Road trip is the best way to experience Hokkaido in winter – Part 1

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....
What a magnificent view.

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.

rent car winter road trip 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 magicalsapporo winter nightsWinter nights in Sapporo. A magical one.Winter nights in Sapporo. A magical one.

The view is even better when the sun is upAwesome place to play with snow, Maruyama Park, Sapporo

Maruyama Park, Sapporo is an awesome park to play with snow and be amazed with winter landscapeAwesome place to play with snow, Maruyama Park, SapporoAwesome place to play with snow, Maruyama Park, Sapporo

Road covered with snow in Sapporo citySnow in Sapporo.

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

Road trip Part 2: Asahikawa – Biei – Shirogane Onsen – Furano – Sounkyo Onsen- 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 SapporoJourney starts from Sapporo City

 

Traffic cleared up further away the cityTraffic cleared up further away the city

 

Look at the snow covered mountains!look at the mountains!

 

From this moment, I felt that this going to be a roadtrip of a lifetimeFrom this moment, I can feel that this going to be a trip of a life time for me

As deep into the mountain pass nearby Mt. Sapporo, weather became cloudyAs we pass Mt. Sapporo, it became cloudyAs we pass Mt. Sapporo, it became cloudydscf8572

 

Nevertheless, when the sun came up for a while, the view drastically changeddscf8565

Winter RoadTrip Stop 1: Lake Toya

After about an hour of drive, we arrive at Lake Toya. What a majestic view!Majestic Lake Toya in winterHokkaido Winter Road Trip - Lake Toya Hokkaido Winter Road Trip - Lake Toya Majestic Lake Toya in winter

Artistic shape rockArtistic shape rock

Pair in Lake ToyaPair in Lake ToyaHokkaido Winter Road Trip - Lake Toya

 

Enter the Winter Wonderland: Lake Toya – Orofure Pass -Noboribetsu

We proceed with our journey to Noboribetsu.

Still little bit cloudyRoad fully covered with snow

Road and roadside fully covered with snowRoad and roadside fully covered with snow

The sun was slowly creeping upThere is a light... Sun coming up?

A Tunnel. Pass this tunnel marks a journey that I’ll never forgetTunnel to Winter Dreamland

Magnificent view into Hokkaido’s winter dreamlandWhat a magnificent view.

The weather is getting better and better. And so does the view!The weather is getting better and better. And so goes the view!Hokkaido Winter Road Trip

The snow is so silky and soft. Hokkaido known to have one of the best powder on earthdscf8667Wow

Another tunnel. I never been so excited about tunnels before thisHokkaido Winter RoadtripThe snow is so soft and silky!Hokkaido winter roadtrip

 

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 bathhokkaido winter road triphokkaido winter road trip hotel Mahoroba

 

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).

Noboribetsu Hokkaido Winter roadtripdscf8700 dscf8703

Path to Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley)Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

Beautiful Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley) hillsNoboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

One of the ‘hell’ holesNoboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley) Noboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

Sulfer smell is strong hereNoboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

Amazing view over sunsetNoboribetsu Travel: Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

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.

Hokkaido Winter Road TripHokkaido Winter Road Trip

Mysterious cloudy Lake ShikotsuHokkaido Winter Road TripHokkaido Winter Road TripHokkaido Winter Road Trip

Lake Shikotsu with Mount Eniwa as backdropHokkaido Winter Road Trip

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 FestivalSapporo Snow FestivalHokkaido Winter Road Trip - Sapporo Snow Festival

Awesome stalls serving street foods from all over the world in Sapporo Snow FestivalSapporo Snow Festival

We found Malaysian food booth!Sapporo Snow Festival

Giant ice sculpture at Sapporo Snow FestivalSapporo Snow FestivalHokkaido Winter Road Trip - Sapporo Snow Festival 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.

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Road TripWinter
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