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5 Amazing Hokkaido Bucket List Ideas in Japan's Wild Northern Paradise

5 Amazing Hokkaido Bucket List Ideas in Japan's Wild Northern Paradise

Date published: 27 December 2019
Last updated: 9 October 2020

What's on your Hokkaido bucket list? In the Okhotsk sub-prefecture in the eastern part of Hokkaido, drift ice from the Amur River in Russia comes floating in southwards. From the latter half of January to the earlier half of February, the ice comes in extremely close to the shore and in large amounts, especially near the coasts of Abashiri, Monbetsu, and Shiretoko, turning the view of the ocean into a world of ice.

Once March sets in, the weather gets too warm and the ice melts, so why not try out some activities you can only experience within the short span of Hokkaido’s winter?

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Garinko-go II: Starting off with an ice breaker!
  2. 2. Okhotsk Tower: Study drift ice from both above and below
  3. 3. Furepe Waterfall: Drift ice above icy falls
  4. 4. Kitahama Station: The closest station to the Okhotsk Sea
  5. 5. Hot Air Balloon ‘Free Flight’: Hokkaido bucket list-worthy view of the ice from the heavens

1. Garinko-go II: Starting off with an ice breaker!

1. Garinko-go II: Starting off with an ice breaker!

Because of the drift ice, regular boats like cruisers or fishing boats are unable to leave port. However, if you’re aboard “Garinko-go II”, you can simply smash through the ice with your drill and enjoy a 1-hour cruise (45 minutes when there’s no ice). The sight of the crushed drift ice dispersing along the side of the cruise is impactful indeed.

The drift ice cruise lass from 10th January till the end of March and is available on a reservation-basis only, at least one day in advance (while booking through mail or fax is recommended, those booking for the very next day are advised to call instead). In February, the peak season, sunset cruises in the evening as well as weekend/holiday-limited sunrise cruises are in operation. A must for your Hokkaido bucket list.

  • Garinko No. II
    ガリンコ号Ⅱ
    • Address 1, Kaiyokoen, Mombetsu-shi, Hokkaido 〒094-0031
    • Contact number: 0158-24-8000 (same for booking reservations)
      Operating hours: 9:00/10:30/12:00/13:30/15:00, 16:10 only in February, and 6:00 only on weekends and holidays in February (7.30 with special circumstances)
      Fees: 3,000-yen for adults (2,500-yen when there’s no drift ice), 1,500-yen for children (5-11 years-old, 1,250-yen when there’s no drift ice)
      Open Daily

2. Okhotsk Tower: Study drift ice from both above and below

2. Okhotsk Tower: Study drift ice from both above and below

At the tip of Monbetsu Harbor Breakwater No. 3 lies the Okhotsk Tower, spanning 38.5m above sea level and 7.5 meters below, and is the world’s first observation tower within icy waters. The viewing platform on the third-floor commands a panoramic 360-degree view of the area, where you can enjoy the sights of the drift ice all around.

The underwater floor features 2 observation windows, one 2 meters in height and the other 1 meter in height, where you can gaze at ocean view below the drift ice, as well as a mini exhibition featuring Okhotsk’s marine life.

Adjacent to the tower is “Azarashi land”, where you get to see over 20 seals playing around (200-yen for adults, 100-yen for grade schoolers to high schoolers), as well as “Azarashi Paradise” where you can feed and touch the seals (500-yen for adults, 300-yen for grade schoolers to high schoolers).

  • Okhotsk Tower
    オホーツクタワー
    • Address 1, Kaiyokoen, Mombetsu-shi, Hokkaido 〒094-0031
    • Phone Number 0158-24-8000
    • Operating Hours: 10:00~17:00 (Last Entry 16:30), 6:00~10:00 on New Year’s
      Entry Prices: 800-yen for adults, 400-yen for children (grade school and below)
      Closed between December 29-31, January 2 and January 3.

3. Furepe Waterfall: Drift ice above icy falls

3. Furepe Waterfall: Drift ice above icy falls

Rather than a flowing river, the Furepe Waterfall in the Shiretoko Peninsula is a torrent of underground water from the area’s mountain range gushing forth from a 100-meter-tall cliff. Due to the lack of water, it freezes slowly in winter. In addition, the drift ice rushes to just below the cliffs of the waterfall, resulting in a uniquely picturesque scenery of ice.

The 2-kilometer-long promenade of the Furepe Waterfalls is also accessible, blanketed in snow.

The Shiretoko Nature Center located at the entrance of the promenade also offers long socks and snow snowshoe rental services at a price. Due to the snow a round trip across the promenade and back would likely take about an hour, so do prepare some warm and easy to move around clothes like ski wear.

  • Furepe Waterfall
    フレペの滝
    • Address Onnnebetsumura, Shari-Gun Shari-Cho, Hokkaido 〒099-4356
    • Contact Number: 0152-24-2114 Shiretoko Nature Center
      Operating Hours: 9:00~16:00 (October 21 to April 19), 8:00~17:30 (April 20 to October 20)
      Closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s

4. Kitahama Station: The closest station to the Okhotsk Sea

4. Kitahama Station: The closest station to the Okhotsk Sea
* Photo is Kitahama Station building in summer / dodotone / Shutterstock.com

Take the JR Senmo Main Line from Abashiri and you’ll arrive here in 15 minutes.

Kitahama Station, which stands about 20 meters from the sea, is loved for its atmospheric location and its wooden exterior and has been a regular choice to visit by tourists for some time.

Inside the station building, business cards left by visitors decorate the walls. Beside the station, an observatory boasting a view of the Shiretoko Mountain Range behind the drift ice is also present. In addition, the snack / café “Teishajou” at the station serves hot drinks and authentic Western food.

  • Kitahama station
    北浜駅
    • Address Kitahama, Abashiri-shi, Hokkaido 〒099-3112

5. Hot Air Balloon ‘Free Flight’: Hokkaido bucket list-worthy view of the ice from the heavens

5. Hot Air Balloon ‘Free Flight’: Hokkaido bucket list-worthy view of the ice from the heavens

In the early mornings, you can experience flying through the sky in a hot air balloon at Kiyosato-cho, which stretches across the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula. When the weather is fine, sights like Mt. Shari, the Shiretoko Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk covered with drift ice are visible.

The service begins operations from January 11 to March 22, and you can make reservations at the Shiretoko Tourist website or contact number.

  • Hot Air Balloon Free Flight
    熱気球フリーフライト
    • Address 282 Koyo, Shari Gun Kiyosato-Cho, Hokkaido 〒099-4403
    • Contact No.: 0152-25-2642 (Shiretoko Tourist Association)
      Prices: 17,050-yen (includes insurance, 3,300 yen extra for 1 person)

The drift ice peaks in February, the coldest month of the year. The average temperature is -6.0 ° C in Abashiri and -5.9°C in Monbetsu (from the JMA average).

Prepare clothing that provides ample warmth like ski wear or heavyweight down jackets, while choosing appropriately according to the activity you plan on participating in. A Hokkaido bucket list experience beyond belief (and the cold) await you here.

Text by: Minanokotoba Sha

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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