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Friday, October 14, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 5) - Teshikaga

Teshikaga 弟子屈町 is home to breathtaking landscapes of farm land, two crater lakes, and active volcanoes. Famous tourist attractions in the town include Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo and Kawayu Onsen. The whole area is actually part of a huge caldera called Kussharo Caldera, and is one of the biggest in the world with 22 X 26km in diameter, slightly less than TWICE the size of Penang Island. About 65% of Teshikaga is part of Akan National Park.

This area has active volcanic activity, which explains the sulfur fumaroles and the highly acidic hot springs in Kawayu Onsen area. In Japan there are a few hell valleys, two on Hokkaido, and one of them is located here, at Mount Iou. I feel very excited visiting so many volcanoes today

Weather for this area today. And temperature is lower at higher elevations. 

Lake Kussharo - Bihoro Pass

Bihoro Pass 美幌峠 is a look out point with a whole unobstructed view of Lake Kussharo 屈斜路湖 from an elevation of 525m. There is a Michi No Eki at the pass, known as Road Station Gurutto Panorama Bihorotoge. We stopped here for toilet and snacks.

There's the elusive Abashiri Blue Beer here, and this road station is famous for Ageimo (Potato Dumplings) and this green-but-it's-not-macha ice cream. Guess what is the flavour?

The green ice cream is actually 'striped bamboo grass' flavoured. I find that it has that green herby smell, acceptable. The ageimo is very filling!

We just took pictures from the lower lookout point as our legs couldn't afford to bring us to the highest look out point. The after effects of climbing Kurodake is hitting us hard, LOL.

This place is windy and can get quite chilly.

Go up the stairs...... but we can't. LOL. It's quite a long walk and lots of flat wide steps. Our painful thighs are killing us.
We just walked to the left, to the lookout point for people in wheelchairs .

Lake Kussharo is the largest crater lake in Japan and the second largest crater lake in the world, after Lake Toba in Indonesia. The tiny island in Lake Kussharo, Nakajima Island is actually a volcano as well.

Lake Kussharo and Nakajima islet in the middle of the crater lake

Location of Bihiro Pass

Kotan Onsen

Initially, I wanted to book a private onsen in Kawayu area, but it turned out that it wasn't available on the day that we will be visiting.

Kotan onsen is a wild onsen right on the banks of Lake Kussharo. It is fabulous during winter when Whooper swans stay around the lake. Imagine sitting in the onsen, looking at snowy mountains and white swans swimming in the lake.. yeah.... so nice. But in Autumn, the swans aren't there.

Gender separated by a big rock that is actually passable if the lady wants to.
But men cannot pass to the ladies' side.
There are changing huts beside the onsen.

I wanted to try out this wild onsen. We brought our swimsuits with us, and this wild outdoor onsen allows swimsuits. But we saw some tourists (non bathing ones) walking around with their camera, my husband decided not to soak in the onsen. We were a bit too late, if we were here earlier in the morning, there are usually less tourists. Hehehe, we ourselves are tourists.

Location of Kotan Onsen

Sunayu Onsen

Can't soak our bodies, so we soaked our feet in the hot waters of Sunayu Onsen.

Actually, Sunayu 砂湯 is a sandy 'beach' area at the banks of Lake Kussharo. But because of the recent typhoon, water levels rose so high that we couldn't see the beach at all. During usual times, one could walk on the lake's beach, dig a hole and a personal onsen will emerge! Hot water just seep through the hole that was dug. Too bad, we couldn't dig any as the beach was submerged.

Soaking our feet is at least, some soaking, and it's the waters of Lake Kussharo. LOL.

Toilet and cafeteria is available here.

Location of Sunayu Onsen

Since we couldn't bathe in the onsen, and neither could we get a private charter onsen at Kawayu, we proceeded to a latelunch of Mashu soba. Too bad we encountered its off day! I so wanted to try out the handmade soba that is milled with an old fashioned water mill.

Soba Douraku was closed for the day! Love the water mill.

Mount Iou

Not feeling too hungry, we went to our next destination. The steaming smoking Atosanupuri, also known as Mount Iō (硫黄山)! If you are interested to know more about this volcano, please read here.

See this video , as we approach Mt Iou. It's really smoking! This video show it smokes in many places and not just where we were going.

Coming to this place requires a parking ticket. But this ticket is used for 2 locations, Lake Mashu 1st Observatory and Mount Iou. If a ticket is purchased at Lake Mashu then parking here will not need any payment.

We parked our car, and walked towards the smoking fumaroles. The smell of sulfur is in the air. Quite stinky, but so exciting! How often can I get so close to volcanic activity!

I felt very excited as I walked closer and closer to the smoking holes! I'm always excited about such things.

The place feels so barren... am I on another planet?

Suddenly the sky cleared up and everything looked clear again.... The restricted section has larger fumaroles.

The fumaroles were noisily hissing away, emitting hot gasses. These gasses were so hot that they can cook eggs. So, don't try to put hands or faces near it unless we want to roast ourselves.
Click on the video below to see our recording of the fumaroles.

The cafeteria and souvenir shop. 
Can't be watching those fumaroles for too long as we don't want to inhale those gasses for a long period of time, and our eyes have started to feel uncomfortable. So, we walked back to the cafeteria.

One of the things I must try here will be the eggs. These eggs are cooked over the steaming sulfur fumaroles. They do not taste like regular hard boiled eggs, but have a different aroma. It's very subtle and the egg whites have turned beige. Eaten with a dash of salt instead of soy sauce so that the subtle taste won't be masked. We bought 2 eggs for 200yen and it's worth a try.

This parking ticket is for Mount Iou and Lake Mashu 1st Observatory. 
Both places come with toilets.

Map to Mount Io's parking

Lake Mashu

Our last destination for the day before we head to Kushiro, Lake Mashu.

Lake Mashu 摩周湖  is well known for its colour. The water of this lake looks very blue, and even bluer on a bright sunny day. It is once known as the clearest lake in the world. The lake is just like Lake Kussharo, it's a volcano crater, which explains the steep sides. There are 2 main places to stop at Lake Mashu, 1st Observatory and 3rd Observatory.

We reached 3rd observatory first. Parked our car, crossed the road, climbed the stairs and we reach the viewing platform. Stunning! The wind is very stong here. It is 12C at this moment and my hands were freezing numb.
Lake Mashu 3rd Observatory. Quiet place.

Mount Iou and Lake Kussharo can be seen from here.
There is an amazing feeling of being so close to three volcanoes at one time.

click on the picture to see an enlarged picture of Lake Mashu
Map to Lake Mashu 3rd Observatory

Then we went to 1st observatory. Can't walk there, it's 3.3km away. Remember parking ticket was required here, and we showed the attendant our ticket purchased at Mount Iou. There is a toilet and a shop here. We didn't feel hungry and didn't buy any food.

Can see part of Mount Mashu's crater from this place. 
Map to Lake Mashu first observatory

Initially, I wanted to go to Mashu's Michi No Eki for Deer burger, but looking at the time, it's already 5pm, it's going to get dark pretty soon. We were behind schedule because we tried to cover Abashiri's spots for the day before. It's better if we quickly get to Kushiro and have a sumptuous dinner.

Both days we went without a proper lunch... but both days we had heavy breakfast at the hotel. Our tummies could last until dinner, but we also ate snacks in between. :)

The drive to Kushiro was scenic. We saw the 900 Sogen Grasslands, and cows were grazing on the hills. 900 Sogen Grassland is open to visitors, but only until 3.30pm. There is more information about this farm on Good Hokkaido Info. My husband accidentally chose a route that passed by Tsurui. If we were early, we could catch sight of the rare and protected Red Crown Cranes at Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary. It's getting really really dark and quiet......and every car that passed by was speeding.

If one ever needs to have a toilet break along this route, try going to Seicomarts. There are two along this route. There are no Michi-No eki around, and tourist spots are all closed by dark.

Today we managed to visit many places of interest. Quite an achievement.

Next... Kushiro, land of seafood!


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