Okushiri Island West Coast

奥尻島西海岸 | Ikush unshiri

Posted on May 24, 2023

Posted on May 24, 2023

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1 day(s)





Water clarity




Best season





Okushiri Island 奥尻島 is a roughly 75km circumference island sitting about 20km off the far southwestern coast of Hokkaido, Japan, in the Japan Sea. In the summer months, the north and western coasts of Okushiri Island offer incredibly blue and clear water for sea kayakers to enjoy, mostly in the lee of southeastern seasonal winds. Rocky capes, coves, and offshore sea bird havens abound. Windswept vistas give a real sense of remoteness. The island also boasts an infamous past with one of the world's largest recorded tsunami in 1993. Here, we describe a one-day paddle along Okushiri's western coast.

We visited this route on May 02, 2023

Greg Beliakov (sakhkayak.com) contributed images to this post (including Featured Image) / Kayakers: Haidee, Timbah, Greg


Route Map

Need to know details


Okushiri Island sits off the west coast of southern Oshima Peninsula in far south Hokkaido. It’s about 18km off the coast, and 100km northwest of Hakodate as the crow files. This route is a one-way route, so naturally, paddlers can paddle it in either direction, depending on the day’s conditions. As per Hokkaido bylaws, personal vessels (including sea kayaks) are not allowed to use fishing ports unless in an emergency or otherwise untenable coastal landing conditions.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

If you’re paddling this coast in the summer months, you’ll most likely get a tail-breeze by putting in at the southern end of the island in Aonae – the prevailing wind in summer is from the southeast. If conditions allow it, consider putting in at the lovely beach just north of Aonae Fishing Port here. You’ll need to haul kayaks over a low concrete wall, but there’s an opening in the wall with steps to carry gear through. If the southeasterly is causing the east side of Cape Aonae to be a little too choppy for your liking, you may find it easier to put in directly west of the cape in the shelter of the breakwaters here. There’s a ramp down to the water, but you’ll need to haul kayaks over a low concrete barrier.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The most convenient take-out is the small, very protected beach just south of the main Kamuiwaki fishing port 神威脇漁港 here. There’s an onsen at the port (the only onsen on the island), accommodation, and easy access to the Kamuiwaki Bus Stop (end of the Kamiwaki line; about four buses per day) that will give access to a public bus to take you back to Aonae. If you happen to have transport of some kind (or can call a taxi – see public transport details below), then it’s also worth pushing on to Horonai Beach 幌内海岸 (also referred to as Yunohama Beach 湯の浜). This beach is perfect for a wild camp, and there’s an old onsen relic there – a vertical, mineral-caked pipe still spluttering hot spring water. Note, however, that if a westerly is blowing, this beach can have moderately large waves.

General notes

For some reason, Okushiri Island is not often on the radar. Sitting off the somewhat lonely southern Japan Sea Coast of Oshima Peninsula, it’s a bit of trek to get to from other popular tourist destinations in Hokkaido. For the sea kayaker, however, this island has a lot to offer. The north and western coasts are veritable playgrounds with rocky capes, small rocky islands, and hopelessly crystal-clear water. The locals call it Okushiri-Blue.

  • Okushiri Island ferry: Heartland Ferries run a ferry service to Okushiri Island once or twice daily from Esashi Port (location). NOTE: The ferry used to run between Setana and Okushiri, but it doesn’t anymore (as of 2023).
    • Ferry timetable: Timetables are season-dependent, so check the current timetable here: http://www.heartlandferry.jp/english/
    • Cost: Esashi-Okushiri route starts at about 3,100yen for second class. Sea kayaks can be carried onto the vehicle loading bay, for an extra 1,800yen. See fares here. We recommend calling in advance if possible, to let them know you’ll be carrying a sea kayak on.
    • Duration: The ferry takes 2.5hrs (Esashi-Okushiri route).
    • Food on board: Basic snacks and instant noodles etc. are available on the ferries.
  • Time to visit: For sea kayaking, the most reliably settled weather is from July to September. During these summer months, the prevailing wind tends to be from the southeast. Outside of these months, expect more wind-bound days. Winter, when the island gets hammered by seasonal northwester gales, is best assumed to be impossible to paddle except for just a few calm days per winter season.
  • Okushiri Island Tsunami: In the dead of night on the 12th of July 1993, Okushiri Island experienced one of the largest tsunami (32m maximum height) in recorded history, anywhere in the world. There were 165 casualties on the island. There’s a Tsunami Memorial Museum Center on the island, which is a sobering reminder of the event, plus a record of the impressive local recovery effort.
  • Sea kayak hire in Okushiri Island: As of May 2023, there were no sea kayak hire outfitters on Okushiri Island.
  • Circumnavigation of Okushiri Island by sea kayak: At only 75km in circumference, Okushiri Island is an attractive option for a full circumnavigation. It’s possible to put in just north of the ferry terminal here, on a small beach. It’s a 1.3km walk from the ferry terminal, so you may want to bring a trolley for your kayak. As per Hokkaido bylaws, private recreational vessels (including sea kayaks) are only allowed to use fishing ports in emergencies.
  • Okushiri Island crossing from the mainland: At its narrowest, the Okushri Straight is 18km wide, with a depth of 400-1000m. The current in the straight varies in direction irregularly, with a speed of 0.2 to 1.5kt.
  • Campgrounds: There are a few nice beaches (with streams) suitable for a rough camp along this Okushiri west coast route – see the printable coastal map here. There are no official campgrounds along the route that are practically accessible from the coast – the campground in Kamuiwaki is a 20-30 minute circuitous walk from the coast. See Google Maps for other official campgrounds on the island. Camping at the park at Cape Aonae is tolerated (i.e., it’s not an official campground, but people are generally chill about it) if you’re traveling by human power (e.g. arriving/departing by sea kayak).
Route description

Here we describe paddling from south to north, from Aonae Cape to the last feasible take-out on the west coast at Horonai (Yunohama Beach). In the summer months, paddling from south to north may allow more probability to catch tailwinds. Naturally, this section of coast can be paddled in both directions. Put in either at the beach on the east side of the cape here, or if conditions are rough on the east, put in in the shelter of the breakwaters on the west side of the cape here.

If putting in at the beach north of the Aonae Fishing port, you’ll first paddle south, around the great masses of concrete tetrapods protecting the port’s breakwaters. Soon, however, you’ll round the low, shallow point of Cape Aonae. There’s a tiny rocky island about 4km directly south of the cape, replete with a shrine, that would make for a nice return trip in calm conditions. The area between the cape and the small island, however, is relatively shallow, so if there’s a large swell running, there may be breaking waves.

Once around the cape, you’ll start paddling west along the short section of the southern coast of Okushiri Island. This, as well as the first 1/3 of the west coast proper, consists of soft clay rock bluffs, grassy hills, and compact, remote beaches. The coast speaks to the wind and inclement conditions this side of the island sees through the long, tough winter months. Kuki Cape 群来岬 marks the start of the west coast proper. Take your time at this cape, as the rocks and beautiful clear water is a taste for what is to come.

From Cape Kuki, it’s a 5-6km paddle to the Muen-jima coast 無縁島海岸, a group of rocks and capes. In calm conditions, this is one of the highlights of this section of coast. Paddle out to Muen-jima and Taira-jima islands to see sea birds and get a nice view of the island from further out from the coast. Just north (1km) of Muen-jima is Hoya-ishi rock ホヤ石, a perfect spot for a long break. The beach on the south side of the 67m high rock would be perfect for an overnight camp on the beach. While there is a road running the entire length of this section of coast to Horonai Beach, there’s probably fewer than one car an hour that uses the road.

From Hoya-ishi rock it’s about 7km to Kamuiwaki Port 神威脇漁港. The first 3km is a windswept grassy coast, the remaining 4km is a gorgeous labyrinth of rocks, small capes, and crystal clear Okushiri Blue water.

Kamuiwaki Port is home to Okushiri Island’s only onsen – Kamuiwaki Onsen 神威脇温泉. There’s a guesthouse nearby with an English-speaking host (Imacoco Guesthouse), but if you’re arriving by sea kayak, you’ll have no issues camping on the small beach at the south end of the port here. The beach is well protected from westerly swells thanks to the large breakwaters.

Kamuiwaki is a good place to take out if you plan on taking a bus back to Aonae Cape or the eastern side of the island – it’s the end of the bus line. If you have alternative transport arrangements (e.g. taxi or bicycle), and there’s no large westerly swell running, then it’s worth pushing on to Horonai Beach for the take out. The beach is a nice spot for an overnight camp. When there’s a westerly swell, the beach can have dumpy waves, so take care.

Route Timing
Trip time: 6hrs 0min

Allow plenty of time for this paddle – the coast here is just too gorgeous to rush past.


Public transport:

There are two public buses on Okushiri (details) – the Inaho Line 稲穂線 and Aonae Line 青苗線. They both originate from the Okushiri Ferry terminal on the eastern side of the island. The Aonae Line bus can be helpful for getting back to Aonae from Kamuiwaki. There’s a bus stop Aonae-yubinkyoku-mae 青苗郵便局前 in front of the Aonae Post Office (location) that is a 250m walk from the beach north of the Aonae Fishing Port (location). If putting in on the west side of Cape Aonae, the closest bus stop is the Okushiri-to Tsunami-kan bus stop 奥尻島津波館バス停 (location). The end of the Aonae Line is Kamuiwaki 神威脇 (location), about 15km north along the west coast.

There’s also a taxi service on the island, Aonae Hire 青苗ハイヤー (TEL:01397-3-2339, location). You’ll need to speak Japanese when communicating on the phone.

Note that none of the public transport on the island is equipped to carry sea kayaks.

By car: 

It’s possible to bring a vehicle onto the ferry to Okushiri Island. It is recommended to book vehicles in advance. Booking online is available in English (here). Assuming your kayaks, attached to the roof, are around 5m in length, the cost one-way for a vehicle is 29,960yen (including driver) – about 60,000yen return. There is plenty of parking at all put in points on the island, and there’s otherwise very little traffic on the island.

Physical maps

Japanese-language ENCs are available on the Japanese-language new pec smart smartphone app (Android | iPhone). 960yen per month for a subscription.


The S-Guide (small vessel chart) for Okushiri/Matsumae (DH811W-08), covers Okushiri Island at 1:95,000 scale, and is available as PDF download (buy online here). The JHA/Japan Coast Guard publishes a printed 1:75,000 nautical chart for Okushiri Island (W32 – buy online). For a printed 1:500,000 nautical chart, there’s the JHA/Japan Coast Guard Shakotan-misaki to Matsumae-ko 積丹岬至松前港 chart (W11 – buy online). There’s a printed 1:50,000 scale bathymetric chart (Okushiri-to; 6325-6) available for purchase here.

Here’s our full A0-sized map of Okushiri Island: okushiri-island-full-Ver5.pdf (36Mb)

Official Topo Map: Kamuiwaki (神威脇) – map no. NK-54-27-11-2
Official Topo Map 2: Akaishi (赤石) – map no. NK-54-27-12-1
Official Topo Map 3: Aonae (青苗) – map no. NK-54-27-12-2

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

Okushiri Island is offshore, and therefore very exposed to any strong winds from any direction. When winds are higher than 15 knots or so anywhere around the island, it’s likely that even seemingly sheltered lee aspects may also be affected – the wind tends to wrap around the island with surprising efficiency. Don’t assume a lee aspect will be safe – scouting, if possible, is highly recommended. If unsure, speak to a local to get their perspective. The locals we spoke to also mentioned a strong offshore northbound current on the west side of the island. We thought we felt it when we paddled out to Muen-jima island, but can’t confirm for sure. Either way, it’s unlikely kayakers will be far enough offshore to be affected. Sheltered landing zones are relatively few and far between (every 5km or so) from Aonae Cape to Kamuiwaki. If there’s a large westerly swell running, many of the west coast beaches will have relatively large surf.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Okushiri Island West Coast

Tide information for Okushiri-gun


Onsen nearby

There’s only one onsen on the island – Kamuiwaki Onsen 神威脇温泉 (location, 420yen). It’s on the west side of the island, in the small settlement of Kamuiwaki. The onsen is situated right next to the docks at the Kamuiwaki port, and has inspiring views towards the sunset from the second-floor onsen. Note that the first floor onsen is small and pokey, but the second-floor onsen is larger and has the views. The onsen is open every day from 10:30am till 8:30pm.

Extra Resources

Yamakei Sea Kayaking Map (Yama to Keikoku, 2005)

Guide Options

If you’re keen to explore Okushiri Island by kayak with a guide, get in touch with Imacoco Guest House or Old River – two sea-based experience operators on the island. Note that we don’t know of any operators offering sit-in sea kayaks – they’re all sit-on recreational kayaks, with tours focusing on relaxing paddles around the beautiful rock-garden areas of the coast.

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Route Trip Notes

Many thanks Greg (sakhkayak.com) for extra photos on this post – his photos are marked as 📷 Greg Beliakov

Prologue | Windbound

We were on Okushiri Island for five days. We paddled for 1 day and 2 hours of those five days. The rest were wind-bound.

You, the dear reader, may read that opening sentence and immediately strike Okushiri Island off your paddling hit-list.

I’d implore you not to be too hasty.

We knew Okushiri Island in early May would be a long shot. We were shooting our shot, with very little chance of success. May on the Japan Sea is still very early as far as paddling conditions go. But it was Golden Week, and we figured just being on the island would be fun in itself – and we were right. We didn’t get much paddling in, but we do feel like we know the island pretty well now.

The original plan right at the very beginning was to circumnavigate the island. We would carry the kayaks onto the ferry, and paddle away from the ferry terminal and execute a perfect rounding of the island. That was Plan A. Given we were visiting in May, we realized it was a very unlikely Plan A.

Indeed, as Golden Week approached, we noted that out of the two weeks prior, there were only two days with winds less than 20 knots ripping across the island. We quickly realized that if we didn’t have our own transport on the island, equipped with kayak-carrying capabilities, we ran the risk of being very wind bound – unable to move from the ferry terminal vicinity.

So, a few days out from our departure date, we committed to taking the van. It would bump up our per-person cost (for our group of four) to just under 20,000yen each for the return ferry, but such was life. The van ended up being an integral part of this ridiculous early May sea kayaking mission to Okushiri.

The crew for this trip was me (Rob), Haidee, Timbah, and Grisha.

Timbah and Grisha were the experienced sea kayakers of the four, and Grisha in particular has a lot of experience with sea kayaking not too far from Hokkaido – his home paddling zone is Sakhalin and the Kurils (see his website here).

For Haidee and me, this trip would represent some of the more challenging paddling conditions we’d ever paddled in.

DAY 1 | Buying up large

Monday, 1st May 2023

Haidee, Grisha and I drove down to the sleepy town of Esashi on Monday to catch the afternoon ferry that day. Timbah drove down separately to meet us at the ferry terminal. We had a full payload on the van – four sea kayaks, four bicycles (two on the external rack and two folding ones in the van), plus all the paddling gear. Realizing that there was a possibility that we might not be able to paddle on the sea at all during Golden Week, we also had the two-person packraft in the van for good measure – should the seas be a no-go, perhaps we’d be able to catch the end of the spring melt river season.

As we made our way out of Sapporo City via Nakayama Pass, there was still a lot of snow above 500m in altitude.

📷 Greg Beliakov

From central Sapporo, there was only a 15 minute difference in time from Sapporo to Esashi when comparing traveling on the expressway and on the low roads. We chose the low roads, and this took us past the Rusutsu Michi-no-eki road stop. This is a favourite of ours – the pizza restaurant is always a treat.

📷 Greg Beliakov

The five hour drive ended in Esashi with us meeting Timbah at the local supermarket to buy up supplies for the five days we planned on being on Okushiri Island. While there is a Seicomart on the island, that’s about it as far as well-stocked stores go. We had a vague menu planned along with our proposed itinerary, so we were fairly efficient in getting what we needed in Esashi.

Boarding the ferry was incident-free, and the second-class sleeping areas were perfect for a nap on the crossing.

📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov

By the time we got to Okushiri Island, the sun had dropped below the horizon, and we were setting up camp at the Yamasedomari Beach campground in the dark. According to the weather forecast, tomorrow (Tuesday, 2nd May) was shaping up to be one of the best days in terms of wind for the whole week. Despite all of us only crawling into our tents at around 10:30pm, alarms were set for 4am to try to make the most of the favourable weather.

DAY 2 | Making a dash for it

Monday, 2nd May 2023

The day broke clear and calm. Looking back on these photos now, I now realize just how lucky we were to have such a calm, pleasant morning. We were the only ones at the campground/beach.

The long-range forecast was making it fairly clear that it was extremely unlikely for us to complete a full, unbroken circumnavigation of the island. Therefore, we started talking about strategy and priorities. High on the priority list was the remote north coast of the island. Without any roads next to the coast, rocky capes, and shallow reefs, it promised to be a gorgeous section of coast.

Second-highest on the list was the west coast of the island. There is a one-lane road along the length of it, but once again it promised rocky capes, islands, remote beaches, and reefs. Plus, part way along the coast is the island’s only onsen.

We finally got on our way in the van at 6am. We drove north to the northern-most point of the island to scout out the northern coast. If conditions looked good, we’d paddle the north today.

Conditions looked average. A moderate swell of 1m to 1.5m. Adding to our lack of enthusiasm was a stiff northerly breeze. Instead of paddling the northern coast with swell and wind on our beam (hitting us on the side), the western coast could be more favorable with a tailwind and following seas.

We carried on in the van to see what the west coast was looking like.

As we’d hoped, the conditions on the west side of the island were better than the north. Not glassy smooth by a long-shot, but the conditions looked inviting. Plans firmed up around the idea of paddling the entire west coast from Horonai (Yunohama Beach) to Cape Aonae – a solid 25km paddle.

We’d hopefully have the wind at our back for most of the day. The forecast called for a change from northwest to southwest in the afternoon, so we hoped to get most of the paddling out of the way by then.

We dropped the kayaks at the put in, and then drove to Cape Aonae to drop off a bicycle for the shuttle back to the put in once we’d finished the trip. As we drove south, there was no small measure of umming and ahhing…some level of analysis paralysis (are we sure we can’t manage the north coast today?!)…and then a bold decision to make the most of this short weather window the weather had presented to us by committing to the west coast.

It was 9:30am by the time we got on the water.

There was a 1m or so swell remaining from the previous day or so of very strong winds in the area. For Haidee and I, these conditions would be the largest we’d paddled in (which isn’t really saying much). Mercifully, however, there was hardly a breath of wind.

📷 Greg Beliakov

The first destination for us was Byobutate-iwa Rock 屏風立岩, which created somewhat of a cape just before the small settlement of Kamuiwaki 神威脇, a distance of about 3km. All along the coast, the map/chart indicated enticing rock gardens and rocky reefs. With the swell on the day, however, we were confined to paddling well offshore.

On this first 3km section, I was not only getting used to paddling in a swell, but also getting used to paddling in a different kayak. With the team we had on this trip, it made sense to have me in the HokkaidoWilds.org Vogue Evo Expedition kayak. It’s a wonderfully lightweight carbon/kevlar boat, and relatively low volume. I hadn’t tried it out for fit before the trip, however. I found out the hard way that my lanky legs and size 29 booties were not the ideal fit for the kayak. They felt crammed in, and my left foot would cramp up painfully with far too much regularity. 

I may have cursed at least once aloud.

Partway though the day’s paddling, I tried paddling it without botties on, and it was like night and day – much more comfortable. Alas it appeared the damage had been done, however, and my left leg groin muscle would give me grief for the remainder of the trip.

📷 Greg Beliakov

It was great having the Grisha, a very experienced paddler, out front in the plastic P&H Scorpio kayak. He scouted out a nice shallow passage between the coast and the towering Byobudate-iwa, radioing in to us that it was passable.

I wasn’t yet fully confident in my kayak to take my hands off my paddle in the swell, so photos from me were few and far between, but the passage Grisha found gave me a rare chance to get the long lens camera up to my eye for a shot.

We were now passing the sleepy Kamuiwaki port. If we’d had more time, we would have stopped in for a break, but we were keen to get as many kilometers under our belt as possible before lunch, in order to avoid any stiff winds out of the south later in the day. 

At the very least the skies were blue – not a cloud in the sky.

📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov

Beyond Kamuiwaki, once again we were confined to paddling offshore about 100m to avoid sudden breaking waves on just-submerged underwater rocks. The map suggested some interesting rock features closer in to shore, but we resolved to coming back later in the season to paddle the near coast in calmer conditions.

As we approached the 13km mark of the day’s paddling, I was certainly looking forward to a bit of freedom from the captivity of my ill-fitting kayak. It was now just after noon, and we were approaching Hoya-ishi Rock ホヤ石, a spot where we’d noticed a pleasant-looking beach as we drove the coastal road in the morning. From the water, the landing on the beach looked doable, if not a little confused in regards to the waves on the approach.

Grisha deftly landed first, scouting a nice, mostly calm passageway through the chop to the beach.

Timbah’s landing was good also.

My landing was less a landing and more an exit from the kayak and then wade to the beach – my legs had gone on strike, refusing to articulate as I had firmly commanded them to do so.

Haidee’s landing was perhaps the most civilised of all of us.

📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov

The beach was idyllic. A beautiful oasis of calm away from the swell. 

📷 Greg Beliakov

The perfect spot for a leisurely lunch break.

During the lunch break, Timbah and I swapped footwear. He seemed to have mountains of room in the high-volume Aquarius Sea Lion despite his almost 2m height and 30cm feet.

“This is the first time I’ve ever fit into a kayak and been able to put my feet on the footpegs,” he beamed when he first got into it.

I donned his highlighter pink neoprene socks to see if they would give me a little more room in the compact Vogue Evo. It was like night and day. Previously, wearing the stiffer booties, my feet felt like they were constantly doing a ballerina’s en pointe on tiptoes. This seemed to be forcing my knees into one fixed position in the cockpit against the thigh braces, despite having the footpegs extended as far forward as they would go. Switching to the neoprene socks (to protect the waterproof socks on my drysuit), I was even able to move the footpegs backwards towards the seat, while simultaneously giving my knees more room to breathe.

Once on the water after lunch, we first paddled towards Muen-jima 無縁島 just off the Hoya-ishi cape. There was of course still a hefty swell running, but soon the breeze that had been accompanying us for the morning seemed to peter out to nothing. An almost mercurial surface surrounded us as we made our way south.

📷 Greg Beliakov

As we paddled south from the island, about 200m offshore, some of us in the group thought we felt a change in the water. It was almost as if there was a current somewhere. Some local ladies in the morning at the beach (they were foraging for spring herb shoots) had mentioned we should take care about an offshore current, so we wondered if we had scratched the inner extent of that.

Needless to say, we changed course and headed closer to shore. Not too close though. The swell was still causing steep peaks on waves – sometimes breaking – around shallower underwater features.

We were now paddling towards the southern end of the Okushiri Island west coast. We’d left the circuit road behind now. The coast consisted of soft clay bluffs and flat grassy hills.

It was a windswept landscape.

Here and there we saw horses grazing high on the bluffs.

📷 Greg Beliakov

The final rocky cape before we turned southeast towards Cape Aonae was Kuki-misaki 群来岬. The small-vessel chart data indicated some nice reefs and rocks to explore, as well as a small island about 1km off the cape. Once again the swell denied us access to the reefs, but we did get glimpses of what the Sea of Japan promised the sea kayaker in calmer conditions – under all that wind chop was some beautifully clear water.

📷 Greg Beliakov

Rounding Kuki-misaki cape, we were now on the home stretch. We once again had to paddle about 200m off the beach. A long, shallow reef close to the beach was made inaccessible by a hefty swell breaking at the outer edges of the reef.

We paddled on, now almost 20km into a paddle in conditions that had kept us on our toes.

Soon, we arrived at the shelter of 1.5km or so of breakwater-protected water on the west side of Aonae Cape proper. Despite my general aversion to the megatonnes of concrete that Japan pours into coastal infrastructure in Hokkaido, it was admittedly a welcome reprieve from the swell, and it was nice to just relax and enjoy the last section of paddling.

📷 Greg Beliakov

According to Google Satellite, it looked as though we might be able to sneak around Cape Aonae in the shelter of the breakwaters, but once we got to the cape, we found the small spit had attached itself to the final breakwater.

Given the swell we’d experienced so far, we just assumed that the shallow cape would be too rough to round on the outside of the breakwaters, so we decided to carry the kayaks over the 10m or so of course-gravel spit. My kayak went over first – carried by Grisha and Timbah, because I was crippled due to only wearing thin neoprene socks.

As Grisha wandered back to get another kayak, he had a look over the breakwater.

“This looks fine!” he reported. “We can totally just paddle around this.”

Indeed, the large shallow area around the cape seemed to be sapping most of the power out of the swell. It was a calm oasis on the outside of the breakwater.

We paddled the remaining kayaks around to the east side of the cape and made the final 3km paddle past the great towering concrete fortifications of Aonae fishing port to the small beach north of the port. It was a relaxing end to an interesting 25km paddle – our first on the sea this season!

📷 Greg Beliakov

We pulled up on the idyllic beach, and we considered our options. It was now 4:30pm. The original plan was that Haidee and I would cycle the 20km or so back to the put in to get the van. We did some math, and realized that this would likely put time pressure on the much-anticipated soak in the onsen. So in the end, we just called the sole taxi company on the island to give Haidee a lift to the van. This saved us at least an hour or so of messing about.

“You want to go where?!” said the taxi driver, incredulously.

It appeared he didn’t get many requests at this time of the year to drop people off at the remote Yunohama Beach.

Timbah, Grisha, and I spent the shuttling time organizing gear. Out of optimism that we might be able to continue paddling along the east coast the next day, we left the kayaks on the beach.

When Haidee got back to the beach, we all sped north along the west coast for a well-deserved onsen soak in the rustic, well-located Kamuiwaki Onsen. It would be our first of multiple soaks in this onsen during the week we spent on Okushiri Island.

📷 Greg Beliakov

DAY 3 | Tsunamis and gale-force winds

Tuesday, 3rd May 2023

The forecast for Tuesday was for 30kt+ winds out of the southwest. It was a foregone conclusion that paddling anything on the west coast was going to be out of the question. We held some vague hopes that we might be able to paddle something on the north coast. Or perhaps the southern end of the east coast would be accessible, sheltered from the south-westerlies.

The morning certainly broke nice enough on the northeast side of the island where we had set up our base camp for the week. There were whitecaps on the sea, however, and the swell was breaking hard against the beach breakwaters.

📷 Greg Beliakov

After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, the first mission was to drive down to the south end of the island to get the kayaks. Before that, we made a quick dash to the north end of the island, just 5 minutes up the road from the campground. We wanted to take a look to see if the north coast looked even remotely suitable for paddling today.

It didn’t.

We hightailed it south down the east coast, stopping along the way to look wistfully at the water.

“I think this might be a good opportunity to press our skills,” proffered Timbah optimistically. 

I was leaning in that direction also. The southwest wind seemed to be wrapping around the southern Aonae Cape, clawing at the surface of the water, causing a short-frequency hefty wind chop.

“If anything goes wrong,” cautioned Grisha, “you’d be in trouble though – the sea is breaking quite hard onto that rocky coast. If I was a guide in this situation, considering the skills and experience of the group, I wouldn’t be taking the group out there.”

To me, it felt like the first serious group decision-making process of the trip, with each member of the group holding onto differing desires in relation to the conditions, our goals for being on the island in the first place (paddling!), and our skills as individuals and as a group.

We decided to keep options open and drive down to Aonae Cape to check out conditions further south.

While the beach where we’d left the kayaks was sheltered, everything else was a windy, choppy mess.

The group slowly resigned to being windbound for the day. On the forecast, it appeared that there might be hope for the northern coast tomorrow, so we decided to make a sightseeing day out of today. First up was the sobering Tsunami Museum. This facility is a permanent reminder of the massively destructive 1996 tsunami that hit the island.

The previous night, we’d decided to skip making our own dinner and ate dinner out at Kanno Sushi, a local sushi restaurant/izakaya. This meant we had an extra dinner’s worth of ingredients up our sleeves. Lunch, therefore, was curry and couscous, cooked up in the park at Aonae Cape. We availed ourselves of the drying sun to dry out our damp paddling gear.

📷 Greg Beliakov

After lunch we loaded the kayaks onto the van and headed back north for a circuitous drive back to the onsen, via the northern Inaho-misaki cape 稲穂岬.

Haidee and I had visited this cape on our Southern Hokkaido cycle tour many years ago, so it was nice to see the atmospheric Sainokawara 賽の河原 again, with its rock cairns.

We still had the bikes on the back of the van, so Haidee and Timbah opted to do the downhill portion of the drive to the west coast on their bikes.

Grisha and I drove ahead in the van.

It all started out nice enough.

And then we hit the high point of the drive over.

The wind was so strong the van was being rocked violently back and forth.

It was difficult just to stand in one place.

Down below on the coast, the fierce gusts pressed themselves hard against the sea’s surface.

Instead of driving all the way down to the coast as planned, Grisha and I waited at the pass for Haidee and Timbah to arrive. It was highly likely they’d be walking with this wind.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes later they arrived around the corner, heads bowed low over their handlebars and they struggled forward, pushing their bikes along the side of the road. The wind was intense.

We collected the wind-bound cyclists, and carried on to the onsen for our second soak of the trip.

It was dark by the time we got back to the campground. We proceeded to huddle in the shelter of an entranceway to a building close to the campground, sheltering from the cold wind as we cooked up a quick pasta dinner.

We didn’t hang around long outside after scoffing down dinner. The forecast was showing the briefest of brief calm weather windows for the east side of the island from 5am till 9am the next day. 

It looked like it was the only opportunity we had to paddle around Okushiri Island’s iconic archway rock.

📷 Greg Beliakov

DAY 4 | Rescues and photoshoots

Wednesday, 4th May 2023

Alarms went off at 3am this morning. We weren’t about to miss the seemingly only opportunity we had to paddle around Okushiri Island’s iconic Nabetsuru-iwa Rock (literally, pot-handle rock).

We skipped breakfast, and got away from the campground soon after waking up. The plan was to have a quick paddle, then get back to the campground for a late breakfast.

We got to the put in just as the sun was emerging from the sea haze on the horizon. The sea was confused, but there was, mercifully, no wind. Grisha opted to stay on shore to take some photos of us paddling around the rock.

It was a completely frivolous paddle – hardly even 10m from the beach to the rock. We could have swum out there. But the forecast for the rest of the day was for worsening conditions, so what else were we going to do all day?

With radios on each of the paddlers, and one with Grisha on shore, Grisha made sure to get us lined up for a few photos on his drone.

📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov

It wasn’t just all posing though. The swell was pushing through the gap between the rock and the shore, allowing us to catch a few small waves across the shallow reef. We were able to enjoy some extra time in moderately choppy conditions.

Since we were out there in the water, I did a few rolls (the first of the season), and Timbah spent about 45 minutes attempting a self-rescue in the notoriously narrow Sea Lion kayak. It’s a narrow, fast boat that can be tricky to get back into. Grisha, the natural teacher that he is, had plenty of feedback for us when we got back to shore.

📷 Greg Beliakov

We were slightly cold, hungry, and tired by the time we finished up on the water. It was quite the commitment, unloading and loading the boats on the van for such a short amount of time on the water. We gave ourselves a pat on the back, and headed back to the campground for a very leisurely brunch.

Post-brunch, we again consulted the weather to see if we could divine an area of favourable conditions for a more decent paddle the next day. Our optimism, biased perceptions, and desire to actually do some more paddling made it clear to us that our only feasible option was a vague possibility to paddle the northern coast.

The weather forecast for the next day was for strong southerly winds, which might mean the northern coast would be in the lee. The issue was accessing the northern coast. A one-way paddle would see us paddle from Horonai (Yunohama Beach) on the northwest corner of the island to Inaho Cape at the northeast corner. If we were lucky, we’d be able to catch a 4am to 9am weather window, starting from Yunohama Beach.

It became clear that we needed to move our base camp. If we were to get on the water at 4am, we’d need to get up at 2am at the latest if we stayed at our current camp on the east coast. So it was decided. We’d move camp to the lonely Yunohama Beach on the northwest corner of the island, the last inlet accessible by road on the northern side of the island.

Once the decision was made, we first had a post-brunch nap.

And then we packed up and moved.

As anticipated, Yunohama Beach was a gorgeous spot for a wild camp. We were buffetted by occasional wind gusts that would pull at tent pegs – a couple of times strong enough to pull tent pegs out of the sand and send them flying.

To facilitate shuttling the next day, Timbah cycled back over to Inaho Cape to leave his bike at the end of our planned section of coast. He then ran most of the way back, finally hitching a ride to the coast from a local Japan Air Self Defence Force soldier.

📷 Greg Beliakov

In the mean time, after we’d set up camp at the beach, we were graced by the presence of Szylvia and Yosuke, and little Maya. They were cycling around the island for Golden Week. Maya was thoroughly enthralled by the kayaks.

Timbah finally got back to the campsite around 5pm, so we cooked up a quick dinner (curry again), and finished off the day with another onsen soak. We went to bed with alarms set to 2:30am to see what the sea was doing.

When we retired to our tents at 9:30pm, the sea – and surf – was still roaring. As was the wind – it was a fitful sleep with gusts sometimes threatening to flatten our tent.

DAY 5 | An abrupt Escape

Thursday, 5th May 2023

Timbah, Grisha, and I woke at 2:30am to see what the sea was doing.

There was no change. A roaring mess of swell and surf. And it was dark. It was clear it was in no state to set off before dawn as we’d had a marginal hope for. We went back to our tents with alarms set for 4am.

4am came around quickly. And the sea was still marginal. Whitecaps licked the tops of waves. It felt like once we got around the northwest corner, the northern coast might be more sheltered from the residual wind chop. But it felt like quite the commitment to punch through the dumpy waves at Yunohama Beach, brave the whitecaps, for the marginal possibility of calmer conditions around the corner.

After breakfast, we made the agonizing decision to strap the kayaks back onto the van and drive over to the northeast corner to see if conditions were favourable for a out-and-back paddle from Inaho Cape, along the north coast for a bit, and then back again. We left the tents set up to save on time, and headed back over the hills in the van.

At a high point on the road back over the hills, we stopped to take a look at the north coast. Close to the coast, we could see the water was affected by residual swell. Not far out from the coast, the southerly started catching the sea, driving offshore with a vengance, whitecaps clearly visible. It didn’t look like a safe place to be.

The view of the ocean from up high wasn’t giving us great confidence in the north coast. On the way down the hill in the van, we found an old foot trail to the coast. We had a wander and took a look. Sure enough, the sea was a choppy, confused mess, with some small whitecaps. We spent about two hours on that rocky beach, clearly more or less giving up on the prospect of paddling the north coast.

We’d woken up early though, and it was only 7am when we arrived at Cape Inaho.

We were on Okushiri Island to paddle, so we decided we’d try to make the most of the remaining time in the 4am to 9am weather window to paddle at least part of the east coast.

We went back to our original campsite at Yamasedomari Beach, and hurried to put in.

By the time we put in, it was almost 9am. The plan was to paddle from the campground to Inaho Cape, 8km north. Our window of opportunity, however, was closing. The conditions were looking dicy, with wind swell starting to build up from the east.

“Let’s paddle to the cape just north of the campground, check in with how we’re feeling, and make the call to either continue or turn around,” offered Timbah.

We all agreed and pushed off the beach.

In the 15 minutes it took us to paddle to the cape, conditions deteriorated. 

“How are we feeling about this team?” Timbah’s voice crackled into the radio.

“I’m not feeling good about this,” Haidee called out to me. She was too busy keeping in control of the kayak to take her hands off her paddle to make the comment on the radio.

In the more stable kayak, I relayed this on to the others by radio.

“It does seem quite marginal,” Grisha echoed.

It seemed like an easy decision. So we turned back towards the beach, now with the swell and wind on our front quarter.

As we paddled hard back along the beach, a larger wave broke over Haidee’s bow from the side. She deftly kept upright thanks to a strong brace.

“Nice save Haidee!” I shouted into the radio.

As we were paddling into the shelter of the breakwaters off the beach, we were followed in by a dense mist that seemed to come out of nowhere.

In a few minutes, the sea was whipped up into a frenzy. We’d just got out in time.

Okushiri was officially closing the weather window.

It was still early – only 10:30am.

We weighed our options for the rest of the day and studied the forecast for the next day. Tomorrow’s forecast was more of the same – strong winds that would likely affect every square inch of the sea around Okushiri. It appeared we’d managed to get some snippets of weather windows so far, but Okushiri was firmly returning to May weather mode.

“Why don’t we just escape the island and go river paddling instead,” suggested Haidee.

We were booked on the return ferry for the evening the next day, but a quick online reservation change meant we were now going back to the mainland today!

Our tents were still set up at the beach on the other side of the island, so Haidee, Timbah and Grisha jumped in the van to retrieve them. I stayed behind and organized the paddling gear, making sure it got a good drying out, and ensuring nothing blew away in the wind.

Just like that, by 2pm we were boarding the ferry back to the mainland.

We arrived at Esashi in the late afternoon. Onsen, campground, sleep.

DAY 6 & 7 | Multisport Finish

Friday/Saturday, 6th/7th May 2023

With an extra couple of days now up our sleeves, we availed ourselves of Chris’s cabin in Rankoshi (near Niseko), and capped 2023 Golden Week off with a spot of packrafting down the Shiribetsu River and cycling a portion of Chris’s gravel route in the hills around his cabin.

The Shiribetsu River was pumping. 168m at the Kutchan guage. Certainly the highest we’ve ever paddled this section of the Shiribetsu. Haidee and I managed to flip the packraft on the second run :-/

(Haidee would like you the dear reader to understand that Rob flipped the raft – he was going for all the big waves)

The next day we went on a 20-minute bike ride for 2 hrs…that is, it was supposed to be a 20-minute bike ride, and we just kept on going.

And with the bike ride, 2023 Golden Week was a wrap.

📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov
📷 Greg Beliakov

Comments | Queries | Reports

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GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.