UPDATE (May 6th 2021): Please note that it’s technically impossible to paddle the entire way around Nakajima Island, due to the commercial ferry route – no public watercraft are allowed to cross or enter the public ferry path. We weren’t aware of this when we did this trip. To be honest, the southwestern/western side of the island is not as nice as the southeast/east/north side anyway, so if we were to do the trip again, we’d just paddle around to the southern landing point (around the eastern side of the island) and return the same way.
We arrived at the Nakatoya Campground the night before, after completing a half-day paddle around the remote western reaches of Lake Shikotsu (route here). It was a gorgeous night that evening, with hardly a breath of wind. Perfect for splashing about in the canoes just meters away from our lake-side campsite.
The next morning broke equally as calm, with low cloud but hardly a breath of wind. The forecast was for this weather till at least 3pm, but we decided to make the most of the morning calm. I cooked up a quick breakfast of eggs and sausages, which would have to power us for most of the morning. Ahead of us was at least 3 hours of paddling, more if we ended up paddling around the island – which of course we did!
When we set off, the lake had some small ripples on the surface. About 30 minutes into our paddle towards the central island, the lake had transformed to a mirror. It was almost eerie how calm it was. Unlike Lake Shikotsu, which has almost a constant hum of traffic noise from the roads around the lake, Lake Toya was eerily quiet.
It took us pretty much bang on one hour to paddle the 4.5km from the Nakatoya Campground to the central island of Lake Toya. We approached the large inlet. immediately feeling surrounded by forest and alone. Very Jurassic Park vibes. Chris had his drone with him, so he and Saoka pulled onto the shore, where Chris set up the drone. He would capture some great photos and video.
We decided to push on to the main ferry landing point on the island, some 3.5km away around the island’s coast. We could hardly have asked for better paddling conditions. The sun was out, the water was clear, and the surface was calm. Every now and then we’d spook exotic looking ducks and other birdlife.
We arrived at the main inlet at around 10am. As we pulled onto the beach, one of the curious tourist ferries bumbled up to the jetty. It was a somewhat jarring sight, after spending the last few hours paddling with hardly and other watercraft around, let alone any with turrets and cheerful jingles playing from loud-speakers. This was the first time any of us had been to the island. We all felt chuffed at having made our first trip here under our own steam.
We had most of the day ahead of us, so we decided to to one of the very short walks on the island – just a half-hour wander around the lower part of the forest behind the museum. Once again it all felt very Jurassic Park, with high fences and solid gates. All to keep the deer out of the humans’ domain at the jetty. Apparently there is quite a large population of deer on the island – we didn’t see any.
With our short walk complete, it wasn’t even 11am. But we’d been active for almost 5 hours by now, so we sat down at the small restaurant at the bay area and had soba noodles. We’d need the energy for the long slog ahead of us around the windward side of the island. If we’d wanted it, we could have had a full meal of Hokkaido-style Genghis Khan hotplate lamb.
Over lunch, we had a discussion as to whether we should carry on around the island or not. It would add at least 2km (30mins) to the trip, and we knew that blustery weather was forecast for later in the afternoon. Should we carry on or take the more conservative option?
In the end, we decided we’d come all this way, and we may as well push on around the island for a full circumnavigation. So we set out from the idyllic bay, and made our way around the northwestern side of the island, avoiding the ferry as we went.
I didn’t take any more photos for at least an hour. This was not because there was nothing to take photos of, but more that I was more concentrating on keeping our boat from capsizing.
As we rounded the northwestern side of the island, we were treated to a brisk northwesterly which whipped up some considerable waves, some requiring turning the boat directly into them. As we powered our way around the island however, the wind did, of course, turn into a glorious tailwind with a beautiful following sea. We were flying now.
After almost two hours of good solid effort, including watching out for an increasing number of wakeboarding boats, we pulled into a nice fine pebble beach. It was a very nice reprieve from the relative stress of this north and northeastern side of the island.
From here, we’d make our beeline across 4.5km of open water from the island back to the campground. At least we had the prevailing wind at our backs, and we now appeared to be out of the speedboat area. The paddle back was uneventful, apart from once again being treated to some absolutely gorgeous mirror-like water conditions nearer to the campground.
Back at the campground, some of our campsite neighbors were out paddling, trying out each other’s canoes. There was an old Mad River Explorer 16′ (for sale for 120,000yen, completely rotted out gunwales and all), an Ally 15′ folding canoe, and a two-person Arfeq folding kayak (domestic Japan outdoor brand Montbell’s canoe brand). Chris and I had a go in the Ally, but weren’t 100% convinced. Perhaps a 16′ version would be more practical…
As soon as we got off the lake and started packing up the campsite, the forecast afternoon winds picked up as if on cue. In a matter of minutes, the once glass-smooth lake turned into a choppy mess. We were glad we’d finished up our trip when we did.
We got the canoes tied down on top of Chris’s car, one on top of the other, precariously as ever, and got on our way. A day well lived.