Japan is that one country most of us are pining to visit once travel returns to the status quo, and for good reason. If scenic sights and rural vibes are what you’re looking for, nothing quite beats the slew of nature-filled activities that Hokkaido has in store.
Boasting natural spectacles like volcanic crater lakes and lush flower fields, Hokkaido’s the ideal destination to escape the hubbub of city life. Piece together an itinerary consisting of these eight nature sights in Hokkaido for your next visit, and you’ve got yourself a journey chock full of breathtaking landscapes.
Sailing the seas aboard a ship back home is already an extravagant experience, but navigating the ice-encased waters of Abashiri adds another level of adventure to your voyage. Snow white ice mounds, known as ryuhyo or drift ice, populate Abashiri’s coasts between late-January and early-April, providing for a stunning wintery seascape you won’t find elsewhere.
Fun fact: Originating all the way from the Amur River in Russia, the ryuhyo drifts for almost 1,300KM to reach Abashiri territory.
Be sure to keep a lookout for wildlife too – spotted seals, seabirds and floating sea slugs known as cliones are some species that also grace the icy surface.
Embarking on an hour-long tour with Aurora Sightseeing Boat Cruises is your best bet to view the scenery up close. Cruises run daily from 9th January till 3rd April each year, and you can take a peek at the departure timetable to plan your visit.
Abashiri Drift Ice Sightseeing & Icebreaker Ship
Address: 4 Chome-5-1 Minami 3 Johigashi, Abashiri, Hokkaido 093-0003, Japan
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 152-43-6000
Price: ¥3,500/adult (~S$44.38) | ¥1,750/child (~S$22.19)
Abashiri Drift Ice Sightseeing & Icebreaker Ship’s website
Another natural phenomenon distinctive to the humble town of Toyokoro, glistening ice clusters dubbed as jewelry ice can be found on the shores of Otsu Beach from mid-January to late February annually.
The icy spectacle is formed when the frozen Tokachi River breaks apart during winter, which occurs between December and February. The ebb and flow of the waves then act as natural architects that mould these impurity-free lumps into pristine crystal-like globules – truly nature at its finest.
Image credit: Toyokoro Jewelry Ice
While Singapore’s notorious for its sweltering heat, Toyokoro’s known for their sub-zero temperatures that can go below -20°C. Like every kiasu Singaporean should, suit up with thick layers of long-sleeved sweaters and hoodies to keep yourself warm.
Image credit: Toyokoro Jewelry Ice
Fun fact: If you’re wondering what’s the difference between drift ice and jewelry ice, the former is characterised by its chunky, opaque ice blocks while the latter has a more delicate, transparent build.
Toyokoro Jewelry Ice
Address: 110, Moiwahonmachi, Toyokoro-cho, Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido 089-5392
Opening hours: 6AM-11PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 015-578-7202
Toyokoro Jewelry Ice’s website
Image credit: @juancarlos.sugiyama
For those who love venturing off the beaten path, look no further than Notsuke Peninsula – a rather obscure 28KM-long sandspit that’s home to a range of wildlife and vegetation. Animal spotting is a highlight of the area, as you’re bound to witness grazing ezo deer, spotted seals, sea eagles and even cheeky little red foxes.
Fun fact: The Notsuke Peninsula is a sandspit or sand bar, which means it’s a shoal that juts out from the mainland into a body of water.
Image credit: @cat.owl.meaw
Living up to its reputation as an uncommon tourist attraction, a peculiar forest called Narawara is one of the peninsula’s attractions – it’s a dead oak forest populated with the remnants of fir and pine trees. With Hokkaido being peppered with other blooming sights to behold, the barren scenery provides a stark change of pace to the other nature hotspots found on the list.
While you’re here, make sure to pop by the Notsuke Peninsula Nature Centre to visit their historical museums or grab some keepsakes to immortalise your trip.
Notsuke Peninsula Nature Centre
Address: Notsuke, Betsukai, Notsuke District, Hokkaido 086-1645, Japan
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily (April – October) | 9AM-4PM, Daily (November – March)
Telephone: +81 153-82-1270
Betsukai Ice Horizon official website (Notsuke Peninsula)
Image credit: @enjoy_kushiro
Nestled in the eastern ends of Hokkaido is Akan-Mashu National Park, which is notably home to a trinity of lakes – Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu. The largest of the lot is Lake Kussharo, a caldera lake which has a circumference of 57KM.
Image credit: Kiyosato Tourist Association
Competing for the title of ‘clearest lake in the world’, Lake Mashu is a crater lake that’s formed in a dormant volcano. You’ll want to head to the Ura-Mashu viewpoint if you’re heading here between April and November – it’s the closest you’ll get to snap pixel-perfect mementos of the lake.
Lake Mashu also shares its clear water with the Kami-no-koike, spawning a blue pond that changes hue depending on the season. Also known as ‘The Child Pond of God’, the pristine water body is so clear that you can evidently track the resident fishes’ movements to a T.
Image credit: @sa_yu_ri_925
While at Lake Akan, seize the opportunity to jump aboard the Akan Sightseeing Cruise that takes you on a scenic route with mountainous views.
The focal point of this 85-minute tour is on the elusive spherical algae, marimo. The ship makes a pit stop at the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center, where you’ll get the opportunity to learn more about one of Japan’s natural life forms that kind of looks like matcha mochi.
Image credit: Japanese National Tourism Organisation
Akan Sightseeing Cruise Company
Address: 4 Chome-5-8 Akancho Akankoonsen, Kushiro, Hokkaido 085-0467, Japan
Opening hours: 6AM-5PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 154-67-2511
Price: ¥2,000/adult (~S$25.39) | ¥1,040/child (~S$13.20)
Akan Sightseeing Cruise Company’s website
Wildlife lovers have another reason to rejoice at Kushiro Marsh, as it’s the only place you’ll be able to spot the auspicious Japanese red-crowned cranes. Colloquially known as the tancho, these majestic birds can be spotted grazing on food all round the marshland.
Other seasonal birds to look out for include the Latham’s snipe and the Steller’s sea eagle, but these aviary friends can only be spotted between the periods of June to September and December to February respectively.
Pro tip: To get even better views, there are several observatories scattered throughout the marshland. Keep a lookout for feeding sites like the Tancho Observation Centre as flocks of tancho throng these spots during winter – perfect to snap a group photo op of the huddled birds.
Some odd 600 species of plants also reside across the sprawling Kushiro Marsh, so it’s little wonder that lush greenery envelops Japan’s largest wetland. Adventure seekers will also relish the prospect of canoeing down Lake Toro that’s at the northeastern part of the marsh.
Image credit: @gooddayhokkaido
And just a friendly reminder, make sure to embrace the serenity of the marsh’s greenery while you’re here – it’s a precious moment that you’ll definitely miss once you’re back to the weekday hustle.
Address: Kushiro-cho, Kushiro-gun, Hokkaido toritoushi wilderness Minami-5-sen
Telephone: +81 0154-31-1993
Kushiro Marsh’s website
Onsens are a hallmark of Japanese culture, and there’s no better place to soak in this tradition than Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort, Noboribetsu.
Image credit: @iijima_akio_
To get your R&R fix, make your way down to the natural footbath at the Oyunuma River. Take a seat on an elevated wooden platform, and sink your feet into the warm water. You can give your feet a therapeutic exfoliation too, by scrubbing them with the sunken mineral deposits in the river.
Image credit: Japanese National Tourism Organisation
Just above the bustling spa town lies the renowned must-visit Jigokudani, which directly translates to Hell Valley. Functioning as Noboribetsu’s main source of hot spring water, it doubles as a sightseeing haunt to view erupting geysers and volcanic gases as they leak from the gravel.
Image credit: @iammsnap
Don’t be alarmed by the iconic demon statues leering at you all over the town – they’re there to pay homage to the eerie theme of Jigokudani.
Address: 6–11 Chūōchō, Noboribetsu-shi, Hokkaidō; 059-8701
Noboribetsu Onsen’s website
Image credit: @harugggram
If hiking trails are your thing in Singapore, then try Kamui Misaki – or Cape Kamui – on for size. As you saunter along the weaving trail, immerse yourself in the scenic hilltop greenery and admire the panoramic views of the deep blue sea aptly named ‘Shakotan Blue’.
Fun fact: The ‘kamui’ in Kamui Misaki stands for ‘god’ in the language of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido.
Image credit: @aya.aya5018
To get a better view of the ocean, clamber up the Cape Kamui Lighthouse that’s in plain sight as you edge closer to the tip of the peninsula. Shutterbugs will have a field day from this vantage point, as they’ve got unobstructed views of the vast seascape laid in front of them.
You’ll also get the opportunity to gaze at the aquatic life of the Shakotan Blue when you set sail on the Shakotan Glassboat (¥1,600/person, ~S$20). Besides getting closer views of the natural rock formations, the cruise is furnished with glass bottoms so you can get clear vistas of fishes and sea urchins during the 40-minute long ride.
Address: Kozakicho, Shakotan-cho, Shakotan-gun 046-0321 Hokkaido
Telephone: +81 135-44-3715
Kamui Misaki’s website
Flowers in Hokkaido are at their peak kawaii-ness during the summer, and the botany at Farm Tomita is no exception. Proudly displaying 13 vibrant flower fields across it’s 20-hectare-large expanse, the farm’s an ideal place to hold a casual floral photoshoot to liven up the ‘Gram.
Fun fact: To put the size of Farm Tomita into perspective, the plantation is roughly the same size as our very own Jurong Bird Park.
Image credit: @non0629
The optimal time to drop by is between early to mid-July, as that’s when their popular lavender field is in full bloom. The best part is that the farm welcomes visitors without charging them an entrance fee all year round, so you won’t have to fork out anything to enjoy.
Keep tabs on these other hotspots to view more blossoming flowers in Hokkaido:
Address: Kisen Kita 15-go, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido 071-0704
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Farm Tomita’s website
From sightseeing cruises to a myriad of lush flower fields, there’s no shortage of breathtaking nature sights to admire while you’re in Hokkaido. Once post-Covid travel is allowed, consider making Hokkaido your destination of choice to take in these eight unreal landscapes.
If you want to take in the magnificent natural scenery of Hokkaido, go to the east of the country.
Nature hotspots are found in abundance in East Hokkaido – the Akan-Mashu National Park, Abashiri and the Kushiro Marsh all encompassed in the area.
If you’re not sold, have a look at these other impressive attractions that can all be found in East Hokkaido.
Image credit: Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort
For lodging that takes advantage of the season, the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort is your best bet. With a window view of the Sea of Okhotsk where the drift ice lies, staying in their Japanese-style Sunset rooms during the winter period literally gives you a sight to look forward to when you wake.
Prices for a Sunset twin room begin from ¥10,545/night (~S$133.75), and you can browse the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort website for facility and reservation details.
While at Shiretoko, spotting brown bears is one of the national park’s flagship attractions. Embark on a 3-hour round trip aboard the Shiretoko Peninsula Utoro Cruise (¥6,000/adult, ~S$76.07) and keep your eyes peeled for wild bears in their natural habitat fishing for some fresh trout.
Another notable landmark you need to see the 84-year-old Taushubetsu River Bridge – an arched bridge found in Kamishihoro Town. This historical piece of architecture sprawls over the Nukabira Lake, with its watery reflection being a symmetrical sight that’s pleasing on the eye.
Bottomline is, you won’t run out of nature sights and things to do when you’re planning a trip to Hokkaido. While we can’t jet on over to Japan just yet, it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead and keep the anticipation brimming so we know exactly where to go once travel reverts to normal.
This post was brought to you by Hokkaido Tourism Organization.
Cover image adapted from: Japanese National Tourism Organisation, Japanese National Tourism Organisation, @soheilajapan, Toyokoro Jewelry Ice
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