Tour of Hokkaido, Day 14, Rishiri Island to Wakkanai

I’m camped under the quiet shade of some trees. The temperature is an agreeably cool and dry 21º. The vestibule flaps are rolled all the way up on both sides, and the tent door is open to an expansive view of Wakkanai town, all the way across to the other side of Soya Bay. But, there’s something else here that is totally unexpected.

Free-roaming deer.

I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring place to spend the night, which makes free-camping Wakkanai Park the top campsite in my 2-week tour of Hokkaido.

I had arrived earlier from Rishiri on the 8am ferry, arriving 2 hrs 20 minutes later at Wakkanai. I’m alone again; the Denises enjoyed riding the Rishiri cycling road so much they want to do the whole 20 kms of it. I don’t blame them; I would too if I had an extra day to spare.

According to my trusty Mapple, the campsite nearest to town is just behind it. I take a closer look at it and I’m a bit confused. All I can see is a hill rising up, stretching almost all the way to the end of the town. My guess is it’s either on top somewhere, or over the other side.

A petrol station attendant gives me directions to the campsite after I show him the map. The entry point is behind a hospital, but the bush-covered sides of the narrow road that points upwards make me wonder if I’m on the right path.

Overgrown with bushes and deserted, this is actually the old road up to Wakkanai Park

A viewing tower at the top of the hill. I guess only hikers and cyclists use this road which joins up near the park to the new road.

On the way, I came upon this group of kindergarten kids and their teachers who assured me I was on the right track.

After that lonely ride up the deserted road, I’m greeted by a cemetery

The carpark and entrance to Wakkanai Park and campsite

Hilltop parks make the best campsites

chillax…

As always, my own personal pavilion comes into very good use

My marathon train journey begins tomorrow at 7am. I’ve got myself an empty Seicomarto box that, when cut, fits the sides of the bike bag perfectly. I’ve also made sure that when they open at 6am, there’ll be freshly made onigiri on the shelves. “Many, many..”, the friendly Seicomarto cashier assured me. Onigiri, many many of it, is going to be part of my food supply for the almost 15-hour journey by train to Haneda airport.

My dinner of sushi, tamago, fried chicken, real-potato french fries in a cup, and a can of Asahi Dry Black makes it almost a feast, by camping standards.

I stay up as long as I can to enjoy my last night in Japan. From inside my tent, I can see the moon, almost full, and in all its lunar magnificence; casting its golden glow on the night sky, over the bay and on the town below. The temperature has dipped down to 18 since the sun went down. As I slip inside my sleeping bag and zip it all the way to my neck, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of achievement and contentment, and the joy of having connected with this beautiful country — its culture, its heritage, its sights, and most of all, its people.

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Tour of Hokkaido, Day 12, island hopping: Rebun to Rishiri.

There are thieves in the camp!

Small, black and winged — crows — raucous in their squawking, and daring in their approach; one of them with the audacity to crawl under the vestibule where my food, gas stove, pot and shoes are kept. They can’t see it but they can smell it.

They were all around, clamoring for the one bird that was bold enough to penetrate the human’s tent and grab the packet containing his breakfast with its beak.

Their cheering wakes me up with a start. Dawn has just broken, and the sky is still overcast. In my sleep-befuddled state, I unzip the tent door, then the vestibule, and give chase, cursing at it, “Come back with my food, you stupid bird!”

The greedy food-snatcher can’t fly off with the heavy load so it tries to peck at the food. At the very last second, just before I can pounce on it, the rascal raider flies off, leaving the food behind. I shake my fist at it in triumph. The food is intact. I still have my breakfast after all.

Later, when I’m cleaning up at the camp wash area, the feathered fiends come back again. This time, they succeed — they get away with a plastic bag of rubbish. When they realise they’ve been duped, they dump the plastic bag and fly off, leaving me to clear up the mess.

Damn thieves.

The entrance to the lake..not very inviting

At dinner last night in the open field under the stars, we had decided we’d go to Rishiri today, on the 1pm ferry. That also means we have a whole morning to chill out, so we take our time with breakfast. The lake is not swim-friendly; the lakeside covered with tall rush fringing the entire lake. Where we’re camped, there’s only a narrow gangway, likely for canoes. And the water is nothing like what I’ve experienced at Lake Toya or Lake Shikotsu.

Facility for washing — clothes, food, pots, bodies…

Camping in style, complete with deck chair. A true adventurer.

The owner of the yellow tent. Nice and clean BMW F800.

Entrance to the campsite

Campsite from the other side of the lake

Back to Kafuka

Nearing Kafuka, Mt Rishiri on Rishiri island is clearly visible across the sea

We stopped to chat with these friendly folk picking fish out of the nets.

One of the ojisans noticed that we were fascinated with the seagulls so he threw a fish at them to show us how greedy seagulls eat.

Waiting to enter the bowel of the ferry

Only one vehicle..

Rishiri is definitely more popular of the 2 islands. It’s bigger and better developed. At my suggestion, we make our way to a campsite about 3 kms inland. The Mapple doesn’t point it out but it’s 3 kms of gradual climb, not steep but enough to make us huff and puff a bit. Most of the road is shady so it’s not too bad.

We take note of a spa inn along the way, an impressive looking one. (spa inns are establishments that include onsen, accommodation and restaurants whereas day-onsens are just that – baths only with no other amenities)

Oshidomari, Rishiri Island

We soon reach Rishiri Hokuroku Forest Park – hot, sweaty and a little out of breath. We’re greeted by an impressive looking park office building, and a woman who can’t wait to get us to fill up the forms. The campsite is also the base from where hikers go up to the top of Mt Rishiri (2xxx m), which is what the woman thinks we’re planning to do. We tell her no, we just want to camp. So it’s 500Y instead.

The shady 3km all-uphill road to Hokuroku Forest Park

End of the road..

Hokuroku park office

The lobby. Feels almost like a resort than a park

Hokuroku had the cleanest and most sophisticated toilet of all the campsites I had stayed in so far

…including heated toilet seats. Impressive.

The campsite is the strangest I’ve been to yet. It’s covered completely with a kind of mat. It’s called Goza, and it’s woven from harvested rice stalks. It’s supposed to trap warmth when it’s cold, and keeps cool when the weather gets warm.

There’s a brisk wind blowing and it takes a bit of work pitching up the tent. The trees make a terrific noise, its leaves crashing about quite violently as the gusts pick up in intensity. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Hopefully, no delinquent branch breaks away and land on my tent tonight. That would be violent and bloody.

The campsite — fully covered with Goza.

A fellow camper…big bike, tiny tent.

Checking out the other campsite nearer to town, we are treated to a heavenly display of golden coloured clouds being blown across the sky in formations unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Today’s outing at the spa inn makes it to the top of the list of most-enjoyable-onsens. It has 3 pools – one plain hot, another with bubble jets, and the last, in the outdoors. This outdoor experience is my first. It’s located outside a glass door, in an open-air but enclosed area, for obvious reasons.

The brisk wind has noticeably picked up in speed. It’s quite surreal, like something out of a Kurosawa movie. The trees outside the wall are swaying hard, the leaves rustling very loudly in the wind. The air is noticeably chilly and it’s very comforting when I slip into the warm pool, leaving only my head exposed to the chill.

Sufficiently warmed up, I try the pool with bubble jets. It’s very nice, and it’s hotter. After a while I move into the quiet pool next to it. The hour slips by unnoticed. It’s time for dinner.

We cruise the streets of Oshidomari looking for a restaurant. By now it’s getting dark, and most of the shops seem to be closed. Finally, we turn a corner and come upon an ominously-named establishment by the name of Tsunami, promising its patrons a resort dining experience.

Inside, it looks more like a resort – more accurately, its canteen, one with a bar. The loud and ruddy faced diners at the only other occupied table could easily pass off as workers in the back-end of a resort. There is another man at the bar, chopsticks in quick motions shovelling food into his mouth. I’ve yet to see a Japanese eat with finesse, only with gusto. I go over for a look to see what he is eating – some kind of pork with rice dish. “Very good”, he says.

The surly-looking wife of the friendly blonde-haired boss didn’t look like she was having a good day. She served us our drinks without a smile – very un-Japanese.

We decide to go for the real thing – fresh, handmade-on-the-spot sushi. Blondie suggests we take the set, and without asking the price, we said ‘ok’. We sit back and relax with our beers as he flurries about the counter, shaping the sushi, one after another with rapid ease. I’m salivating.

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Blondie, the boss of Tsunami, making our dinner

The menu, not that it makes any difference to us.

My most luxurious meal of the tour

The dinner of a 10-piece sushi set each, together with beer, costs us about 10,000Y. Not cheap, but I suppose it’s not exhorbitant either, considering the quality and taste of the sushi.

After that wonderful resort dinner, the reality of an anti-climactic 3km uphill ride back to the campsite hits us like a Tsunami. The warm feel-good buzz is gone with the by-now-howling wind as we make our way back to camp … in the dark, with only my lights showing the way for both our bikes.

We knew without a doubt that tomorrow, we’ll be packing up and moving down to the other campsite that’s nearer to town. A good time in town only to be negated by a 3km climb uphill is not my idea of a recommended campsite.

The other campsite is called Yuni Family Campsite. And the best thing about it? It’s only a 2-minute walk to the spa-inn opposite.

Back at camp, my tent is shaking and shuddering in the wind. I find it quite unnerving – the noise, the dark sky, the constant fear of a tree falling down and flattening me. I find it hard to sleep. In the middle of the night, a loud flapping wakes me up. One of the tent pegs have come loose. I re-peg it and crawl back inside my tent.

I wonder how the Belgians are doing.

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