While they are frequent coastal SUPers (with much more knowledge of the Shakotan coast than us), it was Alex and Simon’s first time sea kayaking, so we wanted to keep things simple and short.
“It’ll be about 15km, perhaps a few more if we want to check out Shishamonai Falls,” I messaged to them. “Probably about four hours on the water,” I added optimistically.
Perhaps deep down, I knew I was being optimistic. Haidee was more realistic.
“You really should tell them we might be on the water for much longer than that,” the ever-realistic Haidee cautioned me.
“Yeah, it might be more like five hours,” I said to them.
In the end, we were on the water for a total of a very leisurely 9 hours, covering a distance of 26km.
“Had we known it was going to be this long before setting off,” said Alex at the end of it all, “we wouldn’t have agreed to come along.”
“But, it was awesome!”
We all camped at the Nozuka Campground the night before the trip. Surprisingly, the campground was less jam-packed with people than we’d expected. Ben was there too. While Haidee and I set up our tent, the others slept in their cars.
Being Alex and Simon’s first time in sea kayaks, we did some drills at the Nozuka beach before setting off for the day. Natural born sea-lovers, they picked up self-rescues quickly. It was a nice way to keep cool too – even though it was 6am, it was already quite warm.
As soon as we left the campsite beach, we were taken aback at just how clear the water was. Being a very still, calm morning helped, but the sensation of hovering above the sea floor was mesmerizing. The low morning sun projected our shadows on the sandy, sometimes rocky sea bottom.
Our first destination for the day was the curious Mui-misaki 武意岬. Just around the corner of Mui-misaki are the remnants of some very early attempts at tunnels around the Shakotan Coast. Perhaps only large enough for a person, or a horse and cart, these holes in the rocks speak volumes about Hokkaido early settlers’ attempts at taming what is often a very inhospitable coast – particularly in winter.
From Mui-misaki, we made a beeline for the old foot tunnel – the Nembutsu Tunnel 念仏トンネル – on the small cape beyond Warishiri-misaki ワリシリ岬, just before Kamui-misaki proper. Marked on the official topomaps, this curious tunnel is accessible on foot, via a long scramble long the rocky shoreline from the car parking area just east of the cape. We saw a few surprised hikers as we had a look through the tunnel.
As Alex and I walked through the length of the tunnel, Ben jumped off his sit-on-top kayak (lent by Timbah) for another swim around with his snorkelling mask on – for the duration of the trip he was off and on his kayak, enjoying the clear water and sea life.
Beyond Nembutsu Tunnel, we were now approaching what we were expecting to be the main event of the trip – the mighty Kamui-misaki 神威岬 cape. As we approached the cape, we could see the tourist hordes walking drone-like along the ridge-line trail to the lighthouse. We’d all gone through that purgatory before, and were feeling a special sort of freedom to be exploring the area on our own terms in our kayaks.
Somewhat predictably, the western side of Kamui-misaki greeted us with a more challenging sea state. A moderate swell pressed itself towards the cape from the west, as per the Windy.com wave and well forecast we’d seen in the morning. If the forecast continued to keep accurate, we’d see the swell die down as the day progressed, so we weren’t too concerned. There was next to no wind still.
It was about time we had a longer break for lunch, so we landed at a suitable-looking rocky beach just south beyond the cape. After landing, however, we discovered that we’d managed to find the most litter-strewn beach of the trip. The winter prevailing wind in Hokkaido is from the northwest, so clearly this spot gets plenty of rough weather in the winter months, dumping all manner of things on the beach.
The vast majority of the litter was commercial fishing-related gear – ropes, nets, massive polystyrene and plastic buoys, baskets, plastic octopus and squid traps…
The single redeeming factor of fishing-related litter on these windward beaches is the prospect of finding good solid baskets for gear. They’re super handy for storing PFDs, sprayskirts…all manner of paddling gear.
Ben was in super-scrounger mode, and found two baskets in excellent condition. We zip-tied them to some convenient mounting points on his kayak, and he heroically transported them the remaining 15km of the trip.
From our lunch spot, it was a 6km paddle along the coast to the impressive Numamae-misaki 沼前岬 cape. We shared this stretch with the relatively lonely National Highway 229. I’d originally thought it might be a bit depressing sharing the coast with the road, but the coast continued to impress, and we barely noticed it.
Numamae-misaki was, quite frankly, astonishing. We’d all been so focussed on seeing Shishamonai Falls at the end of the trip, that we’d not really thought too much about the two capes we’d pass by along the way. Alex paddled ahead a little, and discovered a couple of amazing caves. Cathedral-like, they were simply stunning.
Numamae-misaki’s various narrow waterways were also mind-bending. Not knowing what to expect, we were amazed to find narrow passages around craggy rocks.
The impressive scenes, apparently transported from the rocky mountainous crags of Patagonia, continued as we approached Jubo-misaki ジュウボウ岬 cape. We were thankful for the calm sea state – no doubt this area can see some weather.
And then Shishamonai Falls.
“A cascade, really,” joked Simon, who’d been to the falls before, accessing them from the south on SUPs.
Cut off from any sort of easy access on foot, we felt like we’d stepped into an alternate realm.
By this point, we’d paddled over 20km. It had all been very leisurely, and the sea state had been perfect for the trip. Shishamonai Falls was an extension to the trip, and we’d need to paddle back around Jubo-misaki to get to our take-out at Nishinokawara.
The final 3km from the falls back to Nishinokawara felt further than it needed to feel. All of us are relatively new to sea kayaking, so we’re still getting our paddling muscles up to speed and endurance.
Nishinokawara felt like a perfect place to take out from the water. While the coast was mainly cut off by a tall concrete wall to the highway above, we had to give thanks to the engineers who added a concrete accessway to the beach from the car park. The rocky beach was a bit of a balancing act to transport the gear and kayaks to our car above (we’d shuttled a car there in the morning from the campground), but all in all it was efficient.
Once we had all the boats on the roof of the van, we all headed back to Nozuka Campground for onsen, food, and a relaxing sleep. The next day we lounged around at the campground until after lunch, watching the sea slowly grow rougher as a northeasterly rolled in. We’d definitely had the best of the weather.