October 18-23, 2018
Niseko mountains are first known as a ski resort. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean it offers only the world famous powder snow and winter entertainment. But the truth is, in October, when we were there, Hirafu was nearly a ghost town. Only convenience stores and a few shops were open. Restaurants, bars, and other venues were closed or being prepared for a winter season. Also in our accommodation, Owashi lodge (4,750 JPY for a double with shared bathroom) we were the only guests, except a few construction workers, who built new hotels around. Worth to mention, once a small village is getting big lodging point for nature lovers. However, we doubt, that its not-big slopes with one-seat lifts can take this amount of skiers and snowboarders. We came here for two reasons. Hiking in colourful autumn nature and soaking in hot springs (onsens).
To Hirafu, we came by the train from Otaru (1,070 JPY pp). Unfortunately, the station is quite far from the city, and there was no bus, so we had to walk 3,6 km.
Soaking in an onsen
Right the next day upon arrival we walked short one hour trek from our guest house to Hilton Niseko village. The trail leads through a lush forest at the bottom of Mount Niseko-Annupuri. The hotel itself is unattractive building, which sticks in nature, but their onsen is more than excellent. For an affordable discounted price of 500 JPY (we got a 50% voucher for our accommodation). There is one inside pool and one outside. Be ready for a stunning view of Mount Yōtei from the bath. The water has 43°C, full of minerals, so it’s a little bit murky. In fact, it has to be cooled down, because the natural spring source is too hot. We enjoyed it twice during our stay. Both times all alone, that’s why we could take pictures from inside.
From there we walked a few kilometres to Niseko. After tasty lunch (curry) in a cosy train station eatery, we took a train back to Hirafu. One note to mention. In front of the farmer houses, they have wooden boxes, where you can take fresh vegetables. Just pick what you want and leave money. Since we cooked for ourselves dinner in common kitchen, this was a nice and cheaper option compared to fruits and vegetables in a supermarket.
Climbing the mountain
For the next day, we concluded to do a climb. The area’s top, active stratovolcano Mt. Yōtei, was unfortunately covered by the snow already. That’s why we took a trail to the summit of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri. It should begin 100m from our guest house behind the information office, which was closed. In comparison to other hikes we did in Japan so far, this was badly marked. We saw only one ribbon at the beginning and then on the top. The way between them, we hiked through a forest and bushes or crawled on the slopes. Anyway, the panorama on the top with stunning Mt. Yōtei was worth the effort.
We spent in Hirafu 5 pleasant days. From there we hitchhiked back to Sapporo and took a train to Chitose, where we stayed in Air Hostel LCC (3,600 JPY double with bunk bed) close to the airport. We had fun during an evening with employees, who invited us to their cooking party. Next day we flew to Fukuoka on Kyushu island.