Friday, July 30, 2010

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park 釧路湿原

Photos taken there were quite pretty and it was comfortable hike around the trail. Worth visiting if you are around the area and have never been, but visiting once is probably enough.

Kushiro Washo Market 釧路和商市場

Kushiro fish market is one of the three biggest fish market in Hokkaido and the other two being Sapporo and Hakodate. One of the famous offerings is ”As you like it" bowl 勝手丼, where you buy a bowl of rice (a few sizes are available) and pick your favorite sashimi ingredients as you go around different stalls in the market. Only mum managed to pick up her appetite after the previous night robatayaki dinner and did one small bowl. There were a bewildering choices of toppings, but mum set her eyes on the tray of ぶどうえび, which literally means "grape" prawn perhaps on the back of its purple color. There seems to be no English name for this prawn other than the long Latin name. For some really wonderful close-ups of them, please check out this website Mum picked two of them with the green-brown roes sticking to their underside. The flesh was firmer than the more common Botan prawns ボタンエビ and there was almost a sweetness in it. While they have eaten the same prawns in Tokyo Tsukiji market before, the ones in Kushiro were huge in comparison and they have never had the roes.

What You See is What You Get WYSWYG!! But then which ones to pick??

ぶどうえび "grape" prawn

”As you like it" bowl 勝手丼

Nabekyuu 奈辺久 in Lake Akan 阿寒湖

Part of the fun in doing fly-drive holiday without too much planning is finding places to eat. Mum likes to venture into different shops and start asking the shop assistants what their local favorites are. Other than their trip to San Fransisco which they had booked many restaurants prior to leaving Hong Kong, mostly they just relied on locals' word of mouth. That was how they ended up eating in Nabekyuu 奈辺久 for lunch. Dad was particularly impressed by its hot soba with shrimp tempura.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lake Akan 阿寒湖

Next stop - Lake Akan 阿寒湖. The most commercially developed among the three lakes in the area. Before they left the Lake Mashu area, they made a couple more stops along the way.

Iozan 硫黄山, literally sulphur mountain, gave the Kawayu area its ubiquitous bad-egg smell and the wonderful skin softening hot spring, one of the best, if not the best in terms of therapeutic quality among all the ones they have soaked in.

Lake Mashu Soft Ice 摩周湖のあいす - handmade soft ice-cream using the locally produced milk. Perhaps the most creamy ice-cream they had in a region famous for their dairy products. If you ever go to Lake Mashu, you should definitely give it a try.

The town next to Lake Akan is quaint and quiet and the whole place survives off the hundreds of tourists streaming through the town daily. A small stretch of the street is choc-a-bloc full of souvenir shops selling woodcraft.

Self-portrait wooden sculpture

Beautiful shop - felt like continental Europe
Foxy band - 狐バンド

Made famous by the movie 非誠勿擾 (If You Are The One)
Lake Akan - view from the ferry

Lake Mashu 摩周湖, Lake Kussharo 屈斜路湖

A 2-hour drive took them from Utoro to Kawayu 川湯. After checking into a hot spring hotel there, they rushed out to catch a glimpse of the sunset in Lake Mashu 摩周湖. A short drive from Kawayu through some windy mountainous road took them to the various observation points. Just below the third observation point where they parked, one could see Lake Kussharo 屈斜路湖 from afar.

Lake Kussharo 屈斜路湖 (view from Lake Mashu 摩周湖)

Lake Mashu was the most zen place of nature that they have been. There was a certain sense of mystic with the mist creeping out from the pool of water trapped inside a volcanic crater. Despite the long, long drive from Sapporo, it was worth the drive even if it was just to see Lake Mashu once.

Mum and dad went back there again in the morning.

Some people are more serious about taking photos than others.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂 Utoro Wife of Fisherman's Co-op Canteen

It's almost 3pm when we got back to Utoro and a lot of the places have stopped serving lunch. Before they left Hong Kong Airport, mum took a few photos from the pages of an Hokkaido travel guide. One of the shots was the address to this place with a weird name and the best thing was it stayed open until 4pm for lunch. It didn't take long to find once the GPS directed you to the nearby area. Three middle-age ladies were chatting in the restaurant when they arrived.

The rice bowls were nothing fancy, just fresh ingredients.

Another panorama taken with NEX-5

Kamuiwakkayu Falls カムイワッカ湯の滝

Before you visit Kamuiwakkayu Falls カムイワッカ湯の滝, you would read the various travel guides online telling you that the upper sections are all closed due to one reason or another and only the lowest section is still open. "What a shame, I have missed the ultimate hot spring experience." would probably be your first reaction.

When mum and dad got there, they decided not to venture up even the first section. Water was running down over the rocks. Walking up would be just about doable barefoot but walking down may not be fun.

Perhaps the ultimate hot spring experience is only for the dare devils.
Kamuiwakkayu Falls カムイワッカ湯の滝

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shiretoko Five Lakes 知床五湖

If you ask mum what left the deepest impression on her in Shiretoko Five Lakes, it wouldn't be the clear blue sky or the zigzag wooden structure leading out to one of the lakes or even the mirror-like reflection of the beautiful scenery on the lake. It would be...... BUGS!! And they were everywhere and they swarmed you as soon as you stand still for more than 2 seconds. They would look for any orifice in your body and decide to fly in. "Psssst....pssst...", imagine that.

Get off me!!
Somehow we didn't see much being said about these little flying pests in the same breath when the natural beauty of this place was mentioned.

Panorama shot by NEX-5, no more photo stitching

They didn't get to see the other 4 lakes but then given the bugs, not sure if they would enjoy hiking further.

Shiretoko National Park 知床国立公園

It was a short drive from the town of Shari to Shiretoko National Park and there are a few things sights  worth stopping by along the way.

Oshinkoshin Fall オシンコシンの滝 - unfortunately it was closed to visitors on the day due to landslide hazard. Despite that, it's a real tourist trap and the souvenir shop there did great business.
Oshinkoshin Fall オシンコシンの滝

In every corner of the earth, there are rocks which resemble life-like creatures. Lion Rock in Hong Kong is just one of those examples. But the proof of the pudding is when you travel past the object and think "my god isn't that a giant xxxx?" without ever learning it is there in the first place. The Turtle Rock in Shiretoko 知床の亀岩 had that effect on mum. Guess it's another good thing not to do too much research before you visit a new place. You can see the turtle in winter hibernation here.
Shiretoko's Turtle Rock 知床の亀岩

Sunny Hokkaido - why mum came back with a tan!

You're never far from local desserts and cakes.
Still need to look up what this might be.
They just missed a bus going up the National Park when they arrived at the Utoro tourist center. While waiting for the bus, they realized that only one foot path walking out to the Shiretoko Five Lakes was opened. All the other ones were closed because of bears. The bus ride up the National Park was reminiscent to the one in New Zealand's Doubtful Sound.

Hotel Grantia in Shiretoko ホテルグランティア知床斜里駅前

Mum and dad spent a total of nine nights in Hokkaido and they stayed in a different hotel every single night.  Even when they stayed in the same place, they would still move from one hotel to another. Guess there's no better ways to find out about hotels......
The room was spacious and modern with 2 single beds.
Bird's eye view from the window.

Hotel Grantia in Shiretoko must be the best value among all the places they stayed during this trip. For JPY 8,900 each, they got a room with a view of the beautiful JR station, the bird sculpture and the nearby mountains. It was also half-board, ie you get breakfast and dinner for the price. While breakfast was served in the hotel, dinner was provided by one of the nearby restaurants, which you picked prior to arriving at the hotel. They took the "red" pork shabu-shabu  サチク赤豚 しゃぶしゃぶ option for dinner. The servings were hearty and the locally produced pork was tender. The best thing was - you pay the same JPY 8,900 for just one person, ie no single-premium, staying in the same twin bedroom.

サチク赤豚 "red" pork raised in Shiretoko

Monday, July 26, 2010

Evening in Shari, Shiretoko

The sun was setting with its warm orange glow when they arrived at Shari 斜里 in Shiretoko 知床. The hotel where they were staying for the night was literally 1 minute walk away from the Shari JR Station, and the station did not look like any other JR station.

Birds form an important part of Shiretoko's heritage. The area supports 264 species of birds which account for 49% of Japan's total. Little wonder that the most prominent art piece in this tiny town is a semi-transparent sculpture of a bird made from wire.

Road trip from Asahikawa to Shiretoko

Waking up in Asahikawa, they headed for the a long day ahead of them driving. 294km between Asahikawa 旭川 and Shari 斜里 in Shiretoko 知床 via Monbetsu 紋別.

Their first planned stop was Sounkyo which was about 1 hour drive from Asahikawa. But somehow the GPS failed to recalibrate after they perhaps took a wrong turn. As if there was a conspiracy to stop them going there, all the road signs pointing towards Sounkyo also suddenly disappeared.

So they carried on driving. After making a quick pit stop, a tank refilling stop at one of the Idemitsu outlet and a scenic detour to Ryuhyou misaki 流氷岬, they were all feeling hungry. Monbetsu was only a short drive away. Crabs and scallops are famous there and from a leaflet they picked up from an earlier pit-stop, there is a whole street full of restaurants.

Will have to come back for this!!

It was just before 1pm when they arrived there. The town looked deserted and shutters were all down for almost all the restaurants along the street. It almost felt eerie. They found one small shop opened for lunch and it turned out that most of the restaurants only opened at night. While they would love to just sit down and eat there, but the restaurant only served a simple menu for lunch and they wanted crab. The owner was so kind that they called and checked if a crab restaurant nearby was opened.

Once they confirmed the crab restaurant was open for lunch, they walked over and climbed a steep flight of stairs to a small restaurant owned by a couple. They shared a deep-fried crab legs and a crab shabu-shabu among the three of them. It was a delicious lunch.

The 2 of them have worked together for 45 years in this shop!

The right way to eat crab - have someone do the work for you.

Everything cooked from scratch ......