Our Plan for the day
Our plan was to drive from Asahikawa City to Sounkyo Onsen and then to Lake Saroma. The complete journey would be about 200km. It would be a long drive and based on google map the estimated duration would be about 3.5 hr.
I had planned for two stops for sightseeing to break the boring journey. One is the famous twin waterfalls at Sounkyo and the other an onsen ( Onneyu ) town midway between Sounkyo and our final destination.
Sounkyo is situated at the foot of Mt. Kurodake, it is one of the largest canyons in Japan. It was formed by Ishikari River digging through the Daisetsuzan Mountains. Sounkyo Onsen is a touristy hot spring resort town in the north of Daisetsuzan National Park. It is located in a scenic narrow gorge that is flanked by 100 meter high, forested cliffs. Sounkyo Onsen offers a pleasant village center, onsen baths and two beautiful waterfalls nearby. This village is also a good base for walks and hiking tours into the national park with ropeway access to Mt. Kurodake.
We took about 1.25 hour to drive from Asahikawa City to Sounkyo Onsen. At the onsen we drove passed several big nice looking hotels, we were looking for a nice cafe where we could have our morning break. None of the place looked interesting so we kept driving up the road and ended up in the driveway of the Sounkyo ropeway station.
The ropeway station was a three storey building so we went in to search of a cafe. It was not in our itinerary to go up the ropeway, but since we were at the station we thought we might as well go up. Unlike yesterday there was no rain today so the sight up the mountain should be great.
At the ticketing counter we saw a a sign board stating that the ropeway was closed due to strong wind. Many tourists looked disappointed as they would not be able to go up the Mt. Kurodake. It was pretty ironic that when the weather was good the wind condition was no good. We weren’t really disappointed as the thought of going up the ropeway was an impulsive decision that was okay to discard.
No Taki (Waterfall)
To get to the waterfalls, we drove for about 3 km from Sounkyo Onsen to a turn off from the main road which lead us to a huge car park. From the car park, the two falls could already be seen. Ginga no Taki could be seen at the inner end of the car park whereas Ryusei no Taki at the start of the car park. The falls were also referred to as Otoko Taki (male waterfall) and Onnna Taki (female waterfall) for their contrasting appearance, and also jointly as Meotodaki (meaning “husband and wife waterfalls”).
From the car park we walked a few steps down to a boardwalk that bordered a river carrying the water from the two falls downstream. The waterfalls faced slightly away from each other so it was not possible for us to see both falls at the same time when standing at the car park level.
We knew that the only way to photograph the two waterfalls together was to go up the “Twin Falls Observation Deck”
We found a stairs that led up to the observation deck just behind the information centre that sat in the center of the car park. We had to go into the information centre and exit a doorway that led to the back to get to the staircase. At the base of the wooden stairs was a signboard stating that it would take 20 minutes to reach the observation deck.
The steps were rather uneven and steep and not easy to walk on. After about 25 minutes of tough climbing we reached an observation deck. From the deck we could already see both the falls clearly. The steps did not end at the deck, it went further up to another deck above. My legs were tired and I did not feel like going up. So we checked with those people coming down from the upper deck whether the view from above was better than that seen at the lower deck.
We were told that at the upper deck the two falls looked smaller and the view was not better at all. So we decided not to go up further.
We stayed at the lower deck for about half an hour, taking many beautiful shots. The deck platform was not very huge and there were a couple of people on the deck so we had to be careful not to get into each other way when taking the photos of the falls. It was cooling at the deck and we were reluctant to leave and face the long journey down.
I found going down more strenuous than going up. The steps were high so I needed to step down carefully to avoid twisting my feet. I had my camera tripod with me and it became my “walking cane”. After another 20 minutes we were back at the car park. It was about noon and the sun was high up in the sky and the weather was turning hot.
Onneyu Onsen was a hot-spring resort located in the northwest of Kitami city, midway between Sounkyo and Lake Saroma. My purpose of making a stop at Onneyu Onsen was to give my hubby a driving break and to visit the world largest cuckoo clock, the “Kamurin”.
We drove for about an hour from Sounkyo to Onneyu Onsen, by the time we reached the Kamurin it was coming to 1 pm in the afternoon.
We parked at a car park just in front of a square. The Kamurin was a huge and high structure that sat at the center of the square There were several buildings at the sides of the square and they were mainly souvenir shops, eateries, a woodcraft souvenir shop and an information centre. The sky was very clear and blue and the weather was very hot. Walking out of the car we felt as though we were entering into an oven.
We were just in time to hear the chiming of the clock at 1pm. A blue mechanical cuckoo bird came out of one of the doors on the tall structure. On the lower level, several mechanical little figures in yellow robes came out of another door and twirl around. Like the other tourists we were standing under the hot sun staring at the clock structure and appreciating the blue sky in its background.
We walked into the Kamurin and in it were some amusing games. No charges at all.
After the Kamurin we walked into a building behind the Kamurin that housed a wood craft souvenir shop. It had a huge collection of handcraft wood products. Unfortunately all the handcraft products were rather expensive so we did not buy anything. Basically the cheaper ones were not worth bringing home as for the better ones they were too costly.
We went into one of the cafeterias to buy two Hokkaido Milk Ice creams and went into the air-conditioned Information center to enjoy our treats. I was getting very addicted to Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream!
The distance from Onneyu Onsen to Lake Saroma was only 110 km and yet the journey took us slightly more than 2 hours to complete. It might sound incredulous but in Hokkaido the speed limit was really low (50 km/hr) if not driving on an express way. Unfortunately there was no express way that would take us to the lake.
Driving at a such a slow speed in a hot day under the bright glare of the sun made my hubby very sleepy. He had a hard time staying awake, so just about 45 minutes into the drive we started looking out for suitable stop for coffee break. We did not find one. Along the way we saw houses but no cafe. In the end I took over the wheel to give Yat Thong a break for a nap as I drove on.
I must say I had a really hard time driving at 50 km/hr. No matter how lightly I stepped on the fuel pedal the car just went above 50 km/hr. I had to lock my ankle and tilted my foot upward when stepping on the pedal. This constant lifting gave my right foot cramps. I managed to drive for only 30 minutes before giving up and passing back the wheel back to my hubby.
We arrived at Lake Saroma by about 4 pm and felt that it was too early to check in at the hotel. Our hotel was on the east end of the lake so upon reaching the lake we turn left to drive to the west end of the lake before looping back to the east end. Along the way we stuck to the roads that bordered the lake, passing villages and ports. We did not see anybody outdoor, there were no activities so there was no reason to stop, in less than 30 minutes we reached our hotel.
Our hotel was Lake Saroma Tsuruga Resort. I had booked and paid ¥22680 (about $262) for a night. The online reservation was done two months earlier so that we could get a twin room facing the sea at that “discounted price”. This price came with dinner and breakfast.
We decided to pay a bit more and pampered ourselves at this hotel. Since Lake Saroma was one of the most famous places in Japan for scallops and oyster, we were looking forward to eating them during the two meals at this hotel. The online reservation for this hotel was done directly at the Tsuruga Resort website and payment was made at the time of placing the reservation.
We arrived at the hotel at 4.45 pm and was informed that the air conditioning that served the rooms had broken down. So till sun down the rooms facing the sea would be very hot. When we walked into our room we felt like we walked into a warm furnace. There was one miserable fan blowing but it was quite useless as it was circulating only warm air in the room. The room came with full ceiling to floor window facing the sea. The view from our window was spectacular. The huge lake reflected the vast sky and the golden sun above. I would have been wonderful if the air-con was working and we could enjoy the sunset on the two low chairs that was placed in front window with a coffee table and a telescope.
Except for the “failed” aircon, the room was very huge and lovely and toilet was huge too. Too bad we could not stay in our room as the heat was very uncomfortable. So after we settled our bags we left our room to explore the hotel and its surrounding area.
Sunset at the Beach
Tsuruga Resort was on the eastern end of Lake Saroma. This was the biggest lake in Hokkaido, and the third biggest in Japan after Lake Biwa and Lake Kasumigaura. The lake was divided from the sea by a spit of sand deposited by the waves, but a depression in the bay makes a gap in the spit, letting sea water into the lake at low tide. The water mixed with the fresh water from the river, making it a brackish water lake.
We walked along the lake to view the sun set. The air was much cooler than that in our room. We strolled for about 500 metre round the lake away from our hotel and looped back.
The sunset view along the beach was even better than the view seen from our room. So in a way it was a good thing that we were forced out off our room or we would be too lazy to come and walked on the beach and would had missed such a beautiful sunset.
I found a huge log on the beach and went to sit on its to enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately I could have sat too close to some beach grass/vegetation and ended up getting a lot of insect bites on my feet. I regretted changing into my sandals for this beach walk. The bites were very itch and the insects were probably sand flies.
Dinner at the Hotel
After the sun set we went back to the hotel for the dinner. The buffet dinner was fantastic, there were sashimi, fresh scallop, oyster, escargot, there were pasta, lasagne, salad, ice cream, gelato, cakes, fruit, roast beef etc etc. The dinner looked even better than all the pictures I had seen when at the hotel websites.
In the dining room we had a great time sitting at a table just beside a full length window facing the sea. Our dinner came with the sea view.