Japan never had a mandatory stay-at-home lockdown like other developed countries in early 2020. Prefecture governors issues stay-at-home requests to prefecture citizens, strongly urging them to avoid non-essential outings. In Hokkaido, we experienced such state of emergencies twice in the first half of 2020. The later one ended at midnight on May 31. So, we celebrated our new-found freedom on the following weekend by having an adventure close to home – the Nopporo Forest Park just east of Sapporo City. We made it an overnight trip, staying for the first time at the basic but nice Ebetsu City Forest Campground. While Haidee and I stayed Friday and Saturday nights, a few of our friends came to stay on Saturday night.
Seeing that it was only a 12km cycle from our place in Atsubetsu Ward in Sapporo City to the campground, Haidee and I left home at about 6:45pm on the Friday evening. This meant we arrived at the campground at just before 8pm, as the light of the day was fading. Being an overnight trip close to home, I did not pack light. The mighty Tern Verge Tour folder gobbled up the load with ease. In one of those back panniers is a large box of charcoal, and a heavy free-standing grill.
After falling asleep the previous night in our tent to the soothing white-noise of thousands of frogs croaking their throats out in the next-door reservoir, we woke the next morning to a mostly sunny day. First on the list was to try making a large, circuitous loop of the reservoir to the south of the campground on foot. While the official Japan topomap data doesn’t show a trail across the reservoir dam, Open Street Maps does. This makes perfect sense, of course. Why would you not have good access from the Ebetsu Forest Campsite to the Nopporo Forest Park?
We opted to do the loop in an anti-clockwise direction, since we knew paths and roads existed at least on the first 75% of the route in that direction. Haidee didn’t get very far before being distracted by a large patch of daisies blooming along the northern border of the campground.
We soon got on our way. We’d wandered around this area the previous weekend (ostensibly exercise…Sapporo was still under a stay-at-home request order), and were a bit confused at seeing a number of walkers walking along the marked trails through the Forest Tree Breeding Center, but at the same time, seeing ‘keep out’ signs posted at entrances. Campground staff also seemed relatively nonchalant about us accessing the forest park via the Forest Tree Breeding Center. “We see lots of people going via there,” they said.
With no small amount of trepidation, we hastily made our way through, and into the Nopporo Forest Park proper.
EDIT: Later, I (Rob) found on the website of the Forest Tree Breeding Center that indeed the Forest Tree Breeding Center is closed to the general public from the 25th of May till 30th of September 2020, due to earthworks (details here).
It felt all quite hot and dry on the walk through the forestry area, but once we were in the shade of the native forest in the park, it was cool and dark. Fuki plant was growing rampant next to the trail. Dappled light dotted the surroundings.
At the four-way junction, we swung a left down the Shikibi Trail. We’d cycled this trail many years ago with colleagues from work. Haidee mentioned it was nice to be enjoying it at a walking pace. Near the reservoir, Haidee spotted a number of diving ducks, some with chicks in tow.
Soon we arrived at where Open Street Maps told us there was a trail to the reservoir dam. It didn’t look very promising. A few meters further down the trail, however, we spotted pink tape tied to trees, clearly marking a detour around some recent typhoon dead-fall. This got us on track to the reservoir.
Once across the reservoir, we added another 20 minutes onto the walk by doing a short detour into the well-kept Ebetsu sports grounds.
We tried very hard, and succeeded, in resisting the urge to have soba noodles for lunch at the soba restaurant right next to the campground. We’d eaten there the weekend previous – alas we did not resist then. Hand-cut noodles along with gorgeous delicately fried tenpura. It was really good. But this weekend, we’d lugged an entire cooler box to the campground on the back of my bike, full of fresh food to cook. So we headed back to the campground, and I cooked us up a quick lunch of yaki-soba (not to be confused with buckweat-noodle soba).
The rest of the troupe arrived mid-afternoon. Simon and Alex arrived by car, stacked to the brim with car-camping luxuries. Including salted chocolate cake with cardamom-flavoured kefir-mascarpone icing, of course. Thanks Alex! After Saoka arrived at 4pm, we all walked the Osawa Reservoir loop again before enjoying a relaxing BBQ dinner at the campground. Michael arrived late after work, at 9pm. He strung up his hammock between two trees, and we were all in our tents at 10:30pm.
The next morning broke to grey skies and a general dampness. It hadn’t rained overnight, but a heavy dew had fallen. The highlight of the breakfast rituals was Michael’s first-generation Biolite stove. He’d bought it on the original Kickstarter campaign about six years ago. “It came in really handy during the earthquake blackouts in 2018,” he said.
After breakfast, we embarked on another walk, this time to the east of the campground. I was keen to see if we could link up a loop around the Sakurazawa Reservoir to the northeast of the sports grounds. After a few instances of walking around in circles, we did manage to complete a loop, but much of it was inside the Forest Tree Breeding Center (officially closed to the general public from May till September in 2020 – as we discovered after the fact). This route is very much still on the drawing-board.
With the walk done, Simon and Alex went on their way, and us cyclists geared up to make the short 12km bike ride back to Sapporo – actually about 25km for Saoka, as she lives closer to the center of Sapporo. Before we left, however, I sent the drone up for some aerial shots (checking DID Check to make sure I was legal beforehand though).
From this perspective, it really tells a lot about how expansive Nopporo Forest Park is.