located on the northern most island of hokkaido, shiretoko national park is a large natural preserve that remains mostly undisturbed by man. its name derived from the ainu (the original people of hokkaido) word meaning “end of mother earth”, the mark protrudes out of the eastern side of hokkaido as a large peninsula. the quickest way to arrive at shiretoko is to fly into memanbetsu (女満別) airport. from the airport you can take a bus all the way to shari utoro (斜里ウトロ), the last stop being utoro onsen/utoro bus terminal. the bus ride will take about 2.5 hours and cost 3,000 yen. however, due to limited public transportation in hokkaido, the best option is to rent a car if you want to visit several places or if you have limited time. another great mode of transportation used by many people visiting hokkaido is hick hiking. don’t be shy. ;)
once you arrive in utoro you have a few options for lodging. you can stay at the utoro camp site for 300 yen, stay at a bed and breakfast type place with unisex shared rooms, which are called minshuku ( 民宿) for about 3,500 yen or you can stay at one of the various hotels in town for prices up to 20,000 yen per night. i stayed at minshuku bonzu home (ボンズホーム 0152-24-2271 -broken english), which was very clean and served great food (for extra money). be aware of national holidays as it can get crowded, otherwise just show up and you should get a room anywhere.
another option is to stay at iwaobetsu youth hostel (岩尾別ユースホステル 0152-24-2311-good english). this location is especially great if you plan on hiking up to rausu-dake (羅臼岳). you can take the first bus up to iwaobetsu onsen (岩尾別温泉), which is the start of the trail or you can simply walk the 40 minutes it takes to get there.
on the way to the trail head from the youth hostel, you will see many deer. sometimes brown bears come down to the stream to feed on fish.
the start of the trail is behind the hotel. make sure to sign the registration book in the box. there are brown bears in the area, so take the necessary precautions. a bell is required, bear spray is suggested. there is even a portion of the trail that warns about frequent bear sitings. when i climbed to the peak somebody saw a bear the day before. please, be bear safe, especially if you are camping. the major camp site at the top 0f the mountain has a large food box, while other camps have ropes strung between trees at a safe distance from the camp.
if you plan on doing the shiretoko traverse, be aware that during the summer of 2009 the decent from io-zan (硫黄山) was closed due to falling rocks.
make a prayer on your way up for good weather. just past the registration box.
the peak of rausu-dake is 1,661 meters (5,450 feet). from the youth hostel, a leisurely round trip with stops for photos and a few rests will take 8 to 9 hours.
on a clear day you will have great views.
you will also have some portions of the trail that just look great.
by the main camp at the base of the peak, rausu-daira (羅臼平).
from here, the last kilometer (3,300 feet) is steep, with numerous boulders (just follow the arrow marks on the rocks), and at times you will need both free hands.
unfortunately i reached the peak about 1.5 hours too early. the sky cleared up later and offered unhindered views for 360 degrees. it must have been awesome! even on a warm sunny day it will be cold and very windy at that altitude. dress appropriately.
coming back down to rausu-daira the sun started to break out.
even in mid august there is still a snow patch remaining close to rausu-daira. this is about the time that i realized i had reached the peak too early. oh, what could have been…
about half way down.
close to the end, after passing the hotel on my way back to the youth hostel.
more deer, this time young males.
another great place of interest in shiretoko is go-ko (五湖), a group of five lakes. you can get here by bus from utoro or the youth hostel. alternatively, if you rented a car, you can drive to this location as well.
there is a trail that goes around lakes 1 and 2 or around all five lakes. the longer route takes about 1.5 hours if you take your time and stop for photographs. it’s a 3 km (1.9 miles) hike. sometimes bears are seen in the area, as such no food is allowed in the trail.
just after the beginning of the trail, you can see all the major peaks in this stretch of shiretoko park. rausu-dake is the right most peak.
at times the trail consists of boards. don’t lose your balance or you will swallowed up in quick sand and never be seen again. actually you’ll just get your shoes muddy.
lake number 3.
the fourth lake.
another lake view.
here’s a view from the first lake on a foggy day during my first trip to shiretoko.
at the parking lot for go-ko there is also a trail that extends out into the park. take it for some great views of the mountains and ocean.
further west from go-ko is a yu-no-taki (湯の滝), or warm/hot water waterfall. you can only get there by bus from go-ko or the nature reserve center, which is located as you first enter the pricipal area of shiretoko national park between utoro and the iwaobetsu youth hostel. there are a couple of natural pools that you can get in and relax (wear a swim suit). you can even see some of the steam coming up from the water (about 29C, 84F). as many people do, you can climb up the waterfall. leave your shoes by the side and go barefoot! :)
this is the furthest you can go. it used to be the prime spot for getting in the water and relaxing. however, some rocks fell recently and the area is restricted while they work on the site.
another great activity is to take a sight seeing boat from utoro. there are different places that you can go, with various prices. you can go to the closest place for 3,000 yen, which will take just over 1 hour round trip. there is a bit further place that sometimes bears are seen at, you can get there for 5,000 yen. finally, if you want to go all the day to the end of the peninsula you can take a 4.5 hour trip for 8,000 yen. there is only one boat per day for this rout and it leaves in the morning. you take a boat ride, these are some of the coastal views that you can enjoy.
there are many caves along the rocks.
the ocean water by this water fall is of this color because of a mineral that is in the water coming down the mountain.
utoro is a fishing village, so you will see many fishing boats in various stages of unloading and preparing. if you want to see all of the action, make sure to be at the dock in the morning.
there was this really cool red tiled lighthouse, but unfortunately i couldn’t get up closer to take a photo. this was taken from a large rock on the docks that has stairs for easy access.
a nice view from the top of the rock, facing north.
playing around with black and white.
another great activity to take advantage of while staying in utoro is to rent some mountain bikes. you can rent them for 500 yen for 1 hour, 4 hours for 1,500 yen, or 8 hours for 2,500 yen. additionally you can go out on a tour of various lengths and skill levels for 3,000 yen up to 9,000 yen per person.
at night don’t miss the opportunity to take some great sunset photos.
video from the park.