After our amazing hiking experience yesterday, we decided to explore the canyon area around Sounkyo Onsen today, and the first stop we made was Ginga Falls, a gorgeous waterfall dropping from a height of 120 meters to the river below. Even though there were spaces for at least fifty cars and a half dozen busses, the parking area was almost empty, allowing us to walk along the river’s edge below the falls by ourselves. As we discovered by driving the length of the Canyon on Route 39, most of the balance of the sights are now inaccessible, even to hikers, as there was a major avalanche here not long ago, so the many other waterfalls and rock formations can no longer be viewed.
Afterwards we stopped in the small alpine shopping area right below the cable car, which was open…but just barely. It had the look of an out-of-season resort area, even though the summer does get very busy with hikers – it looked as if the true busy season was winter, when the skiers must come up here in force. We went to a small cafe for a drink, then headed back to Hotel Taisetsu. Tomorrow we will have a full day of driving, as we head to our next destination, the Shiretoko National Park, a peninsula on the eastern coast of Hokkaido jutting out into the Okhotsk Sea that has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Driving to Shari, Our Gateway to the Shiretoko Peninsula
We got an early start this morning, as we expected a fairly long drive to get to the far northeastern coast of Hokkaido, where the Shiretoko Peninsula is located. We found that the driving was easy after we began at about 8:30am, since one road, Route 39, took us from our start in Sounkyo Canyon almost to the door of the Grantia Hotel, an inexpensive business-style hotel in the small town of Shari, at the start of the peninsula, our home for the next couple of days.
We stopped briefly in Kitami, a bustling commercial center that is the first major town east out of the Canyon, not only because we needed petrol, but also because it was the first place that we were able to use our wireless internet hub in the last three days, since there was no reception anywhere in Sounkyo Canyon. Tali turned on the wireless as we approached Kitami, and then as we got nearer, she sounded like a lucky (and beautiful, too!) prospector striking gold – “It just started working – I’ve got one bar!” “Wait, wait, now I’ve got two bars,” she said excitedly, as we got closer to downtown Kitami. And then, as we got to the downtown, she uttered the magic words, “I’ve got three bars! Three bars! We should stop right away!” So I pulled off the road, and we both checked our e-mails. Honestly, I don’t know how I survived the last three days without seeing my latest Groupon, Vacationist, and Travelocity offers!
We were both ready to go in a few minutes, and we cut left, to the north, to drive east along the coastal road, which is a longer way to go, but one we hoped would be more interesting than the inland route. We came to a wonderful park that stretched along the coastline of the Okhotsk Sea – there were paths to walk through the sand dunes that ran down almost to the waters’ edge, and everywhere there was a riot of color from all of the blooming wildflowers scattered among the sea grasses! It was absolutely stunning, and we spent a lovely few minutes strolling the paths, along with a bunch of Japanese tourists with frighteningly large cameras photographing the beautiful still lifes, just as we were, with out little hand-held digital cameras.
We arrived in Shari, a much smaller town indeed than Kitami (with no wireless reception, by the way!), and checked into the Grantia Hotel. Even though our room is compact, it’s a clean, modern hotel, with the extra benefit of a very nice onsen available mornings and evenings to have a good clean-up and soak. We took a walk around town, to visit the Information Center to get a map of hikes and sights to see in Shiretoko National Park, and to see what restaurants would be available for dinner. We happened upon a nice park, with even more wildflowers, and what we thought might be a Buddhist seminary.
Tomorrow morning after breakfast we will drive east another hour or so to the town of Utoro, which is the entranceway into Shiretoko, and spend the day sightseeing and photographing.