Haidee and I were at Chris‘s cabin in Rankoshi for the weekend. The cabin’s mighty canoe had been sitting unused for far too long, so we hauled it out and took it for a drive to Lake Toya.
We’d also been in sporadic contact with Jon, the owner of the Lakehouse at Toyako, and had been meaning to visit at some stage. Thus we ended up availing ourselves of their lakeside access via their sprawling private estate.
“We’ll be arriving at 5:30am, so we’ll try not to wake anyone,” I assured Jon via text message.
“Go ahead, no worries,” he replied. “I’ll see you later on.”
This was our first time visiting the Lakehouse at Toyako, and we were immediately impressed at the tucked-away-from-the-crowds feeling of the place. Whereas everywhere else we visited this four-day weekend was seething with people, the large estate here was an oasis of calm.
Despite the calm weather, I was feeling rushed as we got the canoe and gear together for the open-water paddle out to the reef. I always feel like we’re on borrowed time on Lake Toya. Early mornings are usually gorgeously calm, but by mid-morning, there’s often whitecaps out on the lake.
Today, we had gusts of 30km/h forecast for the middle of the day, with mostly calm conditions forecast till around 9:30am. It was now 6am, so in theory we had about 3 hours or so of good probability of calm conditions. One thing that we had going for us should we be out longer though, was the wind was forecast to blow from the south. If all turned to custard, at least we’d have a following sea on the way back to the Lakehouse.
We set off in the mighty blue canoe.
“This feels a big wobbly,” Haidee remarked.
It was our first time on a lake in this canoe, and indeed it felt different from our usual shallow-arch, stiff, high-spec Prospector 16ft by Novacraft. This was a fairly generic flat-bottom fiberglass canoe with a prominent keel. It tracked well, but the floor oil-cans (flexes) quite a bit more than our canoes. That said, we made fast progress across the very flat lake – averaging just under 6km/h. This was a quick boat.
Like last time when we paddled towards Lake Toya’s center island, we remarked to each other how deceptively far the island is. At just over 3km from the Lakehouse at Toyako, it’s a decently long time to be exposed to the risks of being so far from shore. We pointed the canoe on a heading that we figured should get us to the Zero Point, and just kept paddling.
After about 45 minutes, we paused to let me check the GPS.
Oops. We had overshot the Zero Point by about 100m.
With an eye on my phone now, we pointed the canoe northeast and started paddling the final short distance to where the lake should, in theory, suddenly start to get shallow.
It was a strange feeling. Spooky even. Great anticipation flooded us as we paddled slowly through nothing but deep, deep blue water. We’d just spent the last 45 minutes paddling a canoe above 180m of water. We were still at least 700m off the shore of the central island. How on earth could there be somewhere shallow enough to stand up in way out here.
I kept peering over the side of the canoe.
And then the water started to change color.
“There it is!” I exclaimed.
Sure enough, out of the murky blue water, shapes of rocks started to appear, distorted by long shafts of light piercing through the clear depths of the lake.
But it was still clearly way too deep to stand up in.
We carried on paddling slowly.
Curiously, it wasn’t the ‘topographical’ apex of the underwater contour lines that marked the shallowest spot. It was a spot perhaps 10m or so north of that spot.
Haidee reached down with her paddle and was surprised when the end of the blade hit the bottom with ease.
We’d made it to the famed Lake Toya Zero Point.
I was keen to get in and stand up in the middle of Lake Toya. Haidee braced and I slid into the water.
Surprisingly warm, it was a nice temperature for a warm morning.
I sent up the drone.
Shallowest point confirmed.
If this whole submersed island wasn’t curious enough, the fish were curiouser still. At aquariums, there’ll sometimes be those cute little fish that will nibble at your skin when you put your hand or feet into water. Well, this spot was crawling with the critters.
Haidee had also jumped in at this point. I clambered back into the canoe, and paddled off a ways to get some longer shots. It’s difficult to fully capture how incongruous this spot is, way out in the middle of the lake.
We spent about half an hour playing about in the area, and were starting to feel like it was time to head back to shore.
So Haidee clambered back into the canoe and we started the paddle back to the Lakehouse. The lake was mirror-calm.
By the time we got back, preparations were in full swing for the Lakehouse at Toyako’s weekend popup summer cafe. Satay chicken skewers, drinks, general good vibes. A slice of paradise with a side of awesome lake to go.
By the time we were ready to leave at around 10:30am, the forecasted southerly had started to blow, and the lake was getting into gear for the afternoon wave-fest. Whitecaps were starting to form. We’d made the most of the best of the day, and now the lake was just for paddling about close to shore.
The famous-on-the-internet Niseko Babu pooch was certainly making the most of the cool water.