ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Shiretoko

FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.18

Day 4 (2/2).

Whale watching was the final act of our Shiretoko experience.  The 2-hour outing in the Nemuro Strait turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of our trip.  Located at the eastern coast of Shiretoko Peninsula, Rausu is the most popular spot in Japan for whale watching.  Depending on the season, various kinds of whales might be found in the waters just off Rausu, including minke whales, sperm whales, orcas (killer whales), humpback whales (rare), Dall’s porpoises, giant beaked whales, and several types of dolphins.  In the summer months, there would be a good chance to spot Orcas, also known as killer whales.  Orca is the biggest member of the oceanic dolphin family.   They are highly social animals that hunt and wander the sea in pods.

After three days of poor weather, the strong wind and rough sea had finally died down despite the overcast condition over Nemuro Strait.  Returned from Shiretoko Pass, we went immediately to the office of Gojiraiwa Kanko Eco Tour (ゴジラ岩観光) in Rausu to make our cruise payment, get a quick snack near the tourist office, parked our car at the dock, and followed one the three queues to get on our cruise boat.

IMG_6759After three days of stormy weather, the sea was calm as we were about to set sail for the whale watching cruise.

IMG_9249Looking back towards the dock, we could see Mount Rausu rising beyond the village of Rausu.

DSC_4649After seeing several black dorsal fin dolphins popped out of the sea in the first ten minutes, our boat captain received the news that orcas had been spotted by the other cruise boats ahead of us.  Soon we reached cruise boats and had our first encounter with the magnificent orcas of Nemuro Strait.

DSC_4668.JPGWhile the whales roam in the water of Nemuro Strait, Stellar Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles rule the sky.

DSC_4688Lies between Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula and the controversial Russian Kunashir Island (国後島), Nemuro Strait is one of the best place in the world for whale watching.

DSC_4724Orcas often appear in a pod.  We were fortunate to follow a pod of around a dozen of orcas, even with a few juveniles.

DSC_4733Sometimes, the pod would get pretty close to one of the cruise boats.

DSC_4874Eventually, the pod of orcas broke up into a few smaller groups.  Our boat followed one of the groups towards the direction of Rausu.

DSC_4949Each boat followed a different group of orca.

DSC_4990Seeing one of the juvenile killer whales in the pod was very exciting.

DSC_5042.JPGIn a few moments, the whales swam really close to our boat.

DSC_5052A few of them even swam under our boat.

DSC_5064From a close distance, we could truly appreciate the true scale of the orca’s dosal fin.

DSC_5098Some scientists can identify different orcas just by studying their distinctive dorsal fins.

DSC_5146For most of the time, our boat continued to follow a small group of orcas.

DSC_5152_01It was the first whale watching cruise that we ever experienced.  We were grateful that the cruise turned out to be a fruitful one.

DSC_5204After about 1.5 hour chasing the whales, it was time for our boat to return to the dock.

DSC_5210The majestic Mount Rausu signified our arrival of the village of Rausu.

DSC_5237Most fishing boats were parked behind the sea wall at the dock.

DSC_5247It seemed that most fishermen were staying away from the sea for another day.  Whale watching offered us the perfect finale to for our Shiretoko journey.  We picked up our car at the dock, had another seafood lunch at Jun no Banya (純の番屋), and left Shiretoko altogether for our next destination: Mashu Lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.18

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.

IMG_9085Driving Road 334 up to Shiretoko Pass, we could see the mountains were still covered in clouds.

IMG_9111On our way up, we passed by several covered road sections.

DSC_4457It was a disappointment again when we arrived at Shiretoko Pass (知床峠) and saw Mount Rausu covered in thick clouds.

IMG_9122Though 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.

DSC_4480It 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.

DSC_4497Some 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.

DSC_4495Looking down from the trailhead, the trail began at a marsh area.

DSC_4498We followed a narrow path down to the trailhead of Rausu Lake Trail.

IMG_9146The 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.

DSC_4528As 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.

DSC_4525We soon reached Marsh 2 after a short walk in the flooded path, but there wasn’t much water in the marsh.

IMG_9148Snow was still visible at certain parts of the trail.

DSC_4502After about half an hour from the trailhead, we reached Marsh 3, the destination of our short hike.

DSC_4505Mount 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.

IMG_9170Back 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.

 

 


JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋), Rausu (羅臼), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.17

Day 3 (2/2).

Written by Hokkaido playwright Sô Kuramoto (倉本聰), Kita no Kuni Kara 2002 Yuigon (北の国から 遺言) is the final chapter of Kita no Kuni Kara (北の国から), a popular television drama series about a father and his daughter who moved to Hokkaido from Tokyo after divorcing his wife.  The series and its special episodes were first broadcasted in 1981, and ended in 2002 with Kita no Kuni Kara 2002 Yuigon.  Throughout the years, Kita no Kuni Kara and other stories written by Sô Kuramoto have become part of the cultural identity of Hokkaido, while his efforts of promoting Hokkaido have made places like Furano to become well known tourist attractions nowadays.

In Rausu, a seaside timber house that appears in Kita no Kuni Kara 2002 Yuigon has been rebuilt and converted into a lovely seafood restaurant Jun no Banya (純の番屋).  Ran by several local ladies, Jun no Banya serves fantastic local seafood.  During our two-day stay in Rausu, we had two delightful seafood meals at Jun no Banya that ranked among the top highlights in our Shiretoko experience.

IMG_9273Jun no Banya is a popular seafood restaurant housed in a rebuilt timber house that appeared in Kita no Kuni Kara 2002 Yuigon (北の国から 遺言).

DSC_4431The Jun no Banya is managed by several local ladies.

DSC_5255The interior of Jun no Banya is full of colours.

IMG_8977Outside the window, the sea looked calm and relaxing.

IMG_8991We ordered some local seafood after checking out the seafood display in the fridge.

IMG_9277Many decorations in Jun no Banya reveal the restaurant’s strong connection to the fishing industry.

DSC_4433Many Japanese glass fishing floats were handmade with recycled glass from sake bottles.

DSC_4438A cute little lantern.

DSC_5258Dried fish are also used as decorations.

DSC_5265A series of colourful lanterns lined along a timber beam of the house.

DSC_5266A poster in the restaurant reminded us that Shiretoko had been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage sites since 2005.

IMG_9267Uni (sea urchin) and kani (crab) on sushi rice is definitely a signature dish of Shiretoko.

IMG_9268Super fresh sashimi from the area was another delight.

IMG_9270Shrimps from the nearby waters and oysters from Akkeshi Bay (厚岸) let us experience the true sweetness of fresh seafood from clean and cold seawater.

IMG_8995Located beside Rausu Shiretoko Tourist Information Centre, the Rausu Fisherman Store (羅臼(漁協)直営店 海鮮工房) offers wonderful souvenirs including the famous Rausu kelp and local salmon made from this remote fisherman village.

IMG_8997 A map in the tourist information centre explains the main highlights of Shiretoko and the northeast coast of the peninsula.

IMG_9005At the tourist centre, we tried out the light blue ice-cream inspired by the famous Abashiri (網走) Ryuhyo or drift ice.

IMG_9007Outside the tourist centre, we quietly looked at the sea across the street, hoping the sea would calm down and the sun would come out the next morning.

 

 


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.

IMG_8897We 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.

IMG_8908As expected, we couldn’t see the mountain scenery along the way.  Instead, we drove cautiously on the winding Highway 334 under heavy rain.

DSC_4398Blocked by Shiretoko Mountain Range, Rausu was actually pretty dry, though the wind was strong and waves were high.

DSC_4409High waves had also prevented any boats sailing out to the sea from Rausu.

IMG_6526Though we could at least step out of the car to enjoy the coastal scenery.

IMG_8928Near 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.

IMG_8930The Rusa Field House is a pleasant timber building facing the sea.

IMG_6543The Rusa Field House has a special focus on the wildlife at Shiretoko.

IMG_6550The upper mezzanine offers visitors binoculars and telescopes for whale spotting in the sea.

IMG_6557This 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.

IMG_6558While 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.

IMG_6577Standing at a column base, the taxidermy of an Ezo Red Fox reminded us that red fox is a common sight in Shiretoko.

IMG_8939The 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.

IMG_8940A hand-drawn illustration that shows the hidden connections between the life cycle of local salmon and coastal ecosystem of Shiretoko.

IMG_8943The 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.

DSC_4413After 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.

IMG_8967In 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.

IMG_8961Our guestroom offered fantastic panorama of the sea.

IMG_9018The 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.

IMG_9067From 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.

 

 


FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.16

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.

IMG_6477Only 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.

DSC_4374In the past few decades, efforts had been made to reforest the area after years of pioneer development.

DSC_4382Weather was changing quickly.  At one moment, clouds and mist were moving away from the Shiretoko Mountain Range.

DSC_4383At Furepe Falls, we could only admire the cliff of the waterfall from the opposite side.

DSC_4385A small group of seabirds gathered at the tip of the rock cliff.

DSC_4389From the opposite side, we could see the top part of the Furepe Falls.  The waterfall originates from ground water surfaced near the top.

DSC_4393A wooden pavilion was built across the cove from Furepe Falls as a lookout.

IMG_8828Despite the sun was out at Furepe Falls, clouds and mist continued to cover most of Shiretoko Mountain Range.

IMG_8831We slowly walked back to Shiretoko Nature Centre.

IMG_8850Back 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.

IMG_6480Each of us was served with lamb nabe, herring with sea urchin miso, dried flounder, butter scallops, steamed razor clams, etc.

IMG_6487(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.

IMG_6488Steamed razor clams were full of aroma of local sake.

 


UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.16

Day 2 (2/3).

While the weather might not be the most ideal for hiking and brown bear sighting, the rain wouldn’t affect our appetite to try out the famous seafood of Shiretoko.  After our morning hike, we drove back to Utoro for lunch.  At the fishing port of Utoro, the fleet of fishing boats below Oronkoiwa Rock ensure the continuous supply of seafood to the area and beyond.  Right by the port, a simple eatery has long been a favorite for both the local and foreign visitors.  Operated by women from Utoro’s fishing industry, Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner at Utoro’s fishing port has been serving fresh seafood rice bowls or kaisen don for 40 years.  Signature seafood of Utoro includes uni (sea urchin), ikura (red caviar made from salmon roe), kani (hair crab, snow crab, king crab), and grilled Hokke or Okhotsk Atka Mackerel, accompanied with pickled radish and miso soup.

DSC_4360The rain stopped after our morning hike.  We returned to the fishing port at Utoro.

DSC_4361Due to unpredictable weather and strong wind, no fishing boats were allowed to head out to the sea.

DSC_4368The fishing port of Utoro was completely empty.

IMG_8791At the fishing port, the Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner has been a popular seafood eatery for 40 years.

IMG_8790The interior of Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner is simple and causal.

IMG_6430The diner is served by wives of Utoro fishermen.

IMG_8785Wild Shirozake Salmon and its roe, crab meat and the legendary Ezo Bafun Uni are the most popular delicacies in Shiretoko.

IMG_8786Feeding on laus kelp, Ezo Bafun Uni (エゾバフンウニ, 蝦夷馬糞海胆) or Short-Spined Sea Urchin of Hokkaido is widely considered as the best sea urchin in Japan.  Known as orange gold, these tasty treat is available from June to August.

IMG_8787Grilled Hokke or Okhotsk Atka Mackerel is a popular local dish.

IMG_6461In Utoro, delicious seafood is also served at the Shiretoko World Heritage Centre (知床世界遺産センター), where simple meals and snacks are offered, as well as souvenirs and dried seafood.  The centre also offers tourist information on Shiretoko.

IMG_8840Housed in another building, a visitor centre offers a comprehensive introduction of Shiretoko National Park to visitors with a number of engaging displays.

IMG_8842Wildlife is definitely the highlight of Shiretoko National Park.

IMG_8844Too bad we didn’t see a real bear during our hike earlier.

IMG_8809In the afternoon, we drove back up to Shiretoko National Park from Utoro.

DSC_4371Looking down from the uphill road that led to Shiretoko National Park, Utoro appeared as a sleepy village guarded by a few huge rocks.

 

 

 


SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.16

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.

IMG_6334It wasn’t the brightest start for a hiking day.  Rain kept on pouring down when we get up for breakfast at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse.

IMG_8689To battle the wet and cool weather, a hearty breakfast was essential.

IMG_6343After 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.

IMG_8694At 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.

IMG_6345A board at the Field House allowed tour guides to introduce themselves.

IMG_8704We 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.

IMG_8713We 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.

IMG_6357The 2.5 hour hike basically took us to pass by the five lakes of Shiretoko under the Shiretoko Mountain Range.

IMG_8717Unfortunately, due to the poor weather we weren’t able to see the scenic mountains during our hike.

IMG_8716On his iPad, Mr. Suzuki showed us the same scenery in fine weather.

IMG_8725The Shiretoko Five Lakes reminded us of the wetland scenery in Ontario, Canada.

IMG_8731Throughout the hike, we spotted bear droppings a number of times.

IMG_8733According 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.

IMG_8739Sika deer were peacefully resting in the forest while we hiked out of the trail.

DSC_4325Sika deer is the most commonly seen animal in Shiretoko.

DSC_4333The last part of the hike led us to the elevated boardwalk that connected back to the Field House.

DSC_4344Too 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.

IMG_8781The elevated walkway allowed us to enjoy the wetland scenery without damaging the vegetation of the fragile landscape.

IMG_8776Our guided tour ended at the boardwalk.  We slowly followed the elevated walkway back to the Field House to return the waterproofed outfit.