We emerge into a windy but dry morning and decide to return to Sounkyo gorge to check the autumn colours. The day is fine but the closer we get to the mountains the more the weather deteriorates. It is very windy with frequent heavy showers.
Numerous rainbows prop up the clouds for kilometer after kilometer as we skim along very straight roads boarded by mixed, but mainly birch, forests. It is all very pretty despite the muted autumn colours and the background threat of serious rain. That eventually envelopes us as we cross the Mikuni Pass, the highest road(R.273) in Hokkaido.
The pass itself has just reopened after sustaining considerable damage in the recent typhoons. There is evidence of landslides, uprooted trees tangled everywhere and rivers which have carved sudden new courses and the detritus deposited in the old. Construction work is still in progress and we stop many times at temporary traffic lights where the road has only one lane open.
We arrive at Sounkyo in heavy rain and winds approaching gale force. We grab a bento (take-out lunch) from a convenience store conveniently located and drive to the car park, by the waterfall that we visited before, to have lunch. The weather is terrible and shows no sign of relenting so it seems we are fated not to enjoy the delights of the Sounkyo Gorge no matter how famous. We attempt to visit a nearby place of interest known as Obako but the road is closed due to typhoon damage so we never get to find out why it is a place of interest but it certainly had an interesting ring to it.
Higashi-Daisetsu Nature Centre 東大雪自然館
In the end the highlight of the day turns out, unexpectedly, to be a visit to a nature centre near Lake Nukabira,. We only visited the nature centre because the Taushyubetsu Bridge was under water, neither accessible nor visible.
The nature centre (Higashi Daisetsu shizenkan) had a hugely impressive collection of butterflies, beetles and other insects. Now D. and I are not really fans of collections of dead insects but this display, in such an unlikely setting, was, perhaps due to the wealth of information and inter-active exhibits, very interesting. The same place also had an exhibition of jewellery and object d’art made from local obsidian. A lot of this I, was not to my taste but a few things were very beautiful. I was even tempted to buy a couple of inexpensive pieces for my daughters but, of course, I didn’t.
With all our destinations for the day inaccessible or rained out, we return to last night’s michi no eki. It is still a little early in the evening, so we wander a bit and examine the park golf course. This is a part of this michi-no-eki (road station). As expected, there are some serious players in evidence. Park Golf seems to be the Hokkaido equivalent of gate ball. Gate Ball, to those unfamiliar with Japan, is a kind of croquet played on a barely even dirt surface. It was very popular with the senior citizens a decade ago but is perhaps now in decline.
Shihoro Onsen michi no eki 道の駅士幌温泉
It is by now a reasonable time to hit the onsen (hot spring) at Michi no Eki ‘Shihoro Onsen’.This proves to be spacious with good facilities and frequented by a lot of local people. In this respect it reminded me of Nana-no-Yu, a nearby onsen we frequent in Kyushu, where local families eat and drink after the bath. Taking a cue from the locals, we dine in a little ramen shop inside the onsen building with small children wandering in to buy unhealthy beverages. We are, however, wondering where to go next as so many roads from here to the west are closed. It is finally getting cold too .Last night the temperature was down to 4 degrees C.
＊Shihoro Onsen 500yen/person (Moor hot spring)
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.