The best season for car trips in Hokkaido (mid September-mid October)has arrived!
Temperature is usually around 20 degrees celcius, and depending on the elevation of where you are, you can enjoy the colors of the leaves changing.
This means it’s changing from the hot summer to the cooler autumn!
Winter is just around the corner…
Well anyways I went for a 3nights 4 days car trip to the south of Hokkaido, today I will be sharing how the trip was like.
First, the route
I initially intended on a 1 month travel to the best places of Hokkaido, but some work I need to be at office arose.
I divided the car trip into 2, (maybe 3 if something else pops up) but here goes the south trip.
I chose the south of Hokkaido because there are less ideal destinations during Autumn.
The South, mainly the Hakodate area is better to visit for the sakuras (which is in spring: late April ~ early May in Hokkaido.)
3 surprising destinations!
Chamu, seafood bowl in donburi yokocho
Hakodate used to be and still is a very important port town to ship seafood from Hokkaido to the mainland.
It is also one of the major towns that codfish and squid can be fished, and Hakodate used to export a lot of codfish to the Basque area, where codfish is crucial to their Spanish Cusine.
Next to Hakodate station, there is a big market “Asaichi”(morning market.) You can buy seafood as well as eat fresh local seafood. Opens around 7:00am-around 3pm)
Next to the Asaichi, there is a building that has around 10 restaurants serving seafood donburi bowls.
One of them, is Chamu, which is the restaurant I went this time.
The reason why I came to this restaurant is this 10 small appetizers.
It includes some local specialties using squid, crabs, and seaweed.
I think it’s internationals friendly as you would want to try a little bit to make sure the taste fits you.
The same goes for me, and I actually liked one of the appetizers so much I persuaded the owner lady to make some more…
I had the sashimi set this time as it included more variety of seafood.
All were very good quality, but one to note was the tuna.
It had half of maguro which is the lean part of the tuna, and half were slightly toro which is the fattier belly part of the tuna.
The sea in between Hakodate and Aomori, the north tip of the mainland Honshu is actually the sea that the best tunas are fished in Japan.
I was lucky to be able to really enjoy the difference to the other tunas out there in Japan.
How was my overall experience here?
I will probably end up coming to this restaurant every time I come to Hakodate.
2. Hotel WBF Hakodate Watatsuminoyu
Although I normally sleep in my car most of my travels, I stay in business hotels occasionally to charge up my devices.
I carry a mobile charger that I can charge from my car, but it doesn’t store enough electricity to charge all of my devices that I carry.
The Hotel WBF Hakotdate Watasuminoyu that was up recently right in front of the station turned out to be very convenient.
Around 3 minute walk from Hakodate Station, the staffs are very helpful and professional. (English speaking, too)
Including parking, it was 7100 yen/night.
This time, they provided a complimentary drink for guests If you become a free member of the hotel chain.
You can get immediate discounts on your next stay at other WBF hotels, and have perks such as complimentary breakfast or late checkouts.
After going for onsen, there is a Dole ice cream fridge that you have free access to, which I thought was something unique.
The Japanese government is now aiding travelers in the expenses of the trip, so when I went I got a 2000 yen worth of gourmet coupons that I can use in the Hakodate area. (which I used for the seafood bowl)
*The front desk was saying once the coupons run out, this give out will be finished.
I continued to stay in the WBF hotels on my trips to Asahikawa and Kushiro.
All the stays have been pleasant, and I think the hotels are best recommended to travelers that are looking for a private space to sleep with all the things you would expect in a hotel but for a good price.
3. Road Station Kaminokuni Monju
I came across a road station in a very rural but awesome destination along the Japan Sea near Esashi.
This road station has a park next to it that you can walk down to go really close to the sea.
The locals seem to come to see the moon fit the hole that was created from the waves. I saw a poster that promotes people to check it out, which looked nice.
The building has a wide window restaurant on the 2nd Floor and on a sunny day a beautiful ocean view.
The area is famous for the flounder, so I had the Flounder and Vegetable Tempura and a side bowl of Vinegared Flounder bowl.
If you don’t mind the raw kind of sashimi, this one is seasoned which we call “zuke” so there are even less fish smell and more of soy sauce flavor.
Although the tempura was thick and tasty, I personally should’ve just ordered the Zuke donburi as you could really taste the distinct flavor and the texture of the flounder.
The noodle looking small dish was also refreshing, and if you like soy sauce, I think it’s good to try.
Kuromatsunai Road Station
Kuromatsunai, the town just west of Rankoshi (Niseko and Rankoshi town are also next to each other) and is famous for being the northern tip of beech trees to grow in Japan.
As it rains more than the surrounding towns, Kuromatsunai is also a big dairy farming town.
The road station Toit Vert is well known to the people in Hokkaido, and even Seven Eleven in Niseko Town sells their ice cream.
Dairy Products such as cheese and ice cream are popular, as well as the bakery.
There is a pizza restaurant Pizza Du as well, but the same chain is in Chitose and Rusutsu.
I would recommend having the bread from the bakery and dairy products.
Niseko is one of the most beautiful places when the sun is shining!
The white Mt Yotei is already really famous during the winter, but the summer Yotei is also an entertaining view on a sunny day.
There are a few viewpoints where you can stop by while driving.
Some people challenge themselves to climb up Yotei, it’s quite a challenge but it’s definitely worth it!
Climbing up Annupuri
This time I instead climbed Annupuri.
I like hiking up this mountain more than I like climbing Yotei, as it’s a short 1 hour to hike up and you are at the top.
And the best thing is, the summit gives you a great view of Yotei. ( Of course, when you climb Yotei, the problem is that you won’t be able to see it as you are on it)
French Japanese Restaurant in Kutchan: Jai La Patate
Whenever I go to Niseko, I stop by to eat the different seasonal menus in Jai La Patate.
The chef Seino has experience cooking in the gourmet district of Sapporo and came back to his hometown to open a casual French restaurant.
We actually wrote about him, so you can have a read if interested:
Although I almost 100% like all the dishes, if I were to choose one it would be the Doro Buta which translates to Mud Pork.
The pork is from the best pork town in Hokkaido, Tokachi, and the pork is raised with mud that contains good minerals that make healthy pork.
Another stop in Niseko: Water Spring in Makkari
Niseko area has 3 main springs you can collect spring water: Makkari, Kyogoku and Kanro no mori.
I usually collect the water in a tank, and use it for drinking, cooking, washing hands, etc during the trip. Free and useful!
When I used to live in Niseko, I would be spending my weekends either hiking up mountains or going to Lake Toya.
I love hanging out in the long park along the Toya Onsen area and going to day onsen in one of the hotels.
One good one is Kohantei.
How to hire a car for your trip to Hokkaido?
If you want to go to more rural countryside areas in Hokkaido, hiring a car is the best option.
Times Car Sharing lets you hire a car from their parking lot everywhere in Japan.
The good thing is that it is economical as you can hire from 20 minutes~.
No need to worry about gas as the car has a card that lets users pump whenever empty, and the car rental fee already includes gas price.
Urban areas in Hokkaido such as Chitose Airport~Sapporo~Otaru/Asahikawa area might be better off traveling by train or bus.
The system is really good, and it tends to be faster transport using public transport.
Although I’ve never used the service yet, I hear good feedbacks about the service from my friends.
My car is not the safest car to drive during the winter, so I will be writing and reporting on a Times Car Share to travel to ski resorts the coming winter.
Traveling Hokkaido with a car from mainland Honshu
I see more and more international travelers riding a taking a car all the way from mainland Honshu to Hokkaido and vice versa.
You would ship your car and yourself via ferry to do so.
The 3 possible routes are:
The best route is to take the Nigata/Maizuru~Otaru route. This is slightly cheaper than the others, and the facility of the ferry is best.
Those traveling from Tokyo area would drive up north to Niigata, and those traveling from Osaka area would drive to Maizuru to ride the ferry.
If you are looking for the easiest way out from Tokyo, then take the Oarai~Tomakomai route. Oarai is in Ibaraki, a province northeast of Tokyo.
The Con to this route is that Tomakomai is more of an industrial town than touristic, so there is not much entertainment for travelers.
However, if you are traveling to Noboribetsu Onsen, it will be closest from Tomakomai.
If you have a longer time to travel and want to tour around as much place as possible in Japan including Tohoku, the northern region of the mainland Honshu, there is a ferry that connects Aomori and Hakodate.
This will be a long drive for you, but less ferry ride if you tend to get ferry sick.
This time it was places I went in South of Hokkaido!
I will be going to central Hokkaido at the end of September, so I will report on that again in October.