Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour including Okushiri Island

Posted on Oct 30, 2016
187 4

Posted on Oct 30, 2016
187 4
Reading time: 7 min
400km

Distance

11 days

Time

3500m

Ascent

150m

Highest point

4/10

Difficulty

100%

Paved

By around the 1400’s, ethnic Japanese from the mainland started to settle along the coast of the northern ‘wild land’ of Ezo (Hokkaido). It would not be until more than 400 years later that a relatively centralized Japanese government would push deeper into the north of Japan and develop it as a northern frontier island. Until then, the indigenous Ainu people were the only ones whose culture was sufficiently adapted to Hokkaido’s harsh environment. As such, the deep-south southern coast of Hokkaido contrasts starkly with the rest of Hokkaido: traditional Japanese architecture, castles, a history of conflict, and a turbulent past of natural disaster.

Last updated Oct 26, 2018

Route Map

Route Overview

Here, we outline a 10-day, very leisurely bicycle touring route around this fascinating coastal part of southern Hokkaido. It starts and ends on the JR trunk-line that connects Hakodate City with Sapporo City. This route can happily stand alone as a sub-two-week getaway from Sapporo (taking bicycles on the train to and from start/finish), or parts of it could be incorporated into a length-of-Japan trip. A big highlight of the route is the offshore island of Okushiri (location on Google Maps). This sleepy island, only 60km in circumference, is home to wine, empty roads, and sobering reminders of one of the most powerful tsunami in modern history.

Okushiri Island ferry: Heartland Ferries run a ferry service to Okushiri Island once or twice daily from either Setana Port (location) or Esashi Port (location).

  • Ferry timetable: Timetables are season-dependent, so check the current timetable here: http://www.heartlandferry.jp/english/e-esashi-time/.
  • Cost: Setana-Okushiri route starts at 1,700yen, Esashi-Okushiri route starts at 2,260yen. Biycles are an extra 1,250yen if rolled on, free if packed up in a bike bag and carried on as luggage. Up to date fare information here: http://www.heartlandferry.jp/english/e-esashi-fare/
  • Duration: The ferry takes between 1.5hrs (Setana-Okushiri route) and 2.5hrs (Esashi-Okushiri route).
  • Food on board: Basic snacks and instant noodles etc. are available on the ferries.

Photo Gallery

Daily Route notes

↔ 62km | ↗ 480m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

The start of this route is accessible by JR express train from Sapporo (or Hakodate), and begins at the express-train-stop station of Oshamambe. The old station is horrifically non-accessible, so be prepared to haul bikes and gear along platforms and up stairs. The route heads up and over the narrow piece of land that separates the Pacific Ocean and the Japan Sea, but the climb is not particularly steep. There isn’t much in the way of facilities on the way over until Imakane Town, so be prepared. The sell-appointed Setana Campground (with showers), up on a high headland is a beautiful (if not exposed) spot to catch the evening and morning sunset/sunrises.

Accommodation: Setana Campground at Risshozan Park (せたな青少年旅行村) | 820 yen per tent | 410 yen per person

Onsen: Setana Public Baths (せたな公衆浴場やすらぎ館) | 400yen | 3km from accommodation

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 20km | ↗ 200m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

Ferries to Okushiri Island leave once daily from Setana Port at around 2pm. Check the timetable for up to date information (http://www.heartlandferry.jp/english/e-esashi-time/). Considering the late arrival on Okushiri Island, the campground at the northern cape of the island, only 10km from the ferry terminal, is a nice (albeit exposed) spot to bunk down for the night. The northern cape is also the location of one of the memorials to the almost 200 people killed in the 1993 tsunami on the island. The rocky tip of the cape is scattered with rock piles, and the shrine building is open 24 hours – an amazing place to sit, remember, and ponder us humans’ fragility against nature.

Onsen: None

Okushiri Island cycle touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

↔ 28km | ↗ 500m | 🚵 90% paved | ↓ GPX file

Rather than follow the rugged and inaccessible northwest coast, the route along the northwest side of Okushiri Island grinds up and over a 350m high ridge. Expect picturesque forest, 800m or so of gravel road, content-looking cattle grazing out on the upper areas, and some stunning views on the downhill – rugged coast and beautiful, wild beech forests. Yu-no-hama bay is home to some post-tsunami relics (such as the still-bubbling hotspring ruins below), some options for onsen, and the surprisingly productive Okushiri Winery (fee wine tasting!).

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 17km | ↗ 200m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

This really short day was one of the more interesting of the trip. The Japan Sea coast was an impossibly beautiful azure blue. The International Tsunami Information Center at the southern cape was moving. And sharing our campsite with a platoon of Japan Self Defense Force soldiers was quite the novelty. As for the tsunami information center, in 1993 there was one of the most powerful tsunami in modern history, and it hit this very southern cape of Okushiri Island, destroying the entire village. The 30m high, 500km/h breaking wave killed 197 people. The memories of that event are still strong among residents there. As for the Japan Self Defense Force, there is a large air self defense force base on the island, so the southern cape park area (which is great for camping) is sometimes used as a training ground.

Onsen: None

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 80km | ↗ 900m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

Catching the (super) early ferry (timetable here) from Okushiri Port allows a full day of cycling around the mainland from Esashi to Matsumae. It also allows for a nice sunrise view over one of Okushiri’s main official tourist attractions – the pothandle rock. Once back on the mainland, take a bit of time to have a look around the historical parts of Esashi. Then it is around the coast to Matsumae, via a high-land coastal route with stunning views over rugged, forgotten stony beaches. Note that there is no official campground in Matsumae, but cyclists can get away with camping in one of the parks around the Matsumae castle.

Onsen: Onsen Ryokan Yano (温泉旅館 矢野) | 600yen | 1km from accommodation

Cycle Touring around Okushiri Island (Hokkaido, Japan)

↔ 56km | ↗ 550m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

If you didn’t take a look at Matsumae Castle on the previous day, today is a great day to get in early and beat the crowds. The castle staff are nice and will usually let visitors in before opening time if you’re early and hang about at the entrance. Being the only castle in Hokkaido, it is a real curiosity. On the way towards Shiriuchi, the route passes the southern-most point in Hokkaido, and also passes through Fukushima Town. This town is home to the Seikan Tunnel museum, which recounts the construction of the world’s longest undersea rail tunnel, which connects Honshu with Hokkaido. The entrance to the tunnel is some 15km further along the route, near the Shiriuchi michi-no-eki. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the recently opened Hokkaido bullet train.

Onsen: Komorebi Hot Springs (こもれび温泉) | 400yen | 3.3km from accommodation

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 57km | ↗ 400m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

Hakodate is Hokkaido’s third-largest city with a population of 279,000. It is relatively compact, however, so the approach from the south is relatively straight forward (if not a little ugly, with one of Japan’s largest cement factories welcoming you to the city). Head straight for the Goryokaku star-shaped fortress, and enjoy cycling around the perimeter before heading in to the recently re-constructed magistrate’s building. You’ll pay for most tourist attractions in Hakodate, but they are very much worth it. Surprisingly good value is the restaurant at the top of Mt. Hakodate, accessed either by bus or ropeway. The night views are fantastic, and you’ll still only pay not much more than 800yen for the basic Japanese meal.

Accommodation: Hotel Hakodateyama (ホテル函館山) | 9000 yen per room

Onsen: None

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 11km | ↗ 70m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

A full day in Hakodate is well worth it. Attractions include the Mt. Hakodate ropeway, the western quarter, Goryokaku fortress, and if you’re there on the right day, the Hakodate keirin velodrome. Keirin is the Japanese cycling version of horse racing: punters bet on track cyclists. The Hakodate velodrome is usually free to enter and watch, and has live races twice a week. At other times, races from other parts of Japan are live-broadcasted onto large screens in the velodrome meeting areas. We opted to stay at one of the large tourist hotels (Yunokawa Tourist Hotel) in Yu-no-kawa, Hakodate’s main onsen area, about 10km from the city center.

Onsen: Yunokawa Kanko Hotel Shoen (湯の川観光ホテル祥苑) | 600yen | 0km from accommodation

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 67km | ↗ 650m | 🚵 100% paved | ↓ GPX file

Back on the road after a day off in Hakodate, today’s route takes you around the sleepy coast via Mt. Esa, Todohokke’s surf bay, and the onsen village of Kakkumi. The route cuts through fishing village after fishing village, so there is plenty of local industry to be seen. Make sure to drop in at the pink cafe just across the road from Todohokke surf beach – the cheese cake there is amazing. Once in Kakkumi, the climb up to the Kakkumi Park campground is worth it. The campground is nothing to write home about, but the quaint little onsen just down the road, run by a talkative 85 year old, is character defined.

Accommodation: Kakkumi Park (川汲公園) | Free

Onsen: Kakkumi Onsen Meirinso (川汲温泉明林荘) | 440yen | .65km from accommodation

Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour incuding Okushiri Island

↔ 35km | ↗ 400m | 🚵 95% paved | ↓ GPX file

Soon after heading out from Kakkumi Park Campground, you’ll pass the excellent Jomon Culture Center. This recently-constructed museum is a trove of information and artifacts from the Jomon period – from around 3,000BC till 500AD in Japan. A great number of artifacts from this hunter-gatherer culture/period have been unearthed near Kakkumi. In Shikabe town, the michi-no-eki has a geyser and steam-cooking facilities. Both cost money to see/use, and they are mostly worth it. At least there is a foot-bath to soak your feet in as you’re waiting the 15 minutes to see the geyser. Don’t miss the Higashi-Onuma Onsen just before getting to the lake. It is old and dingy, but the hot water is good for a soak. The Onuma Park Campground is free to use – just try to avoid the summer high season…it will be packed.

It is just a short 7km bike ride from the eastern end of Lake Onuma, where the campground is, and Onuma Park train station. From the station, express trains can be caught that will take you back to Sapporo (or Hakodate).

Onsen: Higashi Onuma Onsen Tome-no-Yu (東大沼温泉 留の湯) | 400yen | 2.8km from accommodation

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route or parts of it? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback or queries here. Thanks!

4 thoughts on “Hokkaido Deep South Cycle Tour including Okushiri Island”

  1. Great blog, I’m lucky to have stumbled upon it!
    Got a question about accommodations along this route. I notice you guys usually camp out, something I’m a big fan of but I’m getting a bit old for dragging tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear along. With that in mind, are there adequate other forms of accommodations along this route like hostels, minshuku, ryokan and so on.
    If I were to go the camping route are there showers in all campgrounds?
    With regards to food, is the route pretty well-populated with restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores or are these few and far between?
    One final question: are there any considerations with taking bikes on the trains, like limited to certain times of day or folding bikes only?

    1. Hey Brian, we haven’t relied soely on ryokan or minshuku on a tour before, but whenever we have been wet cold and miserable we have always been able to find one on a whim when we’ve needed it. In a small town or village just ask around. In larger cities, best to try to find the main train station, as there will be more options around there.

      Camping grounds generally don’t have showers, but many have hot springs (onsen) within about 5km or so.

      Food – if you have a few rice balls in your panniers then you shouldn’t go hungry. You will no doubt be in a town of some sort for the night, so dinner and breakfast won’t be an issue. The issue is whether or not there is a place to eat or buy food when you want to have lunch. There are convenience stores fairly regularly, but we have spent a hungry few hours in the middle of the day sometimes when we were caught out at lunchtime with no food.

      For bikes on trains, there is no limitation on time of day. You can travel witha non-folding bike, just need to remove the front wheel. See my post here for tips: http://www.14degrees.org/traveling-with-a-tern-folding-bike-on-the-train-in-japan/

  2. This is truly wonderful and thank you for sharing.

    I am preparing for a cycling tour in Jamaica and would love to create something like this as a memory, would you be able to share how to start a wonderful picture dairy like this?

    Thank you,
    Heidi Saul
    Heidi.Saul@yahoo.com
    713 373 1780

    1. Hi Heidi,

      I use a few different services and combine them all together. Flickr.com for hosting my photos, Youtube for the videos, RideWithGPS for the routes, and WordPress for this blog.

      Probably one good way to start is to make a free blog on WordPress.com 🙂

      I hope this helps!

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