Hokkaido Day 5: Shiretoko Five Lakes & Akan National Park
The Shiretoko Five Lakes were formed after Mt. Io (on Shiretoko Peninsula, not to be confused with the one in Akan National Park…) erupted. The park is closed during the winter months; in early spring and fall, visitors can wander around on their own. However, for half of May, and all of June and July, visitors who want to walk around any of the trails need to go on a guided tour. This is because it’s “bear aware season” (yup, it’s a thing!); for your own safety, you have to hire a guide (who is well-versed in dealing with bears — and is equipped with bear whistle and spray, etc.). The only exception is the 800 meters of elevated wooden walkway that takes you from the parking lot to the first lake: this pathway is protected by electric fence on both sides, so you don’t need a guide.
Because we had Baby M (who might just look like a good “snack” to a hungry bear… or who might be treated with a gentle nuzzle by a mama bear? — we didn’t want the chance to find out which) and also were limited on time, we just did the 800 meter walk. From the walkway, we saw deer eating grass, the mountains (with snow!) in the distance, as well as the first lake. It was such a dazzlingly clear day (so, beautiful pictures but also extremely hot!).
Next, we drove south to Akan National Park. We ate at a restaurant (written as both ‘Orchard Grass’ and ‘Orchard Glass’ – on the menu, front door, newspaper clipping… so, hard to tell which one was correct. Although to the Japanese, it looks and sounds the same…) inside the Kawayu-Onsen train station. The beef curry was pretty good, as was the spaghetti with meat sauce. We then went next door to a bakery/coffee shop for some coffee and sweets… (this is why I end up gaining weight on each trip).
In order to get Baby M to take a nap, we drove around almost the entire perimeter of caldera Lake Kussharo, the largest lake in Akan National Park. We saw more foxes (man, I love foxes… I think they are basically a hybrid between a cat and a dog) along the way. After Baby M woke up, we drove to Lake Mashu, a smaller caldera lake, known for having incredibly clear water, although most days it is covered in a thick layer of fog, and therefore not visible! We were very lucky — it was an incredibly clear day. After we bought soft serve ice cream (Hokkaido cream flavor), we took some pictures from Observation Deck 1. The lake looked an amazing deep blue color.
We drove to neighboring Mt. Io (Iozan), an active sulfur volcano (which we could smell from miles away). Walking around it was interesting to see how barren the ground was. The vents were fenced off but we could get pretty close, and feel the heat from the steam. Mom bought an egg from the gift shop, that was cooked from the steam of a vent. The three of us shared it… tasted good but not any different from a normal hardboiled egg.
Then we drove back to Lake Mashu (I didn’t know what time the parking lot for Mt. Io closed… still don’t) to Observation Deck 3. We were the only ones there and the view was much better (closer to the rim of the lake). The view of Lake Kussharo and the valley below was also beautiful, especially since it was dusk.
Our hotel was on Lake Kussharo (great view!). Since the dinner buffet was ridiculously expensive, we decided to find a restaurant nearby (“nearby” is a relative term… since there was nothing anywhere close). We left the pocket wifi charging in our room (why?!) and drove around for 30 minutes, before just giving up and going to a convenience store for some packaged onigiri (rice triangles covered in a sheet of seaweed, usually with a savory filling) as well as breakfast for the next morning.
I really enjoyed the outdoor onsen (not co-ed). The hot water felt great in contrast to the cool, crisp air. The best thing was the night view. Living in a big city, I never see stars. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, there was no light pollution, and I could see a ton of stars. I haven’t seen this many stars since… well, probably our 4 AM hike up Mt. Batur in Bali two years ago!
Summary of our Hokkaido self drive: Whirlwind Tour around Hokkaido
Shiretoko Five Lakes:
Parking lot has clean restroom facilities, as well as a small gift shop. When we went, there was a bulletin board listing the various tours and how many open spots were left. If you want to do the tour, it would probably be a good idea to make reservations in advance.
Official website: http://www.goko.go.jp/english/
More info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6853.html
To make a reservation with a guide (5,000 yen/~50USD, per person): https://www.goko.go.jp/fivelakes/
The parking fee for Observation Deck 1, when we went in June 2016, was 500 yen, not 410 (as stated in the link below). Observation Deck 1 has a large gift shop (selling food and soft serve ice cream) and clean restrooms. Keep your parking ticket because it’s good for the Mt. Io sulfur volcano parking lot as well (I’m pretty sure you have to use it on the same day because it’s date stamped).
I thought Observation Deck 3 (actually 2 decks) provided better views of the lake. There’s a small parking lot across the street (free).
Kussharo Prince Hotel:
Fairly modern hotel on Lake Kussharo. I think all rooms have a view of the lake.
Can’t comment on the food since we opted not to pay for the buffet.
The outdoor onsen was pretty awesome. Indoor onsen was a little small.