Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Sapporo City, it is easy to forget that just half a day’s bike ride away is one of Japan’s most pristine volcanic lakes. This past long weekend we combined a bike ride to the lake with a hike up the 1,030m active volcano, Mt Tarumae.
With her new job, Haidee now lives in Muroran city, about 2 hours train ride from Sapporo. Conveniently, Lake Shikotsu is more or less half way between Sapporo and Muroran, so the plan was for her to cycle north, and for Dirk and I to cycle south, and meet in the middle at Lake Shikotsu.
The ride for Dirk and I from Sapporo is one I’ve done a few times now. But the lake never fails to deliver the awesome views.
The lake is normally a deep blue color, but with recent heavy rainfall, the lake on this day was emerald green.
Lunch was fresh grilled trout…local fare all around.
We made fairly good time across the hills to the lake, so after a leisurely lunch, we joined the throngs of tourists at the popular Shikotsu-ko Spa area for some sightseeing.
Haidee made very good time after cycling uphill into a headwind most of the day, making it from Muroran to Lake Shikotsu by 2:30pm. We killed some time till the 4pm checkin time at the Morappu Tarumae-so riders’ house, and spent the rest of the night relaxing.
Next morning we were away by 8am, in order to meet another 6 friends who would meet us at the trailhead to Mt Tarumae at 9:30am. We had a 7km uphill ride from the riders’ house to get there. Despite the uphill we were happy we were on bikes, enjoying the autumn colors and forest light.
It transpired that the two cars with the others would end up arriving 30 minutes late, by which time the highest-altitude car-park was full. They had to settle for the lower carpark which necessitated an extra 45 minute walk. This meant that the cycling trio started up the hill ahead…
Reveling in the early clear views…
Including the smoking cork protruding from the floor of Mt Tarumae’s very active-looking crater.
Apart from the smoking depths of the crater, among the more curious curiosities was a couple hiking with their intrepid chihuahua.
The view was equally enticing…
And the wait for the other hikers in our group allowed for some relaxing downtime.
By the time the others had arrived an hour later, however, cloud cover had increased and the wind had picked up, requiring all layers on deck.
The way down was the kind of wind-speed that gets the heart pumping.
So much so that we wondered if the chihuahua made it off the mountain by means other than flying…
Luckily for the whole troupe, the views on the way down were just as spectacular as on the way up.
Leaving the others with their 45 minute walk down the gravel road to the lower car park, Haidee, Dirk and I jumped on our bikes for a fast downhill ride to Shikotsu Spa, where we would meet up again for an onsen hotspring.
We somehow managed to miss the others at the onsen, and only ended up seeing them again once they were finished…in the mean time, while we thought we were still waiting for them to arrive at the onsen, we managed to see a taiko drum performance in the spa town center.
It was dark by the time we made the 4km bike ride back to the riders’ house…exhausted from a very full day.
Riders’ houses, by the way, are cheap, quite basic, but perfectly nice accommodation aimed primarily at travelers on bicycle or motorbike, but also people who travel by car on a budget. They are generally no more than 1,500yen a night (around US$15). The Morappu Tarumae-so is one of the better ones we have stayed in in Hokkaido.
The next morning, a public holiday, Haidee headed back south to Muroran, and Dirk and I headed north to Sapporo. Dirk and I took the awesome forestry roads originally scouted by Rick…one of the most enjoyable easy downhill forest gravel routes in Hokkaido, connecting Lake Shikotsu with Chitose City.
All in all an awesome and varied weekend out before the snows hit Hokkaido again for winter!