We are back from our summer holidays in the Niseko region of Hokkaido Japan!! Niseko has always been associated with powdery snow and winter sports, but its secret is really the tranquility, greenery and the amazing foods and activities during the summer months!
Not to be missed: The ever changing views of Mt Yotei; panorama of Lake Toya; fresh crabs and seafood in Otaru; fruit picking & ice creams; summer greenery and woodlands around Niseko
Day 1: Arrival into New Chitose Airport
By the time we landed into Sapporo Airport, finished at immigration and customs, it was 5.30pm. Luckily, the airport has a great range of restaurants and we didn’t waste time to sample some Hokkaido seafood before starting the 2 hours drive to our chalet, the Snowbird in Annupuri, Niseko.
Day 2: Explore Niseko Region | Annupuri | Hirafu | Kutchan | Niseko Town
We took it easy and spent the day driving around and exploring the Niseko region and checking out the weird, odd and daring architecture of some of the snow chalets around.
Day 3: Lake Toya | Sobetsu Fruit Picking | Shōwa-shinzan & Uzusan Ropeway | Windsor Hotel
We were very excited about fruit picking today! Near Lake Toya in Sobetsu (45 mins drive), there are many fruit farms where we could experience fruit picking. It was cherry season, and we paid our entrance fee for all you can eat cherries under the trees. The condition was that we couldn’t collect the cherries in bags or baskets to take home with us. We can only consume to our hearts content under the cherry trees!
The cherries were delicious – the higher up they were, the sweeter they tasted! The boys enjoyed the freedom of picking one and popping it straight into their mouths! As for the pits – it was okay just to spit them out onto the grass below! As you can imagine, it was super fun popping and spitting!
Very full from our intake of cherries, we went on our way to Shōwa-shinzan (the “new” mountain formed from the live volcano there) & the Uzusan Ropeway. We traveled up to Mr Usu’s volcano summit which offered panoramic views of Lake Toya, Shōwa-shinzan and the ocean on the other side. The boys were such troopers and walked and climbed the entire length of the boardwalk all by themselves.
In order to appreciate the beauty of Lake Toya, we went all the way up to the Windsor Hotel which had amazing sweeping views of the lake with Mt Yotei as its background. It was truly breathtaking! It cannot be missed! If we had more time, we would’ve stayed to enjoy the view with some nice afternoon tea at the hotel!
Day 4: Shakotan Peninsula | Uni Farming | Shimamui Coast
An hour north is the start of the Shakotan Peninsula (42 km long) which boasts a stunning coastline of blue clear waters and a region for uni (sea urchin) farming. It is a worthwhile scenic drive especially with a stop at the famous uni restaurant Misaki (NB. the uni rice bowl and mixed sashimi set are limited to one bowl per person). The boys enjoyed their own uni & ikura rice bowl (they do have a grilled fish set good for kids as well).
Around 10 minutes out from Misaki is the picturesque Shimamui Coast. Because Misaki only allowed one bowl of uni rice, we sampled another bowl here with a sampling of grilled abalone. For the more adventurous, you can also hike to Cape Kamui and enjoy the coastal scenery along the way. It was definitely a leisurely driving day.
Day 5: Otaru
Of all the previous times we have visited Otaru, it was raining or overcast. We were blessed today with sunshine and bright blue skies. The first call of business after the 1.5 hrs drive was to visit the Sankaku seafood market just outside Otaru Station.
It’s a tiny market with several seafood shops – we picked the first store closest from the entrance when you come in from the station. We negotiated the price of a live crab (2.5kg), part to be grilled, part to be boiled and 2 legs for sashimi. To accompany our crab, we ordered some abalone, scallops, clams, oysters, shellfish and sweet prawns – all sashimi please! For the boys, we also ordered them a grilled salmon rice set as they always need some carbs!
Satisfied with our indulgence, we set out to explore the Otaru canals (excellent photo opp), the alley ways as well as spending quality time doing some shopping along their famous shopping streets and eating green tea ice cream.
We cannot leave Otaru without visiting one of their sushi restaurants along the Otaru sushi street. As the one we used to frequent was closed for holidays, we tried Asahizushi (旭寿司). You really cannot go wrong when you are in the sushi capital of Japan!
Day 6: Niseko Village | Milk Kobo | Tofu at Mikkari Village
We checked out the summer activities at “Pure” Niseko Village and enjoyed lunch at one of the village restaurants, Yang Shu Ten. Our boys are a bit young to participate in many of the activities (especially the Tree Trekking which looked awesome!) so we will need to come back on another holiday and spend at least a day here!
We did however find the horses in the lower fields – Joshua was brave enough to feed them and take a horse ride; but Jayden’s bravery stemmed only from around 5 metres away!
On route back, we stopped by Milk Kobo for some genuine Hokkaido milk ice cream! There’s also a huge field, a tractor and a bail of hay for the boys to exhaust themselves after all that sugar rush!
Once we’ve calmed down and somewhat tired ourselves, we went looking for the tofu shop at the Mikkari Village. The silken tofu there is made from the spring waters of Mt Yotei, and there is a spring next door with taps where people come to bottle the water to take home. The water was so clear, fresh and a little on the sweet side – who would’ve thought water can be so yummy! The tofu shop had a tasting table, and due to that, we may have bought way too much tofu goodies!
Day 7: Snowbird | Hiking | Summer Activities
Took it easy on this day. We enjoyed our tofu goodies during lunch at the Snowbird. Then, we went for a hike in the woodlands under the Annupuri mountains followed by more ice cream and running around at Milk Kobo! We tried out hand at fishing at Saison Club but ended up feeding the fishes instead!
Day 8: Drive to Airport | New Chitose Airport
After a relaxing brunch at the Snowbird, we drove back to the Toyota rental office just outside the airport (around 2 hours drive) to drop off our car. Via a shuttle bus, we were taken back to the airport (10 minutes ride) for check-in and last minute shopping at the airport!
This is the best airport anywhere for last minute shopping of all things delicious and Japanese! You want to bring home a large crab, sea urchin, salmon fish roe, prawns?? Why not? They will pack it for you for your flight!
Airlines: Hong Kong Airlines – this was our first time on HK Airlines and we were pleasantly surprised! Other than the fact that the airfares were half the price of Cathay Pacific, the air crafts were new, the crew was attentive and polite and the entertainment system had limited but a good selection of current movies and TV shows.
My only complaint would be that the food was quite bad and the drinks selection was limited. However, we had the foresight to buy some Bento boxes at the airport to bring on the flight so we enjoyed a delicious meal on route back.
An extra bonus was that the boys could continue playing on their Ipads throughout the flight – there was no need to turn them off during take off or landing! No disruptions meant some peace for us!
Accommodation: Snowbird at Annupuri Village, a large 4 bedroom 3 bathroom luxurious chalet with an enormous open deck and greenery all around. It was idyllic and perfect for the boys to run around and explore.
The Annupuri Village concierge service looked after us extremely well from booking our car, restaurants, buying our groceries before we arrived, making recommendations to answering all our questions before and during the trip. They were extremely responsive, helpful and their English was very good.
Restaurants: Given that summer months are considered low season, many of the restaurants close unless there are bookings. As such, the concierge service gave us excellent recommendations and made bookings with those restaurants we wanted to try.
Karabina – 2 doors down from the Snowbird, this cozy tree-house Izakaya restaurant was a delight (don’t miss the clams, grilled fish, pork and the stewed beef!). The dishes are tapas size so it allowed us to sample so many things on the menu!
Loft Club – We love Japanese BBQ!! Their specialty is the local fresh lamb – though not our favorite meat, it turned out to be quite tasty! We also sampled the Hokkaido marbled beef and a variety of Japanese sausages downed with some local sake! Come here expected to feast on meat!
Hanayoshi – Best sushi place in the Niseko region and that’s no lie! They offer fresh seafood of the season, and the barra chirachi was the best we’ve had for a long long time.
Kamimura – With my mom babysitting, we completed the 9-course degustation at this French fusion Michelin-starred restaurant. The chef, trained with Tetsuya in Sydney, showcased the exquisite flavours of the Hokkaido region.
Car Rental: Through the concierge service, we booked our car through Toyota Rent a Car. It was worth it as we got a very generous discount by booking through them – which I wouldn’t have gotten if I just booked online myself!
Driving in Japan is a breeze – all thanks to their awesome GPS system which are installed in each car. There is no need to fuss, so long as you have the phone number of where you are going (or near where you are going), the GPS will be able to direct you! Piece of cake!
Wifi Router: We can’t travel without a wifi router anymore! It ensures we are connected but it also allows the kids to enjoy their Ipads whilst on long car rides (and during long dinner services). We use Telecom Square which has served us well the number of times we’ve traveled to Japan.
On top of that, they also deliver the wifi router to my office the day before, and pick up the day after – this means I don’t even need to lift a finger!