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.
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.
The rain stopped after our morning hike. We returned to the fishing port at Utoro.
Due to unpredictable weather and strong wind, no fishing boats were allowed to head out to the sea.
The fishing port of Utoro was completely empty.
At the fishing port, the Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner has been a popular seafood eatery for 40 years.
The interior of Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner is simple and causal.
The diner is served by wives of Utoro fishermen.
Wild Shirozake Salmon and its roe, crab meat and the legendary Ezo Bafun Uni are the most popular delicacies in Shiretoko.
Feeding 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.
Grilled Hokke or Okhotsk Atka Mackerel is a popular local dish.
In 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.
Housed in another building, a visitor centre offers a comprehensive introduction of Shiretoko National Park to visitors with a number of engaging displays.
Wildlife is definitely the highlight of Shiretoko National Park.
Too bad we didn’t see a real bear during our hike earlier.
In the afternoon, we drove back up to Shiretoko National Park from Utoro.
Looking down from the uphill road that led to Shiretoko National Park, Utoro appeared as a sleepy village guarded by a few huge rocks.
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.