It’s officially a routine by now. Wednesday rolls around and we start scouring Windy.com for likely opportunities for good quality sea kayaking in the weekend. It just so happened that this weekend was a long weekend – Sat, Sun, Mon. So we were looking a bit further afield than usual.
The Iwabe Coast had been on my radar for a long while now. And lo and behold, there was a great big morning weather window for it on the Sunday morning. It would be a solid four hour drive south from Sapporo, but the three day weekend would make that less taxing.
Chris and family were also in Hokkaido at the time, so they were able to join the weekend too.
We had a nice family-friendly paddle on Lake Onuma on the Saturday, to get the kids out on the boats.
The forecast for the next day was for wind and fog from noon, so we decided on a crack-of-dawn start at 4am.
So after the paddle on Lake Onuma, we all moved southwest to Shiriuchi. We weren’t 100% sure where we would be camping that night. We knew there was an official campground about 20mins drive away from the put-in, but that would require getting the boats sorted in the morning of the paddle. Ideally, we’d get all the boats ready to go and sitting at the put-in the night before, ready to paddle away bright and early.
So, we first decided that we’d take a look at the put-in, to check to see if we might be able to sneakily camp there for the night.
The excitement was palpable when we discovered that the Ikarikai Parking area is a popular free camping spot! There couldn’t be a better put-in for an early start on the water.
It was a somewhat festive atmosphere at the parking area. Already there were four or five groups camped up on the gravel. Kids were splashing about in the rock pools. Access to the coast was super easy. Perfection.
Along for this trip was Martin. We’d not paddled with Martin before, but he just so happened to be in the area after picking up a second-hand sea kayak from Funayoi Kayaks near Hakodate. The kayak in question was one I’d had my eye on the preceding week on Yahoo! Auctions, and I was thrilled to hear he’d managed to win the auction. His paddle with us would be his first in his own sea kayak (he’d had a lot of river kayaking experience).
The new sea kayak was a Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 Pro, in mint condition.
It was about 5pm by the time we got the tents set up and boats all sorted for the morning. We then drove all the way back to Kikonai Town for dinner and onsen at Kikonai View Onsen. By the time we’d had a long soak and dinner, it was after 8pm.
Chris was staying at Shiriuchi Onsen with the family, and we’d agreed to do a shuttle that night. So we messaged him once we were done with the onsen.
“We’re on our way,” I messaged. “See you at the take out in 1hr.”
About 15 minutes after getting on the road, however, we realized that if we did the shuttle tonight, we’d likely be getting back to the put-in and into bed at almost 11pm.
An early start on the water was much more important than getting the shuttle out of the way that night, so I messaged Chris again.
“Cancel that! We’ll do the shuttle once we’re done paddling tomorrow,” I messaged.
“No worries,” Chris replied.
It wasn’t until the next day that Chris let us know he’d driven about 20 mins in the direction of the take-out before getting my message. Sorry Chris!
The next morning broke mostly calm, with just a light breeze from the northeast – a tailwind.
We were up at 3am for a 4am start.
The VIP of the day was Deb, who roused herself up at 3:15am to get Chris to the put-in at 3:45am. Thanks to her, we were able to get on the water at 4:30am sharp.
The sun was just painting the sky red as we lowered the boats down to the water.
It was a beautiful time to be on the water.
We made good time weaving in and out of the rocky reefs along the coast from Ikarikai to Yagoshi-misaki cape.
At the cape, a few of us landed at the concrete pier on the eastern side of the cape. I knew from Google Satellite images that there appeared to be stairs up to a high point on the cape, and maybe a shrine.
Timbah, Martin, Greg, Haidee and I started up the old stairs, overgrown with foliage.
“Argh! There’s ants everywhere,” Greg yelled as he stood inspecting a plant that looked to him to be poison-ivy.
“That’s it, I’m going back to the kayaks,” he declared. Haidee followed.
I pushed past them and carried on, convinced there was nothing to worry about. Timbah and Martin were less gung-ho.
“I’m certain that’s poison ivy,” said Timbah. He had told me previously that he was particularly sensitive to poison ivy, having experienced almost continuous nasty rashes in his youth after playing outside in the woods in the US.
“Oh come on, it’ll be fine,” I said in total and utter ignorance.
I’m from New Zealand, where we don’t have poison ivy. So I’ve never seen it before, and have never experienced the bad effects of it.
So I pushed on through the bushy shrubs growing up through the stairs, with Timbah and Martin – against their best judgement they would later find out – following behind.
There were a couple more shrubs along the way that Timbah has identified as poison ivy. I just crashed through them. We all had bare legs.
The infrastructure leading up the cape was impressive. Ladders, concrete steps, a bridge.
At the 121m point on the map, we took some snaps of the view and headed back down to the kayaks. Again crashing through the suspect shrubs.
“I have no doubt that was poison ivy,” Timbah said as we got back to the coast. “If you can rinse it off with water, it might reduce the effects,” he said.
We both jumped into the sea and tried to rinse anything bad off our skin.
For the next four days I thought nothing more of it.
Back in the kayaks, we had now rounded Yagoshi-misaki cape, and were paddling along the amazing east-west section of the Iwabe Coast.
Colossal cliffs diving straight into the sea.
Small caves at first.
And then bigger.
And the inlets! In particular the inlet at the Tsuzura River mouth was breathtaking in its remote and wild atmosphere. Dare I say it, it was on par with the Shiretoko Peninsula. It would have been an amazing place to camp.
Beyond the Tsuzura Inlet the high cliffs and rugged coastline continued.
“This is second only to Shiretoko,” I mused to Haidee.
We feel like we’ve paddled a fair few sections of coast in Hokkaido now, and it’s rare to really feel a sense of remoteness. This coast had that sense.
We’d foolishly thought that we’d smash the paddle out in about four hours, but there was so much to see that if we kept up our pace, we’d definitely take more time than that.
Only problem was that the legend that is Deb, and the kids, were scheduled to meet us at the take-out after four hours. So, at around 3/4 along the coast, we pulled our fingers out and got paddling in earnest. A more thorough inspection of the coast and its coves and caves would have to wait for another time.
When we pulled into Iwabe Port, Deb and the kids were there already. We did a few jumps off the piers with them, and then got onto the shuttling. By 11am, we were all loaded up and ready to get going back to Sapporo. Like clockwork, and as per the forecast, by the time we rolled out of Iwabe Port, there was a significant mist and chop on the water.
About a week after the trip, Timbah and Martin were regretting their decision to follow the clueless New Zealander (me) up the steps on Yagoshi Cape, through the suspect bushes. Indeed they were apparently poison ivy, because both Timbah and Martin broke out in the most horrendous rashes.
“I had to go to the doctor for an IV drip and a course of steriods,” reported Martin.
“I officially now regret my decision to climb up those stairs,” said the usually unwaveringly positive Timbah. “I too had to go through a course of oral steroids because the rash had gone systemic.”
I (Rob) on the other hand, got away with nothing. Not even a hint of a rash.
The theory is that perhaps since I grew up in New Zealand, and had no previous exposure to poison ivy, I was unaffected. However, Timbah and Martin, both from the US, had spent their fair share of time around the stuff during their upbringing.
Either way, they both now have another reason not to trust New Zealanders 🙂