Day 2 (1/3).
Shiretoko Goko (知床五湖) or Shiretoko Five Lakes is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in the Shiretoko Peninsula, and the most accessible area in Shiretoko National Park. Formed by prehistoric volcanic activities of Mount Io (硫黄山), the five small lakes in the dense forest below the series of Shiretoko Mountains has become the icon of the UNESCO World Heritage site. The Shiretoko Five Lakes can be enjoyed from a 800m elevated boardwalk or by a short hike in the forest. Shiretoko National Park is a natural haven for a diverse range of wildlife: Steller’s Sea Eagle, White-tailed Sea Eagle, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Sika Deer, Ezo Red Fox, etc, but the most famous of all is undoubtedly the Brown Bears. Shiretoko has the highest concentration of Brown Bears in Japan. During the bear mating season from May to July, only guided hikes are allowed in the forest trails. That was the reason why we had arranged a guided tour weeks before our actually arrival in Hokkaido. We picked the day and time suitable for our vacation plan, selected a guide that could speak some English, and found a guesthouse in nearby Utoro to minimize transportation hassle. Unfortunately we couldn’t predict the weather.
It wasn’t the brightest start for a hiking day. Rain kept on pouring down when we get up for breakfast at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse.
To battle the wet and cool weather, a hearty breakfast was essential.
After half an hour of driving up the mountains in rainy conditions, we arrived at the Field House of Shiretoko Five Lakes, where we were to meet with our guide Mr. Suzuki.
At the Field House, a preserved specimen of a small bear reminds visitors “a fed bear is a dead bear”. When a bear is being fed by visitors and loses its fear of humans, it would repeatedly enter human settlements, leading to its eventual death in human hands to prevent fatal attacks on humans.
A board at the Field House allowed tour guides to introduce themselves.
We put on waterproofed pants, jackets, boots and grooves provided by our guide Mr. Suzuki, and were led into a hall to watch a a short film introducing the national park and information on bear encounter. Soon, three other visitors and us followed Suzuki out to the hiking trails in the rain.
We were excited to hike at the Shiretoko Five Lakes despite the poor weather. Mr. Suzuki kept on reminding us a close encounter with a bear would lead to termination of the hike. Though within our hearts we wished for a magical encounter with the iconic bears of Shiretoko.
The 2.5 hour hike basically took us to pass by the five lakes of Shiretoko under the Shiretoko Mountain Range.
Unfortunately, due to the poor weather we weren’t able to see the scenic mountains during our hike.
On his iPad, Mr. Suzuki showed us the same scenery in fine weather.
The Shiretoko Five Lakes reminded us of the wetland scenery in Ontario, Canada.
Throughout the hike, we spotted bear droppings a number of times.
According to Suzuki, the roots of these plants are popular food for the bears. We could see many of these plants being pulled out by bears.
Sika deer were peacefully resting in the forest while we hiked out of the trail.
Sika deer is the most commonly seen animal in Shiretoko.
The last part of the hike led us to the elevated boardwalk that connected back to the Field House.
Too bad the weather didn’t allow us to witness the beautiful scenery of Shiretoko Five Lakes, though we did have an enjoyable morning of peaceful hiking.
The elevated walkway allowed us to enjoy the wetland scenery without damaging the vegetation of the fragile landscape.
Our guided tour ended at the boardwalk. We slowly followed the elevated walkway back to the Field House to return the waterproofed outfit.