Wonders of Nature Article cover photo
21 July 2016

Wonders of Nature

Away from large crowds and the city, Eastern Hokkaido is one of the few places to get back in touch with nature.


PAINTING COME TO LIFE

Anywhere you turn in Eastern Hokkaido begs to be captured on film or pixels permanently. Beautiful scenery created by nature strike vividly in Eastern Hokkaido, especially at its national parks. Visit Akan National Park, home to three beautiful lakes that are surrounded by vistas of mountain ranges: Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo, and Lake Mashu, with the last one known for its incredibly clear waters. Akan National Park can be separated into two big segments.

The smaller, western portion of Lake Akan sits a lakeside hot spring resort of Akankohan Onsen. This beautiful crater lake is home to marimo, a rare algae species that forms itself into beautiful green balls. When untouched, it can grow up to the size of a soccer ball and because of its uniqueness, it is now a National Special Natural Monument. If you are weary, stop by any one of the several ryokan with hot spring baths and views of the lake from the upper floors within the lakeside hot spring resort of Akankohan. The natural spring waters will help revive and rejuvenate before you continue exploring. Non-guests may also try out the day baths at a small fee of S$5 – S$20. Towards the eastern end of the town, walking trails will lead you through the forest and along the lake to bubbling mud pools known as bokke, another remarkable sighting to consider. The trail begins right next to the Akankohan Eco Museum Center where you may find additional information of Akan National Park and its wildlife.

On the other hand, the larger, eastern portion contains Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, Iozan (Sulfur Mountain) and centrally located Kawayu Onsen. Lake Mashu is a caldera lake, renowned for being one of ‘clearest lakes in the world’, This is Japan’s deepest lake, and is usually appreciated for its crystal clear blue waters, though famously blanketed in heavy fog. To retain its natural beauty, visitors are not allowed near to the lake but observation decks are set up around the rim of the caldera to enjoy the vista views. Another must-see attraction includes Iozan, an active volcano in the vicinity of Kawayu Onsen. Its yellow, sulphurous vents can be viewed up close and visitors are free to walk around the steaming, smoky areas. Don’t be surprised to find locals selling freshly cooked eggs using the heat of the mountain and other refreshments are also available from Iozan Visitor Center.

Then there is Shiretoko National Park, which was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The park is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful and is home to some incredibly diverse flora and wildlife, including brown bears, deer and foxes. For more wildlife, visit Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. The marshland here supports the only known population of the highly endangered Japanese Cranes. The birds were thought to be extinct but through extensive conservation, it’s possible to see these birds that are easily recognisable by their red heads in their natural habitat.


BOUQUETS OF COLOUR

Everybody knows Japan for its fleeting cherry blossoms in spring but the rest of the year still brings vibrant hues to the fields of Eastern Hokkaido. Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park is one such place. In late spring, saturated buds of red, yellow and pink tulips bloom in this park. There are approximately 1.2 million tulips of 120 species here and for just 100 yen per tulip, you can dig up your own to take home! For something out of the ordinary, head to Takinoue Town. From mid-April to late May, look out for Shibazakura, which aren’t hard to miss as they cover entire fields in pink. The carpets of pink moss phlox, also known as ‘lawn sakura’ make the place look like a page out of a Dr Seuss book. An entirely natural

experience awaits at Koshimizu Primeval Flower Garden. The entirely natural lawn is where flowers flourish without the aid of human help. About 40 species of wild flowers grow throughout the year.

BREAKING THE ICE

An incredible phenomenon occurs each year at Okhotsk Sea. Drift ice, which usually only appears nearer the poles can be seen right here in Easter Hokkaido in the winter. Catch drift ice from the warmth of a drift ice cruise onboard an icebreaker ship. Garinko in Monbetsu and Aurora in Abashiri offer ice breaking cruises where travellers can watch the ship

captain deftly steer the ship through these large sheets of ice. Otherwise, venture out into the cold and try out drift ice walking in Shiretoko. Temperatures may be frigid but from time to time, animals that thrive in the snow, like seals, can be seen chilling out on drift ice pieces too.


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