Shuttle Bus to Daisetsukogen Onsen
Wake to a cool overcast morning. As usual, we are one of the last to leave from Sounkyo campsite as we set off on a 30-minute drive to a parking area called Lakesight (by Lake Taisetsu Dum) we are heading to Daisetsukogen to walk with the bears. Here there is a famous trail around marshy ponds for viewing Autumn colours. It is also bear habitat.
To start the hike, it is necessary to take a shuttle bus from Lakesight car park to the beginning of the trail. A least, this is so during the peak autumn leaf viewing season. The bus ride of about 25 minutes follows an unmade-up track. A very unpleasant ride, as the old bus rattles like a machine gun and although the ill-fitting windows are taped up it steadily fills with dust. By the time we arrived, the inside of the bus was a hazy gloom. At 1500 yen round trip, the quality is just not there. Then there is the obligatory, yet perfunctory, bear lecture which amounts to “Kiss your arse goodbye”
After writing you name, so the authorities can keep a record of the survival rate, you can begin your hike. The bear precaution lecture we took a few years ago at Shiretoko Hanto (peninsula) was much more rigorous. You had to empty your pockets of any candy you might be carrying let alone a bento.
Nevertheless, you can enter the trail from 7 am to 13pm only after the rangers have checked there are no bears in the vicinity, and you have to be out by 15:00.
The trail itself was more rugged than we had anticipated, quite steeply up and down scrambling over large boulders and roots. After climbing Mount Kurodake the day before, I was in trouble from the start and seriously wondered if I could make what I had fondly imagined to be a lakeside stroll of a few kilometres. After walking a while, I felt better though the going does not get noticeably easier until you reach the ponds themselves. There used to be a circular route but due to typhoon damage the full course is not open.
We only reached the fourth pond Midori-numa before heading back. The scenery was wonderful. Predominantly yellow foliage with striking shades of red and, on the more distant mountains, more muted, mottled, red, yellows, greens and grey.
A delightful hike through the shades of Autumn even if you have to work on it. I was surprised how many tour bus groups we encountered. All mostly elderly people, gamely trudging up and around the rough boulders. We even met two elderly ladies, independent of any group, whom we had met on Mount Kurodake the day before. They were moving slowly to be sure but covering the distance. Quite remarkable.
A good hike. Ponds, rushing streams, a jigoku or volcanic hell, distant vistas, superb Autumn colours and an absence of bears. I was glad I persevered.
Michi no eki ‘Shihoro Onsen’
Back down the dusty track in the ramshackle bus to pick up our car, food shopping and on to michi no eki Shihoro onsen which, thankfully, does have an onsen. A welcome bath and food, we had not eaten anything other than chocolate since breakfast.
Michi no eki Shihoro Onsen is odd in that, although there is a large car park and 24-hour toilet, the michi no eki part is hard to locate. It seems to be inside the onsen building so the car park is a kind of annex. A number of vehicles overnight, notably camper vans who appear to be there for the park golf.
Lack of rubbish bins
We are beginning to realize that nowhere provides rubbish bins anymore, a least in Hokkaido. Even the drink machines have no bins for bottles and cans and Seicomart that could be relied on for providing bins outside its stores no longer does so. Selling take-away food and beverages and not providing receptacles for the inevitable refuse is to my mind irresponsible in the extreme. Even if some people were bringing rubbish from home to dispose of at the convenience store, the numbers must be few compared with the number of customers who conscientiously place their trash in the appropriate receptacle. End of Rant.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.