Posts Tagged With: hiking on rebun island

I Can Go The Distance – Rebun Island Day 2

I have often dreamed of a far off place, a tiny slice of paradise called Rebun Island. In this reoccuring dream I’m standing at the top of a lush green craggy cliff which is covered in wildflowers of yellow, white and purple. I slowly lift my gaze to look out at clear sapphire-blue waters stretching endlessly out as far as the eye can see. I turn my face up to the sky to feel the warm sunshine and a cool ocean breeze comes out of nowhere making my hair swirl majestically the way it only does in dreams. I’m on a wandering path, but in that moment I know I’m standing exactly where I’m meant to be. That’s all the dream is, a perfect moment in paradise…but it’s enough to bring me a great feeling of peace. The best part of this dream is that it’s a real memory, which makes it all the more vivid.

Hiking and admiring the beauty of surrounding nature has always been my way of finding harmony in life. This hobby adds balance to my otherwise busy life and it’s a means by which I make my own happiness. Being surrounded by nature always feels so right, more so now that I’m an adult and spend most of my days caught up in the rush of everyday existence and to-do lists. In moments where I’m stressed I have taken to closing my eyes and recalling that perfect moment on Rebun Island.   The serenity in that perfect memory gives me strength.

My second day on Rebun Island I had originally planned to hike the famous 8-hour course. Unfortunately for me I injured one of my knees prior to departing for Hokkaido, too much running had resulted in a synovial fluid deficiency lubricating my knee joints. This is turn caused the bones in my knees to rub against each other painfully. You can see my white knee-brace in most pictures in this post. I was heartbroken to have injured myself only a week before the trip of a lifetime, but at the same time I was very lucky because my doctor told me that if I was careful I could still do some hiking in Hokkaido. She told me very strictly though that I would have to prioritize which hikes were the most important and only do a few, and while I hiked them to be very careful, going slow and not pushing myself too hard. Taking my time wasn’t an option for hiking the 8-hour course however, so my hostel strongly recommended I chose the 4-hour course which is the first 12 kilometres of the 8-hour course. A perfect compromise! Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.05.22 PM

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. They told me to budget about 5 hours for this course, but I hiked it in about 5.5 hours because I wanted to take so many photos!

The hike begins at Cape Sukoton, the northernmost point on Rebun Island. It gets pretty windy here so be sure to bring a warm jacket, even in the summer!

rebunislandhike2 rebunislandhike1 rebunislandhike3 rebunislandhike4rebunislandhike6There were quite a few other people from the hostel doing the same hike so we all started together, but eventually drifted apart. I did the hike with one other young lady from the hostel who spoke English very well and had been road tripping around Hokkaido like myself, but on a motorbike which sounded amazing. After 2 weeks of being alone I had a great time hiking with, her swapping stories and chatting about life.

The beginning of the hike starts along a paved road that will eventually lead you to the beginning of the hiking path. The hiking path then leads you up the coastal ridge overlooking the ocean. It was pretty nippy and windy which was better than a cup of coffee to wake me up. I loved seeing the beautiful lily wildflowers in this area so keep your eyes peeled!

rebunislandhike7 rebunislandhike8 rebunislandhike9Soon the path turned into a steady incline up the cliffs from which the views just got better and better. On your right side you have the deep blue waters of the ocean and on your left the rolling green hills of the island.

rebunislandhike10 rebunislandhike13 rebunislandhike12 rebunislandhike14See the cute dog in the last photo? That poochie, dear readers is the luckiest dog in the whole world. Why? He is spoiled positively rotten. Every single day one of his family members takes him for a “morning walkies” up this ridge. They walk all the way to the best viewpoint (about 1.5 hours up) and then back down resulting in about a 3-hour long walk! If I am ever reincarnated I hope to have this dog’s life!

From the top of Cape Gorota was a view so beautiful I couldn’t believe I wasn’t dreaming. In Canada you typically have to work your little butt off and climb to the top of a mountain to get the beautiful view, I hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and I was being rewarded with views of clear sapphire waters and the island’s lush green hills below!

rebunislandhike11rebunislandhike15 rebunislandhike17 rebunislandhike19 rebunislandhike20 We followed the trail down and began our descent towards Gorota Beach, a sandy beach along the western coast.

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We reached the beach and I stopped for a bit to rest. My knee was tired and I wasn’t able to keep up with my friend’s pace any longer, so I encouraged her to leave me and I would see her at the bus stop perhaps. By this time the sun was out in full force so I stopped to apply more sunscreen, drink a lot of water and eat a snack. After my break I was feeling much more optimistic.

And I won’t look back, I can go the distance! And I’ll stay on track; no, I won’t accept defeat! It’s an uphill slope, but I won’t lose hope, till I go the distance and my journey is complete…” I put on some of my all-time favourite hiking music and with the powerful words of Michael Bolton singing “I Can Go The Distance” from Disney’s Hercules began my journey again. It is such a perfect motivation song when you’re not feeling like you have the power to finish something. Incredibly cheesy I know, but it’s what I was in the mood for!

After Gorota Beach it was another steep trail up to the most breathtaking view of the entire hike in my opinion. It is on the top of this craggy cliff I’m standing in my dream. One couldn’t ask for a more perfect place in all its wild and majestic beauty to dream of. I took a moment to truly savour this moment, bask in the warm sunshine and breathe the crisp ocean breeze in. I couldn’t have been happier, and all my worries seemed to vanish. Perhaps that’s why my dreams bring me here, it’s a place with zero stress associated with it. My own little slice of paradise…

rebunislandhike24 rebunislandhike25After this cliff you’re almost finished, just a short walk back down and inland towards the Hamanaka Bus Stop. I had to stop and ask for directions in the little town, but eventually made it to the bus stop with about 20 minutes to spare before the bus arrived. (Be careful to not miss the bus as I think it’s about a 2-hour wait until the next one!)

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On the bus ride home, I squealed with glee because out on the water was a harem of seals out on the water. Talk about a great name to describe a group of seals, harem! Aren’t they just adorable floating around like that! rebunislandhike27rebunislandhike28

If you ever visit Rebun Island, please enjoy this hike, as with the Flower Hike it’s suitable for all levels! It’s not too difficult of a climb, but I do strongly recommend wearing solid hiking boots. It was a superb day hiking and one day I hope to go back and do the 8-hour hike. Until then I’ll just have to content myself with my dreams of paradise.

  • For more general information about Rebun Island click here.
  • To read about my adventures on Day 1 on Rebun Island click here.

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Categories: Tips For Traveling In Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wildflower Wilderness – Rebun Island Day 1

After a very interesting first time urban camping where I slept on the grass in a sleeping bag in a camping park I awoke slightly less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than I would have preferred, but extremely proud of having achieved a new traveling goal. Urban camping isn’t for everyone but several of my friends have raved about it over the years, so I figured I should try it at least once. “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” right? All in all it was ok, maybe I’ll do it again someday, maybe I won’t. All I know is that I never so much as breathed one word of what I intended to do for accommodations that night to my mother, she would have had quite a few choice words about that decision I’m sure.

I trundled over to the ferry port where a pipping hot can of coffee from a vending machine revived me somewhat. I bought my ticket on the Heartland Ferry for the 6:20am sailing.  The second I was aboard I found a nice little area on the tatami floor of the general area and passed out once again.  I slept like the dead until the booming ferry announcement about approaching the port awoke me and sent me scurrying to the deck to catch my first view of Rebun Island.

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I will admit I was very eager to see the infamous Momoiwasu ferry port greeting, after all it’s not every day you’re promised to be greeted with screaming dancers who are waving around a huge flag. My hostel was legendary for its hospitality and I didn’t want to miss a thing!

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Sure enough I took one step off the ferry and the fanfare began, it felt like I was some pretty cool celebrity and I loved it! Funny story, to be honest it wasn’t hard to spot me at all on their part, the hostel knew to expect one foreigner and I was the one and only foreigner who came off that ferry. So while the hostel crew typically waits to check if a Japanese person is indeed the person they are seeking, with me and my baby-blues they knew so incredibly fast it was hilarious. This just goes to show you how outside of the normal foreigner travel zone I was!

As a heads up when you book with this hostel they often ask you for your name and which ferry you plan to come in on.  When I arrived at the truck and introduced myself  to Rose, the hostel staff, we had a little chuckle over the confusion with my reservation. I had made the reservation under the name ‘Jessie’ and they had clearly been expecting a boy not realizing that it’s a gender neutral name.  He laughed as he explained though that the second they saw me they started cheering because I had to be “the boy” they were mistakenly expecting, all because the chance of two foreigners coming off that ferry was pretty slim. I quickly wowed them all with my pretty terrible Japanese, even though by simply being there I had impressed them immensely, and after everyone else coming to check in was all accounted for we piled into the back of the truck and headed off to the hostel.

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The Momoiwasu Hostel is located about a half-hour walk from the port and the hostel picks you up to bring you to the hostel. This quaint and unique hostel is situated underneath the giant rock which is said to resemble a giant peach (‘momo‘ in Japanese) which is how the hostel got its name. When we arrived we were met by more fanfare, with many drums, tambourines, yelling, and even a very prized squawking rubber chicken. It was so crazy and bizarre I fell in love with this hostel the second I stepped across the threshold. What a welcome!

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I quickly checked in, was given a tour and detailed explanation about life at the Momoiwasu Hostel and freshened up.   Now that I was properly awake and positively thrilled at the prospect of actually, at long last, being on Rebun Island, headed out for my first adventure.  Which, if you know me and my foodie ways, you won’t be surprised to discover that my first adventure focused on finding lunch.  I walked back into the small port town along beautiful winding mountain roads, at first I had been a little surprised and a touch miffed when the hostel told me there was no transportation too and from the hostel except in extenuating circumstances, but as I settled into my morning stroll I came to love the fact I was going to be entirely self reliant during my stay on the island. Nothing but me and my own two little feet!

It was this photo of Rebun Island that first kindled the spark of desire to visit it. Little did I know either when I booked my hostel that it was actually the Momoiwasu Hostel in the damn photo! I was mindblown at the craziness of the coincidence. It was standing right here looking at this view that it finally sank in that I had 2 whole beautiful days to explore an island I had been dreaming about visiting for months. I think I actually stood here for 20 minutes just taking in the view I was so mesmerized by its beauty.

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When I finally arrived back to the ferry terminal, I explored the port town which is incredibly tiny for all of about 5 minutes. I decided before I would grab lunch to explore up the coast a little, so I followed the road and slowly got my feel for the island.  Rebun Island is a quiet sort of place. It’s not fancy; everything seems built to last and endure.

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After my jaunt up the coast I was mighty peckish and scoured the town, which once again only took about 5 minutes, before settling on seafood ramen. The pictures looked mighty tasty and I had heard amazing things about the seafood on Rebun Island. Thanks to the cold waters around the island everything is supposed to be incredibly plump and delicious!

The picture on the menu didn’t lie, what you saw was what you got.  Within minutes a pipping hot bowl of noodles swimming in salty broth and piled high with juicy seafood arrived. Crab claws, sea urchin and jumbo shrimps galore! OM NOM NOM!

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After my bite to eat I headed back towards the area near my hostel to do a little hiking. My hostel had highly recommended a route called the Flower Road.  They gave me an English handwritten map which was incredibly useful to take with me so I wouldn’t get lost!  The Flower Road is one of the most popular trekking courses on the island, and one which I highly recommend because it’s the path with most alpine flowers and spectacular views from the southern tip of the island! The total time needed is about 3 hours and it’s very easy so it’s suitable for all levels. IMG_1649

As I climbed to the ridge overlooking the ocean I was immediately struck by how green everything was, the rolling emerald hills were something I had always imagined Ireland to be like. I was equally surprised to see so few people. It was a place of calm serenity, where I could hear only my own breath and the sound of the wind sweeping across the island making the flowers dance. I kept waiting for something magical to happen, it seemed like the kind of place anything could happen.

rebunisland8 rebunisland9 rebunisland10IMG_1787 rebunisland11 rebunisland12 rebunisland13As the light slowly began to fade, transforming the island into a place of even more misty-magical beauty, I headed back towards the hostel for a shower and supper.  When I arrived however, I paused a moment before heading into the warmth of the hostel.  In a moment of spontenaity instead opted to wander down to the water’s edge.

rebunisland15 rebunisland16Either the angel sunshine shimmering through the clouds and across the ocean was too inviting, or I was overcome with insanity, but I decided to nip in for a dip. I knew it would be unbelievably freezing but muttering “carpe diem” to myself I took off my shoes, stripped to my bathing suit and I swam out. The moment my toes touched the water I almost turned around…almost…but I was determined to go swimming on the northernmost island of Japan no matter what. So with a deep breath I plunged in. I had no idea I was being watched and nearly jumped out of my skin, not just because the water was so icy, but because a huge cheer went up from other hostellers who were amazed by my nerve and daring. I turned around to my previous hidden audience and gave a sheepish wave to everyone who was clapping

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My little polar bear dip didn’t last long but it was certainly refreshing. I clamoured out quite quickly and was met with more applause as I climbed the stairs back to the hostel. My companions at the hostel couldn’t wait to talk to the crazy adventurous foreigner and I quickly made a lot of new friends.  Each of them quickly assured me they could never have gone swimming, at least not willingly.

After that I made a beeline for a piping hot shower, dinner and settled in for the evening’s entertainment show and dancing which was a blast. I fell asleep happy as a clam because Rebun Island was everything I had hoped for and more.

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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