The Sarobetsu wetlands had been on our list of places to paddle in Hokkaido for a while. But being way up north in Hokkaido, it always felt like a bit far to go, particularly just for a weekend. From Sapporo, it’s a solid 4hr drive north. But in the name of exploration, we committed to it on a late summer weekend, leaving Sapporo early on a Friday evening. We drove half of the distance that night, arriving at the incongruous Ogon-zaki Campground 黄金崎キャンプ場 (location) in Rumoi City at 7pm. This rather unusual campground is run by the Rumoi City council, free for overnight stays. It’s basically just a raised grass strip next to a quiet seaside access road. Seems to be popular among touring motorcyclists. There’s a block of clean public toilets, and a covered kitchen/water area.
Our paddling friends Saoka and Akiko arrived at around 10pm that night, after we’d turned in for the night. In the morning we all sat on the concrete steps and scoffed down some breakfast while admiring the ocean view. We then packed up and headed on our way for the remaining 2 hours drive north.
Due to a bit of a lack of planning on my part, we messed up the start location, putting in at the boardwalk on the eastern side of Panke-numa Lake (rather than the easier and more convenient Otonrui-bashi Bridge), but eventually we made it across the lake to Sarobetsu River.
Once we were on the river proper, we had to come to grips with the reality of paddling a wetland river. The banks were high. They were lined with impenetrable reeds. There wasn’t much of a view to speak of.
There was a lot of sign of deer though. Hoof marks at small clearings in the reeds at the side of the river. Every now and then we’d hear rustling in the reeds and grass. Deer bounding away from the river. To our delight there was an abundance of small blue kingfishers darting around the edges of the river. At other times we’d spy skittish ducks and other birds fly off far down the river.
Here and there, the endless reeds were broken up by sections of tall oak trees.
Paddling upstream, it felt like a long way to the small creek connecting Panke-to Lake to Sarobetsu River proper. Saoka and Akiko were doing commendably well. They were still relative canoeing beginners.
We made it to the fork, and continued paddling upstream. We knew from the satellite images that there wasn’t much water to be expected in Panke-to Lake. Would it actually be worth paddling all this way to a dry lake? We certainly didn’t know for sure.
And then suddenly we were there. The small creek gave way to broadening skies.
“What’s that sound?” Haidee asked. “I think it might be geese,” she continued, excitedly.
Indeed, we could hear the unmistakable chatter of geese.
We rounded a small bend, and we caught a glimpse of a couple of geese, gawking back at us.
Of course, as soon as they saw us, they took off, setting off a tidal wave of geese, all launching off, flying deeper into the lake.
Once the rawkus died down, and the geese settled down further into the lake, we finally noticed Rishiri-zan. Amazingly, the off-shore volcano was standing clear in the distance.
We didn’t dare paddle further into the lake, since we’d already disturbed the migratory geese. We also knew we had about 10km to paddle back to our put-in. So we got going. Back to the walls of reeds and shady trees.
Part way back, I sent the drone up to see what we could see again from above. By now, Rishiri had lost much of her coat of clouds, and was there on the horizon as clear as we’d ever seen her.
We paddled a bit more on the larger of the lakes – Panke-numa Lake – and watched as some boats washed sand into the lake. We’re not 100% sure what they were doing, but assumed they were returning sand to the lake that had been removed in order to harvest shellfish. It was all rather atmospheric with Rishiri in the background.
Once we finally got off the water, we’d been out for almost 6 hours. We’d started early in the day though, so we still had plenty of daylight left. We debated a couple of options for that night’s accommodation, and in the end decided to head to Teshio-gawa Onsen, on the Teshio River. A plan was hatched to stay at the free campground behind the hot springs, and paddle a short section of the mighty Teshio River on Sunday before heading back to Sapporo.