Set off for a night drive on the Chugoku Expressway. What a wonderful road this is, winding and rolling through the countryside with rarely another vehicle in sight on either carriageway.
Stopped for the night at Tsutsuga, a deserted parking area. Pristine Nexco toilets with decorative chilly plants and small green frogs on the walls and in the wash basins.
Ferry to Hokkaido
Next morning the drive continues to Tsuruga. The Shin Nihonkai ferry to Tomakomai in Hokkaido leaves at a few minutes to midnight. This ferry is really a freight ferry. There are an awful lot of trucks and passengers something of an afterthought. The boarding is very efficient, but the wait is long.
Once on board, we have a comfortable cabin with, as always, two beds and one chair. The ship is not really passenger friendly. Ok, there is a karaoke room, massage chairs and a small gym but access to the outside deck is limited and there is nowhere to sit down once outside.
The ship’s route is relatively far from shore, so this is perhaps why the internet connection is iffy at best.
Passing through the Tsugaru strait was notable as the sky was dramatic and the coasts of both Honshu and Hokkaido clearly visible.
Arriving in Tomakomai, Hokkaido
On arrival, after dark, the disregard for non-freight traffic was apparent as there was little indication of how to get out of the ferry terminal. The dark lane one follows has no reassuring signs to tell you, you are indeed heading in the right direction.
Also, arriving at 8.30 at night far from anywhere meant we had to scramble to find food and a michi no eki. We had planned to stay at Lake Utonai but here construction was underway and temporary toilets in operation. So, we moved on to Salmon Park Chitose. This is a large place with a 24-hour Lawson. In the morning there were vegetable markets, omiyage shops and restaurants.
There is a large park along the river and the Salmon Park aquarium. This we did not enter, but rather stood on the bridge and watched the salmon and other fish hanging in the clear water. It also boasts splendid toilets. Definitely a good place to stay.
Lake Shikotsu 支笏湖
Having an appointment at Honda in Tomakomai we spend time at Lake Shikotsu Poropinai beach. The lake was pretty, famous for ultra-clear water, and popular with paddle-boarders. It was possible to rent a tea-cup pedalo though we didn’t.
At the other side of the lake we checked a couple of campsites with a view to staying in the coming days. We were interested in Bifue campsite which is in the woods by the lakeside and you can park the car anywhere.
From Tomakomai, we take the highway briefly towards Furano. Once off the highway, we follow the very dark and empty roads so the possibility of deer concerned us. Before reaching our michi no eki, we do come across 3 separate groups of deer and a family of tanuki (Japanese Raccoon) all safely at the side, rather than the middle, of the road. The michi no eki ’Biei Shirogane Biruke` at the end of our long, lonely drive is full of shachuhaku vehicles. All appear tucked up for the night as we arrive and start clattering about.
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.