Flowers, Lakes and Mountains: Hokkaido in Summer
Japan 01.12.2016 TransIndus
The island’s fresh, maritime breezes and uplifting scenery offer the perfect escape from Honshu’s heat and humidity in the summer months. Its quiet roads also make it ideal for a self-guided, fly-drive holiday – a great adventure offering a tempting mix of dramatic landscapes and some memorable places to stay, walk and swim. Emblematic of Hokkaido’s short summer are the vibrant flower fields around Biei, where huge expanses of lavender and other brightly coloured blooms are framed by views of the Tokachi and Yubari Mountains.
Further east, a succession of stark volcanic mountain ranges and cobalt-blue caldera lakes punctuate the journey through the centre of Hokkaido. Among the finest views here is the one over Lake Mashu, enfolded by soaring cliffs and the graceful slopes of Mount Shari beyond. The lake is the poster piece of the Akan National Park, whose other great scenic wonder is Lake Akan itself. Whereas the waters of Mashu are famed for their exceptional clarity, Akan is renowned for the balls of green marine algae that form on its bed. In the distance, the smoking summit of an active volcano forms an epic backdrop for boat cruises and canoe trips. Visits may also include tours of a museum dedicated to the local indigenous minority, the Ainu.
For keen walkers, Hokkaido’s highest mountain, Mount Asahidake (2,291m/7,516ft), in the Daisetsuzan National Park, offers the island’s definitive trek. Beginning with a short cable car ascent, the climb takes you across dramatic scree slopes pockmarked with small calderas belching plumes of sulphurous steam. The views from the summit are superb (weather permitting!).
The prime incentive to press on to the east coast of the island is the rugged Shiretoko promontory – a long chain of volcanic peaks extending into the Sea of Othosk. Most of this distinctive region remains accessible only on foot or by boat, though during the summer, you can travel by road to within striking distance of its standout attraction, the Kamuiwakka River, whose steaming hot waters flow through tiers of turquoise pools and pristine woodland before cascading into the ocean.
Known to the Ainu aboriginal people as ‘World’s End’, Shiretoko also hosts a thriving population of brown bears. Offshore, orcas and sperm whales number among several species of cetacean regularly seen on spotting cruises, which in winter squeeze through packs of sea ice to sight flocks of rare Steller’s sea eagles, one of the world’s largest raptors, classed by the government as a ‘National Treasure’.