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


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.


Tour of Hokkaido, Day 10, Utanobori to Sarufutsu

We slept on the wooden floor last night, sheltered from the cold wind swirling around the exposed hilltop outside. It would have been quite chilly camping.

The sun is already streaming through the windows, brightening the cabin with a golden hue. The light is beaming on my face, making it impossible to continue sleeping. It’s 5am.

It’s a slow, lazy breakfast this morning. I’m keen to reach Wakkanai today, and then take the ferry to Rebun or Rishiri island first thing tomorrow morning. I figure I can do 129km and maybe reach Wakkanai before sunset, since it’s riding on a coastal road which, logically, should be flat all the way; headwinds not withstanding. It’s also the last segment; so no more serious mileage after today.

Please feel free to use the house.
Please fill in your name, address and number of pax.
Please keep the center clean and take the garbage home with you.
Please turn off the lights and windows before you leave.

Please do not use the power points.
The circuit breaker will be thrown and the lights and water can’t be used.

We set out at 8.30am; a bit late by my reckoning but we were taking our time, enjoying the cabin and the atmosphere of Lavender hill. The morning view of the land below is stunning.

The rest of the day’s ride can be synopsized into one word – ‘uninteresting’, with the exception of my first live sighting of a Hokkaido fox, when we rode around a bend and suddenly came upon one in the middle of the road.

A Hokkaido fox on the run

I half-wished a bear would just jump out and energise our day

Counting the number of arrows that indicate either an incline or declining slope in the road ahead.

I have miscalculated the distance to Wakkanai. It’s 150km, not 120km. Arnaud and Alexandra decide that they will take it easy and camp at Sarufutsu and push on to Wakkanai tomorrow instead. Their decision is made simpler by the fact their rear wheel has 4 broken spokes, which they hadn’t realised until I commented on the way the wheel is wobbling unnaturally. The nearest bikeshop is in Wakkanai so they have no choice. They have to nurse it all the way there.

I’m undecided. If I push it, I should be able to barely make Wakkanai after sundown. But I’m not sure, and I’m not too keen on locating campsites in the dark.

We reach Sarufutsu just after 5pm and I decide to pack it in for the day. That way, I’ll be able to take my time when I reach Cape Soya, and the rest of the ride to Wakkanai, 60km from Sarufutsu.

Sarufutsu is a fishing village, but oddly there’s a sort of a park (the first tree-less one I’ve seen) with a hotel, and an open field with an amphitheatre.

We ride in to the park building and find out that the campsite is anywhere on the open field behind the amphitheatre. We also find out that there’s an onsen in the hotel but … only for hotel guests; lowly campers excluded. Bummer…

Sarufutsu campsite

Hotel on the left, park office on the right.

We’re hungry so we head for the hotel’s restaurant, but it’s closed until 7pm.

We decide to visit a Seicomart nearby and stock up on water and some food. They’re open by 6am so we decide we’ll come here for breakfast instead of at camp. We trying to make the 2pm ferry to Rebun but before that Arnaud needs to get the tandem fixed, so it has be an early start tomorrow.

We go back and set up camp and wait for the restaurant to open. Meanwhile, we’re craving for a proper scrub in the shower and a long soak in the hotspring tub. So we decide to go anyway… quietly, and hope for the best.

Nobody in the onsen pay us any notice. We luxuriate in the bath for a full hour. I suppose it was a bit of a naughty thing to do but we’ve only got a few days left in Japan, and nothing can compare to the sheer pleasure of a pre-dinner onsen outing; more so if dinner is fresh scallops lightly sauteed, accompanied by rice, miso and salad, and a glass of chilled, foamy Asahi draught beer. The luxurious taste of food and drink is amplified many times the way I’m feeling after the onsen – all stress, weariness, the day’s grime, gook and gunk has been washed away. I could easily get used to the onsen habit.

After-onsen smiles

Fresh scallops … exquisite.

The dew is heavy in the air. Must be the sea nearby. The tent is drenched, and the air is chilly but inside, I’m snug and dry.

Tomorrow, Wakkanai will mark the end of the long ride from Hakodate in the south. Tomorrow, we go island hopping.


Distance today: 91km

Distance to date: 726km