Shiretoko Goko Cliffs Sea Kayaking

知床半島 | Sir-etok

Posted on Apr 25, 2023

Posted on Apr 25, 2023

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1 day(s)





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The Shiretoko Go-ko (Five Lakes) Cliff 知床五胡断崖 is a towering precipice on the coast west of the popular Shiretoko Five Lakes walkway. While punters line up in droves to board crowded, noisy, fumy cruise boats that sail at speed there and back, the sea kayaker can enjoy the myriad cliffs, overhangs, waterfalls, and caves at her own pace along this truly spectacular stretch of coast. With precipitous cliffs plunging straight into the Okhostk Sea, this paddle takes the kayaker past the impressive Otoko-no-namida Falls 男の涙, the remote and picturesque Iwaubetsu Bay, and allows fleeting views of the towering mountains in the peninsula's interior - in particular the rugged Io-zan 硫黄山 (1562m). Within the Shiretoko National Park World Heritage Site, this is hands down the best sea kayaking day-paddle in Hokkaido, if not one of the best in all of Japan.

We visited this route on Aug 12, 2022

The crew: Haidee and Saoka


Route Map

Need to know details


The Shiretoko Peninsula is at the very far east of Hokkaido, about a 6 hour drive east of Sapporo City. This there-and-back sea kayak day trip starts from the bustling fishing/tourist village of Utoro on the northwestern side of the peninsula, and follows the remote nothern coast for about 10km east.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

This Utoro Village side of the Shiretoko Peninsula is notoriously bad for coastal access by the sea kayaking public – most of the access paths are either roped off or are private accessways. Currently, the best independent kayakers can do is to scramble down the low concrete embankment off to the side of the sidewalk, around here. Note that the only public parking in the area is 2km south at the Utoro-Shiretoko Roadside michi-no-eki (location). When offloading boats and gear near the put in, keep in mind that Route 334 is a busy road, so make sure to keep boat and gear offloading quick and efficient, parking as far to the side of the road as possible to as to not block traffic.

Note that as per Hokkaido bylaws, sea kayakers (and other pleasure-boaters) are not permitted to use fishing ports (so, Utoro Port is not available as a put-in location).

Take-out Location: Google Maps

This is an out-and-back route, so the takeout location is the same as the put-in.

General notes

As mentioned in the blurb above, this stretch of coast is arguably one of Japan’s best one-day sea kayaking locations. Incredible awe-inspiring cliffs, waterfalls, mountain views, and a feeling of remote wilderness that is very rare in Japan. This air of remoteness is, of course, somewhat shattered between the hours of 9am and 4pm, however, as scores of tourist boats power their way along the outer coast to give their paying customers glimpses of said remoteness.

For the most part, the tourist boats keep well offshore, however, as they have to avoid the 100-300m long set nets that dot the coast. This means that while the sea kayaker can usually see the boats away in the distance, you’ll rarely actually encounter them, apart from at select locations such as some of the larger cliff-bound bays and waterfalls. Note that in the summer in Hokkaido, the sun rises at around 3:30 am. If the weather allows you to get on the water at around this time, it’s entirely possible you can avoid the majority of the tourist boats altogether.

  • Short version: If you’re not up to the full 20km return trip to Shiretoko Goko Cliffs, consider just going to Otoko-no-namida Falls (location) and back. These falls are arguably the highlight of the trip, and will make for a very nice, less committing 6km return paddle.
  • Kayak rental: Unfortunately, there are no outfits we know of that offer sea kayaks for hire in the area. See Guide Options below for guides kayak excursion options.
  • Shiretoko Peninsula and independent kayakers: The Shiretoko Peninsula has a somewhat sensitive relationship with independent kayakers. So much so that at one point in the past, there was a proposal on the table to prohibit independent paddlers from paddling on the coast there. Competing access issues were, and continue to be the point here. Local fishers view the coast as their workplace, and would rather not be bothered by clueless recreational paddlers. Large-scale sightseeing cruisers likewise would rather not deal with recreational paddlers getting in the way of tours. And most poignantly, neither of the above want to have the hassle of having to respond to recreational paddlers in distress. All of this is to say that as recreational paddlers, around the Shiretoko Peninsula, we need to be even more sensitive than normal to the right to the livelihoods of those who work on the coast. Be friendly, say hello, and give way to boating traffic. Stay away from set nets along the coast, and don’t approach working fishing vessels needlessly. There are fishing huts dotted along the coast, but in principle, it’s not acceptable for kayaks to land at or near them. Note that access to the water at the put-in location described above is not a right – any gravel access roads to the beach proper will be private property, so please be sensitive and compliant if you’re asked not to enter or use roads.
Route description

Set off from the stony beach just south of the Horobetsu River mouth, and paddle northeast across the small bay towards Cape Puyuni. The Horobetsu River mouth bay will be in the lee of any considerable swell, waves, or wind from the northeast, so don’t be surprised if conditions are somewhat different as soon as you round the cape. About 2.25km after setting off, you’ll pass the impressive Furupe Falls cove. This cliff-bound horseshoe-shaped inlet is but the first of many incredible inlets and bays along the route.

Another 750m along the coast is one of the main highlights of the trip – the Otoko-no-namida Falls (literally: Man’s Tears Falls). These impossibly beautiful falls originate not at the top of the towering cliffs, but from within the cliffs, gushing out of the very rock itself, falling straight into the sea. Tour ferries motor into this bay from around 9am in the morning, so we highly recommend a dawn start so you can enjoy these falls free from the scourge of the madding crowds.

2.5km on from Otoko-no-namida Falls is the beautifully remote Iwaubetsu Beach. Given a clear sky forecast, you’ll get great views of the remote interior peaks of the Shiretoko Range as you paddle into the bay. The general public is not allowed to drive down to the beach, nor are they allowed to walk down through the private aquaculture farm premises to the beach. If you do land on the beach, keep stops short, keeping to the southern end of the beach.

From Iwaobetsu Bay to Shiretoko Goko Cliffs, it is an extremely committing 10km-return paddle. It’s committing in the sense that the cliffs plunge straight into the sea. The kayaker will have open ocean on one side, and sheer, towering walls of granite on the other. It’s truly awe-inspiring, but a bad place to be if you need to get off the water in a hurry. Here and there there are small and large inlets with waterfalls and steep stony/bouldery beaches.

In the Shiretoko Goko Cliffs inlet, there is a small horseshoe cave that is fun to explore, so keep your headtorch handy. Return the way you came, for a full 20km return trip.


Route Timing
Trip time: 6hrs 30min


Public transport:

Utoro is accessible by public bus from Shiretoko-shari JR train station 知床斜里駅 (location). Take the Shari Bus Shiretoko Line from Shari Bus Terminal 斜里バスターミナル (location) just in front of Shiretoko-shari JR Station to the end of the line at Utoro-onsen Terminal ウトロ温泉ターミナル (location). As of 2022, there were seven buses per day from Shari to Utoro, the earliest leaving at 8:10am (see timetable information, in Japanese, here, and extra information in English here). From the Utoro Terminal, it’s a 1.5km walk northeast along Route 334 to the beach for the put in.

By car: 

The beach for the put in is accessible by car along National Highway 334 from Abashiri and Shari. It’s about 2km northeast of the Utoro-Shiretoko michi-no-eki うとろシレトコ道の駅 (location). There’s no parking in the vicinity of the put-in. You’ll need to drop your boats and gear at the put in, and drive back to the michi-no-eki, and then either walk or catch a taxi back to the put in.

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 charts) for Abashiri-Shiretoko 網走知床 (DH811W-01) is available as PDF download (buy online here). The scale is spotty though, with the entire peninsula in 1:260,000 scale, and only the main fishing ports included in small scale. The JHA/Japan Coast Guard 1:300,000 printed nautical chart for this area is Kunashiri-to Oyobi Fukin (W42 – buy online).

Official Topo Map: Shiretoko-goko (知床五胡) – map no. NL-55-30-16-3

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

As is the case with most sea kayaking areas in Hokkaido, this route is very exposed to the open sea. There is a large fetch across the Okhostk Sea to the northwest. Also note that escape options for this route are extraordinarily limited once past the Iwaobetsu River mouth. Any bays along the route are flanked by impassible cliffs. Sea temperatures in the Okhosk Sea are markedly colder than other areas in Hokkaido. Also take care when approaching and crossing any fixed gear fishery equipment along the route. There are a lot of set nets along the coast, many affixed to the cliffsides by enormous ropes under huge tension. If the swell and waves are up, these ropes can be extremely dangerous. The Shiretoko Peninsula has an extremely high population density of higuma brown bears. While it’s fairly unlikely you’ll see a bear on any of the beaches along this route, practice smart bear precautions when on the Iwaobetsu River mouth beach.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Shiretoko Peninsula

Tide information for Koiseboi (Utoro Nishi)


Onsen nearby

Our pick for post-paddle soak is the Yuhidai Hotspring 夕陽台の湯 (500yen, location). The name literally means ‘sunset hill hotspring’, as it sits high up overlooking the main Utoro township, with great views west towards the setting sun. The outdoor bath is small but nice.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

Arguably the most experienced around-Shiretoko guide is Shinya-san from Shiretoko Expedition (website). In addition to Shinya-san, there are a number of kayaking outfits that offer daytrips, such as the Shiretoko Outdoor Guide Center (website).

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Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

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 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…

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

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Shiretoko Goko Cliffs Sea Kayaking Difficulty Rating





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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.