Hokkaido is my idea of the perfect place to go cycle touring. Beautiful mountain scenery, gentle gradients and quiet roads. Not to mention excellent cheap camp sites, wonderful food and plenty of “onsen”, japanese public baths, often in hot springs.
We posted our bikes and most of our panniers on to Hokkaido from Tokyo airport using the excellent carrier service in Japan. They were scheduled to arrive when we did and with typical Japanese efficiency they did, all in one piece as well! We stayed the first couple of nights in Sapporo with Ken and Hsiu-hsia our warm-showers hosts. They were brilliant and helped us plan our route, as well as looking after us very well. Ken had spent 4 years cycling around the world a few years ago.
Sapporo is easy to cycle around and there were bikes everywhere, some of them not parked in the correct bays were getting parking tickets. After 2 days of being spoilt, we headed up the west coast of Hokkaido along an impressive coastline with mountains tumbling right down to the sea. There were plenty of tunnels to get through and we mainly had plenty of room on the hard shoulder. The traffic was pretty quiet and Japanese drivers are very considerate. The scenery was fantastic.
The campsites were all very quiet, often free or less than 1000 yen about £5. There were rarely any showers, instead you went to the nearby onsen for a communal hot bath. These were segregated by sex. You stripped off and then had a thorough wash before dipping into the hot baths. After a sweaty day on the road it was a great way to recover.
We headed into the centre of Hokkaido. The maximum gradient we had to climb was 8%, a pleasant change from the Turkish mountains. The weather was glorious with amazing scenery. The mountains in Hokkaido are mainly volcanic. Five are still considered active so plenty of thermal activity with an abundance of hot springs. The caldera have been filled by lakes and the mountains are tree covered. In the more remote areas there is a risk from Higuma, fierce brown bears related to the North American grizzly, fortunately we didn’t meet any.
There are numerous skiing areas and some had a distinct alpine feel. The weather finally broke and we took shelter in a hotel by Lake Ankan for a couple of nights. The food is excellent. Seafood is so fresh and relatively cheap, wild salmon is a local delicacy and tastes completely different to the farmed stuff. Huge scallops and shrimps and all kinds of fish can be bought readily in most of the supermarkets. The ground is black and fertile so all sorts of crops are grown, from flowers to root vegetables, pumpkins, cabbages and sweet corn.
Temperatures were dropping and leaves changing colour. People are friendly and helpful. The road signs are also in English, but we rarely found anyone who spoke it. We covered 1200km in 3 weeks and loved the mountains and all the lakes. We caught a ferry to Akita on Honshu, to carry on our journey south.