A not-so-perfect plan
Last July, we packed the whole family to Hokkaido. Because the venerable ones decreed that if we were heading to Japan, then to Hokkaido, they must go.
Since the planner was given a free rein, and in spite of a few, not-so-minor constraints (no driving, no sea-sickness inducing activities, no cycling, no hiking etc), the planner rolled out an ambitious schedule that still enabled the family to cover as much ground as possible – literally. Check it out below.
Covering as much ground as possible meant:
- taking the train from Tokyo to Hakodate (instead of the plane);
- exploring the less touristy (and not so accessible) bits of Hokkaido and;
- soaking in renowned (but secluded) onsens
Here’s the expanded view of the route in Hokkaido:
Here’s the link to the interactive map – Hokkaido 2014.
Belatedly, the planner realised that Hokkaido was big.
And that it would be very cumbersome to move a group of 6 adults + 6 big pieces of luggage from train to train, even with 2 doubling up as porters. Unfortunately for the planner too, the plan fell apart from the very beginning.
They arrived later than scheduled at Narita, missed all the planned train connections and due to it being a Friday, could not get train tickets to Hokkaido. Apparently, lots of Japanese travel up north for the weekends either to go home or for a short holiday.
Finally, they stayed the first night at Aomori (after much frantic calling, booking, cancelling etc).
In the end here’s how the itinerary eventually panned out:
- day – Singapore to Tokyo to Aomori
- day – Aomori to Hakodate
- day – Hakodate to Chitose to Jozankei Onsen
- day – Jozankei Onsen to Sapporo
- day – Otaru
- day – Sapporo to Bie/Bibaushi
- day – Furano
- day – Furano to Kawayu Onsen/Lake Mashu via Asahikawa
- day – tour the lakes area
- day – Kawayu Onsen to Utoro/Shiretoko
- day – Shiretoko/cruise
- day – Shiretoko to Tokyo via Memanbetsu airport
- day – Tokyo
- day – Tokyo to Singapore
Even though a typhoon swept past in the midst of their trip, and that led to all the train lines being shut down, the family managed to stick to most of the itinerary in Hokkaido itself.
Still, with the benefit of hindsight, here’s what you should not do when heading to Hokkaido.
- not take the train to Hokkaido – do yourself and your bum and your wallet a favour – book a flight instead. you may find the flight more affordable than the train ride.
- not take the train in Hokkaido – drive if you can. It gives you more freedom to roam (in Hokkaido, it is imperative to roam) and is probably cheaper. But this piece of advice is only valid for summer. In winter, it may be dangerous.
- not arrive in Tokyo on a Friday – trains are usually full and queues swell up at the ticket offices.
The trip wasn’t all bad; the family had tonnes of fun (except maybe the planner). Here are some of the best parts:
- the onsens. Hokkaido is home to many famous onsens. Generally, the more renowned, the more inaccessible.
- the Ohtosk region in the north-east. The Mashu-Utoro-Shiretoko area boasts some of the most beautiful nature sites. This area is great for roaming and meandering.
- the desserts. Because there’s excellent milk to be found in Hokkaido. The best of the best can all be found in Otaru and at the basement of the supermarket in the JRSapporo station.
- the food. vegetables, fruits, seafood etc everything there is fresh, cheap and delicious!
11 days seemed meagre for Hokkaido. We could have used another 11 days to explore more of it ie Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Daisetsuzan, Niseko, Rausu, Kushiro … and the list goes on.
Travelled 4 -17 July 2014