Day 5 (2/3).
After a few hours of sleep, we returned to Lake Mashu to seek for another way to enjoy the crater lake and its surrounding landscape. This time, we took the 14.4km trail along the crater rim up to the top of Mount Mashu or Mashu-dake (857m) in a 4-6 hour walk. We read from guidebooks and online research that the scenery of Lake Mashu from the top of Mount Mashu would be very promising. At the onsen village of Mashu, we stopped by a bento takeout restaurant (ほかほか弁当) to order two rice dishes for breakfast, then headed over to Lake Mashu’s Viewpoint 1 to begin our hike.
A terrain model at the visitor centre of Viewpoint 1 gave us a rough idea of the hike, from the trailhead at the south of the crater lake to the peak of Mount Mashu east of the lake.
Soon after the trailhead, we reached the first open lookout of Lake Mashu.
The trail took us along the crater lake on one side, and open plains and distant volcanic landscape on the other.
Most of the trail ran along the rim of the crater lake with little shades.
From time to time, wooden signage indicated how far we were from our destination.
There was pretty much only one trail for most of the time. It was almost impossible to get lost.
Near the peak, we could fully appreciate the volcanic landscape of the area, including the lush green forest in a caldera next to Lake Mashu.
After the steepest section of the trail, we finally reached the summit of Mount Mashu, a small lookout that offered wonderful panoramas of the area’s volcanic scenery.
From the top, the volcanic scenery of Lake Mashu area was fantastic.
Looking west, the ridge of Mount Mashu led to the eastern edge of Lake Mashu.
Clouds were getting in with the wind but we still had blue sky for most of the day.
Looking north, we could see the eastern tip of Lake Mashu.
With a circumference of about 20km, Lake Mashu is one of the most famous lakes in Hokkaido. We stayed for 20 minutes or so at the summit all by ourselves, and began the descending journey when another couple followed our footsteps and replaced us at the peak.
Claimed as the clearest water in the world, the beautiful blue colour of Lake Mashu was simply stunning when viewed from above.
The wind was mild and the air was dry, such a perfect day for us to hike at Eastern Hokkaido.
From afar, the tiny island in the middle of Lake Mashu looked funny.
The hike would offer a different scenery if we were to visit in the autumn.
The beauty of Lake Mashu never cease to impress us, despite we were a little tired near the end of the hike.
Finally back to Viewpoint 1, the colour of Lake Mashu had changed due to the constantly moving clouds. From dawn to mid afternoon, we had fully experienced the sheer beauty of the famous caldera lake. After about 5 hours of walking, we returned to Viewpoint 1 and treated ourselves with local chocolate milk and a slide of Yubari melon (夕張メロン) , the king of Hokkaido fruit which just broke the record in May 2019 with a pair fetching 5,000,000 JPY (47,000 USD) in auction.
Day 4 (1/2).
It was the fourth day since we arrived in Shiretoko. Finally we woke up to a fine morning. Clouds gathered atop the Shiretoko Mountain Range northwest of Rausu. We had made reservations for an afternoon whale watching cruise. Our plan for the morning was to head up to Shiretoko Pass, and do a bit of hiking near Rausu Lake. It would be quite unfortunate if we were to leave Shiretoko without seeing Mount Rausu (羅臼岳).
At 1661m in height, Mount Rausu is an active stratovolcano that sits above Shiretoko Pass, the highest point on Road 334 between the villages of Utoro and Rausu. Also known as the Fuji of Shiretoko, Mount Rausu is one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains. Hiking up the volcano takes 6-8 hours round trip, but given our limited time and lack of snow crampons, we would have to leave the hike for another time.
Driving Road 334 up to Shiretoko Pass, we could see the mountains were still covered in clouds.
On our way up, we passed by several covered road sections.
It was a disappointment again when we arrived at Shiretoko Pass (知床峠) and saw Mount Rausu covered in thick clouds.
Though the weather looked quite promising down at coast of Rausu. We hoped that the fine weather would stay for several more hours so that we could embark on our whale watching cruise in the afternoon.
It was 2.3km from Shiretoko Pass to the trailhead of Lake Rausu Trail. About five minutes after we walked down the road from the parking lot of Shiretoko Pass, the clouds began to disperse over Mount Rausu. We could finally see the beautiful volcano right behind us.
Some hikers would prefer taking the bus to cover the 2.3km journey to the trailhead, but there are only four buses per day on the route.
Looking down from the trailhead, the trail began at a marsh area.
We followed a narrow path down to the trailhead of Rausu Lake Trail.
The return trip of Rausu Lake Trail would take about 3-4 hours. Unfortunately our time was restricted by the afternoon whale watching cruise. We decided to do a shorter hike by turning back at Marsh 3.
As warned at the trailhead, the early section of the Rausu Lake Trail was flooded like a swamp. Rubber boots could be rented at the Rausu Visitor Centre.
We soon reached Marsh 2 after a short walk in the flooded path, but there wasn’t much water in the marsh.
Snow was still visible at certain parts of the trail.
After about half an hour from the trailhead, we reached Marsh 3, the destination of our short hike.
Mount Rausu and its reflection at Marsh 3 was the biggest highlight of the hike. While most hikers would continue on towards Rausu Lake, we had to turn back in order to make back to Rausu on time for our whale watching cruise.
Back to Shiretoko Pass, more clouds were visible over Nemuro Strait and the Russian controlled Kunashir Island. We were a little worried about the overcast conditions ahead of our whale watching cruise. After 2.5 days of rainy weather, even few patches of clouds would make us nervous.
Day 2 (3/3).
The weather fluctuated throughout the afternoon. After lunch, we headed back up to Shiretoko National Park from Utoro to check out Shiretoko Nature Centre, the visitor centre near the park entrance. The centre houses a large screen theatre showing films of the park, service counters for hikers to obtain trail information, a cafe serving excellent coffee and ice-cream, and a shop selling all kinds of outdoor outfits and souvenir. After watching a film about a family of Ezo Red Fox at the theatre, we decided to do a short hike.
Only 20 minute of easy walk would bring us to coast of Sea of Okhotsk, where the The Virgin’s Tears or the Furepe Waterfall awaited us.
In the past few decades, efforts had been made to reforest the area after years of pioneer development.
Weather was changing quickly. At one moment, clouds and mist were moving away from the Shiretoko Mountain Range.
At Furepe Falls, we could only admire the cliff of the waterfall from the opposite side.
A small group of seabirds gathered at the tip of the rock cliff.
From the opposite side, we could see the top part of the Furepe Falls. The waterfall originates from ground water surfaced near the top.
A wooden pavilion was built across the cove from Furepe Falls as a lookout.
Despite the sun was out at Furepe Falls, clouds and mist continued to cover most of Shiretoko Mountain Range.
We slowly walked back to Shiretoko Nature Centre.
Back at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse, we had another tasty dinner after a pleasant bath at the inhouse onsen. That evening, we were served with local salmon ruibe. It had a delicate texture and would melt in the mouth.
Each of us was served with lamb nabe, herring with sea urchin miso, dried flounder, butter scallops, steamed razor clams, etc.
(Foreground) Ruibe, translates as “melted food”, is half-frozen sashimi. It is an Ainu culinary specialty from Hokkaido. Fresh fish was traditionally stored under snow during winter and eaten without defrost. (Background) Kichiji is a local fish with red skin and big eyes. We tasted the deep dried kichiji which was crispy and delicious.
Steamed razor clams were full of aroma of local sake.
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.
Linking the village of Yuen Long (元朗) and Tseun Wan (荃灣), the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail was once a major route for farmers from Yuen Long to bring out their produces to the market in Tseun Wan. Today, it is a pleasant hiking trail that leads visitors to enjoy the scenery of Tai Lam Country Park (大欖郊野公園), former villages such as Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘) and two of the city’s longest bridges: Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).
Our hike began from Tsuen Wan West Station and passed by Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital to reach the trailhead.
Soon the trail led us up the hill of Ha Fa Shan (下花山). The path was well paved with stones.
The narrow Rambler Channel (藍巴勒海峽) between the island of Tsing Yi (青衣) and Tsuen Wan (荃灣)/ Kwai Chung (葵涌).
Known as one of the world’s busiest port, Hong Kong’s container port is located right at the channel.
Further down the road the trail led us further west where we were treated with great views of Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋), two of the city’s most important bridges connecting the metropolis with its international airport.
Another highlight of the trail came as we arrived at the former village of Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘). The village used to be a 200-year old Hakka village of the Fu clan. Today, most villagers had moved to the new village at Sham Tseng (深井), about 45 minutes form their former home.
In 2002, a family of former villagers returned and set up a farm called Parent Farm (喜香農莊) at Tsing Fai Tong. Many hikers stopped at the farm to enjoy their seasonal flowers and beautiful lily pond.
We came at the perfect moment of the year to enjoy the waterlilies.
While hikers enjoyed the waterlilies, their pets got a chance to have some fun at the farm.
From Tsing Fai Tong, we chose to end our hike at Sham Tseng (深井) right in front of Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).
Under the shadow of the busy highway Tuen Mun Road, the village of Sham Tseng (深井) is a well known village in Hong Kong.
Other than its view of Tsing Ma Bridge, Sham Tseng (深井) has been famous for roast goose for decades.
We couldn’t resist but to end our day with the famous Sham Tseng roast goose for dinner.
One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation. At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers. The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong. At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination. During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak. Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.
Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).
After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began. A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.
Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.
Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.
The trail was exposed with hardly any shade. Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.
It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.
Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.
There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.
After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak. The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.
From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.
Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).
Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣). The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.
The descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.
The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.
Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).
The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.
Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山), a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.
After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.
The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.
Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.
There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.
Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.
The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.
Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).
At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.
Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.
Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most. The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.
In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus. We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.
Kamikochi Valley and Hida Mountains or Northern Japanese Alps are the results from a series of geological processes that began 2.6 million years ago, when the Azusa River carved out a deep valley while the adjacent mountains rose abruptly. Further volcanic and sedimentary activities continued to transform the Kamikochi Valley until recently. Nowhere can illustrate the dramatic transformations of Kamikochi more evidently than the Taishoike or Taisho Pond (大正池), when the eruption of Mount Yake (焼岳) in 1915 dammed the Azusa River to form the beautiful Taisho Pond. Today, the tranquil turquoise pond right by the foot of Mount Yake has become the most popular destination in Kamikochi.
After two nights at Kamikochi, it was time for us to move on to Shirahone Onsen for a dip in its famous milky hotspring. Before leaving Kamikochi by the 8:25am bus, we opted for our last hike to visit Taisho Pond before breakfast. We headed out at 5am. The sky was grey compared to our previous two days.
Time was still early and the sun had yet risen beyond the mountains, though the air was fresh and filled with a sense of tranquility.
The trail to Taisho Pond soon led us into a forest. Bear sighting was an unlikely possibility. The last time someone saw a bear in the area was three weeks prior to our visit.
The trail led us passing through some wet and shaded forest area before reaching a wetland right by Azusa River.
It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Taisho Pond. Mount Yake (焼岳), the volcano whose eruption in 1915 caused the formation of the famous pond, stood right behind the turquoise water.
Unfortunately, the sky was grey and the early sunlight was still weak. The colour of Taisho Pond was not as vivid as we hoped.
Nonetheless, the peaceful scenery and the pleasant colour palette of Taisho Pond still looked magnificent.
The beautiful reflections on the mirror like water revealed how peaceful the Taisho Pond was.
Taisho Pond is the ideal place to admire the scenery of Mount Yake.
Taisho Pond seemed to provide a desirable habitat for wild ducks.
Fallen logs in the water dated back to the last eruption of Mount Yake.
A long boardwalk provides convenient access to the lookout of Taisho Pond.
On our return journey to Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge, we passed by a lush green wetland.
A small detour from the main path led us to the picturesque Tashiro Pond (田代池), a peaceful wetland with crystal clear water.
Along the way, we passed by a stubborn duck that refused to step aside from the middle of the main path.
Back to Nishi-itoya Mountains Lodge we had a close encounter with two Japanese macaque monkeys.
After two hours of hiking, we felt total satisfied for devouring the fantastic breakfast.
After two nights of delightful stay, it was time for us to check out of Nishi-itoya Mountain Lodge.
We made it just in time to catch the 8:25am bus to Sawando (沢渡) where we would make a transfer for Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉).
* * *
CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)