The day before, we’d been canoeing an almost-flood-level Mukawa River with Naoki from Guide House Canoa and some others. That had been a rip-roaring good time, focused mainly on enjoying waves and eddies and honing skills. From tomorrow, we’d be putting some of those skills to work on our planned four-day trip down the Kushiro River.
For now, we were camped at the gorgeous Wakoto Campground, on the eastern side of Wakoto Peninsula at the southern end of Lake Kussharo. To get here, we’d driven from the Mukawa River to Obihiro, stayed the night, and then completed the rest of the drive today. Like most long distance driving in Hokkaido, it takes time to cover distance. Official maximum speeds on otherwise open roads are usually around 60km/h. Even on the expressways, speeds can be limited to 70km/h at times. We were in Chris’s van, which made things comfy though.
With an early start from Obihiro, we were at Lake Kussharo by 10:30am. The date was the 11th of August, 2019. We got ourselves checked in, and quickly unloaded the van and set up camp. From here, I would drive the car 90km south to the mouth of the Kushiro River at the sea, and take the train back to the lake. A serious shuttle for a solid four day trip.
At around 11:30am, I set off in the car again, hoping that we had unloaded everything we needed. Once I left the car at the river mouth, it would only be us, our gear, and the canoe as transport. It was an eerie feeling. Until now in my life, all my long distance travelling had involved wheels. Bicycles. Skateboards. Now I was leaving a campground, leaving behind a mode of transport which was completely useless on land. The only ‘road’ we’d be using would be one made of water.
I made it to the river mouth in the heaving industrial city of Kushiro at around 1:15pm. I spent about 30 minutes driving and walking around trying to identify the best take-out spot for us. In the end, I settled on a raised area just seaward of the main train tracks, about 500m from the river mouth proper. There was a nice enough looking sandy area to pull up on, and lugging a canoe up the small hill looked doable.
As I walked away from the car, I again had that weird realization that our only mode of transport for the next four days – once on the river, of course – would be a canoe floating on water. The great mass of industry near the sea in Kushiro pulled my thoughts back to reality with a jolt…
I’d been hoping that if I walked a ways along the main-ish road, I’d come across a taxi I could flag down. After standing on a street corner for about 10 minutes, however, I realised that this was probably unlikely. I ended up doing a Google Search for taxi companies in Kushiro, and called for a taxi to pick me up (Kinsei Kushiro Hire 金星釧路ハイヤー, TEL: 0154-22-8141). In hindsight, if I’d given myself a little extra time, I could have walked the 2.5km from the car to Kushiro Station – that’ll be my plan next time.
I safely got myself onto the 2:08pm train from Kushiro, and settled in for the ride back towards Lake Kussharo. The plan was to get off at Biruwa Station (美留和駅) and get a taxi from there back to the Wakoto Campground.
The train was surprisingly crowded – it was clearly the high season for tourists.
About 10 minutes out from arriving at Biruwa Station, I got the sinking feeling that there might not be a massive line of eager taxis awaiting my arrival at this out of the way station in the middle of nowhere. So to be sure, I called the only taxi company I could find in Teshikaga – the large town in the vicinity – to double check. Mashu Hire (摩周ハイヤー, TEL: 015-482-3939) let me know that “no, there’s no taxis there. We can have one there in about 20 minutes for you though,” was the answer.
When I arrived at the sleepy little station, I knew I’d made the right choice in calling ahead. The station itself was a renovated train carriage, with no staff.
The taxi driver was Mr. Obata-san. He visibly lit up when I told him I was on my way to rejioin with my wife for a four-day trip down the Kushiro River. “I’ve done that trip in a canoe a few times,” he beamed. “The first time was with my wife. We capsized twice on the upper section from the lake to Teshikaga. We had to make it all the way to Shibecha that day though, so by the time we were arriving in Shibecha, it was completely dark. Canoeing at night time is tough work!”
This was doing nothing for my nerves. I had heard the upper headwaters section of the river was somewhat of a slalom course of downed trees and fast-moving water.
“But that was in an old, narrow, wooden canoe that was really tippy,” he continued. “The second time we did the trip, we tied four car-wheel inflated inner tubes to the sides of the canoe as outriggers, to stop the canoe from capsizing. This worked to stop the capsizing, but it meant the canoe was a pig to get any speed up on. It was also almost impossible to steer. We got caught in an eddy at one point and ended up spinning in circles for half an hour,” he exclaimed, animating the whole experience with great gusto with his hands as he drove.
Mr. Obata-san safely delivered me to the campground in about 30 minutes. The taxi bill was just under 5,000yen. No extra charge for the fact that he had to drive 20 minutes from Teshikaga to the Birue Station, and now had a 20 minute drive back to Teshikaga. Japan has its perks.
Back at the campground, Haidee had out campsite looking magazine-worthy picture perfect. We settled in for a relaxing night, eagerly nervous to get onto the water the next day.