Hokkaido – Wakkanai to Otaru

Days 15 to 20 – Wakkanai to Otaru – Hugging the Coast – Autumn Fest – Tunnel Overdose – City Scapes…

By early morning the weather becomes mild enough so we slowly pack up to catch the 9:30am ferry to Wakkanai; we have lots of time. We bring our bags downstairs, I go out to cleanup our bikes. My hands find a crumbled paper in my pocket, I open it and see it’s the ferry schedule. The hours seem strange… My eyes grow wide as I notice that the morning ferry is at 8:30, not 9:30. Fortunately it’s only 7:45 and we are almost done. I wake up Bengul from her day dreams, we say good-bye to our hosts, cycle to the ferry port, get tickets at the last minute and walk on to the ferry just in time. There are lots of foot passengers and the seas are still a bit rough. We choose to sit towards the front of the ship, a big mistake. I start to feel dizzy and decide to get out to get fresh air. After two hours we are back where we were four days ago.

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Kita Bouhatei Dome

We do a quick tour of the famous Kita Bouhatei Dome which we didn’t have a chance to see before. There is a small festival going on near the station, so we stop to listen to the music, eat some sweets from the fast-food stands and check out our upcoming route. We have decided not to go east but south towards Otaru, a complete rewrite of my original plan. We continue south east close to shore to find road #106 which is an alternate to reach the west coast. On the way I look for a shop to buy a pair of sunglasses in vain, although I end up finding a wonderful bakery, so maybe not so in vain after all. The bakery is inside a supermarket and busy with people walking around with tongs, filling their trays and queuing up.

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Purple

We have a nice tailwind which pushes us forward. In less than four hours, we are back in Teshio. As we cycle in to the campground that we stayed earlier, a large group of people are walking out from the community centre. We learn from the deputy mayor that we just missed the Autumn Festival, oh well. He has been appointed here recently to improve tourism. We pitch our tent, eat a quick meal before running to the onsen. On the way we try to drop off our garbage bag and the guy in the camp office asks money for it, but then takes it for free when we balk. Here is an idea to improve tourism: solve the garbage problem.
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After a colourful sunset and cool night, it’s a 12C morning with bright skies. We follow the same road, #232, south, occasionally taking farm roads, but this time it’s a weekday so the construction work is in full speed and it’s not easy to ignore the barriers. It’s nice to be able to visit the same place and experience it differently, I guess. We stop at the resting place in Enbetsu and have some octopus (tako) balls — delicious. Shosanbetsu campground is still beautiful and a nice place to stop for lunch. A 72 year old biker takes our picture and another one gets chatty. We find Haboro Seabird Centre is closed, and the campground at the beach is also closed since Aug 21st, so we keep on until Tomamae, and stay at the same place next to the onsen. There are only two tents, and we have another nice sunset.
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Beyond Tomamae, it’s a new experience. The road is still flat, we quickly arrive Obira and find an old Herring processing place, newly restored as a visitor centre.  Next is Rumoi with its oil refineries, a busy place. Garbage trucks and big rigs whizzing by in full speed. Sirens fill the air at 12 o’clock. Could you at least play a milder tone, right now it sounds like we are having an air raid. We find a small park with a little bit of shade to munch on some snacks. It’s very hot under full sun. There are lots of beach sites along the coast but most are closed due to season — weird. Mashike town looks like a touristy place with its non-functional train station (closed just last year) which is apparently also a movie set for a popular TV show (creatively named as “Station”), and its tour-friendly old sake factory with free tasting. We choose the Riverside campground to stay (no showers, 1000yen pp) and ride back to town to have some sushi in a small shop.

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Bridge on Mashike Riverside campground

After Mashike the coast is a series of rough cliffs and high ridges. And that means lots of tunnels. There are four of them ahead, 2k to 4k in length. And to top it off, some tunnels have construction going inside. One road worker hands me a couple of beef jerkies for compensation while we wait for cars to go ahead and leave us in smoke. After those four tunnels we reach a town with small shops drying fish outside. They use a rotating machine to do the job quicker.

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Drying fish

A couple of long tunnels (3k and 2k), and a few short ones later we reach Atsuta towards 4pm. We checkout the beach and of course it is closed (and doesn’t look like a nice place in any case). According to the map the auto-campground is 2km inland and it turns out to be hilly as well. But in the end it turns out to be a nice and quiet place with trees, river and a gazebo — ignoring the one crowded tent. The lady charges us 1000yen for the tent and an extra 200yen per person (no showers, no onsen nearby).

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Atsuta auto-campground
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One of the nicer tunnels

The next day brings us to a major river, the Ishikari. The river delta is huge and we find a nice gravel path to go on. After a bridge that crosses the main river we descend into a sports park with some people flying drones and others playing mini-golf. We follow a dyke into a peninsula where we find a small town and a natural museum with information on local flowers and fish. We initially planned to camp here but it’s only noon and we are not a fan of beach sand at all. We have our lunch in the shade and keep cycling ahead. We manage to stay out of the busy road for a while and follow the network of small roads close to the shore but after a while we have nothing but hwy 5 left to take.

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Hwy 5 to Otaru

The highway has wide sidewalks on both sides but it’s tricky to decide which one is better, maybe I should have followed Bengul, she has more views, but then I couldn’t have taken this shot if I did. By the way it starts raining but not too hard.

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Inside Morinoki Hostel

We reach Otaru in late afternoon and head straight to our chosen accommodation, the Morinoki Backpackers’ Hostel. The owner, Masa-san welcomes us warmly and we pay for two beds for two nights. We take a shower and head for a dinner outside. The sushi is supposed to be very good, but that means it’s quite expensive. Masa-san recommends a budget-friendly conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. The sushi we have there is sub-par and we realize we went into a different restaurant, the recommended one is across the street, darn it.

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The Otaru Canals
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Realistic food display

Next morning we have a Japanese style breakfast at the hostel and go out early to explore the city, famous for its “canals”, Venetian glass work, and various other things. The name of the city (Otaru) also suggests that maybe once it was a place for otter fur trading. It’s full of visitors from all over the place. Besides vacationers, we see student groups as well. The main attraction seems to be the food. Most restaurants are showing their menu in life-like displays. It’s hard to believe these are made of plastic.

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One of many alleys
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Vintage magazine covers
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Wakkanai to Otaru Route