Otaru to Mikasa – Tuesday 4 June

John: ‘What day is it today?’

Sue: ‘Tuesday … why?’

John: ‘You just put on your rain jacket’


Just like clockwork – rain … our bikes were in the basement of the hotel with all the big guns (cars). Just about to head off and I noticed a few drops of rain … enough to think about rain jackets.

Late leaving as we had just booked a hotel for tonight. We only have 2 weeks left and trying to get the most of our time in Hokkaido so heading northwest.

The climb out of Otaru along the coast … the rain spoilt the wonderful views today and overcast sky. Lots of trucks and 1 tunnel. Spectacular views to be had on a clear day of the coast and hills

After 11km we had done our hills work for the day and proceeded to bypass the centre of Sapporo through the suburbs and small rural areas. The new suburbs add a bit of colour in their homes with striking colour schemes.

Komoot took unnecessarily on a gravel road … not happy!!!

We passed a big factory … ‘John, that smells like chocolate!!’

Sure enough … a google search ‘Roycé Chocolate Factory’ … if only I’d known.

Just as I was thinking it was a little lack lustre, we rode through rural areas … the smell of cattle … agh … a dairy farm.

A bridge and on a levee for several kms the main road was safely in the distance parellel to us as we saw the trucks rolling passed but no noise … meanwhile we were on our lonesome enjoying the farmland of rice paddies and grain. It appeared to be large farms with farmhouses and sheds spaced far apart

This was reminiscent of The Netherlands so flat and straight roads. I thought garmin was faulty as there was a vertical red line and arrow and no movement for several kms while in navigator mode.

Komoot wasn’t on my side today and sent us on yet another gravel road … no way!!! I found other options …

More wonderful farming areas and we get to Mikasa a little damp but the onsen is a nice end to the day.

Shakotan to Otaru – Monday 3 June

A lovely evening at the Youth Hostel with a family from Sapporo a retired couple and their 21yo daughter all pharmacists. A chat in broken English and google translate filling in the gaps. A lovely family and we also shared breakfast.

A clear sunny day and short 50km ride into Otaru – the coastline stunning as we weaved along the coast between bays, villages and tunnels. 14 tunnels today – the longest 2.228m, collectively 12.278km.

We were stopped at a convenience store with people interested in our travels.

We met a NZ couple treking/walking nice to have a chat with them. A few hills but nothing serious always nice to see the view at the end.

Otaru – what a find – lovely town nestled in the bay surrounded by hills.

We first venture to the railway station for local information and sights. A great bakery is ideal for lunch. A fish market next to the station is busy selling all sorts of seafood – live crabs sitting in tubs by the many for sale and queues to dine at the restaurants.

A walk down by the port, a ship is docked. A small canal seems to attract the tourists, refurbished old warehouses are now eateries and we find the Otaru brewery, the brewer is of German decent and is the third generation. It has a german beer hall look. The town is very touristy as we go to the main shopping street, glass shops, cafes, restaurant all attract many tourists here today.

The town is known for glassworks, music boxes and sake distilleries.

We check into our hotel – the onsen and sauna is my go to. Dinner at the brewery with a nice beer, the canal has attracted the tourists this evening as they queue for canal boat rides. Tripods are set up along the few bridges to capture the reflections on the canal along with people posing with their mobile phones in hand. It’s a very still mild night, perfect for an evening stroll.

Iwanai to Shakotan – Sunday 2nd June

A tough day in the office … stunning scenery …

A lovely sunny morning and through some rice paddies and great reflections then hugging the coastline.

The far off mountains had scattered snow and the coastline had some very interesting rock formations. The hills and mountains as green as you get. A stunning day of scenery on the bike.

Lots of hills dripping into the sea but the Japanese are masters at building tunnels so our proposed climbing resulted in going through tunnels; 21 in fact – a total of 17.5km of tunnels – the longest was 2560m. The best thing today – we didn’t see a truck … maybe as it’s a Sunday or it’s not a truck route.

Many opportunities for snorkelling, the water is crystal clear and the sea grasses looked like a forest. The sea is calm and a gentle tailwind later in the morning.

We pass many fishing villages – the common theme is aqua/blue roofs – against the trees they look stunning.

One small village had a few restaurants it appeared that their speciality was sea urchins – they were well patronized around lunchtime.

A nice beach attracts families picnicking – a great day for it.

We vear away from the coast inland through the forest and hills and don’t lose sight of more scattered snow. We are staying at a Youth Hostel and are early at 1pm … we venture to the next village of Bikuni on the coast just 7km away … a wonderful 2.3km decent!!!

Wow … that was nice John’

‘Yes, and we have to go up it again!!’

Strangely after a convenience store lunch the return didn’t seem that bad.

The youth hostel is set out in the middle of the bush and very quiet amd calming with the chirping of birds around … serenity!

Oshamambe to Iwanai – Saturday 1st June

Everything looks greener after rain … or are my eyes seeing clearer in the morning …

Before we head off, our host wants to take John on the beach buggy, thankfully they only get across the road and back – this guy is a bit of a ‘lad’.

The sun’s out the hills are all around and very green, a touch of snow can be seen from the far off hills. We have a slight climb and are pushed along with a gentle tailwind. It’s quite magical out here today … we are on route 5 not much traffic, good wide shoulder and wide path, a little patchy in places but mostly very good.

We are heading inland to cross over to the western coast. Midway we join route 9 to the coast then 229 along the coast. Our cruising no effort speed ranged from 25 – 28km/hr. Lovely coastline following fishing villages and lovely green hills on our right. I lost count of the tunnels however there were 2 long ones; 2.574km and 3.570km – both with no cycle path – scary stuff particularly when there are trucks passing you.

We made it to our destination in record time despite many photo stops. The predicted threatening rain and lightning didn’t eventuate. Not a lot to see in this town, but we did venture to see ‘The Great Buddha of Kikoin’ in the temple we met the 43yo 11th chief priest Kenichi Narita, lovely chat he referred himself as ‘the big boss’ …

Lake Toya to Oshamambe – Friday 31 May

It can’t rain … it’s not Tuesday!!

Lovely night stay in the Grand Toya another night would have been great to discover more of the lake – a short 56km ride today on the coast of Uchiura Bay.

Troubles with booking accommodation again so off to the tourist information office for help. The Rakuten website English version is good until your ‘city’ then all goes pear shaped and an error comes up. Nice man at tourist office phoned and confirmed our booking … a white fib … I gave them John’s mobile number as contact which is out of credit … I’ll have to visit the temple that deals with the phone gods (with respect). The man asked if we were aware how far it was, ‘yes!’

‘Do you have a map?’

I show him my Komoot app and the route.

How long have you been cycling?’

‘9 weeks and 3 to go’

Where did you start?’

‘Fukuoka’

A roar of laughter from him and other 2 staff member in disbelief!

(I love people’s reactions … they look so shocked)

So a very late 9:45 am start. Heading around the lake for a few kms then across to the coast. Within about 10 minutes a 2km tunnel and views of the coast.

We went into Toya for a bakery breakfast and headed along the coast … it was overcast and rain due around lunchtime. A few climbs with lovely coastal views to our left and mountains on the right. I lost count of the number of tunnels; positive – they knock off a lot of climbing, negative – lots of trucks today thundering through the tunnels.

I love the roadworks … the traffic controllers take their job very seriously, all dressed in uniform with their flags waving the traffic through and whistles to slow down. They are not leaning on a ‘slow/stop’ lollipop signs like at home.

Komoot takes us off the highway through Okishi, wonderful few kms – no traffic and hugging the rugged coast with some interesting rock formations.

After a considerable amount of climbing and tunnels, rain threatening we had an amazing downhill run into Oshmambe. A stop at a supermarket to get to lunch. Our accommodation is a little out of town … just got there and within 30 minutes the rain came down.

We are minutes from the beach but too wet to investigate. The hosts are lovely, our age and we converse with google translate, he is a collector of any and every thing; and his trade is an architect. He built the guesthouse and a great coffee shop. He has a 60yo wall telephone; also working 60yo Mitsubishi radio. A gramophone, amongst all types of memorabilia too broad to describe.

Still raining and he drives us to the local ramen restaurant only 1 minute away. He offers to pick us up although we tell him we’ll walk bac

We immediately think we are on a ‘Happy Days’ set, the restaurant has booths and music from 50/60’s – I was just missing my poodle skirt and bobby socks, just waiting for The Fonz to appear … haha.

A lovely meal and very short walk back in the rain.

I nice touch to the day complete contrast to yesterday.

Lake Shikotsu to Lake Toya – Thursday 30 May

When you go to your local shops for 5 minutes and return 3hrs later … my day today – I met up with my mates!!

Late leaving as the guesthouse staff did their best to get us accommodation at Setana … downfall we didn’t have a Japanese phone number.

We hugged the lake with glimpses as there was forest all around, lots of trucks, however there was a nice wide path. Also glimpses of patches of snow on a mountain. The chirping of birds was drowned out by the deafening cicadas.

Our first tunnel was 1.5km and cycle friendly … a lovely surprise at the end … we meet Peter from Melbourne, also cycle touring and spending 3 months in Japan – lovely to meet someone and have a chat.

Meanwhile back on the bikes and climbing, we lost the lake and had a steady 10km climb over the mountains.

We had not had breakfast only 2 cups of coffee and feeling hungry, another tunnel 1.6km and no path … within metres a ute stopped and asked if we were okay to cycle the tunnel … he sounded Aussie … at the end of the tunnel he was stopped … Harley from NZ … now owner/operator of a landscaping business here … he offered us a lift but we declined as it was now a great downhill.

Soon we came across the first food outlet – Mushroom Kingdom – what a goldmine! A truck and car stop and lots of choices of freshly prepared food, ramen, tempura and a bakery and mushroom products. What a find!

Not long, after we meet another tour cyclist, Kelvin Tan from Singapore who I have been conversing with over the months on the Japan Cycling Navigator site … lovely to meet him in person.

We find a nice path that follows the river without trucks for a while – nice to leave the traffic behind.

About 10km before Lake Toya we have entered an apple growing region.

Back on the downhill into Lake Toya and another tour cyclist, Ivan from Birmingham stopped for a chat – also from the Navigator website. What a great day to meet so many cyclists.

We enter Lake Toya and find our hotel, the promised lake views exceed expectation. A trolley for our luggage, our bikes are in the foyer overnight, an onsen and sauna which was very welcome – inside and outside baths, a man prepared our futon beds while we relaxed with a drink and admired the view.

We had a lovely Okonomiyaki at a restaurant not far away and at 8:45pm a fireworks display on the lake started outside our hotel … a lovely touch for the day.

Tomakomai to Lake Shikotsu – Wednesday 29 May

What … no convenience stores …

Hokkaido here we come … nice onsen last night – proper mineral baths I did the whole hot, sauna, outside hot, cold.

Not an early start it was noticeably cooler 17°C … only 35km to Lake Shikotsu. Leaving with 1 1/2 bananas and some bakery items for breakfast. We were in the railway station precinct and passed by some industry … white plumes expelled from a smoke stack … very underwhelming – how long can I hold my breath. Within a couple of kms we were staring into forested hills – lovely brilliant green foliage.

A steady 10km climb about 6% through a mix of forests … todays game was picking the perfect christmas tree – self seeded pines of varying sizes were growing beside the road. What else is there do you do when you are climbing for over an hour. We were teased by glimpses of Mt Tarumae an active volcano – one of many mountains that surround the lake.

We descend through the forest and before we know it the lake is in sight and we are at the visitors centre.

Tourist buses are parked; there is an onsen and lunch deal at a hotel – great tourist attraction.

The township is so small, very touristy, this is their low season, tourist shops and a few small restaurants are open only until mid afternoon, we enjoy the best curry ramen for lunch. We ride along the lakeside road admiring the lovely lake it is known for its clarity.

The tourist buses leave and so does the population. A few drinks by the lake to capture the setting sun in its various stages.

Firstly, blowing a gale then a gentle breeze. We return to the guesthouse the township is deserted and all shops are closed.

Oarai to Tomakomai – Tuesday 28 May

Welcome to Hokkaido

Another adventure begins as we arrive into Tomakomai at 2pm.

The overnight ferry was extremely comfortable.

The 11 berth dormatory only had 6 sleepers, the gentle vibration of the engines and very slight swaying was a good recipe for a great nights sleep.

A lovely young couple, Robert from Germany and Leona from Austria were our bed buddies (with respect) they are also on tour with bikes and camping (I’m secretly envious).

The onsen and sauna was very nice followed by a lovely buffet breakfast.

We talk to our daughter and our Tuesday cycling buddies – we are very aware that it’s great being within 1hr of our timezone at home it’s extremely convenient.

Now back to business to plan our next few days.

I’m once again thankful for the advice from my requests on the Japan Cycling Navigator Facebook group, I feel a little bit more comfortable about the coming 3 weeks.

We berth at Tomakomai and a few drops of rain – nothing to get us wet … of course, it is Tuesday, my mind backtracks to last Tuesday when we were laid up at the base of Mt Fuji due to very unseasonal rain.

It is also cool … all I was hoping for. Our hotel allows us to our room at 2.30pm – a trip to the tourist office at the railway station. The kind lady arranges us accommodation at Lake Shikotsu for tomorrow – I feel we are on our way.

The hotel has a natural onsen and sauna … of course I take advantage …

Tsuchiura to Oarai – Monday 27 May

Only for a tour cyclist …

A short 56km ride – it’s still very hot – garmin recorded 27°C to 38°C.

The road out took us through renkon fields and rice paddies. We are off the beaten track and enjoying the agricultural areas a few undulations thrown in thanks Komoot! We cross at the very top of Lake Kasumigaura and see the cycle path associated with the ’round the lake’. We pass by small forests of bamboo and pine with small patches of dappled shade … so nice with the heat.

Lake Hinuma peeps into view as we go up a hill and a typical view of rice paddies.

I can see we are getting close to the sea – the road is wider and then up a small hill … what a lovely sight! Long beaches ahead, a surf club and beach umbrellas and shades; several swimming in the distance.

Our focus is the ferry terminal which was easy to find – it doesn’t open until 4pm however the waiting area is open and airconditioned. There are a few touring bikes there – a young couple from Germany and Austria.

The ferry is huge … is this our first ‘cruise’?

We venture to a supermarket, nice sushi, watermelon and pineapple for lunch.

The Marine Tower is minutes away ¥330 to get a panoramic view … a mother/child toilet and a disabled toilet allows us to have a sponge bath and change into human clothes … feeling much better. It’s 4pm and the ticket office opens – we get the prepaid tickets and wait until 6pm to roll the bikes on.

A wow moment … bike are in the depths of the ferry along with motorcycles, cars and semi-trailers we are on board ushered to our ‘tourist class’ dormitory of 11 futons all stacked in a row, they can be separated by curtains only.

Drop my rack pack and off we go to explore … a kids playroom; casual promenade with table and chairs; restaurant; shops; stage; onsen and sauna (I can’t wait!). The restaurant has a dinner & breakfast combo for ¥2300 – that’s our food sorted.

Tsuchiura to Itako – Sunday 26 May

Boy … is it hot again today …

Nice continental breakfast … I prefer Japanese traditional myself, however John was happy.

At a loss of what to do today a ride on the lake ring-ring road was an option but it would mean a 100km trip. I was particularly interested in the Suigo Itako Iris Festival, it opened yesterday and on for a month.

A trip to the tourist office at the station – after several options, the lovely lady suggested a 50km ride to Itako and we could get a ferry back. Set with maps in hand, she phoned the ferry company to book us on the 3pm ferry.

Back to hotel to get ready, the reception gave us fresh cold water bottles …

Off we go … the route is easy to follow as it is marked on the road. We hug the lake and enjoy watching the fishermen, lots of stone and wooden breakwaters. On our left kilometres of Renkon (lotus root) crops which was very interesting the workers are out in their waterproofs sloshing around in waist deep water, a high pressure hose like a fire hose is being used to loosen up the roots I gather. Large potato shaped vegies are piled up. There are also long roots which I guess are also part of the plant.

The land is very flat with small hills in the distance. The lake is huge, rice paddies take over from the renkon. We pass by small lakeside villages. It’s very hot and a small headwind.

We make it to Itako and see signs to the Iris Festival – lovely gardens along a canal … I think another 3 weeks and it will be stunning. Small bridges across the canal give great views.

As part of the festival a reinactment of a tradional wedding is performed … we were lucky that it’s happening today at 2pm … we can see the start. Ladies in traditional dress … umbrellas are all out for sun protection.

We leave to catch the ferry about 4km away …. I thought … the map was a little ambiguous, nice tailwind. By 2.30pm John said ‘something doesn’t seem right’ recheck the map and our surrounds – back we go … headwind this time to within minutes of the festival … 2 ferries berthed,

‘Are you two Australians?’

‘Yes!’

‘You are booked on this ferry you have 19 minutes before we leave’

By this time we are parched and hot from the to’ing and fro’ing.

‘We’ll be back in 5 minutes’

A 7/11 is up the road … John picks up some cold beers and we enjoy the ferry ride, 1hr 20min we are back to Tsuchiura.

The ferryman is very friendly and we talk about the hot weather, ‘this is very unseasonable … it’s hot for us too!’

Back to the hotel … shower and aircon on … we watch the finals of the Sumo tournament … and why not … it’s the number one sport in Japan! Later on the news doesn’t need any interpretation … there is definitely a heatwave, record temperatures have been reached everywhere especially Hokkaido.

I look on my garmin connect app and our temperature range while riding today was 27°C to 38°C … that explains it all.