A long time ago a friend gave me some valuable traveling advice “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and that way you’re always pleasantly surprised.” Day 4 dawned and the second I looked out the window I knew my plans were up in the air, the most ominous looking of thunderclouds clouded the sky blocking out every vestige of sunlight. Uh oh….so much for hiking. So I promptly rolled over, hey no judging it was 4 am in the morning, and I went back to sleep for another couple of hours. Weather is a fickle mistress and it does no good whatsoever to shake angry fists at the sky and cry “why! WHY?” not always having perfect weather is a reality every traveller must face at one point. I wasn’t angry, if anything I was relieved to get a few more hours of rest to be honest.
When creating an itinerary I do my best to plan for everything within my control, and then after this careful planning always aim to give myself a little extra “breathing room” in my schedule just in case. Like I said, you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I never like to jam pack an itinerary in case something unavoidable happens. I can’t count the number of times that this traveling philosophy has helped me out on recent trips.
Only last Christmas while traveling with friends in Cambodia did my plans to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise have a rude awakening in the form of food poisoning at 2am. “Uuuuuugh!” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The disappointment of missing out on seeing Ankor Wat with my friends was almost worse than the food poisoning itself, almost. Luckily for me I had planned an extra two “safety days” at the end of my time in Cambodia before flying to my next destination (Singapore). Had I not, I would have left Cambodia without seeing its most famous site, which would have been tragically disappointing. So, as sad as I was to have to explore Angkor Wat alone, as my friends had departed for Thailand, I was happy that I could visit this historical monument, better alone than not at all!
Thus, when my plans to hike around the famous Lake Mashu area went up in smoke I simply fast forwarded my itinerary and phoned my guesthouse in the Shiretoko area to see if it was possible to shift my entire reservation forward by one day. Luck was on my side, it was ok to check in later that afternoon. Off I went chasing the promised beautiful weather on the eastern-most area of Hokkaido, the Shiretoko Peninsula.
I stopped briefly at the top of one of Lake Mashu’s observatories to see if I could at the very least glimpse the supposedly clearest lake in the world….but no dice…I could hardly see 4 feet in front of me let alone down the valley to where the lake would be. Vowing to return on my way back I headed off down the windy highway….and a mere half an hour later…WOW! What a change, eh? I was able to relax my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and cruising down the highway became a real pleasure after this. My nostalgia concerning wide open spaces after Biei was still on my mind. As I drove past beautiful golden wheat fields with their hay bales clearly visible against a robin’s egg blue backdrop of sky I couldn’t help but reflect on my childhood in Calgary, Alberta. I would drive past the wheat fields every weekend in the summer while driving in my family’s car on my way to the mountains. Hard to believe I ever found landscapes like this boring, preferring instead to burry my nose in whatever book I was currently reading.After a quick check-in at the guest-house I was off to the peninsula. From the moment I first crossed this national park’s threshold I was in love. It stole my heart faster than a kiss and that was it, I was hopeless, utterly enamoured. Driving along that coastline is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever been on in my life. I knew in that first moment it was going to be an amazing three days! Even if I did nothing else than drive along the coastline I was destined to be happy as could be.
As fate would have it I saw a large sign along the highway indicating that one of my highly anticipate sightseeing destinations was coming up. The Oshin-koshin Waterfall is a must see when in the Shiretoko National Park!
Finding it was easy, walking up even easier, no hiking necessary to see this spectacular beauty of a waterfall so you have no excuses to not see it.
As you may notice I’ve got my knee all prepped for a little hiking. Unfortunate reality that is my life, go figure, I injured myself a mere week before traveling to Hokkaido. Going in to see a doctor before my flight (that was leaving the very next day!) I was terrified she was going to ban me from any hiking in Hokkaido, which was the whole reason I wanted to go in the first place. Luckily the doctor said the pain I was experiencing wasn’t anything too major. My left knee is just currently lacking enough synovial fluid (the fluid contained in joints to reduce friction when moved) to move smoothly resulting in the bones rubbing a bit together. OUCH! She said as long as I did easy hikes, and took it slow I should be ok. That being said…
- Advil and other doctor prescribed medicines taken? Check!
- Icy-herb packs applied? Check!
- Wearing my…knee-brace-socky-thing (to be honest I have no idea what you call it) over top of everything? Check!
I was excited to be heading off after this to the famous Shiretoko Five Lakes for my first hike of the trip!
The Shiretoko Five Lakes (知床五湖, Shiretoko Goko) are a five small lakes along the western coast of the Shiretoko National Park. They were formed long ago by the eruption of nearby Mount Io and the water comes from underground springs. According to legend the 5 lakes are supposed to look from above like a god’s five fingerprints. The Shiretoko Five Lakes offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and wilderness. For any foreigners seeking directions you’re best of referring to them as “goko” which translates as 5(go) Lakes(ko). They are the #1 must see in the area so I decided to go there first (despite my itinerary) while the weather was the most beautiful day you could possibly ask for! Before you can hike however, first you must pay a small fee (300yen) and get a permit to hike at the Shiretoko Five Lakes office. It’s a very easy process that can be done in less than 10 minutes (if there are no lines!) at the information desk. I chose the 3km course (the longer one in blue) which takes you around all the lakes. It says 3 hours are necessary, but unless it’s bumper-to-bumper people traffic you can easily walk this in about an hour and a half. It’s very easy, and my hiking shoes were definitely not necessary. I saw a woman doing this “hike” in heels to put things in perspective.
Next due to the large number of bears in the area you must watch a bear information video warning you of the park rules, dangers and how to respond in various situations. It was so over-dramatic I think I started giggling 5 seconds in. It’s definitely good information however, especially for people who’ve never been in bear country before, and the video has English subtitles too! This whole process only took me about half an hour, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because I was there at the end of the day and was one of the last groups to go in. From the way the process was laid out I have zero doubts, it probably can get very busy, this process may take longer so prepare accordingly.
Permit in hand, I headed off quickly after the video as not to be stuck behind the huge crowd of people.
It’s at this point the shorter trail and the longer trail converge. Both led towards a large 800m long elevated wooden platform that once you enter you can’t go back. Spectacular views of the largest of the five lakes can be see from here, you could also catch glimpses of the sea! .
I spent about half an hour relaxing on a bench in front of the lake, savouring the beautiful panorama while basking in the sunshine’s warm glow. I really enjoyed the time of day I went, I started walking around 4:00pm (a little over 2 hours before sunset) so the sun wasn’t scorching hot and was just beginning to start descending as I walked along the boardwalk back to the parking lot. After I left the Shiretoko Five Lakes, I quickly headed off to the little town of Utoro to watch the sunset. When coming south through Utoro watch for a 7/11 combini. When you see it make a left and then another left immediately to go up a large hill towards all the high-end hotels. Park your car wherever possible and walk to the campground. Take a right at the campground office building towards a large cliff, this is the best place to view the sunset. I got there about 20 minutes before the sunset and held my spot at the front while happily munching on fresh watermelon to take the edge off my hunger. Glorious end to a glorious day. Can you see why I instantaneously fell in love with Shiretoko? Isn’t it just the most enchanting wilderness you’ve ever seen!? Friends and family will be lucky to ever see me again. I’m thinking of find myself a cozy little cave to live in for the rest of my life!