Noilly Prattle: Hokkaido - the Shiretoko Peninsula

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hokkaido - the Shiretoko Peninsula

a room with an obscure view
on a clear day you can see Kunashiri
    After leaving the Notsuke Peninsula (the name of the sandspit in the previous post), the weather continued to be uncooperative with heavy low-lying clouds and occasional scattered showers. The drive from the Notsuke Peninsula to the town of Utoro on the northern shore of the Shiretoko Peninsula, where our hotel was located, took us on a winding road full of hairpin turns over the summit of the mountain chain that forms the peninsula. The weather on the northern slope was no better than that on the southern and, except for a brief exciting moment of blue sky, sea and sunshine, remained uncooperative the whole time.

one of the pools of "jade"
       We had a wonderful room with panoramic views of the Sea of Okhotsk, the town of Utoro and the shoreline—mostly in various shades of gray and obscurity the whole time—at a huge hot spring hotel called the Shiretoko Daiichi (Shiretoko Number One) Hotel. A word about onsen hotels in Japan. There are all kinds, some, like the Daiichi are huge palace-like structures that, perhaps, appeal to the Japanese sense, lacking in daily life, of space. These can have sumptuous communal baths rivaling Roman baths of old. Others can be quaint older inns with loads of charm or out of the way and/or secluded detached houses in a natural private garden setting. Different strokes for different folks, but, all things considered, we prefer the quaint, charming and secluded types. Just an FYI in case you have the opportunity to stay at a Japanese onsen.

small secluded hot spring pool

"mountain deity" the brown bear

Oshinkoshin Waterfall
      Things to do on the Shiretoko Peninsula are mostly eco-tourism related. We visited a museum while it rained, some waterfalls and a lakes region; popular sites in the area. The area is also home to some wild animal species, including foxes, deer, and brown bears. Warnings about how to behave around bears abound but everyone secretly yearns to encounter a bear (at a safe distance of course), and deer and foxes (closer up is OK).

on the boardwalk
       There is a region of Five Lakes about a half hour drive from Utoro. The lakes themselves are rather ordinary, but there is a magnificent boardwalk a half a mile long to one of the lakes. It is edged with an electrified fence supposedly to stave off bears, but not a bear in site. The highlight of the mile long walk was, in fact, the sudden clearing of the sky. The sky and sea became blue and the horizon clearly discernible. It seemed like a veil was being lifted from the surrounding mountains. All cameras were turned, seemingly in unison, to capture the wonder of this unexpected change in the weather.

an unexpected change in the weather

one of the lakes in the Five Lakes area

like a veil being lifted

hungry looking red fox
doe and fawn
       Beyond the Five Lakes area, you can follow a dirt road to one of the most unique waterfalls I have ever seen, Kamuiwaka Hot Spring Waterfall. You have to take a bus, private vehicles are not permitted on the road at this time of the year. Some of the bridges are so narrow and rickety looking you hold your breath while the bus maneuvers its way through. Along the way, suddenly, some of the fauna appeared on the side of the road, some deer a fox or two and even a small barely glimpsed bear cub off in the distance.

       The water in Kamuiwaka is warm. It's source is a hot spring pouring out of the earth. It doesn't only tumble over a precipice but flows over the sloping river bed at an angle easy enough and shallow enough to walk in. Road Buddy was the first to take her shoes off and go in. I, with a recently broken femur, and our son with a recently injured knee, at first demurred to go in, but it looked so tempting that I finally plucked up my nerve and took off my shoes and carefully stepped in. At that point, our son said: “What the hell!”, and followed suit. It was great fun and no accidents.

Kamuiwaka Hot Spring Waterfall
       And then, wonder of wonders, as we were walking back to the bus stop, I spotted a bear across the valley who was busy eating and, paying no attention to all the attention it was getting, just kept on eating and posing. The pictures had to be taken with a zoom in, but you can at least tell that it is a bear.

No comments: