Day 1 (2/2).
In the Northwest Pacific between the Sea of Okhotsk and Nemuro Strait (根室海峡) lies a pointy peninsula extending from the easternmost part of Hokkaido. Translated as “the end of the world” in native Ainu, Shiretoko Peninsula is often considered to be the last pristine wilderness of Japan. Because of the famous Oyashio Current (親潮) that brings the nutrient rich subarctic current from Alaska and Bering Sea to the east of Hokkaido, Shiretoko is blessed with magnificent biodiversity and probably one of the world’s richest fishery. Shiretoko is also the southernmost point in the Northern Hemisphere where sea ice can be formed. The peninsula is also defined by the volcanic landscape of the Shiretoko Mountain Range (知床連山), and of course the lovely onsens dotted around the peninsula, such as Utoro Onsen (ウトロ温泉), Aidomari Onsen (相泊温泉), Seseki Onsen (瀬石温泉), Rausu Onsen (羅臼温泉) and Iwaobetsu Onsen (岩尾別温泉). The special natural characteristics of Shiretoko have led to the establishment of Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) in 1964 and later enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2005.
Determined to test our luck to check out the beautiful wildlife including Brown Bears, Ezo-shika Deer, Ezo Red Fox, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Steller’s Sea Eagle, and the Orcas, Sperm Whales and Dall’s porpoise in the sea, Shiretoko was the top priority for our Hokkaido travel itinerary. From Memanbetsu Airport (女満別空港) near Abashiri (網走), we picked up our rental car from Toyota-Rent-A-Car and began our 1.5 hour drive to Utoro Onsen (ウトロ温泉) in the town of Shari (斜里), the gateway of Shiretoko National Park.
After an hour and 40 minutes, our JAL flight took us from Tokyo Hanada to Memanbetsu Airport in Eastern Hokkaido.
The road from Abashiri to Shari offered us beautiful scenery of the Sea of Okhotsk.
From Shari, we continued driving along the sea up the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Before reaching the onsen village Utoro, we arrived at one of the tourist attractions of Shiretoko called Oshinkoshin Falls (オシンコシンの滝).
Just two minutes up a flight of steps led us to the viewing platform of Oshinkoshin Falls.
From Oshinkoshin Falls, it was just a few minute drive to Utoro, where we would stay for two nights.
58m in height, the Oronko-iwa Rock (オロンコ岩) is an iconic feature at the fishing and onsen village of Otoro (ウトロ). The rock separates the village from the breakwater structures out in the sea.
At the Oronko-iwa Rock parking lot, we had our first fox encounter: a furry fox sneaked behind our black car while we were taking photos of the setting sun.
The Oronko-iwa Rock is a popular spot for watching the sunset.
It was 6pm when we enjoyed a brief moment of the peaceful sunset out in the Sea of Okhotsk.
From the Oronko-iwa Rock, we could see the onsen hotels at Utoro.
The posters at Utoro visitor centre promote the salmon fishery and winter sea ice of Shiretoko.
After the red-eye flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, the short domestic flight from Tokyo to Memanbetsu Airport, and the drive from Abashiri to Utoro, it was time for us to check in at Shiretoko Village, our onsen hotel in the hills behind Utoro village.
We always look forward the the meals at the onsen hotels in Japan. At Utoro, we were treated with local seafood, deer meat, local salmon roe, and hairy crab.
It was the time for hairy crabs in Hokkaido. Each guest was provided with a delicious hairy crab.
Drifting ice is the most popular local feature to promote various drinks and food products from Shiretoko, from sake, beer to ice-cream.
We ended our first day in Shiretoko with a bottle of local grape juice.