Shakotan Coast Sea Kayaking (Irika to Bikuni)

Posted on Jul 19, 2022
0

Posted on Jul 19, 2022

0 0
20km

Distance

1 day(s)

Time

4/5

Remoteness

4/5

Water clarity

6/10

Difficulty

Jun-Sep

Best season

This coast from Irika 入舸 to Bikuni 美国 on Shakotan Peninsula's 積丹半島 remote northwestern coast is a sea kayaker's dream. Pristine emerald blue water, towering rugged cliffs, cavernous caves, and curious wildlife. Beaches are equally rugged and remote, giving a true sense of getting away from it all. Exposed to the open sea with few options for escape, this one-day paddle requires good self-sufficiency, but rewards the well-equipped paddler in kind.

We visited this route on Jun 11, 2022

Thanks to Shakotan Kayaks and Timbah for their feedback on this post.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This route traces the northeastern coast of the Shakotan Peninsula, in western Hokkaido. Here we describe paddling from Irika to Bikuni (from north to south), but paddlers can of course paddle in the opposite direction – scout sea conditions and make a decision on the day. Given the summer prevailing wind from the southeast, however, paddlers may find more favourable conditions going from Bikuni to Irika (south to north).Bikuni is more convenient as a take-out, however, as there’s a park with toilets, a freshwater hose for rinsing gear, and a campground (free for overnight stays).

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The put-in at Irika, adjacent to the Irika fishing port, consists of a moderately steep rocky beach. It’s less than the ideal spot to launch, but it’s as good as it gets this close to Shakotan-misaki Cape. Take care not to block the gravel road, and don’t go beyond about 50m from the large gravel parking area – beyond that is private property.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The protected beach at the small settlement of Bikuni is a sea kayaker’s dream. It’s a free campground with clean toilets, an outdoor washing area, and taps with running fresh water. There’s also a massive car parking area. It’s a popular spot on weekends for recreational anglers and camping families. A short walk from the beach is a Seicomart convenience store and a number of local seafood restaurants.

General notes

The ruggedness and beauty of this high-level daytrip cannot be overstated. Caves, cliffs, birdlife, seals (if you’re lucky) and remote inlets await. Like most sea kayaking areas in Hokkaido, however, this coast is exposed to the open sea, with a large fetch extending all the way to Russia, 350km away to the west across the Japan Sea – a careful consultation with weather apps leading up to and on the day of the paddle is essential.

  • Fishing Ports: As per Hokkaido Bylaws, all fishing ports on this route (including Irika Fishing Port and Horomui) are off-limits to kayaks and other small recreational craft, except in emergencies (see our other Hokkaido sea kayaking ‘manners’ notes here). Also, while the small settlement of Horomui is accessible by road (and the residents are lovely people), the Horomui Fishing Port and adjacent small beaches are bordered by private property (fishing operations land). Therefore, landing at Horomui should be considered a last resort option (emergencies only). If sea conditions require you to land at Horomui, be prepared to ask permission to use private accessways in order to get to the main road – from the beach you’ll essentially be walking along residents’ driveways.
  • Swell, wind and weather: Shakotan Kayaks cautions of unpredictable easterly swells and reflective waves in the Horomui Bay, particularly when strong southeasterly winds have been blowing in Ishikari Bay the previous day (details). The Yamakei Sea Kayaking Map notes in spring and autumn, northwesterly winds are common, causing more challenging sea conditions (Kato, 2005, p. 24).
  • Local rules: Local sea kayak guide Nishimura-san from Shakotan Kayaks has put together a resource encouraging responsible sea kayak access and notes regarding sea conditions along the Shakotan Coast, here (Google-translated version here).
  • Cellphone reception: Mobile coverage is patchy at best along this stretch of coast. We recommend carrying a Satellite Messenger or PLB (see our notes here).
  • En-route Camping: There are a few rugged stony beaches suited to wild camping along this route. The northern end of Hamafumi is one option (location), as is the small inlet near Biyano Cape (location). Note that this is brown bear country – take all usual bear precautions when camping.
Route description

Clamber down to the rocky beach from the one-lane gravel road to the north of the Irika Fishing Port entrance. The beach is moderately steep, but not so steep as to be an issue (long double kayaks, however, may struggle in higher swell/waves). Soon after setting off, you’ll round Shakotan-misaki, which will be exposed to northerly swells and wind. In just under 3km, there’s the delightfully protected Shimamui-kaigan 島武意海岸, a fine-gravel beach flanked by high bluffs. You’ll likely be sharing this beach with tourists who have accessed the beach via the walkway and stairs to the south of the beach.

From Shimamui-kaigan to the small settlement of Horomui 幌武意, it’s a solid 4km paddle along an attractive cliff-bound coast. There’s nowhere to escape from the water until Horomui. Just after De-misaki Cape 出岬, there’s a conspicuously large sea cave, worth a visit. Another 2km or so beyond that is Joroko-iwa 女郎子岩, a towering rock spire jutting out of the sea. If landing at Horomui, be sure to land outside of the fishing port, and avoid camping in the area (as per these notes).

Makka-misaki Cape マッカ岬 can be somewhat of a border-line between rougher and calmer seas. If the conditions and tide allow it, consider squeezing through the narrow passage between the towering outer rock and the coast proper. Wind from the west can funnel through here at great speed, so take care.

Just beyond Makka-misaki is the lonely, deserted beach at Hamafumi 浜婦美. Topomaps indicate a foot trail from Route 913 high above the coast, but this trail is in a bad state of disrepair – it’s thoroughly overgrown and washed out in places. Suitable for passage only in the direst of circumstances, and even then only for fit parties. The Hamafumi beach is made up of small rocks, but there are a couple of spots here and there where hardy paddlers could make a rough camp for a night. For breaks and overnighting, opt for the northern end of the beach, away from the fishing huts (banya, 番屋) situated to the south.

From Hamafumi to Biyano-misaki ビヤノ岬 is a mostly unbroken stretch of 7km of gorgeous high cliffs. The rock morphs from volcanic organ pipes to interesting gravely conglomerate, and everything in between. Between Itakiri-ishi 板切石 and Biyano-misaki are a number of inlets, all worthy of exploration.

Takara-jima 宝島 is an island, but is better described as one enormous rock. The seaward side of the island is home to a large seabird colony. The southeastern side of the island is a popular diving spot. Just as you’re enjoying the beauty of the island, loud, intrusive broadcasts from regular tourist boats will jolt you into the realization that your time in remote solitude is over. The tourist boats make regular runs from Bikuni-gyoko fishing port 美国漁港 to just beyond Biyano-misaki and back. Take care crossing the entrance to Bikuni fishing port.

Landing at the beach at Bikuni-gyoko Park 美国漁港海岸緑地広場 should be straight forward – it is well sheltered.

Route Timing
Trip time: 5hrs 30min

If allowing time for exploring caves, inlets, and passageways, it’s best to allot five to seven hours for this trip.

Transport

Public transport:

There is local bus access to Bikuni (Bikuni-bashi bus stop 美国バス停 – location) and Irika (Shakotan-irika bus stop 積丹入舸 – location) from Sapporo City, run by Chuo Bus. There are a couple of buses per day – Google Maps has good coverage of the options.

By car: 

Shakotan Peninsula is easily accessed from Sapporo City via the Yoichi Expressway (or via the low roads). There’s plenty of parking at the southern end of the route at Bikuni-gyoko Park. At the northern end, at Irika, parking is more limited – there’s a gravel area just above the Irika fishing port, large enough for six or seven cars. Parking is not allowed in the port proper (access for local fishing operators only). If there’s no room to park in the gravel parking area, consider offloading kayaks and then parking somewhere in the township.

Physical maps

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

PRINTED CHARTS

The Otaru-Kamui Misaki 小樽—神威岬 yachting chart covers the Shakotan Peninsula in 1:150,000 scale. It’s available as a physical chart (Y-Chart H-119W – buy online). Another option is the S-Guide for Otaru (DH811W-06), available as PDF download (buy online here). The scale is spotty though, with only the main fishing ports included in small scale. The JHA/Japan Coast Guard 1:200,000 nautical chart for this area is Mashike Ko to Iwanai Ko (W28 – buy online). A printed 1:50,000 scale bathymetric chart (Kamui Misaki; 6324-3) is available here.

Official Topo Map: Shakotan-misaki (積丹岬) – map no. NK-54-19-8-4
Official Topo Map 2: Bikuni (美国) – map no. NK-54-20-5-3

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

This is a rugged and remote exposed-coast paddle, exposed to conditions on the Japan Sea. There’s very little in the way of escape options should anything go wrong – paddlers should be self-sufficient and proficient in self- and group-rescue.  Mobile phone reception is patchy at best. We highly recommend carrying a reliable form of communication (e.g., Satellite messenger or PLB). Note also that this coastline is sometimes frequented by brown bears – take precautions, particularly when overnighting along the coast.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shakotan Coast

Tide
Tide information for Furubira-gun

CampSites

Bikuni-gyoko Park (美国漁港海岸緑地広場)

Bikuni-gyoko Park 美国漁港海岸緑地広場 is a free, municipal-run campground in the small settlement of Bikuni on the Shakotan Peninsula. It’s right next to a beach, so is very popular in the summer months. There’s a Seicomart convenience store within short walking distance.

Location: 43.29676 N / 140.60509 E | Open: May-Oct
Closest Onsen: Furubira Onsen Shiokaze (日本海ふるびら温泉しおかぜ) | 550yen | 4.7km from campground
Nozuka Prefectural Campground (道営野塚野営場)

This is a simple yet picturesque campground right on the Japan Sea coast, on the northwestern tip of Shakotan Peninsula. It’s right next to a nice swimming beach and is popular in the summer months. The gorgeous Misaki-no-yu Onsen is only 2.5km away, up on the hillside – amazing views from the large outdoor baths across the sea.

Location: 43.33437 N / 140.44482 E
Closest Onsen: Misaki no Yu Onsen (岬の湯しゃこたん) | 900yen | 2.5km from campground
Onsen nearby

Shakotan Peninsula is home to a few really good onsen. If planning to be near Shakotan-misaki Cape, consider the amazing hilltop Misaki-no-yu 岬の湯 (location, 900yen). They have a large relaxation area and offer meals. If you’ll be in Bikuni, or heading back to Sapporo, consider the lovely Furubira Onsen 日本海ふるびら温泉しおかぜ (location, 550yen).

Extra Resources
  • See the write-up by Atsuhiro Kato in Yamakei Sea Kayaking Map 全国シーカヤッキング55Map, 2005, p. 24-25 (in Japanese).
  • See Tory3’s write-up, map and photos on Yamap.com, here.

Guide Options

There are a number of kayak tour operators offering guided sea kayaking tours on Shakotan Peninsula, but English-speaking guides are scarce. Shakotan Kayaks is arguably the most experienced with this particular stretch of coastline. Ocean Days has an office in Bikuni (main office at Lake Shikotsu), and may offer tours in English. Toyru guiding may also be able to cater to English-speaking paddlers. Blue Holic may also be able to cater to tours, however, they only accept Japanese-speaking guests.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

This coastal paddle had been on our radar for a while as a relatively accessible thrown-in-the-deep-end overnighter shakedown in our new kayaks. On a previous weekend, however, the weather forecast was less than ideal. 30km/h gusts at times, with rain showers, suggesting some squally conditions. Hardly the ideal weather for getting our heads around packing our kayaks with overnighting gear.

Fast forward to this weekend. The plan was to paddle 17km or so from Irika southeast towards Bikuni, and wild camp in a perfect-looking inlet, not far from our ultimate goal of Bikuni-gyoko Park. The forecast again wasn’t perfect, but neither was it giving us too much cause for concern. A stiff breeze from the north from midday on the Saturday, gaining in strength for Sunday, but by then we’d be only a short 3km paddle to Bikuni.

Despite leaving Sapporo at 5am on Saturday, all the shuttling, packing, and general faffing about meant we weren’t on the water till 9:30am. As anticipated, the bouldery beach was not an ideal put-in, but neither was is untenable, even with boats loaded with overnight gear.

This was Ben’s first time in the silver kayak – a beautifully lightweight carbon-kevlar Vogue Kayaks Evo Expedition boat. Narrower than the P&H Scorpio he’d paddled previously, he squeezed into it and we got on our way.

As we rounded the cape and Shakotan-misaki, we found a slightly heavier swell, as forecast, from the northwest. Everything was going swimmingly until Ben capsized. I laughed at him, emptied his boat for him with a T-rescue, and we were on our way again fairly quick.

Shortly after, Ben said “I can’t feel my legs.”

I’d never sat in the silver boat before either, and it turns out that apparently it’s a relatively tight fitting cockpit with relatively less leg and foot room than most 179cm-ish paddlers would like.

To Ben’s slight protestation, we pushed on to the beach at the sheltered cove at Shimamui-kaigan. At the beach, Ben promptly tried to step out of his kayak, only to find his legs completely incapacitated.

It took him a few minutes of massaging to get them to work again, much to the amusement of the cotton-shirted, jeans-wearing tourists hanging out on the beach.

We promptly set about doing what we should have done before we set off – fitting the silver boat to Ben’s body. Unfortunately the footpegs were already at their forward limit. The seat appeared to have another 1cm or so of aft movement though, so we set about trying to loosen the screws holding it in place. This was to no avail. At least two of the screws on this new-to-me boat appeared well seized (at home later, I could only get them to move with the not-so-gentle coercion of an electric impact driver).

Ben tried sitting in the boat again without his shoes on, but still found it too tight. He would have to endure the trip without the aid of footpegs.

We still had a long way to paddle, so we pressed on.

The whole northern coast in its entirety was hopelessly beautiful. And then we found a cave. A great massive rocky behemoth of a cave. Just inside the mouth of the cave, we could hear the sound of waves crashing somewhere deep inside the cavernous depths. Deeper exploration would have to wait for a day with more time.

Timbah, in his narrow, long, sleek sit-on-top boat, looked completely in his element. This would be his first sea kayaking trip since arriving in Hokkaido. Having led and participated in many sea kayaking expeditions in the US, we couldn’t help but feel proud when he gushed that “this is the most beautiful coast I’ve ever paddled!”

And it was beautiful. Such incredible variety in rock types, cliffs stretching beyond what the eye could see, and water a gorgeous emerald-like blue.

It didn’t take long to arrive at the first major point of the trip – Makka-misaki cape. As can be expected from a prominent cape, this one is known somewhat as a ‘border’ between heavy and light seas. For us, it’s southern side promised lighter seas in the lee of the northwester swell.

Out front, Timbah radioed in that it looked like we could squeeze through a small passageway between the massive seaward rock and the cape proper. The wind howled through the gap, but it was a straightforward and satisfying thread of the needle.

As anticipated, the southern side of the cape, in the lee of both the wind and the swell, was beautifully calm.

We convened and carried on a little further to the northern end of Hamafumi beach 浜婦美海岸. To our surprise, there was another party of kayakers on the beach too, set up nicely with a tarp. I wandered over and chatted with a seasoned-looking kayaker. He was a guide with two clients. We made some small-talk, and I returned to our group. 

Some Internet sleuthing later on suggested he was no other than Nishimura-san from Shakotan Kayaks fame – arguably the most knowledgable kayker when it comes to knowing the Shakotan Peninsula coast.

During our break on the beach, Timbah tied up his fishing line to facilitate some opportune trolling and jigging as we made our way down the coast.

It didn’t take long for Timbah to start trying his luck. We’d asked some fishermen before we set off what we should be aiming for, and what sort of lure we should be using. 

“Flounder is the fish of the day these days,” they enthusiastically told us. “Use that big lure there,” one of them said, prodding an 8cm pink lure in Timbah’s tackle box.

The majestic coastline didn’t let up. Mile upon mile of precipice straight into the sea. And hardly a spot to escape it should the weather turn.

Already we had a strong following wind, with a very gradually building following sea. Each small point gave us a nice respite from the wind and building waves, but these respites were usually short-lived – the wind was slowly arcing to the north, and was now on our port sides, more of a quartering sea than following.

We’d had Takara-jima Island in our sights for a long time now. It was looming in the distance, large, but only getting imperceptibly closer. On my mind was the cove that I was sure was going to be out of the wind – the perfect sheltered spot for a rough but secluded overnight camp.

When we arrived at the cove though, it was far from sheltered. It was basically a wind tunnel for the northerly as it whipped off the sea, directly up the beach, and up and over the sasa bamboo-grass covered slope above.

I was in two minds about staying the night. Perhaps we could find a sheltered spot on the rather stony beach.

As the experienced sea paddler in our midst, however, Timbah had the words of wisdom that we all needed. “My preference would be to just get to Bikuni today,” he mused. “The forecast is for building seas, and already it’s not entirely ideal conditions.”

So it was then. After all, we also knew that we had a nice grassy campsite, toilets, running water, and an onsen hotspring not far away, should we carry on to Bikuni. It was hardly a difficult decision.

After setting off and rounding the corner into the lively sea and wind, Ben capsized for the second time. This time, he was a bit closer to the rocky shore, and conditions were certainly more lively than the first time he capsized earlier in the trip.

After one failed attempt at Ben clambering back into a kayak with a swamped cockpit, I came up aside his kayak and started to steady it for him. We were being blown towards waves crashing onto the rocky shore, however, so it was becoming clear we wouldn’t have time to risk another failed attempt at getting him back into the kayak. Even then, he’d be sitting in a swamped cockpit, at real risk of capsizing again.

So we switched strategies. I clipped my contact towline to the bow of his boat, and paddled hard, towing it away from the rocks. Timbah came in to tow Ben, still in the water.

Once we were all a suitable distance from the rocks, and, more importantly, in a position with a clear sea downwind of us, I pulled Ben’s kayak up onto mine for a t-rescue, finally getting it emptied of water. Ben swam over and executed a nice heel-hook-esque re-entry as I steadied his kayak.

Once again, a fine group rescue executed…next time we’ll have Ben’s boat a little more well outfitted (and maybe have Ben a little better prepared with some better bracing skills!).

It was sweet relief to arrive at the calm and poise of the Bikuni beach. Sheltered by a huge breakwater, it was like the calm after the storm.

We quickly set up our tents, got our gear organized, and promptly headed to the Misaki-no-yu onsen, back at Shakotan-misaki cape.

THE NEXT DAY

It felt like complete luxury to have a long sleep in the next day. With all the time in the world now, we treated ourselves to a long, relaxed breakfast.

Breakfast was followed by a paddle around Takara-jima island – the short circumnavigation we forwent the day before. In the lee of the island, the sea was beautifully calm.

On the northwestern side of the island, however, the seas were lively. Not heaving, but enough to get the heart racing as we paddled broadside to the deep troughs and tall peaks. The swell reflected off the side of the island back at us, further complicating the conditions.

We were in lighter boats now, not laden down with overnight gear. So it was an interesting, short-lived brush with much livelier conditions than we’d experienced thus far. This is only our (Haidee, Ben and I) first season of sea kayaking, so everything is feeling rather new.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Shakotan Coast Sea Kayaking (Irika to Bikuni) Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

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.