Rebun Island, Hokkaido

During my 3 years living in Japan I’ve been to many exciting and beautiful places. One of the most rewarding experiences was my adventures as a solo traveller on Rebun Island during the summer I road tripped around Hokkaido.

Rebun Island (“Rebuntou” in Japanese) is a very small island off the northwestern tip of Hokkaido Japan.  This tiny island is only 29km long and 8km wide! In the language of Hokkaido’s native people the Ainu, it is called “Repun” which means “island in the open sea.”  Its other nickname is “The Island of Wildflowers” because the island is dotted from one end to the other with alpine flowers during the summer months. This nickname drew me to Rebun Island like a bear to honey. Although this island is itty-bitty and most people in Japan have no idea where it is, I loved it and will always treasure the days I spent on this island. rebunisland

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.37.18 AMIn the right hiking circles Rebun Island is quite famous in Japan among outdoors enthusiasts, renown for its rich flora and the alpine flowers which cover most hikes. In particular I had heard very good things about a spectacular 8-hour hiking course which runs from the north of the island to the southern tip.  That was it though, that was everything I knew about Rebun Island before I went. The biggest problem planning a trip to this scenic hiking retreat was the utter lack of information in English. I was going where no foreigner I knew had gone before. I was on my own, with limited Japanese, a little traveling wisdom under my belt and most importantly a willingness to roll with the punches in the name of adventure. It’s journeys into the great unknown, like this one, that show you what you’re truly made of.

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WHAT TO DO ON REBUN ISLAND:

Hiking! Hiking! Hiking! This is what people come from all over Japan and the world to do on Rebun Island. There are several beautiful treks to do:

  • The 8-Hour Course: The most famous hike on Rebun Island. Beginning from the northern tip of the island at Cape Sukoton you hike almost the entire length of the island along majestic ridges, cliffs, beaches and forest trails. (Time Needed: 10 hours/Distance: 25km)
  • The 4-Hour Course*: If you want the beauty of the 8-hour course but lack the time, the 4-hour course is a beautiful and very scenic subsection of the most famous hike. It begins at the same place as the 8-hour course, Cape Sukoton, but ends halfway along the full course at the Hamanaka Bus Stop, from where you’ll take a bus back. (Time Needed: 5.5 hours/Distance: 12km)
  • The Flower Hike* (Also known as the Momoiwasu Course)The most popular trekking course which I highly recommend because it’s the path with most alpine flowers and spectacular views from the southern tip of the island! Starting from the Momoiwa Tenbo-dai to Motoji-toudai (Time: 3-4 hours/Distance:2.5km)
  • Rebun-dake Course: This is a course takes you to the summit of the highest mountain on Rebun Island Mt: Rebun. (Time:  Distance: 4.5km Altitude: 490m)

*I hiked the Flower Road on my first day on Rebun Island and the 4-hour course on my second day. I had originally planned to do the 8-hour course but once I arrived on the island I opted for the 4-hour hike due to unexpectedly injuring my knee just prior to my Hokkaido road trip so I could ‘play it safe’. I really recommend both hikes that I did and wish I had planned to stay one day more so that I could have hiked to the top of Mt. Rebun too. Be sure to budget a lot of time for the hikes as they are breathtaking and you’ll surely want to savour the magnificent views and stop for many photos. 

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HOW TO GET TO REBUN ISLAND

To get to Rebun Island in itself was daunting. Ultimately, after much research, I settled on a route. I returned my rental car in Sapporo, and from there bought a special discount train ticket from the Hokkaido Railway Company that could be used to Wakkanai and back again to Sapporo. The price for the “Direction 3 Discount Ticket” which is a roundtrip ticket that you can use to get to from Sapporo to Wakkanai during the summer was 12,200 yen. It is 100% worth tracking down this ticket booth located near the Tourist Information Desk in the Sapporo train station if you plan on taking a train to Wakkanai, as the normal price for a round trip is 20,340 yen (you’ll save over 8,000yen)! The ladies speak English and are very helpful answering questions. Be sure to bring a good book for on the train, it’s a long train ride which takes about 5 hours. (For more information about this train ticket click here)

Once you arrive in Wakkanai you must take a ferry to get over to Kafuka Port on Rebun Island. A roundtrip ticket on the Heart Land Ferry is 4,800yen. A one-way trip takes about 115 minutes. There are several choices for times to get from Wakkanai to Kafuka. (For more information on ferry transportation click here)

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ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION ON REBUN ISLAND:

I read legendary reviews of the Youth Hostel on Rebun Island. The price for a night is pretty standard for a youth hostel, about 4,000 yen per night. The staff is quite famous for their warm welcoming, and if you visit Rebun in summer it’s likely the staff will be waiting for you at the ferry terminal, shouting and waving a Momoiwasu flag! The location is breathtaking, right on the water (look for the red roof in the picture below!).

The biggest advantage to staying here it that the staff arranges a daily bus trip in the early morning to the 8-hour hike trailhead. If you’re planning to trek this hike, having that free transportation is invaluable. The hostel also serves breakfast, will make you a packed lunch, and serves dinner (all at an extra price) but extremely tasty!

After reading reviews I was both terrified and intrigued beyond measure. I knew when I booked it that I was either going to love it or hate it, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I’m happy to report I loved it, and already dream of going back one day! If you are looking for an unforgettable experience there is no place I would recommend more highly than the Momoiwaso Youth Hostel.  It’s more like staying at summer camp than a hotel though so be careful you’ll need boundless enthusiasm and lots of energy!  (To make a reservation click here

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BEST TIME TO VISIT REBUN ISLAND:

The best time to visit Rebun Island is indisputably during the summer, from July to late August. It’s a frozen and very cold place in all other seasons due to being located on the northernmost tip of Hokkaido, Japan. During the months of June, July and August is also when the wildflowers come out and transform the whole island into a hiking wonderland. I visited in mid-August and enjoyed the weather very much.

LOCAL SPECIALITIES ON REBUN ISLAND:

Thanks to the cold, clear waters around Rebun Island the seafood produced in this area is superb! Things you should try:

  • #1 Seafood Ramen: I am pretty certain that I will never forget the jumbo seafood in the seafood ramen I ordered on my first day! For the price of 500yen for a bowl, which was positively stuffed with delectable goodies, it was the jackpot of all ramen!

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  • #2 Sea Urchin: Be sure to try sea urchin (“uni” in Japanese) as Rebun Island is home to some of the largest and most delicious pricky little monsters in the world supposedly!

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  • #3 Grilled Fish With Miso Paste: This is a famous local specialty. A local fish (the name of which I forget, sorry!) which is grilled and then topped with a dollop of miso paste and green onions. Japanese tourists at the restaurant each ordered one of these so you know it’s something you gotta try! Om nom! IMG_1886 IMG_1889

For anyone visiting Rebun Island who stumbles upon this blog, I hope you have a wonderful trip and enjoy the beauty of this tiny wildflower paradise with it’s rolling emerald hills as much as I did.

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8 thoughts on “Rebun Island, Hokkaido

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing the information on Rebun island! I plan to return to Hokkaido and do more trekking and shall add the 8hr hike on Rebun 🙂 I fully empathize about the challenges in getting information in English for certain parts of Hokkaido that are less commonly visited, so am working to compile the information that I collected so that other people can benefit from the research: http://angelinahue.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/12-days-of-summer-in-hokkaido/ 🙂

    • I completely agree! I made it my mission this summer to gather as much information about my Hokkaido travels as I could, so future foreign visitors to this beautiful area wouldn’t feel so intimidated and be able to enjoy all the wild beauty it has to offer. I feel that it’s often overlooked by tourists simply because they can’t find information about it!

      If you enjoy hiking, another hike I highly recommend doing in Hokkaido is Mt. Rausu 🙂 https://wildheartwithasoftspot.wordpress.com/tag/mt-rausu/

      • I’m sure I shall be referring to your blog especially when I’m starting to research for my next trip to Hokkaido!

  2. Pingback: I Can Go The Distance – Rebun Island Day 2 | Wild Heart With A Soft Spot

  3. The grilled fish is “Hokke” which is the Rebun version of chan-chan-yaki (I think the typical style is with salmon), one of the best local dishes, and something I have yet to grow tired of. Good job tackling the 4-hour course with your bum knee, I sympathize with the situation! 90% of the beauty of the 8-hour course is in those first four hours… the only vista of note you missed is the Sky-Gorota-Sukoton shot an hour past (where you stopped in) Nishiuedomari. Winter is, however, amazing… and I probably prefer it to the amazing summers. Hiking free of those trail barriers makes all the difference. You can see my various pictures of Rebun here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7rebun/ And next time you visit, don’t skip the museum!!! :p

  4. Colette

    I really enjoyed your post and it was really helpful. I’ll be on rebun island for three days later in the week. I am going to do the 8 hr hike but was wondering if there are any buses that go to the start of the Mt. Rebun trail from the Youth Hostel. My japanese isn’t very good so that’s also a problem. Is there like a bus schedule online I could use.

    • Hi Colette, I hope you enjoy your trip to Rebun Island! Hmmmm, as for Mt. Rebun unfortunately I never made it up that hike so I’m uncertain about any transportation to or from the trailhead. If you say “Rebun-dake ni ikitai. Bus noriba wa doko desu ka?” You will be able to get your point across to the hostel staff (ray-boon-dah-kay knee ee-ki-thai. ba-su no-ree-bah wah doh-koh des kah) It means “I want to go to Mt. Rebun. Where is the bus stop?” The Japanese staff at the hostel will be sure to do their best to help you out! If that hiking plan fails the Flower Road hike I mentioned in the blog is truly stunning! Best of luck and I hope it’s a wonderful experience.

      • Colette, Mt. Rebun’s entrance is in Nairo 内路 which is along the route the youth hostel takes to get the hikers to Sukoton for the start of the 8 hour course every morning. I am sure they can drop you off along the way. The bus schedule for Rebun is here: https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D2477424_367_39052839 A word of caution, right now the “abu” (horseflies) have come out in numbers, and they are truly a menace. Japanese insect repellant is limited to 6% by law and they laugh at it. It takes 90%+ to stop them from biting (but they still land on you!). The 8-hour course is not affected until you get near the end at Uennai->Kafukai, which is when they will attack in swarms (naturally when you are too exhausted to defend yourself), so bring a pair of sweats / bug net for your head if possible and keep it in your bag. Most Japanese hikers aren’t affected because they wear long sleeves here year round. Mt. Rebun is pretty bad for abu the whole stretch until you get above the undergrowth an hour or so in – *if* there are strong winds. It has been cloudy/rainy for a week now, so odds are you will have nothing to see along the Mt. Rebun hike. There are no flowers there to speak of, and it is mostly in 笹 (sasa, aka bamboo). To put it bluntly, outside of winter, this course is a waste of your precious island time. Flower road, (forest road for the edelweiss which are still hanging on), or the 4/8 hour courses are the highlights of Rebun. Have fun!

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