Shioya-Otamoi Coast Sea Kayaking

Posted on Jul 26, 2022
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Posted on Jul 26, 2022

0 0
20km

Distance

1 day(s)

Time

3/5

Remoteness

5/5

Water clarity

6/10

Difficulty

Jun-Aug

Best season

The Shioya-Otamoi Coast 塩谷オタモイ海岸 is one of Hokkaido's premier sea kayaking destinations. 100m+ high cliffs, sea bird colonies, navigable caves, towering arches, crystal clear water, remote beaches. Don't let its proximity to Sapporo and the bustling tourist city of Otaru put you off - the coast is rugged and remote. This 20km stretch of coast takes in the best the area has to offer, including sandy beaches and excellent surf zones. Camping is possible along the way for hardy paddlers happy with rough camping on stony beaches.

We visited this route on Jun 25, 2022

Thank you to Kato-san from Blue Holic Sea Kayaks for feedback and advice on this route.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This sea kayaking route is about a one-hour drive west of central Sapporo, just west of the bustling tourist town of Otaru, in western Hokkaido. The route skirts the Otamoi and Shioya coastlines, from Ranshima to the Shukutsu suburb of Otaru City. Whether one paddles from east to west or the other way around will depend on the wind direction for the day. All things being equal, if starting early in the day, paddling east to west (Otaru to Ranshima) may be more comfortable, as the sun will be behind you, rather than reflecting off the water into your eyes.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

Here we assume a Ranshima Beach start, in the west. Ranshima Beach is a bustling swimming beach in summer, so it’s best to put in (or take out) at the far eastern end of the beach. Avoid putting in at the small fishing port – as is the case for all fishing ports in Hokkaido (as per the Prefectural bylaw), kayakers aren’t allowed to use fishing ports unless in an emergency.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The Otaru end of the route is a bustling cape area with a fishing port, yacht marina, tourist-magnet lighthouse, and to top it all off, a popular aquarium. The most convenient spot to take out is a rocky artificial embankment, just north of the marina. Next to the embankment is a large gravel area, suitable for parking if it’s not too busy. In the busy summer months, the only practical place to park will likely be the aquarium parking area (1000yen per day).

En-route, there are a couple of places where it’s possible to escape from the sea if necessary. Momonai 桃内, Shioya Beach 塩谷ビーチ (far eastern end is most sheltered from swells/waves), the parking area above the amusement park ruins, and the trail down to the Otamoi Coast. The latter two escape options are not ideal – the foot trails are overgrown and not maintained; you’d struggle to get kayaks away from the coast via these trails.

General notes

This is hands-down one of Hokkaido’s premier sections of coastline. Its proximity to a major metropolis (Sapporo is home to 2 million people) just adds to the appeal. Note that during the weekends and on public holidays, you’ll be sharing highlights such as the Blue Cave and Sekiryu Cave with small tourist charter boats, particularly between the hours of 10am and 4pm.

  • Difficulty: In the Yamakei Sea Kayaking Map guidebook, Kato-san from Blue Holic Sea Kayaks notes that in the summer months this route is suitable for beginners, due to more common southerly winds – this coast ends up in the lee of the wind. Spring and autumn bring more changeable conditions, so the route in these months is pegged at Intermediate to Advanced.
  • Fishing Ports: As per Hokkaido Bylaws, all fishing ports on this route (including Shioya and Shukutsu) are off-limits to kayaks and other small recreational craft, except in emergencies (see our other Hokkaido sea kayaking ‘manners’ notes here).
  • Blue Cave (青の洞窟): Blue Cave, only accessible by sea, is a major tourist attraction, with very frequent tourist boats visiting. Some of the smaller tourist boats can fit into the cave. Local rules state vessels should enter the right entrance to the cave, and exit the left entrance. Be prepared to wait your turn to enter.
  • Swell, wind and weather: This section of coast is exposed to the open sea, with a very large fetch to the north. In summer, the prevailing wind in Hokkaido tends to be from the southeast. Therefore, this section of coast is often in the lee of the wind. Note, however, that localized topographic features can produce some unexpected wind directions – we’ve experienced strong northwesterly winds along the Otamoi coast on a day where strong southeasterlies were blowing elsewhere. Take care when anything over 15km/h is forecast on Windy.com. The Yamakei Sea Kayaking Map notes in spring and autumn, northwesterly winds are common, causing more challenging sea conditions (Kato, 2005, p. 20).
  • En-route Camping: There are a number of rugged stony beaches suited to wild camping along this route.
  • Poaching: Japan has strict laws against unlicensed harvesting of sea life including sea urchins, abalone, and other seafood. This area is particularly heavily monitored by anti-poaching vessels.
Route description

The eastern end of Ranshima Beach is relatively protected from waves. Push off and paddle around the Oshoro-wan peninsula. At the head of the peninsula is a gorgeous inlet, just beyond the mouth to Oshoro-wan. It’s a unique bay, with a definite feel of relaxed slow-life. Once you’ve rounded Ryuga-saki cape, you’ll be paddling with cliffs to your right, nearly 100m in height. You may be sharing this section between Ryuga-saki and Momo-iwa with small fishing boats. After about an hour and a half of solid paddling, you’ll enter the Shioya Bay area. There’s a lovely sandy beach, bus stop, cafe, surf if you’re lucky, and Blue Holic kayaks.

This first 10km or so of paddling is somewhat of a warm-up for what is to come – the mighty Otamoi Coast. From Shioya Bay, once rounded Tate-iwa cape, paddlers are greeted with an extraordinary 4km of 120m high cliffs, sea bird colonies, remote inlets, towering arches, and a number of navigable caves. Each of the minor points along the way – Tate-iwa, Mado-iwa, and the other un-named point – consist of navigable arches for sea kayaks at high tide (and favourable sea conditions).

At around the 14km mark, you’ll see a precarious foot trail skirting the cliffs about 30m above the sea, along with some oriental-looking stone adornments. This is an old (now closed to the public) trail to the ruins of the Otamoi Amusement Park オタモイ遊園地, first built in the 1930’s, destroyed by avalanche and landslide in 1940, rebuilt in 1946, and eventually destroyed by fire in 1952. The full story of this curiously ambitious place is written up in full detail here (in Japanese, with photos). The small stony beach which attracted so many locals in the mid-1900’s is now only accessible by sea.

From the Otamoi Amusement Park ruins, there remains just 5km of paddling to go to cape Takashima-misaki 高島岬. This section of coast, while not as precipitous as the cliffs previously, is equally as impressive. Massive red rock and scorched earth falls into the sea. This area, referred to as Akai-iwa 赤岩, is a popular rock climbing zone. Access to the shore is possible on closed-to-the-public trails (closed due to rockfall risk). Just before rounding Takashima-misaki, you’ll paddle past the throngs of tourists visiting the outdoor portion of the Otaru Aquarium おたる水族館. Take out just before the marina.

Route Timing
Trip time: 7hrs 0min

There is so much to see on this section of coast – beaches, arches, caves, rock gardens…start early and allow around 7 hours of very leisurely paddling.

Transport

Public transport:

There’s public bus access to both ends of the route. At the Otaru end of the route, take a bus from Otaru JR train station towards Shukutsu, getting off at the Shukutsu Bus Stop 祝津バス停 (location) – about 25 minutes in total. For the Ranshima end of the route, there’s also a bus from Otaru JR Station – take the bus to the bus stop closest to the coast, the Ranshima-kankomae bus stop 蘭島観光前バス停 (location) at the western end of Ranshima Beach. Note that according to Google Maps this bus stop may also be called Ranshima-nishi 蘭島西. Either way, Google Maps has good timetabling for all bus stops along the Shakotan Peninsula.

By car: 

There is plenty of parking at the Otaru end of the route, either in the large gravel area next to the coast, or at the Otaru Aquarium parking area (1000yen per day). At the Ranshima end of the route, parking is a little more challenging outside of the beach season – many of the parking areas are roped off. You’ll be parking on the side of the road. During the busy beach swimming season (July-Aug), parking costs around 500yen to 1000yen per day.

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 this section of coast 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 (Otaru; 6323-3) is available here.

Official Topo Map: Otarutobu (小樽東部) – map no. NK-54-14-13-4
Official Topo Map 2: Otaruseibu (小樽西部) – map no. NK-54-20-1-2
Official Topo Map 3: Yoichi (余市) – map no. NK-54-20-1-4

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

Whereas the Ranshima-Shioya section has plenty of options for escape should anything go wrong, the Shioya-Shukutsu section along the Otamoi Coast is much more remote. There are sections of up to 6km where escape from the sea is nearly impossible – think 120m high cliffs straight into the sea and/or steep bluffs. Any coast access to these eastern sections is via closed-to-the-public trails that are no longer officially maintained. Also note that the Otamoi Coast cliffs are rough conglomerate rock – rockfall is commmon, so take care when approaching cliffs. As is the case with most Hokkaido sea kayaking routes, this section of coast is exposed to the open sea.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shioya-Otamoi Coast

Tide
Tide information for Oshoro

CampSites

None
Onsen nearby

The large Yu-no-Hana Onsen Temiya 湯の花温泉手宮殿 (770yen, location) about 3km south of the Shukutsu take-out/put-in is the ideal spot for a post-paddle soak. There’s a massive restaurant/relaxation area on the second floor.

Extra Resources

Yamakei Sea Kayaking Map (Yama to Keikoku, 2005), p. 20-23.

Guide Options

Try contacting Blue Holic Sea Kayaking – they’re the oldest and most experienced sea kayak tour company in the area and know it very well.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

The weather forecast was showing extremely settled weather on the Saturday morning, from about 4am till 1pm. Beyond 1pm, it looked like the southwesterly would be growing stronger.

“Let’s shoot for 5am on the water,” I messaged to Timbah and Ben.

To facilitate the early start (including shuttling cars to the take-out at the Otaru end), we all decided we’d try to get to Ranshima Beach on Friday night after work. The plan was to camp on the beach.

We all converged upon the beach at dusk, at around 7;30am. Unfortunately, the public toilets we’d hoped to use were still closed. Furthermore, everything was roped off. Carparks, camping areas…everything. There was a distinct pre-season ‘keep out’ vibe. This dampened resolve to set up tents. We drove around the area a little, to see if there was somewhere a little more suitable for bedding down for the night. This turned up a blank, so we ended up back at the eastern end of Ranshima Beach. It was almost dark now.

Timbah and Ben had their own cars, set up for sleeping in them. Haidee and I only had our tent. So under the veil of darkness, we set up the tent, resolved to the likelihood we’d not be able to leave it set up for the weekend as we’d hoped.

It was windy that night. Haidee and I slept fitfully. The 3:30am alarm was jarring. But it was already light outside. It was time for action.

In the quiet of the morning, we unloaded the kayaks from the cars, and then all drove to the take out. We left two cars there, and drove back to the put in at Ranshima Beach. The sun had broken over the Oshoro Peninsula. It was hot. It was going to be a scorcher of a day. I had intended to wear my drysuit, since the water was still quite cold. But I knew I wasn’t going to last very long in that heat, wrapped in a sweat-suit.

Heck, Timbah was half-naked, going for a swim.

By the time we got on the water, it was about 5:30am. The sun had already been up for two hours. The reality of Hokkaido summers.

Immediately, we were taken aback at the gorgeous coast on the Oshoro Peninsula. Magnificent rocky cliffs, beautiful inlets, majestic views west along the Shakotan Peninsula.

Rounding Ryuga-saki point, the cliffs only got higher and more impressive. We were dwarfed.

From Ryuga-misaki we made a beeline for Shioya Bay, via Momo-iwa, another towering outcrop of a rock. The sea was clam, so we were able to sneak through the low-tide zones, threading through and over what would later that day become rock pools.

As we approached Shioya Bay, Timbah and Ben pushed on across the bay to the small beach just before Tate-iwa, while Haidee and I dropped in on Kato-san at Blue Holic, the legendary sea kayak tour operation at Shioya Beach. It was great to see Kato-san again, and to our surprise we also met Zak, the American trainee outdoor guide who we’d met on the last day of our 8-day Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse hike last year.

We didn’t stay for long, as we knew Timah and Ben were ahead of us. We said our greetings and went on our way. We found Timbah and Ben a few minutes later, already paddling around the shallows with dive goggles on, amazed at all the sea life.

“Sea urchins everywhere!” beamed Timbah.

Early on in this scorcher of a sea kayaking day, I realized I’d forgotten to pack my sunhat. I wore my Palm buff for a while, but with no sunshade, I was suffering. So, with judicious use of an inflatable Palm paddle float we were carrying, plus the buff, I fashioned myself the most styling hat of anyone on the trip. Pure class.

We were now at the highlight section of this 20km of coast – the epic Otamoi coastline. Arches, caves, cliffs. It was all a bit mind-boggling. First, the arches. We had hit things right at high tide, so we were able to paddle through both of them. All incredible in their own right.

And then the caves. We had to wait our turn to paddle into the most famous one – the Blue Cave 青の洞窟. A mid-sized tour boat, to our surprise, drove right into the cave, and then came out facing forward again. It’s a huge, beautiful cave. My GoPro didn’t like the darkness in the cave, so you’ll just have to go there and experience it for yourself.

Next up was the more exciting Sekiryu Cave 赤龍の洞窟. This one is deep. Narrower at first, but then getting wider the deeper you get. I was happy I had my head torch on hand.

By the time we’d pottered about the caves and cliffs, time was getting on. Curiously, despite the forecast for a southerly, we were experiencing a strengthening northwesterly.

“Perhaps the wind is wrapping around the peninsula,” proffered Timbah.

We now had a strong following wind, so we put our heads down and started to make miles.

Earlier in the day, however, I’d been chatting with Tomo from GoneSki. He lives a few minutes walk from the Otamoi Coast in Otaru, so I mentioned to him that we’d be in the area.

“I’ll see if I can meet up with you guys at some point with my SUP,” he replied.

Sure enough, as we rounded the last point on the cliff-bound section of Otamoi Coast, and made our way to the small stony beach under the old ruins, there he was bobbing on the ocean on his SUP.

We pulled up on the beach and spent the next 20 minutes or so chatting and catching up. The last time I’d hung out with Tomo was on a mid-winter mission to ski a gully from Akaiwa-yama to the ocean, on this very coast (yet to be written up).

By the time we got on our way again, the northwester had stiffened even more. Tomo only had a few hundred meters to go on his SUP, whereas we still had about 6km to go. It was a lively down-wind paddle for the remainder of the Akai-iwa portion of the route.

Still dwarfed by the coastal bluffs and cliffs, we were now in the scorched earth section of the coast.

We made good progress westwards with the wind at our back. The Hiyori-yama Lighthouse was a sight for sore eyes, as we knew this marked only a few hundred meters to go to our destination.

Confirming just how curious the following wind was, as soon as we rounded Takashima-misaki cape, we were greeted with a very strong southerly. A very stiff westerly in the lee of a southerly is what we were experiencing on this Otamoi coast. Curious indeed.

At the take out, there were hordes of tourists, clambering around the shoreline, enjoying the sun. We took out, strapped the kayaks to our cars, and made a quick beeline to the onsen for a soak and food.

Post-soak, we had a leisurely dinner at the 2nd-floor restaurant (and nap), and then considered our options for the following day. After some deliberation, we decided to head to a popular surf zone just west of Ranshima. 

“There’s also a little bit of beach where people camp,” Tomo had said earlier in the day.

The forecast was for some waves early in the morning, so at Timbah’s prompting, we decided we’d try to get out early. While Timbah has a lot of experience in sea kayaks, including in the surf, Ben, Haidee and I are relative beginners, so it would be a good opportunity to learn some more skills.

And it was indeed worth it. We set alarms for 3:30am on the Sunday. Sure enough, tides and swells aligned for some mellow surf action.

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Shioya-Otamoi Coast, or other waterways nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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Shioya-Otamoi Coast Sea Kayaking 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.