©iStock/CHENG FENG CHIANG
©iStock/CHENG FENG CHIANG

An unspoiled natural heritage site: Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido

5 minutes to read

Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido, which is the second-largest northernmost island of Japan. Sapporo is the fifth-largest city in Japan and offers everything you would expect to find in a Japanese town: a thriving restaurant scene, unique and stylish cafes, interesting nightlife, rich shopping options, etc. In contrast, Hokkaido is known for its unspoiled nature and harsh winter with heavy snowfall. Snowsports in Hokkaido have been very popular with oversea tourists.

©iStock/mantaphoto
©iStock/mantaphoto

Getting there

The countryside of Hokkaido in summer is also full of fascination. Travelers normally start their Hokkaido trip from Shinchitose airport. Recently, LCC discount airlines, like Jetstar and Vanilla Air, have started to offer reasonably priced air tickets from Tokyo and Osaka to Shinchitose airport. There are three transportation options; a bus connection to the major areas of Sapporo, the JR train to Sapporo station, and the rent-a-car option. Unless there is something you really want to visit in Sapporo, it is not a bad idea to rent a car at the airport and go on your Shiretoko adventure directly. The distance between Sapporo and Shiretoko is approximately 430km and takes about 7 hours non-stop driving trough the direct highway route. If you have a week or so to spend on your Shiretoko adventure, drive along the coastline and visit small towns to interact with locals who may give you more authentic memories. Freshly caught or picked seafood at some local towns are incredibly tasty. You might be able to get valuable information about a local hidden, untouched natural Onsen (hot spring) from the locals too.

©iStock/azuki25
©iStock/azuki25

Shiretoko: a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site

Shiretoko was registered as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2005. The Shiretoko Peninsula is located in the north-east of Hokkaido. It includes the land from the central part of the peninsula to its tip, which is called Shiretoko Cape, and the surrounding marine area. More than half of the peninsula is untouched, protecting its rich ecosystem. Therefore, if you want to go sightseeing from the central part of the peninsula to the tip of the peninsula, it is common to use a boat and experience the wild view from the sea. From the Utoro fishing port, there are several sightseeing boats with various trips and prices, such as the round-trip to Shiretoko Cape and other plans focusing on the highlights along the peninsula. You will be able to experience the breathtaking views of the fantastic cliffs, the strange-looking rocks, and the totally wild untouched waterfalls, as well as the bay of Lusha, where brown bears are frequently spotted. To thoroughly enjoy the charm of the Shiretoko, the sightseeing boat ride is a must.

©iStock/NielsVos
©iStock/NielsVos

Shiretoko goko

©iStock/HENG FENG CHIANG
©iStock/HENG FENG CHIANG

Shiretoko goko (Shiretoko five lakes) is surrounded by the primeval forests of the beautiful Shiretoko mountain range. The surrounding greenery is reflected on the surface of the lake, forming a quiet natural paradise. The elevated wooden path, which takes about 40 minutes walking, is an easy walking route that anyone can go to by the lake. The "ground promenade" that goes on a deeper natural path has a course set during which you can explore the lakes. Still, due to the fact that it is a habitat for the brown bears, there are periods when exploring the area with guides is mandatory. It is said that the best time to visit Shiretoko goko is from May to June. You can see the blooming of the flowers along with the snowy mountains.

Shiretoko Goko Field House
Shiretoko Goko Field House
Onnebetsumura, Shari, Shari District, Hokkaido 099-4356, Japan

Shiretoko toge (pass)

©iStock/gyro
©iStock/gyro

At the top of the Shiretoko transverse road (Route 334), which connects Utoro in Shari Town to Rausu Town, the Shiretoko toge is located at 738 meters above sea level. It has a parking lot and an observation deck, and it is a very popular viewing spot. The majestic Mount Rausu stands in front of you. If the weather is nice, you can see far north to the island of Kunashiri, which is one of the northern territories that currently belong to Russia. The view of the remaining snow can be seen even in late July, and the sight of the autumn leaves is also superb.

Shiretoko touge (pass)
Shiretoko touge (pass)
Shiretoko Pass Lookout, Yunosawacho, Rausu, Menashi District, Hokkaido 086-1822, Japan

Kamuiwakka no yu

©iStock/azuki25
©iStock/azuki25

Kamuiwakka no yu is part of an unusual waterfall where the waterfall itself becomes a hot spring. The waterfall is part of the Kamuiwakka river. The water of this part of the river is perfectly warm as the hot spring merges with the river. In summer, the water temperature of the waterfall is about 30 degrees, and many tourists bring swimming suits to enjoy this onsen river. It is a popular tourist spot in Shiretoko, and visitors are flowing the river or dipping their feet to enjoy the nature’s gift. However, due to the uneasy access to Shiretoko, this spot is never overcrowded. When you climb a sloping natural river, non-slip water shoes and sandals are strongly recommended. Currently, you can walk up to Ichinotaki, where you can see the beautiful onsen waterfall.

Kamuiwakka no yu
Kamuiwakka no yu
099-4356, Japan

God's child pond, Kaminoko ike

©iStock/junjun3
©iStock/junjun3

In the mountains of Kiyosato, the neighboring town of Shari in Shiretoko, there is a mysterious pond called Kaminoko ike, with illuminating clear emerald blue water in the middle of nowhere. It is said that the underground water of Lake Mashu (Lake of God in Ainu language) is constantly springing, and creates this beautiful gift from nature, like a jewel of the forest. You can clearly see even the fallen trees that have sunk in the bottom of the pond: the trees of the surrounding forest are reflected on the surface of the pond, creating a unique landscape.

Kaminoko ike
Kaminoko ike
Kiyoizumi, Kiyosato, Shari District, Hokkaido 099-4526, Japan

As Hokkaido has a unique history, culture, vast land, and amazing unspoiled nature, it continues to fascinate visitors over and over again. Shiretoko is located in the most north-eastern part of Hokkaido and is not easy to get to. However, Shiretoko is the best place to experience the incredible raw energy of Hokkaido. Unlike other parts of Japan, you might have some inconveniences in transportation or internet reception; however, it is all part of the Shiretoko experience, which will non-stop surprise you.


The author

Mayo Harry

Mayo Harry

Hi, I am Mayo from Japan. Travelling around the world and Japan since my late teens, my life has been a continuation of trips. I am excited to share my knowledge and experiences of Japan with all of you.

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