RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス), Rausu (羅臼), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.17
Day 3 (1/2).
We woke up to another stormy morning in Utoro. For the morning, we had seats reserved for a 3-hour Cape Shiretoko Boat Cruise to the eastern tip of Shiretoko Peninsula. Due to strong winds and heavy rain, not a single boat was allowed out in the sea that day. We had no choice but decided to leave Utoro earlier than planned, and crossed the Shiretoko Mountain Range to Rausu (羅臼) on the east coast of the peninsula. On our way, we passed by Shiretoko Pass, the highest point between Utoro and Rausu where we could see the full view of Mount Rausu if the sky was clear. Unfortunately, all we saw was rain, fog, fallen branches and flying leaves in the air. Beyond Shiretoko Pass, we gradually descended to Rausu, the remote fishing village which also served as the eastern entry point of the Shiretoko National Park. The rain began to cease as we approached Rausu. With extra time to spare in Rausu, we decided to check out Rusa Field House, the interpretation centre providing information on the famous residents of the Nemuro Strait: whales and dolphins.
We quickly put all our luggage in the car and left Utoro under stormy weather. We followed the Tran-Shiretoko Highway 334 heading towards Rausu via Shiretoko Pass.
As expected, we couldn’t see the mountain scenery along the way. Instead, we drove cautiously on the winding Highway 334 under heavy rain.
Blocked by Shiretoko Mountain Range, Rausu was actually pretty dry, though the wind was strong and waves were high.
High waves had also prevented any boats sailing out to the sea from Rausu.
Though we could at least step out of the car to enjoy the coastal scenery.
Near the end of coastal Road 87, we reached the Rusa Field House. It was very windy at the field house where strong wind from the Shiretoko Mountains channeled through the Rusa River Valley to the river mouth right by the Field House.
The Rusa Field House is a pleasant timber building facing the sea.
The Rusa Field House has a special focus on the wildlife at Shiretoko.
The upper mezzanine offers visitors binoculars and telescopes for whale spotting in the sea.
This beautiful map of Shiretoko Peninsula in the Field House caught our attention. Although we couldn’t understand Japanese, we thought the map was showing two routes (winter and summer) over the mountains connecting Rausu and Utoro to the northwest.
While one side of the Field House overlooks the sea, the other side faces the Rusa River Valley that goes all the way up the mountains to Shiretoko Pass. In the building, we could feel the strong wind from the mountains sweeping through the valley out to the sea.
Standing at a column base, the taxidermy of an Ezo Red Fox reminded us that red fox is a common sight in Shiretoko.
The Field House also showcases what is probably the most famous product from Rausu: the Rausu Kelp, one of the three most precious kelp in Hokkaido.
A hand-drawn illustration that shows the hidden connections between the life cycle of local salmon and coastal ecosystem of Shiretoko.
The Field House provides visitors information on current weather and coastal conditions of the area. We could see the warning of high waves along the shore, urging people not to visit the coastal outdoor hot springs. We decided to give up our plan of visiting the outdoor baths of Aidomari Onsen (相泊温泉) near the end of Road 87.
After visiting the Field House, we drove to the fishing village of Rausu. At Rausu, the weather seemed fine and the sea pretty calm. We spent quite a bit of time searching for a place to sample the fabulous local seafood.
In the afternoon, we checked in at our onsen hotel Rausu no Yado Marumi Ryokan (羅臼の宿 まるみ). In the lobby, we were greeted by some of the most iconic animals of Shiretoko: Sperm Whale and Brown Bear.
Our guestroom offered fantastic panorama of the sea.
The dinner at Rausu no Yado Marumi Ryokan (羅臼の宿 まるみ) was probably the most satisfying hotel dinner of our Hokkaido stay. Other than the “compulsory” seafood on our table as shown in the photo above, there were also a wide range of dishes made with local seafood and vegetables served in a buffet.
From our room, the sea looked peaceful and beautiful in late afternoon. We silently wished for fine weather in the next day when we would have our last chance to sail out to the sea before leaving Shiretoko.
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.