower car park, Haidee, Dirk and I jumped on our bikes for a fast downhill ride to Shikotsu Spa, where we would meet up again for an onsen hotspring.

On route 141 connecting Lake Shikotsu with Mt Tarumae (Hokkaido, Japan)

On route 141 connecting Lake Shikotsu with Mt Tarumae (Hokkaido, Japan)

We somehow managed to miss the others at the onsen, and only ended up seeing them again once they were finished…in the mean time, while we thought we were still waiting for them to arrive at the onsen, we managed to see a taiko drum performance in the spa town center.

Taiko drummers at Shikotsu Spa, Hokkaido, Japan

It was dark by the time we made the 4km bike ride back to the riders’ house…exhausted from a very full day.

Riders’ houses, by the way, are cheap, quite basic, but perfectly nice accommodation aimed primarily at travelers on bicycle or motorbike, but also people who travel by car on a budget. They are generally no more than 1,500yen a night (around US$15). The Morappu Tarumae-so is one of the better ones we have stayed in in Hokkaido.

Morappu Tarumae-so riders' house (Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan)

Morappu Tarumae-so riders' house (Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan)

The next morning, a public holiday, Haidee headed back south to Muroran, and Dirk and I headed north to Sapporo. Dirk and I took the awesome forestry roads originally scouted by Rick…one of the most enjoyable easy downhill forest gravel routes in Hokkaido, connecting Lake Shikotsu with Chitose City.

Forestry roads near Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Forestry roads near Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

All in all an awesome and varied weekend out before the snows hit Hokkaido again for winter!

Forestry roads near Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Approximate Route

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*.