Japan 2023 Winter Day 4: Lake Toya to Hakodate

After a chilly night we woke up to a stunning sunrise across Toyako, what a view for our first look at the lake! When we checked in the night before we were able to select between Japanese and Western-style breakfast, and we chose Japanese as with my allergies to wheat, eggs, and milk a Western breakfast is a no-go. We walked up to the main lodge and we were the only other people staying. The breakfast was a great spread, including fresh salmon, oden, tamagoyaki, fish eggs and spinach salad. Of course, it came with rice, miso soup, and beautifully cut oranges to finish.

The lodge had some interesting design choices, including a massive moose head (presumably imported from North America), as well as many guns and Native American wooden carvings. An odd place all around, but somewhere I would definitely stay again thanks to the location, best for people who have a car as it is outside of town.

Following breakfast we packed up and headed out to visit the places that were on our list that we didn’t get to the day before. Our first stop was Toyakotenbodai (Lake Toya Panoramic View Point) which is a paid area on the edge of the caldera lake, overlooking an area of the town that was destroyed in the year 2000 following an eruption. It really put our little rental car to the test as the roads were very steep and covered in snow and ice. We made it up without fuss and paid the fee in the little shed at the top. A short walk from the car park leads to the highest point where you get uninterrupted views across Lake Toya, Niseko on a clear day and the craters that were part of the eruption.

The 2000 eruption lasted for 5 months from a volcano on the southern shore of Toyako, Usu. A series of new craters were formed over these months, and you spot some from the viewpoint. I flew my drone from here, my first flight in Japan (I am registered and have paid the fee to be able to fly in Japan) and it was staggering how large the craters are! Luckily there were no casualties from this prolonged eruption, but there was a lot of damage to the villages below Usu.

The viewpoint was an absolute highlight in Hokkaido, and we spent almost an hour up there enjoying the view, taking photos, and flying the drone. I think the snow made the scenery even more beautiful than it already is.

After spending some time at the viewpoint we wanted to visit the ruins of the 2000 eruption, which were left in situ for people to understand the level of destruction. We drove down to the visitors center and enjoyed the free section which detailed the geological development of the area, as well as the local flora and fauna you might see. We then crossed the road, dodging snow plows, and walked towards the ruins we had seen from above. After slogging through knee-deep snow to find the entrance we found it closed for winter.

From the edge we were able to see the two main buildings, as well as get a better idea of the path of the flow that destroyed the town. I’d really love to return again in a different season so I can explore this area .

Once we had walked back through the deep snow to the car it was almost lunch time, so we stopped off at the Hokkaido conbini, Seico-mart. This conbini chain has the absolute best yuki daifuku I have ever eaten, with the softest mochi in the world! So we got some for the road, along with crisps and onigiri and headed towards Hakodate. Although we had an expressway pass the journey was a long one, the speed limit on expressways in Hokkaido is often 70kmp, which is agonisingly slow on such open roads.

Our destination was Onuma Quasi National Park, a collection of lakes with the backdrop of a stunning active volcano. We could see the volcano for about an hour before we arrived and it dominated the landscape across the cape.

I had only seen photos of this area in the warmer months, where you could walk on many bridges across the clear lake water. It was very different in winter, and still so beautiful. All of the lakes freeze and are covered in snow, the ice is so thick that people were going out on snowmobiles, and setting up race tracks for the upcoming winter festival. We walked the standard route across small islands and picturesque bridges, the volcano was so interesting, once conical like Mount Fuji the top was blown away in an eruption, and now is quite jagged. I would recommend a visit, in any season!

Our time in Hokkaido was coming to an end, and so our next destination was Hakodate so we could take the shinkansen to Aomori prefecture the next morning. The drive was long thanks to the poorly kept expressways and the slow speed limits! We had hoped to get to Hakodate in time to take the ropeway up and see the night view, but (as always) things took longer than planned and so we headed to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station where we returned the car. This was possibly one of the biggest surprises in my 6 trips to Japan, an entire area devoid of the usual convenience of Japan.

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station was built specifically as the terminal station of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which travels from Tokyo to Hokkaido traveling through Tohoku. Unlike other areas in Japan that have a Shinkansen station there was *nothing* here, and I mean nothing. Two hotels, several car rental shops… and that was it! It was eerie! We had hoped to find somewhere for dinner, but not even Uber Eats would travel this far out. Luckily our hotel had a small conbini on the lowest floor, and so with our usual fare, we settled down to an uneventful evening.

All except for… him. Possibly the creepiest mascot in all of Japan haha.

Stats: Driving; 194km


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