10 Highlights of My Hokkaido Trip Which You Can Add to Your Itinerary

10 Highlights of My Hokkaido Trip Which You Can Add to Your Itinerary

Mix and match these great attractions in Hokkaido, from Lake Akan to New Chitose Airport, for your next trip!

Hokkaido was the first place I visited in Japan – not Tokyo, not Kyoto, and not Osaka. Even so, I didn’t even visit Sapporo, the capital of this northern Japanese island. Where I went was off the beaten path, driving from town to town across the picturesque farmlands. During my short trip, I traversed four subprefectures – Kushiro, Tokachi, Hidaka and Ishikari – which mainly lie in the bottom half of Hokkaido.

I’d like to share with you the highlights of my itinerary, particularly the pocketful of beautiful attractions I visited, broken down to the subprefectures mentioned above. On top of that, I’ll include a place to stay in each of the subprefectures. From this list, you can pick out the places that interest you the most, and weave them into your very own customised itinerary. Here we go!

Kushiro Subprefecture

Where to stay: New Akan Hotel

The view of Lake Akan from my room in New Akan Hotel.

Steps away from Lake Akan and with rooms that flaunt huge windows akin to postcards depicting a calm lake, New Akan Hotel is definitely a top choice for travellers. New Akan Hotel has a rooftop outdoor bath and pool where you can soak with a view of the lake in the day or under the starry skies at night.

1. Lake Akan

The lakeside view in the evening.

Part of Akan National Park, Lake Akan is where you can truly get away and replace the hustle and bustle with the peaceful glory of nature. There are hiking trails that weave around the lake as well as boat tours that take you to Churui Island which houses the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Centre.

On the speedboat to Churui Island.

A huge ball of marimo on display.

What is marimo, you ask? Marimo are spherical moss balls which are unique to Lake Akan. Its formation takes a special force of nature combining wave currents and lake topography, among other factors. In certain parts of Lake Akan, a sea of beautiful green marimo lies on the lakebed, untouched and mysterious. On Churui Island, you’ll be able to immerse in a re-creation of the bottom of Lake Akan and learn more about the marimo.

2. Akan Ainu Kotan (Ainu Village)

The rustic-looking shops along the street.

Cute shop displays.

Ainu Village, the heart of the cultural shopping district, is lined with restaurants and craft stores. It is also a little settlement for the Ainu people in Hokkaido, and where travellers can appreciate the Ainu traditional dance or purchase handmade folk arts and crafts.

Tokachi Subprefecture

Where to stay: Tokachigawa Onsen Daiichi Hotel

Famous for the rare moor hot spring waters that are channelled into the hotel, Tokachigawa-Onsen Daiichi Hotel is exceptionally great for those looking to experience Hokkaido’s onsen culture. Take your pick from the Japanese-style rooms or modern suites and if you don’t mind splurging, opt for a room with an open-air bath and river view!

3. Tokachi Hills

Tokachi Hills is a large hilltop compound sprinkled with a dazzling array of flora. The flower garden is an oasis of colours with over 1,000 varieties of flowers and trees that change according to the season.

Knick-knacks in the Hills Shop.

Yummy-looking beans in the Hills Shop.

And of course, fresh veggies are for sale too.

There’s also a Rose Garden, a Blueberry Farm, an Orchard, a Dragonfly Pond and a Hills Shop which sells a curated assortment of random knick-knacks like wooden crafts, home decor, toys and books as well as food items.

Food from the buffet spread at Farm Restaurant Viz.

Part of Tokachi Hills is Viz Potager, a vegetable garden which supplies fresh ingredients daily to Farm Restaurant Viz. Take the chance to dine at this onsite eatery which showcases the flavours of the region with the expertise of chefs from Hungary and France.

4. Shichiku Garden

The Wildflower Garden.

The immense variety of flowers in Tokachi Hills.

As compared to Tokachi Hills, the beauty of Shichiku Garden is more untamed, in a sense, with the scatter of wildflowers that appear to grow uninhibited. From afar the flower garden is not striking, but once you move closer, you’ll notice that every step you take brings you to a collection of flowers that’s different than the last. Butterflies flutter in the background, enjoying the sweet life in this slice of paradise. Be sure to wander around both the English Garden and the Wildflower Garden!

5. Obihiro Racetrack

The horse race in motion.

Punters deciding on their bets.

A horse race unlike any other, the Ban’ei Horse Race tests not just the speed of horses but also its strength and endurance. How do they do this? By attaching hundreds of kilograms of iron sleds to the horses which will be pulled along the track. The Ban’ei Horse Race was born in the Meiji Era and is still in fashion in Obihiro, where punters place bets on their pick of draft horses, hoping to make a quick win. Drop by the Obihiro Racetrack on race days (usually Sat, Sun and Mon) to wallow in the exhilarating atmosphere.

6. Ikeda Wine Castle

Barrels of wine in the Cellar.

Bottles of wine on display in the Souvenir Shop.

The Exhibition Garden outside the Wine Castle.

The Tokachi wine produced in Ikeda Town is celebrated for its exceptional quality. The source of this wine are the grapes in the area which are harvested in autumn. In the Exhibition Room, visitors can absorb knowledge on grape cultivation and wine production while in the Cellar, they are able to look at rows after rows of dusty wine bottles in the process of cask ageing. To complete the tour, sample Tokachi wine at the Free Wine Tasting Corner before hitting the Souvenir Shop to bring home some goodies. 

You can enjoy your share of barbecued beef here!

The throngs of people enjoying the festival.

If you happen to be in Hokkaido in autumn as I was, coincide your trip with the Wine Festival which happens in early October. On top of all-you-can-drink Tokachi wines, you can feast on barbecued Hokkaido beef and other Tokachi specialities. Just be sure to come early to save a picnic spot – this festival is tremendously popular amongst Japanese locals. 

7. Garden Spa Tokachigawa Onsen

The entrance of the complex.

The indoor and outdoor pools of the onsen.

The fairy lights as viewed from the pathway outside the complex.

If you can’t get enough of onsens in Hokkaido, drop by the Garden Spa Tokachigawa Onsen when you’re sightseeing around the area. On top of the moor hot spring which accommodates couples and families, there’s also a hot spring mist sauna, an outdoor pool and a water play fountain. Outside of the spa area, there are four restaurants and an Experience Studio with all sorts of hands-on programs available like miso-making, tofu-making and cooking classes.

Hidaka Subprefecture

Where to stay: Urakawa Yushun Village Aeru

The modern and spacious room.

At a viewpoint of the JRA Hidaka Training Centre.

Urakawa Yushun Village Aeru is a humble accommodation. Among the main allure here are the horseback riding and the free tour of the JRA Hidaka Training Centre which guests are entitled to. The latter is just a stone’s throw away from the accommodation and it’s known as the place where world-class horses are bred. Getting to know more about horses would be an enriching experience because after all, the identity of Hidaka Subprefecture is closely tied to horses, and horse breeding is part of the local economy.

8. Cooking Lesson at Sakazukiya

The final stage of the sushi preparation.

An assortment of sushi.

Iomochi potato cake wrapped in spinach.

A little restaurant in the town of Urakawa, Sakazukiya is run by a husband-and-wife team. With the guidance of these expert chefs, I had the opportunity to try my hand at making three dishes: tuna balls, sushi and Japanese omelette. After the cooking class, the dishes I painstakingly attempted to cook were serve together with more mouthwatering dishes like fragrant barbecued salmon with vegetables and a unique potato cake wrapped in spinach. Dishes on their regular menu include an assortment of sashimi, seafood like tuna, octopus and sea squirt, as well as cheeses, pickles and salads.

9. Lake Erimo

This is where the Hidaka Mountains meet the ocean.

Near the end of the cape.

Brave the winds and whiff in the scent of seaweed at Cape Erimo, which is located at the southernmost tip of the Hidaka Mountains. The cape is a habitat for seals, and there is a Wind Museum, Kaze no Yakata, with an observation deck where you can view the lazy seals through telescopes. Why a museum about wind? This is one of the windiest areas in Japan, with wind speeds of 10 metres per second a common occurrence. Check out the special wind simulator room where you can be blown away by wind speeds of up to 25 metres per second.  

Ishikari Subprefecture

Where to stay: Air Terminal Hotel

My snug little room in the Air Terminal Hotel.

Want to take your time with souvenir shopping? Or have an early morning flight? Then I highly recommend staying overnight at New Chitose Airport. One option is the Air Terminal Hotel, which is just a few minutes’ walk from everywhere – the JR New Chitose Airport Station, the arrival gate, the departure counters, and the shopping areas. The rooms are cosy and will satisfy any fuss-free traveller. Guests here also have complimentary access to the New Chitose Airport Onsen.

10. New Chitose Airport

ROYCE’ headquarters are in Hokkaido, so it’s no surprise to find them in the airport souvenir shop.

A haven for those on the hunt for souvenirs, the New Chitose Airport is the best last stop in Hokkaido for not just shopping but also dining and entertainment. You can find all sorts of Hokkaido snacks at the various sweets and souvenir shops. You can even find Royce’ Chocolate World, a chocolate factory and museum, together with 200 varieties of Royce’ chocolates here! Sink your teeth into freshly baked cheese tarts from Kinotoya, slurp some Sapporo ramen at Ramen Dojo, overdose on cheese with the Triple Cheese Pasta from Hanabatake Bokujo Cafe, enter Doraemon paradise in Doraemon Wakuwaku Sky Park, and so much more. As you can only imagine, a quick few hours wouldn’t be enough to appreciate all that New Chitose Airport has to offer.

I hope that a few of these awesome places to visit in Hokkaido would make an appearance on your very own itinerary, whether you choose to embark on a road trip or cover the country by trains and buses.

About Author

Dina Malyana

Dina is one who is constantly dreaming of elsewhere. Her favourite days are those spent traversing across the globe with a backpack, chasing every sunset. Find her on Instagram @dinamalyana.

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