September 2016, Day 4
Warm, sunny day on the ferry. We sit on deck and watch the wake and the islands passing by. Not a lot to do so we take a nap in the afternoon.
We arrive late in the evening at Otaru which seems to be very dead town and not at all like the picturesque, snow covered, delight of memory. An altogether different end of town.
After disembarking, we drive for a few minutes to a shopping complex which happens to adjoin our hotel but are unable find the entrance to the car park so we park in the hotel underground parking and check in. On checking in, we discover that the shopping complex is conveniently connected to the hotel but due to close within minutes. We dash to the shops but too late, so we have no food. We extract the car from underground parking and drive to a convenience store for beer and snacks before bed.
Tsukigata Town to Kami-Furano
On leaving the hotel, we drive to a nearby park and partially unload the car in an abortive search for a cockroach which we probably picked up on the ferry.
Repacking the car, we head off to Asahikawa which will be a long drive but when we stop for lunch in a large park (Kairaku Koen, Tsukigata town*) we notice a coin laundry – just what we need. Unfortunately, drying takes much longer than anticipated and it becomes increasingly clear we will not reach Asahikawa in time to check in at the campsite.
We change our plan and make for Kami-Furano which is famous for lavender and other flowers. The campsite** is set in hilly countryside and the volcano is booming in the distance but it’s the wrong season for lavender.
* Kairaku Kouen has a campsite and Hot spring plus a nice pond
**Campsite is Hinode Auto Camp; 1000 yen per night for Shachuuhaku (sleep in a car). <2023 → 800 yen / a person>
In the morning, we climb a small hill at the campsite and are rewarded with a good view of the surrounding hills and Mt. Tokachi (the volcano) in the distance. The volcano erupted in Edo and Meiji eras causing a lot of damage and loss of life. Recent eruptions were in 1962 and 1988.
We drive on to Asahikawa, but it is only a short distance, so we wander around looking at the local tourist sites, but we can’t visit the Blue Pool due to typhoon damage.
This will prove to be a constant during our time in Hokkaido due to the 3 typhoons that caused so much devastation earlier in the summer.
Still, we are lucky to see the tree made famous by, I think, a Nissan commercial in the late 1970’s. There is nothing remotely remarkable about this tree. There are several others very similar nearby, but it is FAMOUS. Strangely, there are even Chinese tourists here to view the tree which even has its own car park that can accommodate a number of buses. For all that, there is wonderful rolling scenery all around and the spaciousness that defines Hokkaido is very apparent.
On to 21st. Century Forest campsite which should have been our destination the night before. We approach this place along a narrow valley; very flat then rising abruptly on either side. We are struck by the buildings which are somewhat tacky looking and often covered with tin sheeting on the outside. Many have what I think of as Dutch style roofs though I am not sure that is the correct term.
Our campsite is huge. It is a few minutes’ drive from the camp office, where we notice our first bear warning poster, to the area where we are to stay. We pick our spot. There are other people staying but the space available means no one is very close to us. There are a couple of very flashy camper vans, one with its own satellite dish and a guy camping alone with so much equipment we decide in the end he must be a writer for a camping magazine.
Nearby, there is a very, small local onsen (hot spring) and it is indeed small; just a log hut with a tiny changing space and a square wooden tub. No soap, shampoo or washing facilities just an onsen tub which proves to be not very warm so I don’t linger especially as the nights are getting chilly.
*In some onsens you should not use soap due to environmental considerations.
* This excellent campsite and onsen are free. <2023 → 300 yen / adult>
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.