In the week preceding this trip, we’d been watching the weather forecast go from more bad to much more worse as the weekend got closer. We’d originally had sights on an overnight trip on one of the artificial lakes north of Sapporo, but had all but given up on canoeing in the weekend due to the weather forecast. Come Saturday, however, and the weather was as clear as can be. So we quickly hatched a plan to salvage what was still left of an otherwise OK weekend, weather wise.
That plan was a morning paddle around the Ishikari River mouth. I’d seen this as a route in Tamata (1993), and thought it would be worth checking out. We knew from previous cycle trips out to Ishikari Bay that we were not to expect a pristine waterway, but we were hoping we’d experience the birdlife and nature we’d come to expect from this otherwise remote block of land along the coast.
We met Gerry and Derek at the boat ramp at 8:30am, and put in to an almost glass-smooth Ishikari River. It was as dirty as we’d expected, and we put in to the raucous revving of jetski engines, but it was nice to be out on Hokkaido’s longest river. Everything was just….big…on a different scale.
It was a fairly easy paddle for the first 30 minutes or so. There was very little wind, and the current – as small as it was – was giving us a nice nudge downstream. Soon enough, however, we were heading into the stiff headwind breeze that was forecast to get stronger as the day went by. We were all looking forward to having this at our backs on the paddle back upstream.
It wasn’t too long before Haidee spotted her first bird for the trip – this was just a common tobi black kite.
Eventually, we were past the Ishikari fishing port, and entering the more wild tip of the spit. Before long we could see the tippy top of the Ishikari lighthouse poking up above the grass on the side of the river. We started looking out for a suitable place to land, so we could go for a walk through the Japanese hamanasu roses. This area is famous for them.
We eventually found a spot, and pulled the canoes high up onto the bank. We didn’t get very far on foot before I remembered there was a nice pagoda further along the coast. So we had a quick bite to eat where we were, and put in again to paddle all the way to the beach, closer to the pagoda.
As it happened, the beach was also a bit further past the pagoda than I had remembered, so instead of heading straight for the pagoda, we did a full loop on foot around the tip of the mouth of the river, before stopping at the pagoda for a longer stop in the shade.
The highlight of my walk along the beach was chatting to an elderly fellow, sitting in a deep hole in the sand, meticulously cutting up an old fishing net. On his bag was a sign saying “NO WAR!” He would cut an arm’s length of netting away, and put it into a trash bag. I asked him if he was cleaning the beach. “Yes, I come about two times a week to clear the trash away” he replied. “It’s an endless job.”
I told him I thought the beach was looking very good. Better than we had expected. “Well, yes, it’s looking pretty good right now,” he replied. “But come next spring, and we’ll be back to square one. Over winter, it just gets replaced with more trash, all washed up from the sea.”
I thanked him for his hard work, and carried on.
We left the beach behind us, and cut across the fields on the footpath. We weren’t in the height of the blooming of the roses, but the massive rosehips were looking red and healthy.
The day was getting on, and the wind was picking up, so after a restful few minutes in the well-kept pagoda, we got back to the boats to start the paddle back to the boat ramp. We opted to cut across the river to the other side. This was a little hair-raising, as the river’s current had created some larger than expected swells in the middle of the channel. A group of shags watched us as we bobbed our way across, no doubt unimpressed by our less than skillful or efficient mode of transport.
This side of the river was tough going. We had a strong tail/side wind, but we were getting confused seas due to reflection waves rebounding off the shore. It was less than ideal, but at least we were making headway, and at least the wind was mostly in our favor. Despite the wind, we were all smiles.
Part way back along this southern shoreline, we took a detour into a small pond. This was half to escape the wind, and half to see if there were any birds down this way. There were birds. A whole bunch flapped off as soon as we entered the pond. I can’t imagine they see many humans down this way. We did escape the wind, but unfortunately it was a dead end. A quick scout on the topomap indicated it was about 120m across a bank to get back to the main river, or we could paddle back into the headwind. We opted for the portage, or, drag-the-canoes-through-the-grass.
I can’t really recommend this option to anyone. It was much harder work than really was necessary. Good Type Two fun I guess.
If we thought our hard work was now over, we’d have been sorely mistaken. Despite the wind being a tailwind, it was now really blowing quite hard. This, coupled with a stronger downstream flow owing to the now outgoing tide, and we were canoeing with about a 50cm following swell. This was big enough to be almost surfing at times. In a Canadian canoe, this is less than ideal. Derek and Gerry tried to hasten the journey across to the other side of the river by using the spray deck’s portage hatch cover as a sail. “I reckon it helped,” claimed Gerry afterwards.
Needless to say, we were all relieved to be back at the boat ramp safe and sound. We were all feeling a little too hot to face an onsen hotspring, so we decided to drop by the ROYCE factory shop in Ai-no-Sato instead. ROYCE is Hokkaido’s answer to Cadbury’s – a premium local chocolate specializing in ‘raw’ chocolate. Raw chocoloate, or nama-choko in Japanese, is essentially a mix of about half chocolate and half cream. Very decadent. At the ROYCE factory store, they have chocolate, an amazing bakery, and free coffee. A great capping off to a fun adventure – particularly for Gerry, this being her birthday weekend!