It wasn’t our initial intention to end up this far east, paddling this section of the Shiretoko Peninsula coast. The original plan had been to paddle near Hamanaka and Nemuro on the Pacific coast – the main draw cards there were the seals and otters.
But, as we drove east, the wind and swell forecast just wasn’t looking good for safe paddling conditions on the exposed Pacific coast. It appeared we had driven out east for nothing.
And then we noticed on Windy.com that the northern side of the Shiretoko Peninsula (the Utoro side) was in a gloriously calm lee of the winds and swell. There was hardly a breath of wind or hint of swell forecast. So, at the last minute, we changed plans and headed even further east.
Saoka had met us in Teshikaga, and we set up camp at the Rausu Campground. This would be our base camp for two days of daytrips on the Shiretoko Peninsula – the Utoro side on day one, and the Rausu side on day two.
On the morning of arrival in Utoro, the first mission was to find where on earth we could put in on the coast. Even south of Utoro Port, the coast is buttressed by concrete walls alongside the coastal road. Eventually we found a chink in the armour of the coast, and managed to scramble down a concrete bank about 2km north of Utoro Port. Unloading the car was a bit stressful, as due to lack of parking, we had to double-park on the side of the busy road.
I would have posted photos of all this, and indeed I took a few. But unfortunately I took them on my GoPro which I lost to the sea the very next day on the Rausu side of the peninsula.
After we had all the paddling gear off the car and onto the pavement, I drove the car 2km south back to the Utoro michi-no-eki and then cycled back to the put in (we’d brought a folding bike for this purpose).
It was sweet relief to finally get on the water. For a World Heritage site known for its incredible coastlines, it’s a wonder there aren’t more facilities along this coast for independent paddlers.
Once on the water, our first port of call was the Furepe-no-taki falls. These waterfalls are almost 100m tall, dropping dramatically from high up on the cliffs above, into a secluded inlet.
To get there, we had to round two capes – Pyuyuni-misaki and Chikapoi-misaki. Rounding just these two initial capes thrust us into the full grandeur of this section of coast. It would only get better as we advanced northwards.
The feeling of exposure here was very real. Apart from the occasional cliff-bound inlet, the cliffs here simply disappeared into the sea. It was sea, and then vertical solid rock wall. We were very happy to be paddling with a day’s worth of clear and calm weather forecast ahead of us.
The next large cliff-bound inlet was where we’d find Otoko-no-namida Falls – literally, ‘Tears of a Man Falls’. We’d heard that these were impressive, but any description of them really doesn’t do them justice.
Spring water is being squeezed out of the very cliffs themselves, cascading down the vertical rock faces right into the sea.
Great amphitheaters of rock and water surrounded us. Being in a kayak, we were able to paddle right up to the water hitting the sea.
From Otoko-no-namida Falls, our next destination along the coast was the lonely Iwaobetsu River mouth beach. Along the way, we found the impressive rock-cliff-bound inlet of Poropinai. This natural amphitheater was a surprisingly accessible and inspiring spot for a snack. Due to the calm conditions and perfect timing with the tides, we were able to land and pull our kayaks up onto the rocks.
After a quick snack, we carried on. Iwaobetsu River mouth beach is not accessible by foot, so when we arrived, we had it to ourselves. As we approached, we had glimpses of the impressive mountains of the interior Shiretoko Peninsula. Chiembetsu-dake, Ioi-zan, and others were on display, cloaked in a deep green forest.
We landed at the far south end of the beach for a quick stretch of the legs before carrying on.
As we paddled the final 5km to our goal for the day – Shiretoko Goko Cliffs – the sightseeing tour boats started to overtake us. They were speeding along the coast, about 400m off the coast, powering from one photo-op to another.
They had to stay that far offshore because of the numerous set nets close to the coast. In calm conditions like we had it, we were able to safely paddle over the thick, high-tension ropes attaching the nets to the cliffsides.
The Shiretoko Goko Cliffs were a worthy destination for this 20km-return day paddle. The cliffs themselves were equally as impressive as the ones we’d seen so far. There was a u-shaped cave that we were able to explore. Once again there were cascades here and there where water oozed from cracks in the cliffs.
The scale of everything was simply mind-bending.
From the cliffs we faced a 10km paddle back to where we’d put in south down the coast. Merficully, the weather was still holding. No wind, and only a moderate swell. As the sun started to descend in the sky, we made our way back along the impenetrable coast.
We made good time back to our put in. We arrived just as the swell died down completely to a dead flat, almost glassy sea.
This would be in stark contrast to the following day’s paddle on the Rausu side of the peninsula…