This map summaries the results of the many long nights I spent planning a self-drive family holiday in Hokkaido last summer. It was hard work – how I struggled to keep a clear head at work on some afternoons – but it was worth it! Hokkaido is now one of my favourite places and I’d love to return to do more hiking, eat more seafood, soak in the hot springs, and just relax and enjoy the natural beauty and fresh air…
Highlights from this trip, in chronological order, include:
- Summer flowers abloom in Furano, Biei and Hokuryu // 富良野, 美瑛 & 北竜
- Alpine walk at Mount Asahi in Daisetsuzan National Park // 旭岳, 大雪山国立公園
- Hiking at Mt. Furano in Daisetsuzan National Park and enjoying the onsen afterwards // 富良野岳
- Slurping noodles at Asahikawa Ramen Village // 旭川
- Cow spotting in the tranquil Cape Notoro // 能取岬
- The best crab that we’ve ever eaten was at Oyaji Crabs in Abashiri // 網走市
- Fresh seafood breakfast at Abashiri Kando Morning Market // 網走市
- Exploring “the end of the Earth” at Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site // 知床
- Peace and quiet in the tiny town of Rausu on Shiretoko // 羅臼
- Hiking through swampy land to get to Rausu Lake // 羅臼湖
- Lake-hopping in Akan National Park
- Savouring delicious grilled pork in Obihiro // 帯広市
- Summertime dance and automated car parks in Sapporo // 札幌
- Delicious sushi and dental drama at Otaru // 小樽市
- Sampling Japanese whiskies at Nikka Whisky distillery in Yoichi // 余市蒸溜所
- Breathtaking coastal views at Shakotan Peninsula // 積丹半島
- Fruit-picking at Sobetsu Fruit Farm near Lake Toya // 洞爺湖
- Winding down with onsens and endless lake views in Shikotsu-Toya National Park // 支笏洞爺国立公園
While researching online, a few names always came up in the forums, offering advice about what to do in Hokkaido and getting around the island. I told myself that I shall consolidate all the intel that I gathered for this trip and document them here so that someone else could benefit from this pool of knowledge. I’m also especially proud of my Google map!
We rented a car for 12 days in Hokkaido as this gave us more flexibility in getting around. This was my first time driving in a foreign country. Having spent most of my life in Singapore, which is relatively flat with no mountains at all, I soon learnt that I couldn’t drive in a straight line from point A to point B in Hokkaido. Instead, I’d often have to go around mountains or national parks, which meant longer driving times.
In Singapore, I never had to drive for no more than an hour each time because it’s so small and traffic jams don’t exist here (Singaporeans who beg to disagree should try driving in cities like Istanbul and Shanghai where the traffic actually comes to a complete standstill). In Hokkaido, I drove several hours a day on average and across greater distances (Hokkaido’s about six times the size of Singapore). Fortunately, I split the driving with my dad who’s accustomed to being behind the wheel for hours as he drives a taxi occasionally. This meant that I got to snooze or snack on delicious chili tapioca chips (that my mum brought for me from Singapore) during the drive!
One of the most helpful sites I found was Northern Road Navi which enabled me to work out the approximate driving times and distances, as well as visualise the routes.
Another technological innovation that we used was the GPS in our car. All we had to do was to type the mapcodes for the different locations (as we didn’t know how to input the address in Japanese). Only thing is that I had to figure out the mapcodes beforehand. Some I found on forums about Hokkaido but the majority were found using Mapion.
Getting the right MapCodes took quite some effort… For instance, I had to insert an address written in Japanese and decipher amongst the search results on Mapion, all without being able to read much Japanese except for some of the characters in Hiragana. An alternative way of using the GPS system in the rental cars would have been to put in the telephone number of the venue or destination, however this wasn’t always accurate although it came in handy whenever we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t in the itinerary.
Two other useful sites to check out if you are planning to do a driving holiday around Hokkaido:
Car rental: To Coo! – compares the best rates available across different companies
That’s all for now! I will gradually (i.e. slowly) post my travel tips and experiences in Hokkaido. Hopefully I will review all my photos from this trip before summer 2013 ends : )