10 a.m.: Check out of hotel at Noboribetsu and drive for one hour to Lake Toya, which has an active volcano, Mount Usu. When Mount Usu erupted in March and April 2000, over 60 new craters opened up on the west side of the mountain.
You have three options here but they are closed during winter:
–Kompirayama Walking Trail (40 minutes): starts at the Toyako Visitor Center in Toyako Onsen and leads to the Nishiyama parking lot. Along the way, you can see various ruins, including a destroyed public bath house, apartment block and bridge. The trail also passes two of the largest craters from the 2000 eruption, as well as large erosion control dams.
–Nishiyama Crater Walking Trail (20 minutes): At the end of Kompirayama Walking Trail is Nishiyama parking lot. If you want to skip Kompirayama, you may drive up to this parking lot. At Nishiyama, you will see more newly created craters around Mount Nishiyama. Several destroyed buildings, disrupted roads and broken phone poles have been left untouched for visitors to witness the destructive power of the volcano. Then you will reach another carpark.
–Observatory on top of Mount Kompirayama: The paid observatory is accessible by car. It provides panoramic views over Lake Toya and the new craters on the west side of Mount Usu.
12.30 p.m. : Lunch! We had the Michelin Bib Gourmand ramen Ippontei 一本亭.
1.15 p.m.: Start your 3-hour drive to Hakodate.
4.15 p.m.: Check into your hotel. Since you’re driving, the location of the hotel doesn’t really matter. But as all our travelling plans, we like to stay in the city centre, where most things are accessible. We stayed at Smile Hotel Hakodate, which is just across from Hakodate JR Station, and a 3-minute walk from Hakodate Asaichi Morning Market. Of course, if you have some cash to burn, you can stay at Four Points by Sheraton Hakodate, which is just beside the station and in front of the market.
I want to talk about Smile Hotel Hakodate since some readers may want to stay here too.
Actually, there is nothing much to say. It’s a very tiny functional room with a prefabricated toilet ubiquitous in Japan; many 2- or 3-star Japanese hotels use the same model of toilet. You have to pay for parking at ￥500 a day; it’s a full day of parking, so it’s pretty worth it.
The best thing about the hotel is the fantastic location.
4.30 p.m.: Drive to Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse & Bay area. It used to be a warehouse in 1909 but has been refurbished to become a commercial shopping and eating area. You can buy your souvenirs here.
6 p.m.: You can eat at the Red Brick Warehouse area, but we scouted around and didn’t want to eat anything there. We drove to Tsunezushi, Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand sushi restaurant.
9.30 a.m.: Go to Hakodate Morning Market for breakfast. It is a small market and takes less than 30 minutes to stroll. Take your time.
11 a.m.: Drive to Old Fort Goryokaku 五稜郭, a western-style fort completed almost 150 years ago. It is worth going because this is where the last civil war of Japan took place. There are two parts of the fort. First there is the star-shaped fort itself, which is free to enter. And then there is a Goryokaku Observatory Tower, which overlooks the fort, so that you can see the star shape clearly. The Observatory requires payment.
1 p.m.: Lunch. We took a 5-minute drive to Unagidokoro Takahashi うなぎ処 髙はし which specialises in unagi.
2 p.m.: Drive and park at Mount Hakodate Ropeway. Then cross the road to walk around Motomachi, an historical area just below Mount Hakodate. If you click on the Motomachi link, there is a suggested walking route, which will be exhausting. I would suggesting seeing only the Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward and Hokkaido Russian Orthodox Church. They are parallel on the road with the Ropeway, so just cross the road.
4p.m.: Return to the Ropeway to take a cable car to Mount Hakodate. Watch the sunset turn into night.
I want to manage your expectations here. It was a terrible experience for us. Firstly, the cable car wasn’t working that day, so we had to take the bus up. We waited for the 3rd bus until we could squeeze on. Up there, it was super, super crowded. All the tourists in Hakodate were congregated there. Everybody was rushing; it felt like war. It was terrible although the view was stunning.
7 p.m. We wanted to go to Asari Honten at Hakodate, a sukiyaki restaurant which is over 100 years old, but it was full and we didn’t make reservations. So we went to Asari しゃぶしゃぶあさり, which is also another sukiyaki restaurant. Not really sure why their shop names are so similar or if they are related, but it was fantastic. One of the best meals in Hokkaido.
8.30 a.m.: If you stay near the JR Hakodate station like we did, revisit the Hakodate Morning Market for breakfast, but this time, just eat and leave. No gallivanting.
9 a.m.: Check out of Hotel.
If you want to see other places in Hakodate, click on the link to their official tourism site.
And then we will proceed to the skiing town Niseko, but we didn’t ski. (Well there are many things there to do besides skiing.)
You may be interested in…
–10 Must-Eat Food in Hokkaido
–What to Eat at Niseko Hokkaido
–Hilton Niseko Village Review, Hokkaido: Naked in Nature! Wild Wild Wet!
–Oyado Kiyomizuya 御やど清水屋, Noboribetsu Hokkaido: Onsen Ryokan at Hell Valley (And the Best Kaiseki Ever)
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.