Not fancy skiing? Hokkaido in Winter is not just for ski powder junkies, it can be a dreamland for a road trip, landscape wanderers and anyone who appreciate scenery. Here I would like to share my road trip experience last winter (February 2016) in Hokkaido.
Rent a car to explore Hokkaido in winter.
Hokkaido is big and its railways is not extensive and connected as compare to Tokyo. With its abundant of awesome scenery and national parks, driving is the best way to explore Hokkaido. Its kinda like drive-stop-take-picture-admire-drive and repeat. Renting a car in Hokkaido, (or in Japan) is such an easy process. Kindly click here if you like to read on my experiences and tips on how to rent a car in Hokkaido.
Travelling into Hokkaido
The biggest and common airport that people know is New Chitose Aiport (CTS) which also serve as an International airport. Hokkaido do have number of domestic airports which connected from Tokyo Haneda (HND) airport. This is really useful if you planning for a road trip in Hokkaido which enable you to save time and money by renting cars one way. E.G pickup at Chitose airport and return in Asahikawa airport and catch your flight back to Tokyo (which save you about 175km on a return trip). Info on Hokkaido airports.
Many international airlines fly direct to CTS, such as Cathay Pacific, AirAsia X and many more (full list). For me, I flew into Tokyo (Narita) because I wanted to explore Tokyo for 2nd time and wanted to try All Nippon Airways. They recently launched Kuala Lumpur – Narita route with 787 Dreamliner which happened to be was one of the best flight experience I ever had. Then I flew from Tokyo (Haneda) to Chitose via Japan Airlines utilizing their Japan Explorer Pass. Japan Explorer pass enables foreign tourist to enjoy special domestic airfare which is quite attractive. Price starts from JPY 10,800 for a single trip from and to any Japan domestic airports. In my opinion this is a steal because you’ll getting a full service airlines (Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways), not budget airlines.
Winter nights in Sapporo. The scenes are magical
The view is even better when the sun is up
Maruyama Park, Sapporo is an awesome park to play with snow and be amazed with winter landscape
Road covered with snow in Sapporo city
Begin the magical journey. Our Hokkaido Winter Road Trip begun from Sapporo
This was the first time I’m driving in Japan and in the snow! It can be safe if you keep the speed low and avoid sudden stop or maneuver. Please be careful while driving in snow!
We divided our Hokkaido winter road trip into 2 parts to save toll fees, time and driving time
Road trip Part 1: Sapporo – Lake Toya – Orofure Pass – Noboribetsu – Lake Shikotsu – Sapporo
Bus ride from Sapporo to Asahikawa
Our winter road trip starts in Sapporo city and we set of to Lake Toya, using national road (no tolls). For navigation, I used combination of Google Maps and GPS navigation supplied with the car. Tolls can be exorbitant in Japan (compared to Malaysia). Using non-tolls road can be time consuming but you’ll rewarded with magnificent scenery. Just set to no tolls and no highway option on your Google Maps settings and off you go.
Snow was cleared to the roadside on busy roads in Sapporo
Traffic cleared up further away the city
Look at the snow covered mountains!
From this moment, I felt that this going to be a roadtrip of a lifetime
As deep into the mountain pass nearby Mt. Sapporo, weather became cloudy
Nevertheless, when the sun came up for a while, the view drastically changed
Winter RoadTrip Stop 1: Lake Toya
After about an hour of drive, we arrive at Lake Toya. What a majestic view!
Artistic shape rock
Pair in Lake Toya
Enter the Winter Wonderland: Lake Toya – Orofure Pass -Noboribetsu
We proceed with our journey to Noboribetsu.
Road and roadside fully covered with snow
The sun was slowly creeping up
A Tunnel. Pass this tunnel marks a journey that I’ll never forget
Magnificent view into Hokkaido’s winter dreamland
The weather is getting better and better. And so does the view!
The snow is so silky and soft. Hokkaido known to have one of the best powder on earth
Another tunnel. I never been so excited about tunnels before this
After a ‘wow’ experience along Orefure Pass, we arrived at our destination, Noboribetsu where we stayed in Hotel Mahroba, a traditional Japanese ryokan with awesome onsen bath
Noboribetsu, the Hell Valley
Finally we reach at our destination after all those breathtaking winter landscape scenery. We glad that we choose Noboribetsu to spend our night. In winter it is a wonderful, picturesque little town with offer amazing landscape. You’ll come across those ‘rotten-egg’ sulfur smell all over this town, normal as all other onsen town in Japan. Onsen lovers should not miss Noboribetsu and not forgetting a visit to Jigokudani (Hell Valley).
Path to Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley)
Beautiful Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley) hills
One of the ‘hell’ holes
Sulfer smell is strong here
Amazing view over sunset
We end our day 1 with superb onsen bath at our ryokan. Onsen experience during winter is must. Skinny dipping in hot onsen water with chilly winter wind gushing over your face are one of the most relaxing experience i ever had.
2nd Day of our Hokkaido Winter Road Trip: Noboribetsu – Lake Shikotsu – Back to Sapporo
We continue our road trip the next day back to Sapporo using national road (no tolls) through Lake Shikotsu.
Mysterious cloudy Lake Shikotsu
Lake Shikotsu with Mount Eniwa as backdrop
Finally we arrived back to Sapporo city center ending our first part of our Hokkaido winter road trip. After we dropped our car back to Toyota Rent A Car outlet nearby Odori park, we catch the famous Sapporo Snow Festival.
Giant Ice Ramp at Sapporo Snow Festival
Awesome stalls serving street foods from all over the world in Sapporo Snow Festival
We found Malaysian food booth!
Giant ice sculpture at Sapporo Snow Festival
After having fun at Sapporo Snow Festival, finally we proceed to bus stop to catch our bus for 2 hour journey to Asahikawa for our 2nd part of Hokkaido winter road trip.