Day 7: Shiretoko Natural Park (World Heritage)

Our Plan for the day
Our plan was to spend the whole day exploring Shiretoko National Park.
There are many sightseeing spots on the Shiretoko Peninsula, some of which have to be explored by boats. We intended to visit four of them, they were the more famous ones and all were accessible by road. Our targets were
  • Shiretoko Five Lakes
  • Kamuiwakka Hot Waterfalls
  • Oshinkoshin Waterfalls
  • Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point
route for the day

route for the day

The national park is one of Japan’s most beautiful and unspoiled national parks. Shiretoko was added to the list of world heritage sites in 2005 for the irreplaceable value of the peninsula’s ecosystem and biodiversity. It is home to a variety of wildlifes, including brown bears, deers and foxes. In winter, the peninsula’s coast along the Sea of Okhotsk becomes one of the northern hemisphere’s southernmost regions to see drift ice.

Our driving route up to Shiretoko National Park and back to our hotel for the night was about 150 km.

We achieved all other targets!!!

Breakfast at Tsurugu Resort

We had our breakfast at the same dining room where we ate dinner the night before. Breakfast was also a buffet affair. The breakfast spread was very elaborate, very nice and delicious. I would definitely put on weight if I went on eating like this every morning!

Shiretoko Five Lakes (知床五湖)

We had to meet our guide at 9. 45am at the Shiretoko Five Lakes car park, near the Park Information center. It would took us about 1.5 hour to drive from our hotel to the Five Lakes car park, so we needed to leave early from our hotel.

At 8.00 am we left our hotel and drove about 64 km before reaching the Five Lakes carpark. The journey took only 1 hour 15 minutes instead of the expected 1 hour 30 minutes. At 9.15 am the Five Lakes carpark was already crowded with many visitors, cars and buses.

Shiretoko Five Lakes Information Center (Mapcode 757 730 276)

Shiretoko Five Lakes Information Center (Mapcode 757 730 276)

Shiretoko Five Lakes was one of the must visit places to experience the unspoiled natural beauty of the National Park.These were five beautiful lakes surrounded by native forest.

In the centre, we studied the model of the five lakes to understand the layout of the place. There was a 800-metre elevated board walk and a 3km ground trail, they were constructed to allow tourists to gain access to the park and its lakes without destroying the eco system of this natural wonder.

Model of Shiretoko Five Lakes

Model of Shiretoko Five Lakes

Since we were early, we went to explore the elevated boardwalk. We understood that the boardwalk was electrified so that bears could not get on the boardwalk. This made it possible for tourists to move along the 800 metres boardwalk all year round.

800 metres elevated board walk

800 metres elevated board walk

When we reached the end of the boardwalk we saw a flight of wooden steps that led down to a ground trail. Entrance to the steps was controlled by a one way gate. This was to prevent tourists from the elevated boardwalk from getting onto the ground trail without a guide. May 10 to July 31 was Bear Aware Season and the ground trail could only be explored with a guide.

Shiretoko Five Lakes – Board walk

Shiretoko Five Lakes – Board walk

As we could not go farther, we turned back and went to the information centre to look for our guide, Yurali. The fee for a guide accompanied walk on the ground trail was ¥50000 per person for a group of at most 10 people. As part of the services, Yurali had prepared boots and raincoats for all of us to be used if it rained.Our group had four other Japanese tourists and Yurali had already informed me at the time of my reservation for the guided walk that she would conduct the tour in Japanese. English guided tours were available but the timings were not suitable for us, so we still decided to go with Yurali.

Yurali led us to a briefing room in the information center. She gave a 20 minutes briefing on the cares we had to observe when walking on the ground trail. She talked about the possibility of bear sighting and how we should react, she kept repeating that the animals were the habitants of the park and we were merely visitors so we must repect them, etc. We were told explicitly that when we saw a bear we were to stop taking photo and follow her instructions to get away. All the talk about bear sighting heightened our anticipation of a bear encounter.We were told that the 3km ground trail would required about 3 to 4 hours to complete.

I thought that to get to the ground trail we would have to walk to the end of the elevated boardwalk. Instead Yurali led us through another doorway in the briefing room that brought us to a different entrance to the ground trail.

Entrance to the ground trail

Entrance to the ground trail

Well, we trekked slowly for about 4 hours, on the way Yurali pointed out to us bear’s favourite food (skunk cabbage), bear’s treks, bear’s claw marks on trees (bear are good climber) and bear’s poos, sadly we did not catch sight of any bear or even a baby bear.

One of Shiretoko Lakes

One of Shiretoko Lakes

We trekked through all the five lakes and each lake looked different from the next. Their sizes were different and their backdrops were different but all five were very tranquil, very beautiful, and very peaceful.

hj-d07shiretokolake2

The other four Japanese locals in our group were three old mans and one old woman. Though we could not speak a common language with the other four members in our group, we still managed to somehow communicate. We showed each other our scenic shots, we pointed out interesting flora and fauna, we helped each other to take photos, we guided each other through muddy patches etc. So by the end of the four-hour walk we already established some form of comradeship.

Birds sighting at the Lakes

Birds sighting at the Lakes

At about 2 pm we were done with the ground trail. To exit the ground trail, Yurali led us to the bottom of a stair that would bring us up to the elevated broadwalk. We walked up the steps and passed the one way gate and left the ground trail behind.Yurali said goodbye to all of us and we went our separate ways.

Six of Us

Six of Us

Deer Sighting at Shiretoko

There were many waterfalls on the peninsula but many of them could only be seen from the sea. We did not want to take a boat rides so we decided to visit only those falls that could be seen on the land. The first fall was Kamaiwakka Hot Falls, it was located further into the peninsula about 11 km from Shiretoko Five Lakes.

route to Kamuiwakka Hot Falls

route to Kamuiwakka Hot Falls

While driving along the windy road toward the fall we encountered Bambi in the wild!!! I was so enchanted by them, there looked so adorable. They stared at me with those doeful eyes as they nested in a bed of tiny white flowers. The two deers were resting on a downward slope which was on the left side of the road. I could have missed them as they were not very obvious from the road level.

Shiretoko Deers

Shiretoko Deers

Kamuiwakka Hot Falls

The falls could be seen on the road, in fact the road actually crossed the falls. There were a few people walking upstream on the bed of the falls. Though the slope looked gentle and the water did not look very thick, I still felt that it would not be wise to walk on the bed.

Kamuiwakka Hot Falls (Mapcode 757 855 178)

Kamuiwakka Hot Falls (Mapcode 757 855 178)

I stood by the road side to take a couple of shots. I wondered why this falls was called a Hot Falls, the water did not seem hot at all.

Though it was not the end of the road, we decided not to drive further inward. So far besides the two deers that we spotted earlier that made the drive interesting there was not much scenery to be seen. The road was cut into the sides of a hill with a upward slope on one side and a downward slope on the other. Beside tall trees, leaves and grasses on both slopes there was not much to see. So we turned to drive back to town, Utoronishi.

Red Fox sighting

As we drove along the road, I thought I saw a dog from far walking towards us. We slowed the car to a stop and waited for animal to approached. The light footed creature moved from one side of the road to the other apparently seeking for something in the bushes. When it was near we could see that it was a scrawny looking red fox.

Red fox walking on the road

Red fox walking on the road

We quickly winded down the windows to take photo of it. We held our breath and wondered if it would be dangerous to approach the red fox to take closer shot of it. The wild red fox did not seem to be afraid of us, it just skirted around our car and went upslope and out of sight. We continued our journey and drove on to where we had earlier spotted the two deers, and was surprised that they were still there.

A short distance from the deers’ resting place, we encountered another red fox ahead of us, it was moving along the downward slope beside the road. Occasionally it would come up nearer to the road level and we would see its head above the greenery. We slowed our car to be just in pace with it. After a while we realised that there were actually two young red foxes. My hubby got out of the car and walked closer to them to take photo. The foxes acted just like puppies, they rolled around on the road playfully.

Red fox puppies

Red fox puppies

At the back of my mind, I kept wondering if mummy and daddy fox were around somewhere, should I get my hubby to come back into the car. Knowing how much he enjoyed taking closer shots of these wild animals, I did not call him back but kept an eye on the bushes to look out for sign of movement indicating the presence of the parent foxes. As more and more tourists stopped to take photo of the foxes, the foxes felt uncomfortable and went into the bushes.We drove on feeling very satisfy with the events that had happened throughout the day. Seeing these wild and beautiful animals in the their natural environment had greatly increase our appreciation of Shiretoko Natural Park.

Oshinkoshin Waterfall and Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point

We had two more places to go before we were done with Shiretoko Natural Park. Though Yuuhidai Sunset Point was nearer than Oshinkoshin Waterfall, it was too early to visit the sunset point. So we drove on to Oshinkoshin Waterfall. There was a road diversion, an old road that would go very near the fall was closed, so we had to drive on the new road. Unfortunately on the new road it was not easy to see the waterfall, so we did not know where to stop. We overshot so we backtracked again and found a carpark which was just at the foot of the fall. This carpark was just after the tunnel (if coming from northward) of before the tunnel (if coming from southward).

map to Oshinkoshin Waterfall

map to Oshinkoshin Waterfall

After parking the car at the carpark we walked up some gentle steps to see the waterfall up close. The fall was much larger and beautiful then my expectation.

Oshinkoshin Waterfall (coordinates 44.036691, 144.933447)

Oshinkoshin Waterfall (coordinates 44.036691, 144.933447)

Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point

I did not prepare the mapcode or the coordinates for Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point because I kind of assumed that it would be easy to find. Unfortunately, when I reached the location as indicated on a sketchy map taken from a website, I felt that it was not the right place. From a photo I had seen, the sunset point was on a high ground.

On the moment I had to quickly search the internet for the whereabout of Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point. Unfortunately typing Yuuhidai Sunset Point on Google Map brought me nowhere, it was apparently not a google location yet. After 20 minutes of piecing information from several websites and by some trial and error we found Yuuhidai Sunset Point.

Yuuhidai Sunset point (co-ordinates 44.073557, 145.001604)

Yuuhidai Sunset point (co-ordinates 44.073557, 145.001604)

To get to Yuuhidai Sunset Point we should not be going to the port area. From the main road travelling north we made a right turn near the port and drove up a hill. This hill overlooked the port.

We drove till the end of the road and saw a campsite. Unfortunately there were no signage anywhere along the road pointing to Yuuhidai Sunset Point but we knew we were in its vicinity. We parked our car by the road side and came down to asked a security guard for direction. Since I could not speak Japanese I just showed him a picture of Yuuhidai Sunset Point and gestured to him for direction. He pointed down a walking path toward the direction of the port and in less than 100 metres we reached Yuuhidai Sunset Point!

We had to wait for about an hour before the sun began to set. By that time there were already a few tourists crowding around a small set-in where the best photo of sunset could be taken.

Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point

Yuuhidai (Sunset) Point

The sky was very cloudy, there we many layers of thick cloud over the sea. As the sun set we could see it casting redish golden rays downward. On the sea surface there were patches of bright golden liquid. It was very beautiful. Even after the sun went over the horizon we could still could see a layer of orange light over the sea.

Beautiful Sunset as seen from Yuuhidai Sunset Point

Beautiful Sunset as seen from Yuuhidai Sunset Point

Dinner

It was already dark when we started our journey back to the Kiyosato Town where our hotel was located. We would need about an hour before reaching our hotel and it would be near 9pm by then. We were not too sure if the restaurants would still be open since Kiyosata was a small town. So to be on the safe side we decided to drive into Shari Town (a much larger town near to Kiyosato) for dinner. The drive from Utorohishi town to Shari Town was very dark and quiet, we drove past farmlands and houses and we did not see a soul or car along the way. Since this was Japan, a very peaceful and safe country we were not worry at all. It took 45 minutes to reach Shari Town and we stopped at the first place that looked like a restaurant. The restaurant was called Bear Lake (熊湖) and it looked nice and bright. We had salmon and salmon roe with rice for two. Dinner costed ¥2258, it was a reasonable price and the food tasted very nice.

Dinner Place

Dinner Place

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