Our last real stop in Hokkaido was a few nights in Shiretoko National Park. A hot spring waterfall, the coastal cliffs, and scenic boardwalk were some of our favorites in this park. But nothing beat the amount of wildlife we saw.
The route between parks offered a beautiful glimpse into the daily Hokkaido life, which consists largely of various agriculture farms. There are small towns to change up the scenery, but overall you cruising through endless wheat, dairy and melon farms. Then, as you gain altitude, roadside lakes appear with various tourist pit stops that happen to be built next to towering waterfalls! The sweet smell of wheat fades to fresh mountain air mixed with salty winds of the sea. This place really has everything a nature lover could want.
Shiretoko is located on a peninsula, making the park uniquely protected of the human touch. Half way up, the road ends and the only way to venture is to hike through or take a ferry around. Unfortunately, it was at this point Wade started to feel pretty ill. We still enjoyed ourselves but opted to stay closer to the tent in case he needed to rest.
It was in Shiretoko that we were able to really see some beautiful animals up close. Deer scattered on the hills by the roads and in various quiet spots throughout the park,eating the abundance of flowers. You will see signs ALL OVER the park encouraging you not to feed the wildlife, particularly foxes. I completely understand why (dangerous for them and humans) and I wish I saw the sign prior to my fox encounter in Daisetsuzan Park. I still feel guilty thinking about it. Along the roads, you will certainly see foxes who have used their intelligence to coax tourist out of their snacks from cars in order to take a photo. Foxes have a special place in my heart, I consider them one of my favorite animals. Feisty, sharp and not easily outwitted, I think we would get along well. Plus, orangey red hair calls to me.
The highlight of my trip was when I finally saw a beautiful Hokkaido Brown bear. I went off on the boardwalk by myself. Poor Wade, he needed a nap and decided to hang back in the car. I entered the walkway with several families as tour groups were exiting. It was dusk and the park would be closing after dark. Or so I thought.
While moving my tripod to get another angle I noticed the quiet that surrounded me. I was completely alone in the park. I didn’t understand why. The sun was setting and over the ocean.; a beautiful time to be there. So I continued to do my thing. It was soon after I was packing up when I heard someone call out to me. From that far away I assumed it was Wade who was signaling me over. My response was a motion of “no no, you come here”. We continued to wave directions at each other when it became clear that this was not actually my husband but rather an irritated park ranger who wanted to go home. Woops!
So I walk the path, towards him and BAM! A bear was treading through the thick grasses over the hill! Now, what is a nature loving girl supposed to do? I stopped, began waving. I didn’t want to yell, that would scare the handsome bear away. Thus the park ranger and I began our waving game again. I held my spot, the ranger was walking towards me. I pointed frantically, pulling out my camera, and he walked up. He sympathized and understood my predicament. We chatted while we watched the bear and I snapped as many photos as I could. (Warning, they are more like evidence shots, none really turned out)
Apparently, this bear is about 5 years old and shows up regularly. We watched him for a few more minutes. I had to concentrate on not using my instincts to run and get a better look. I doubt the park ranger would have been so cordial with me after. He ushered me along, as we small talked about the states and Japan. We connected through Boston, he’s been 4 times! I was thankful we could communicate, I don’t think he would have been so patient otherwise.
The following day we returned, this time with Wade by my side, this time, there was no bear. Still, the scenery was breathtaking.
When we arrived at Shiretoko our first goal was to set up the tent so we could explore the park and not worry about losing daylight. This campground was a little different than Daisetsuzan, it had an open area and you could set up camp wherever you pleased. There were three outhouses with no running water and one inside the main building that also held classrooms and information about the park. The fee was ¥500 a night. I loved our campsite here. Sleeping on the grass was far more comfortable than the gravel/dirt in Daisetsuzan.
With Wade not feeling his best, hiking/boating wasn’t the best option for us here. Shiretoko offers plenty of trails both long and short and ferry rides with focuses on bear sightings and nature cruises that show you the hard to reach places in the park. Instead, we filled our time with scenic drives, including one to the other side of the peninsula for a pharmacy run. Up through the mountains and down to the eastern coast. This brought us to Rausu, a fishing village that screams Maine. The sky was gray and the coast was rocky. Buoys and fishing nets covered the restaurants. We stopped to watch the waves crash, something we barely see in Okinawa, and a number of seagulls flying around resembled a Hitchcock movie. There are onsens scattered throughout this little village and there are signs pointing you in the right direction.
Back on the western side of the peninsula, we went for quiet walks to visit a couple steep waterfalls. My favorite, and very popular amongst visitors, is the hot spring waterfall. There, you are able to take off your shoes and walk up the smooth rock with the warm water running under your toes. There is a deep pool towards the top if you wanted to take a dip in.
On our last night, we took a break from our convenient store bentos, and enjoyed a beautiful meal of fresh veggies and seafood grilled Yakiniku style. A beautiful end to our vacation.
Hokkaido easily became one of my favorite trips Wade and I have taken together. I hope to go back this winter and spend some time in Sapporo for the huge winter festival they hold annually, though I know it won’t be the same. Hokkaido in the summer. Nothing beats it.