Travel Thru The Lens: South Hokkaido Driving Holiday

After travelling various parts of Japan starting with Kyushu in September 2016, Kansai over the new year, Yamagata in April and now Hokkaido. This may not be the first time I visited Hokkaido or Japan for that matter. I was on Princess Cruises’ round Japan cruise so I had a good introduction to the Land of the Rising Sun.

I would say Japan is always the favourite amongst friends for various good reasons. For me, I am into nature, landscape and culture. Food is definitely a highlight whenever one visits Japan. When the City of Hakodate invited X-Trekkers to check out the Southern part of Hokkaido, they sent me to check things out and naturally I was pumped to revisit Hakodate again.

The good thing about Hokkaido and Japan largely is that it is right hand drive so Singaporeans can actually do a driving holiday pretty easily. This trip is largely about renting a car and then go to various places in the Southern parts of Hokkaido. So what are the places to visit in the South?

If you just want to watch an 18 minute video, just scroll down to the end of the post.

But first, we got to need a car. In Japan the two major car rental companies are Nippon Rent-A-Car and Toyota Rental A Car. There are others too and Singaporeans should know Orix too. Do shop a bit for a car and like driving in Malaysia, having a bigger car does help. More on that later.

Nippon Rent-A-Car

Renting a car is fairly simple. Once you have touched down at Chitose Airport, just go to the rental company’s car rental desk on the first floor. Before that it is highly recommended to get a reservation online before flying into Hokkaido as there might be a peak demand during the dates of your travel. Of course get yourself an International Driving License for AA Singapore first as well.

If there is no one at the desk, pick up the phone and someone should give direction. For Nippon/Toyota, their main car yard is just outside the airport in the area called Poplar. Just wait for the bus to pick you up and drive you to the yard to register.

Go to the rental company desk at the airport. If there’s no one at the desk, pick up the phone and request for a bus to fetch you.
Remember to get your International Driving License and if using the expressway, get the ETC card (Hokkaido Expressway Pass). http://www.driveplaza.com/trip/drawari/hokkaido_expass/en.html
Alphard! Splendid car to drive and sit behind like a boss.

Noboribetsu

Noboribetsu is the home of Jigokudani (Hell Valley). Since the heat source is so near to the surface as it is a mini crater there, naturally the hot spring will be in abundance here. My suggestion is really stay a night of two here to enjoy the hotspring and do trekking around the area since the area is a part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

Wonderful Onsen hotel but the surprise awaits
This is called Hell isn’t it so having devils is not far fetched.

The surprise! Just a few minutes walk you have the natural hotspring stream from Oyunuma.

And this is Hell Valley
Alice-chan and the Autumn colours.

Usuzan is very near to Jigokudani and also the picturesque Lake Toya. Around the area there’s even a new-born mount (Showa Shinzan) just next to the cable car station. Take a hike around the crater if there’s time.

Drone Shot of the Lake
The ropeway to the top
The crater itself is impressive. You will need more time to walk around the rim.

For more information: http://usuzan.hokkaido.jp/en/

Konuma Lake

At Konuma Lake, we are treated to a fun canoe tour around Konuma Lake. This is the smaller lake of two in Onuma Quasi National Park. We met at local canoe rental shop just at the shores of Konuma and our guide proceeded to bring us through the lake and to the far side for a nice cup of coffee. Awesome time. Really fun.

Here’s our canoe rental: Exander Onuma
This shot of the plank way to the Konuma. The reeds just gave this place the mystique.
Oh. Peaceful place to be!
At our rest site. A cup of freshly brewed drop coffee is definitely welcomed.
Another shot for the Computer wallpaper

For more information: https://goo.gl/maps/7ekbiVcstfE2

Hokkaido Milk Onuma (山川牧场)

I can only sing praises for the richness and creaminess of the Hokkaido milk. It has that slight fatty taste that I always like in milk and that translate beautifully in its soft serve ice cream, yogurt and other desserts such as Cheese cakes. Goodness any cheese cake you have in Hokkaido is a revelation in itself. The standards and quality is certainly high. It is like you go to any BBQ stall in Hong Kong the standard is always there. What’s left is the subjective taste.

Onuma Milk. I can say the milk here is 1000% super fresh because…
…the milking shed is just next door.
Matcha Soft serve ice cream.
The yogurt drink is very very delicious.

Paard Musee

If you are into horse riding and letting the kids have a taste what a farm is like this is a nice place to visit for lunch! You can even stay at their guest house to enjoy their ‘natural horse back riding’ that means learning how to ride through the natural landscape. That would be instagrammable experience!

It is a full scale learning experience. From catching the horse, tending, leading them to the stables to learning how to ride. The whole experience culminates in a trek in the forest itself.

Leading the horse back to the stables. Too bad we did nothing here.

For more information: http://www.paardmusee.com/horse_train_program/course01/

Shikabe Kanketsusen Park

I would say this is an interesting place to visit. There is a small enclosure where you can catch a glimpse of a hotspring water geyser sprouting at interval times. There’s a hotspring foot dipping pool you can use while you wait. Hungry? Buy some buns from the shop and proceed to the steaming station, courtesy of the hot steam coming out of the hotspring. Unique experience it was!

The hotspring Geyser. Yes there’s a metal cap just to prevent the water from spraying out of the boundaries.
Soothing foot bath!
Here are four red bean buns where you can use the steam from the hotspring to steam the buns. Oiishii~~

https://www.flickr.com/gp/wilzworkz/41yiE3

Esan (惠山) / Mount E

Here’s another mountain I would certainly consider going for milkyway shots. Here one can drive up towards the crater without the need of a cable car so it very convenient (toilet’s next to the car park too!) there’s a huge plateau at the top so it provides a very open space to capture the stars at night. On the way up you can observe the vast sea as well!

Here’s the Plateau. The crater is just behind.
View from the observation deck
Super fresh Tuna Don right at the eatery house next to the harbour!

https://www.flickr.com/gp/wilzworkz/4r9Q3M

Hakodate

Other than Sapporo and Asahikawa, you can visit the city of Hakodate. I first visited this place with Princess Cruises. If you are into fresh seafood this is the place to be. They have a fantastic morning seafood market that you can visit and eat Kaisen Don (Seafood Rice Bowl) and also a small eatery shops at night. They have their own fast food called Lucky Pierrot and it is one of the most value added eating places I have encountered.

If you want a very interesting experience, then head on to Daimon Yokocho. It is a small enclave with eateries. Basically they are all Izakayas so expect the place to be filled quite fast. Even if you couldn’t find a place to eat, the place is good for shoots too!

Hakodate is not a huge place but I love the vibe. At the foot of Mount Hakodate, is the western quarters where you will see a lot of Churches and houses of Western Architecture. Hakodate used to be a foreign trading port and so embassies and consulates of various countries came here and build houses and churches.

Including the Red Warehouses, the city is filled with places worthy for a shoot. There are also very eclectic shops throughout the city that shows the city to be a melting pot between the East and West well before Tokyo was even hip. Hakodate is never a place I will grow bored with.

Mike Smith asked to go in.
Just look at all the alluring photos of seafood.

This is actually sun dried fish and then BBQ to perfection.
Hakodate At Night

The Trappist Monastry.
Crab Meat Buns. Not cheap but out of this world.

Early morning shopping
Autumn Festival
Sukiyaki. OMG! I totally miss this!!!!
At the foot of Mount Hakodate is Motomachi
Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse
Very interesting place to shoot all the nice shop fronts.
Lunch at Lucky Pierrot. Just look at the size of the bowl. My goodness!
One more milk product before flying back to Chitose and on to Sapporo

Sapporo

As the largest and administrative city of the whole of Hokkaido, people will think Sapporo is pretty big. The easiest way to describe it is that it has the city size of Melbourne. There’s a major street with an underground mall that starts from Sapporo Station at the North and ends around Susukino.

There’s definitely more eateries here. More entertainment and the area around Susukino is quite interesting after dark.

Cutting aross this thoroughfare is the Odori Park with the iconic Sapporo TV Tower taking one end of the park.

Like any cities, Sapporo has its own nooks and crannies so it is an interesting place to explore. This is also the place to do all your souvenir shopping if you have not done so already.

The Ramen Street. Heard that this is more for tourists but I can guarantee the taste even if it is for tourists, will still taste way way better than Singapore.
That Nikka Signboard. It has the same popular status as the Glico Running Man of Osaka!
The Susukino area and the famous Nikka Whiskey Sign Board.
Odori Park and the Sapporo TV Tower. During Winter this place will be filled with Ice Sculptures.

Sapporo Clock Tower (Tokei-dai)
Hokkaido Shrine
Sapporo Beer Museum. Must visit!
The Kaitakushi Beer. Must drink!
The Genghis Khan. Must eat! The ‘Chicken Rice’ / ‘Chilli Crab’ of Hokkaido
While I was in Sapporo, it was Halloween! Tons of fun!
Will you marry me?
Zombies chit chatting
Cute ‘Chinese’ girls!
Oh Gawd!
No problems finding Wally.
Kindergarten ‘kids’!
Multi-seater pram.

Otaru

Taking an hour train ride you can visit the sea side town of Otaru. Just go to Sapporo station and buy a ticket. This place is unabashedly focus on the tourist market and there’s one whole street dedicated to serve foreign visitors. If you are in the area and want some halal certified Kaisen Don you can visit here.

Decided to get off the train one stop earlier so I can take a walk through the local’s area before hitting the tourist area.
The famous Otaru Music Box Museum. Usually it is at the end of the tourist road but stopping earlier allows me to reach this place first.
Really beautiful boxes
Check out the ground floor retail space!
A tip: Go diagonally across the Music Box Museum and visit Ginnokane and go to the second floor to order a cup of coffee. Choose a souvenir cup to bring back home with. Superb sovenir or gift.
Here’s my dinner place! Believe me the Kaizen Don (Seafood Rice Bowl) is super fresh here. And yes it is HALAL!
The Reason we are here. The Otaru Canal. Too early for a shoot but the seagull is quite amused.
Nice of Shinichi-san bringing me around Otaru today! He’s my dinner mate!
This is Asahi Lookout Point. Most tourists will go to Tenguyama just on the right side of this photo. If you have a car, this is certainly a cheaper and quieter alternative.
日和山燈台
The main event: Otaru Canal at blue hour! Using Huawei Mate 10 Pro
Nikon D500 with Laowa 12mm f2.8
Many thanks to Shinichi-san for this superb Kaizen Don. Freshness guaranteed!
Is a Halal Restaurant so there’s Lamb too!
Thank you for your hospitality!

Niseko

knows Niseko. This is THE place to be during Winter and yes it feels kind of odd to travel to a skiing place without the snow but it turns out to be a very interesting day trip. I rented a small car from Toyota total around 180 for 2 days (includes tax, petrol and renting their expressway toll card) where I picked it up from the city center near the station and drop it off at the airport. Pretty easy!

The resident mountain of Niseko – Mount Yotei!

This place comes highly recommended. Prativo’s Vegetable buffet plus main course is only 1550JPY which is less than 20SGD. Totally worth every penny.
This is Prativo! The Pasta here is superb here and so is the view.
The natural sweetness of the vegetables here. I can be a vegetarian here very easily! The potato…goodness….creamy stuff here! Oiishiii~~
Rushing back with the setting sun in front of me. Visit Mount Moiwa before I leave.
On top of Mount Moiwa is called the Jewels
The night view (and cold too!)

Special Mention: Hokkaido Historical Village

This is one place I wonder why no one talks about. From a history buff like me, this place is like the best place to understand the old look of Hokkaido. And as someone who is accustomed to shoot cosplayers and people who like to dress in period Japanese kimono this place provides the ultimate in authentic background. I kid you not. I totally adore this place for the potential it has for doing beautiful shoots.

Consider this, all their old buildings are actual buildings being transplanted from their original site to this park. They have schools, a photography studio (that is itself a gem!!), horse drawn carriages, sweet shops, farm house. They even have an actual high school DOJO that looks like the one my dad used in Tenri! How about a school hostel?

I should have spend more time here. So anyone wants me to shoot cosplay here? I will gladly do so.

It feels like the Disneyland entrance but behind this is a very authentic experience!
The impressive High School Dojo.
The hall way of the School Hostel. Imagine shooting cosplay here.
A church! A real historical church building!
Shashin-kan. Photography Studio. This is really a walk into photography history.
Studio lights? What studio lights? The sun provides that with translucent roof provides the ultimate in diffused lighting. Too bright? the white/black cloths will cover the appropriate area for the shoot. I was thoroughly impressed. Just behind me is the chemical processing dark room with everything needed to develop the glass/silver plates. I wish I can at least try using this place for a portraiture. That would be sooooo cool.
There’s a lens and an projected image is seen.
The dark room.

Recommended Driving Holiday Map from Hakodate Tourism Office.

Yes Hokkaido is a superb place to visit especially if you like nature, wide vista of landscapes and seafood. On top of that it is a great place to drive as well. Just get ready your international driving license and you are good to go. Do remember to get their ‘Cashcard’ for their expressway driving too for added convenience.

Route A

This route is more for those who have spent a bit of time in Sapporo and making their way south towards Hakodate. For Singaporeans if you fly by Scoot, this would most likely be your route as the plane only reaches Chitose in the afternoon around 3pm. Best to rest well in Sapporo and then drive down to Hakodate.

Route B

This would be for people who are not staying at Sapporo and wants to go to Hakodate straight from Chitose airport. If you are using Scoot and not too tired, then the 1 hour drive will bring you to Shiraoi for early dinner and check into a hotel around Oynuma/Jigoku Valley.

You can download to give you an idea of what to do in Southern Hokkaido: Driving Hokkaido

X-Trekkers Singapore

If you need help in booking hotels, train vouchers and also general enquiries about Hokkaido please do contact X-Trekkers at japan@x-trekkers.com or you can email straight using the form below. We will be doing more Hokkaido related trips in the coming months so do connect with us!

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