October 15-17, 2018
Hitchhiking is an excellent way of travel, you meet local people, you learn basic words, you save money. But sometimes you don’t get exactly where you wanted to go, or you don’t have a chance to explore everything that you could with other means of transport. That is why we decided to rent a car for three days in Otaru. I am not going to write details of the process in here. There will be a separate article about it. But if you are renting a car for the first time in Japan, without knowing all country specifics, both sides to be probably upset at the beginning. Luckily, everything was fine in the end, and our brand new Mazda 2 was a great company.
Frankly, we did not know where we wanted to go exactly. But we built a quick plan for visiting Nikka distillery, Cape Kamui, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu Onsen, and Lake Shikotsu. Famous Niseko was not on the list since we planned to pay a separate visit to that area.
Nikka distillery was awesome, and you can read about it in an article Otaru and Yoichi. In the late afternoon, we drove to the Cape Kamui that we wanted to visit in the morning. The whole area is not widely inhabited. Therefore to find something to eat and somewhere to sleep in the deep dark when you cannot even read any signs is tricky. There was no 7-eleven, nothing familiar. Luckily we found a small grocery and then, together with Google maps, poorly signed Youth hostel (4,000 JPY pp). We got a wonderful Japanese style room and enjoyed being the only guests there. The next day morning was amazing. Our accommodation was just a few minutes by car to the cape parking lot, and we spend at least 1 hour there just hanging around. Again, being practically the only visitors.
Iwanai and Lake Toya
While driving south to the Iwanai city, an impressive modern building attracted us. We saw it in a map with local highlight but did not know what it is this about. Surprisingly, it was three storey PR, education and exhibition centre of the nearby nuclear power plant, combined with a swimming pool. No need to say, we were the only visitors and we had quite a fun, despite it was entirely in Japanese. We thought this is strange, but it was nothing compared to a similar facility we saw in Kyushu later.
Trying to save some money we slept in the car at Lake Toya. Well, we stayed in the car but did not sleep much. On the other hand, our day started at 5 or 6 am, and we had the whole day for exploration. Anyway, the Usu public and free campground by the sea was cool (in both its meaning).
Read more: Akan Mashu National Park and Kushiro
First, we went to the Nishiyamakakofuchi Park to hike a short trail related to the volcanic eruption in that area in 2000, where you can see a couple of buildings and roads covered by a ground. All buildings and other items as cars have been left in their original stage and they are also left to be freely swallowed by nature. Full of impression we drove to the Volcano Science Museum a few km away and related to the same event with other abandoned constructions.
Subsequent Noboribetsu Hot Springs with impressive Jigokudani Hells was definitely worth the visit. The fact that it is much more touristic than many other places we visited does not change anything. You can walk several wooden trails and admire smoking sulphur piles. Picture perfect place. Then we drove the car to lake Kuttara. Mostly a waste of time as well as lake Shikotsum where we wanted to visit moss gorge, but it seemed to be permanently closed. We ended up our trip back in Otaru in exceptional Tarune Guest House (dorm 2,500 JPY pp) and returned the car in the morning before taking a train to Niseko.