Hokkaido Day 4: Shiretoko Peninsula

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Sounkyo to Shiretoko Peninsula (Utoro to Rausu)

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Our drive along Rt. 334

Alex’s coworker highly recommended Shiretoko Peninsula, located in northeast Hokkaido. He spent a few weeks riding a motorcycle around Hokkaido and his favorite road was Rt. 334, which starts along the coast and cuts across the peninsula. This peninsula is also “bear country,” so Alex and I knew for sure we had to add it to our itinerary!

The drive from Sounkyo onsen was beautiful. As we left the mountains, we drove through what looked like infinite plains of farmland. (We stopped a couple times to pick up drinks and use the bathroom at 7-Eleven/Lawson/Seico Mart. The bathrooms were all incredibly clean! The toilet paper was even folded into a triangle, like they are in hotels!! Even the bathroom in a gas station was impeccable. How do they manage it?!)

It took us a while to find our hotel in Utoro, the little town we chose as our home base. Alex inquired about the boat tours as he was checking in. “Bear tour?” the receptionist asked. YES! “It’s a sunny day- a good day to see bears. Bears have been seen almost every day.” I didn’t want to get our hopes up, but that definitely sounded promising! We purchased tickets for the 3:30 PM tour, and headed off to lunch. Downtown Utoro is pretty small, but there are a handful of restaurants. We took turns eating our seafood lunch, so that Baby M could crawl around, supervised, on the tatami mats.

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Prime viewing spot on the boat tour

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Lone bear who was clamming

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Bears (mother & 2 cubs)

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View of the peninsula from the boat

At 3 PM, we met the rest of our group at the ticketing office for the boat tour, and together we walked down to the docks. We were told that the right side of the boat was the optimal spot for bear viewing. We slowed along the coast a few times. Was it a bear? No, an eagle. A waterfall. By this time, we were already 45 minutes into our 2ย hour tour. And then, we spotted a bear. He (she?) was walking along the water, looking for clams. I REALLY wished we had brought a pair of binoculars (or our DSLR with the zoom lens — but Alex refused to lug it around), because while I could see the bear, we were still quite a ways from the shore. A little further down the coast, we spotted a mother bear and two cubs, rummaging around what looked like an abandoned boathouse. One of the cubs got in the water and shook himself (herself?) dry — very cute! On the way back, we stopped again at the waterfalls and could see a couple rainbows. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Lots of hairpin turns on the Shiretoko Pass

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Fox friend along Rt. 334

In the hopes of getting Baby M to take a (very belated) nap, we decided to drive Rt. 334 from Utoro (on the west coast of the peninsula) to Rausu (on the east coast) — this segment is called the Shiretoko Pass. We could see why Alex’s coworker loved this drive so much (especially on a motorcycle!) — so many hairpin turns. We went up and up in elevation (and could see the sea) between the mountains (Mt. Rausu is the tallest mountain on the peninsula) and then we went down to Rausu (seemed like a sleepy little town). Baby M did not want to take a nap, so we immediately retraced our steps and drove back to the hotel.

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View from a parking spot along Rt. 334

I put Baby M to bed while Alex and Mom ate pizza at the restaurant upstairs, before Mom relieved me and I was able to eat dinner. The hotel gave one free welcome token per person (to be used on a drink — wine included — or ice cream)… Alex and I cashed in three tokens for two glasses of red wine (decent) and one ice cream! We then sat outside on the deck overlooking the ocean, and had a few sips from our pocket bottle of Nikka whisky. (Hmm… it sounds like Alex and I like to drink a lot but we really don’t!!) We overheard other guests talking about driving to Rausu for the whale watching tour, because they weren’t interested in bears. Umm… seriously?! Shiretoko has one of the densest brown bear populations in the world!

The next morning, we had a traditional Japanese breakfast (think smoked fish and tamagoyaki, a Japanese rolled omelette), along with rolls (with Hokkaido butter!! So good!) and coffee before hitting the road.


Summary of our Hokkaido self drive:ย Whirlwind Tour around Hokkaido


Tips:

Shiretoko:ย 

Information on Shiretoko (watch the bear video!!):ย http://www.shiretoko.asia/world/shiretoko_trip_guide.html

Iruka hotel: This hotel felt more like a B&B, with a restaurant/common room upstairs and huge deck overlooking the water. The rooms are large by Japanese standards. Each person gets a welcome token good for a drink (coffee/tea/wine) or ice cream. The pizza served in the kitchen was pretty good. Breakfast (included in our hotels.com booking) is served in the restaurant — Japanese style, along with toast and coffee/tea. The guy at the front desk speaks great English and can help you book any tours.

Shiretoko pass:

MapCode: 757 353 706*

The pass is closed during the winter months (November to April).

Boat tour:

Boatย tour company we took — we did the brown bear course (~ 2 hours long, runs 6/1 to 9/25, tickets were 5500 yen per adult):ย http://kamuiwakka.jp/english-booking.php

We used the restroom at the ticket office (even though there was a bathroom on board) and bought some drinks from the vending machine (no place to buy drinks, etc. on the boat, so pack your own drinks and snacks).

The other company that does boat tours from Utoro is Aurora. I think this is a larger company and they run many cruises each day. The boats are bigger with more amenities (like a cafe), but I had read online that the smaller boats can get closer to shore and therefore increase your chances of seeing bears.ย https://ms-aurora.com/shiretoko/en/

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5 responses to “Hokkaido Day 4: Shiretoko Peninsula”

  1. drzejan says :

    Those trips where you can see bears are quite pricey :/ one interesting thing is it seems you arrived at hotel and you just booked your trip at the same time. I’ve never seen something like this as usually I had to book my side trips in advance, a lot in advance :/ (Gunkanjima in Nagasaki, only 2 months prior to the trip >_>)

    A small side note from my side – it would be great to see a big version of photos with bears as well as last one with awesome panorama. Right now it looks great and I would really like to gaze a little bit more on it in higher resolution ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • OliviaM says :

      I know! I think we were quite lucky to be able to reserve the same day. But, I think late June isn’t peak tourist season yet, so maybe that’s why.

      YES! I wish I had higher resolution pictures of the bears! But all I had was my iPhone, and the digital zoom sucks. I would like to go back sometime with my DSLR ๐Ÿ™‚

      • drzejan says :

        Right now, to be totally honest, I’m thinking about making trip similar to yours ๐Ÿ˜€ I just need to find three other guys so the pack of four could share car renting expenses. A quick check and I almost got a heart attack – Toyota, small car and almost 10k JPY per day?!?!? Madness…

        DSLRs are big and heavy, no wonder most of people will leave it behind and use phones. I was like this but I had similar situation where my awesome phone sucked beyond any recognition and now I always bring my small camera and never use my not-so-smart-phone ๐Ÿ˜‰ But look at this from different perspective, you have a nice excuse for going there again ๐Ÿ˜€

        Just in case – I will read rest of your notes from Japan (from this and previous trip :D) but right now I don’t have any free time ๐Ÿ˜ฆ So stay tuned for comments in next few weeks ๐Ÿ˜‰ This is also the reason why there are no new posts on my blog even though I should write something about my trip to Nagasaki, Koriyama and… Jeju ๐Ÿ˜€

        Some day…

  2. OliviaM says :

    Yes, the rental car was ridiculously expensive!! And, we had to go with a mid-sized car (a Honda Fit… which in the US is small haha) because of the 4 of us plus bags. I asked my Japanese friend and she said that 10,000 yen a day is normal!

    Can’t wait to see your pictures! Also, Jeju?! Come on! (Did it look like the “Hawaii of Korea”?) ๐Ÿ˜‰

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