Self drive at Hokkaido

Jes , 37 Comments

I have always loved planning my own trips - Going free and easy without those compulsory attractions that give tour agencies some commission and even lingering longer in a fun attraction without being whisked off like a herd of sheep. The freedom of exploring in my way, in the local style of transport adds an element of unknown and that brings meaning to an adventure.
To be able to stop and relax and go if I want to, that is the real sense of a holiday.
Hokkaido is a scenery based, carefree sort of sightseeing and is most suitable for self-driving. It is the sister of Jeju which I also drove around to explore but Hokkaido is so much bigger and more fun! 

6 days to cover just the South-East of Hokkaido and oh my, it packs quite a punch. The postal code for the whole itinerary is included at the end of the post and you can also type in phone numbers to the GPS to get around too. 
Heading East first then South
Day 1
Let's start off with landing at Chitose airport. You can pop by Chitose Salmon Park as your first stop, since it's in the area and there are no other attractions. Just don't go there expecting an Underwater World like Sentosa because this is way smaller and older.
Enter and get eaten?
Finding nemo.. always so cute.
Fishes are very forgetful so they can stay in an aquarium without getting bored.
After which, it's a 1hour drive towards Sapporo which is a city that is very forgettable. Odori Park is nearby our hotel and is so normal that I did not even took any pictures.  

Day 2
It's flowers day! Onwards to Furano highway which is 3 hours from Sapporo to Biei, which consists of only coordinates as it's not an actual address and the journey is rather scenic once you go uphill. I went in November which was nearer to the winter so we did not get to see so many lavenders around. Sunflowers were aplenty but I could just imagine if the whole mountain was filled with flowers... oh, the feeling of being in love!
I went towards the end of autumn which is not so ideal but yet still beautiful.
Fields of sunflowers and lavender everywhere!
Flower farms to visit... 
You should be drunk with flowers by then and so busy taking pictures but please, don't forget to immerse yourself in the nice lovely atmostphere. My first encounter with hail was here for just a few minutes and then it's gone.. strange weather is not common to us so everything is interesting.

Time to get real drunk! Asahikawa is the land of sake with many breweries nearby so off to take a look. 
Free samples!
纯米大吟酿 the top grade of all! 
This Otokoyama Sake Museum is not in the itinerary but was added in after seeing it on a brochure. We did went to Taisetsu Sake Brewery too but it's similar and not recommended if you are not going to buy any drinks.

Besides sake, Asahikawa is also well known for its ramen village. There are so many ramen places there that I do not know which to choose so we just head to a random crowded one. I especially like the eggs that accompany the ramen because of the gooey yolks they have. 

A big bowl for you, sir?
I think there are more than 10 different shops here... spoilt for choice!
Day 3

The highlight of the trip has got to be the visit to the famous Shiroi Kobito factory where they make the well known Japanese chocolates that foreigners buy in bulk from Japan airports. It's quite amusing to see the mechanical production and its ancient toy museum. The park outside is also surprisingly well designed and cute, living up to Japanese funky standards. Totally worth it to take a look.
The production assembly of the chocolates which looks really clean and well organised!
Cute Shiroi Kobito park outside
You can even design your own chocolate cookie and other DIY fun stuff!
Next up, it takes around 1 hour to reach this laid back shopping street called Otaru and we parked at the first carpark that we saw near the music box museum. Parking was quite expensive but I can't remember how much it cost. First, we got to fulfill our insatiable appetites so we had to try the Hokkaido crabs that were oh-so-big and oh-so-expensive! It's around SGD$100 per crab... but it's really sweet and delicious with the taste of seawater. Definitely worth the bucks and it's big enough that 7 of us shared 1 crab.
You can choose the crab and they will bring it in to the restaurant and prepare it for you.
Trust me, the crab is really worth the bucks! 
Continuing on to the quaint little town that has the feel of the nice country side, it has nice little souvenirs shops, music box museum, glass blowing demonstration and other interesting stuff that make for a good stroll towards the Otaru Canal. The whole stretch is so scenic with a touch of mysterious allure, probably due to the Victorian styled streets. This unassuming place took my breath away and is my favourite attraction of all. 
The streets that looked to be frozen in time from the 1950s.
An interesting shop that caught my eye
Lo and behold, the grand and serene Otaru Canal!

Day 4

On the way to Noburibetsu, we passed by this Lake Shikotsu. There was nobody around so we had lots of time to chill and time our jump shots.
A lizard suddenly appeared on the bench, causing some uproar haha.
Volcanos can be seen.. and hope they stay peaceful.
Postcard perfect!
Another 2 hours to reach our destination. Honestly, I did not know what to expect going to Jidai Mura at Noboribetsu. We term it the Ninja village where the whole museum took us back to ancient Edo period. There were not a lot of artifacts on ninja and sumarai but there was a show like a classic ninja versus bad guys performance. Not a show where you go wow and truthfully, this was not worth the ~SGD$35 entrance fee.
Not a real ninja, don't worry!
The kinds of weapons that they use.. I wonder if there are still ninjas out there.
An enjoyable walk in the park provided that the weather is nice
The performance that might have great if it wasn't for the invention of kungfu flicks.
Arriving late at Jigokudani (Hell Valley), it was lucky that the performance only starts at around 8pm. We had a great Japanese kaiseki dinner in the hotel and watch the fire spitting performance just a short walk outside the hotel near the main signboard.
Welcome to the terrifying Hell Valley!
Smoke can be seen along the trails which makes for a good place for hot springs.
Intricate and exquisite kaiseki dinner in the hotel.
The interesting ritual and performance.
After which, we headed straight to the hot springs! It was the most memorable attraction as I went with my ex-colleagues and as you know, you need to be naked to get into the hot springs in Japan, unlike Taiwan where you can wear your swimming trunks. It was awkward initially but after seeing so many naked bodies around, you no longer feel so self conscious. They have water slides so we had great fun sliding down and splashing around. The hot water is really rejuvenating and I had a sound sleep in my Japanese tatami that night. Years after which, it was the only thing we talked about whenever we meet. Seeing people at their most vulnerable state which is without clothes will definitely enhance your relationship, haha.    

Day 5
We continued down south to Hakodate which is our final destination. First we reached Cape Chikyu in 1 hour. I heard some films were shot here and it serves as the perfect backdrop for a peaceful sanctuary. It's definitely better than the All in house (Seopjikoji) in Jeju.
Such vastness definitely makes me feel small and my problems so insignificant.
Chikyu means earth and the horizon is curved.. so the earth is round, as seen on the desciption.
The monumental lighthouse here... looks lonely.
There are so many lakes in Hokkaido unlike Singapore so we had to look at the most beautiful lake of all, Lake Toya. Since we are driving, we can stop whenever we like and there are not many cars around. There is also Onuma park nearby and we found another postcard perfect moment. 
The magnificent view of the lake... you will be so in awe of nature there. 
Onuma park is a short distance away and is great for group shots. 
Fell in love with sunflowers here... oh so cheery!
Many people told me that they do not like to visit Singapore because we do not have natural scenery, just man-made attractions. I totally get it. The beauty of the nature cannot be created and the vastness really quieten us down. It's so calm and grand and humble us like no other way.

The evening ended with a trip to Mt Usu, a 737 metres high active volcano. There is a bear ranch beside to explore but it's nothing much frankly. The cable car up to the top of the volance to catch the panoramic view is cooling but not that memorable.
Mt Usu in the evening sun... nice colour combination huh.
The ropeway up the mountain to enjoy the greenery 
Day 6
Time flies when you are travelling and it's the last night in Hokkaido. Fort Goryokaku is a good place for a morning stroll and to visit the Western styled citadel. The only thing worth mentioning is that it is shaped like a star but I am unable to see it from the ground.
This fort used to be the site of a civil war in Edo Period
Finding lunch at the Hakodate Bay area is not a problem as there are many funky cafes and unique shops that make for a good shopping place. Sight seeing is fun as there are many different kinds of architecture around.
Having ice cream here.. their ice cream is really creamy and refreshing!
Hakodate port is just nearby wiith a good sea view
At 334 metres up, Mount Hakodate is not so high up but the view is quite spectacular. It is listed as one of the top 3 night views in Japan so it's worth braving the strong winds. We got our money back by staying from evening to night to enjoy the different views.
The day time view of the sea port... it's a different scenery altogether from the night time... 
The sparkle of Hakodate is pretty awesome but it's really freaking cold up there!
That concludes the trip with a bang! I really love Hokkaido with its unique beauty and untarnished raw wilderness. It is surely better than Jeju, no fight at all. Even though many people claimed that Hokkaido is a place more suitable for the elderly, I disagree whole heartedly as the youngsters can totally have fun too... just not by following the tour groups =P

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  1. Jes,

    What a trip!

    The Otaru Canal town looks more European than Japanese!? Interesting!

    I see you had a band of 7? Having the "right" companions play a big part too ;)

    1. Hi SMOL,

      Always good to see your comments.

      Yeah indeed the otaru canal was the stunner in the trip since we did not expect it to be so nice.

      Band of 7 just nice for 7 seater hehe. Yep but if hard to find right companions sometimes just have to make do #yolo.. What are you waiting for?! =P

  2. I love holiday blog posts! Keep them coming, Jes!

    1. Hi Joyce,

      Thanks for the encouragement. My blog is quite rojak so have to dig out my past free and easy trips to share with everyone. Will definitely come up with more :)

  3. Amazing.

    I went to hokkaido when I was a kid and I will go back to visit there one day. Love the holiday blog edition :)

    1. Hi B,

      I am sure you have forgotten some sights in Hokkaido by now, definitely worth another trip. Anyway there is the north west part which I have not been, so do explore and share with me =)

  4. Hi Jesme, i thoroughly your simple blog on Hokkaido. I am planning with my family of 3 for a self drive trip. My date is from Nov 21 to 28. As I have only 7 days to travel around starting from Sapporo I guess(did your group started from there?)
    How was the weather in near to end Nov, hoped it's not too difficult to drive)
    My ideal itinerary would be like :
    1) Lake Akan
    2) Asahikawa
    3) Tomuro(wonder if there are sufficient snow for some snow mobile activity)
    4) Sapporro
    5) Hakkodate
    Thank you,
    Henry Chua

    1. Hi Henry,

      Thank you for reading my post. I went for a week in Hokkaido too and started off in Chitose as the airport is there. We drove to Sapporo after which as you can see from my itinerary at the end.

      The weather would average to be around 5C in end November as per Google search but most winter activities start in December so you may like to contact the resort for more details. Snow will begin to fall but driving should not be a problem yet.

      It depends on where your plane will land. If it is Sapporo, then you will have to decide to head South or West. I would suggest you explore the West instead of the South of Hokkaido as most of your attractions are in the West:
      Sapporo -> Asahikawa -> I think you mean Tomamu resort-> Lake Akan

      Forget about Hakodate, it is too out of the way. Lake Akan is at the extreme west and more than 500km away from Hakodate which is at the very south of Hokkaido. Hope this helps and enjoy your holiday!

  5. Hi
    Looking at 19 nov 16 to plan hokkiado after reading yr blog. Yours is near to my travelling date? Will i be able to see sunflowers too after 19 nov ?

    1. Hi there,

      I went around early to mid October. You will surely see many types of flowers in the flower farms. However, because Oct/Nov is near winter, you might be able to catch a glimpse of sunflowers here and there but it will not be everywhere. It should be quite fun to spot them like how we did... Enjoy! :)

  6. Hi ,

    Thanks for sharing your trip in Sapporo.

    We have 3 adults with 2 kids.

    Is it easy to get parking or drive around ? Other suggest me to go to sapporo station to get daily tour from S shopping ( not sure ) .

    What do you think ?

    Looking forward to your help.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Shanice,

      I have replied your email. I really love driving on my own, I do feel nervous before I did it but it's worth all the research and trouble. This could just be me.

      To answer your question, it's really easy to drive around because we have the English GPS and not much traffic except in the cities. If you feel safer and more relaxed going for a day tour then go for it! Driving free and easy should be cheaper with more people in the group and if you want to explore many places for many days. Going daily tour would be fuss free and might be easier with someone to guide you around.

      Ultimately, it's really up to you and what you plan to get out of it. Enjoy yourselves :)

  7. Dear Jes, I enjoy reading your post about Hokkaido,may I know if you traveled sometime b Apr? I will be visiting Sapporo, Toya and Hakodate from 16-25 Apr 2016, I really hope can see those lovely flower and nice scenary during my visit!

    Best regards, Angie

    1. Hi there,

      Thank you for your compliments! I went around early October which is actually not a very good time as it is near winter. Woah, I am really envious that you are going during Spring! I am sure you will see more varieties of flowers than me. Enjoy :)

  8. Great post. Did you get Japanese SIM card to use with your phone for the GPS?

    Anyway, fish can have memory up to 5 months, not 3 seconds. Finding Nemo misled a lot of people and Nemo is a clown fish. Cheers~! :D

    1. Hi there,

      The GPS comes with the rented car so you don't have to get any SIM card.

      Thank you for clarifying the myth for me! So scolding people fish brain is not really that apt anymore hahaha. Hope you have fun during your Japan trip :)

  9. Hi Jes,

    Which rental company did you rent the car from? Is the petrol expensive in Hokkaido?

    Thanks in advance:)

    1. Hi there,

      I can't remember but I think I went for Toyota Rent-a-Car. You can also take a look at Nippon Rent-a-car or Tocoo Car rental, they are all pretty established and you can compare rates and their locations. For fuel, I remember it was slightly cheaper than SG but as the yen has weakened now, I think it's even cheaper now.

      Enjoy your vacation!

  10. hi, I am planning a self drive trip to Hokkaido for 10 days.

    wish to go to these places:

    ​Lake Shikotsu (1 day)
    ​Lake Toya (1 day)
    Noboribetsu (1 day onsen)
    Jozankei (1 day)
    ​Hakodate (2 days/ 1 day onsen)
    Shakotan/​Otaru (1 day)
    ​Sapporo (3 days)

    i am not really sure if going to Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya require 1 day each, or it can be done together within a day.

    This is my 1st time to Japan. I am flying by scoot and only reached Hokkaido around 5pm, not sure if it is too late to drive around or is better to rest somewhere first
    Any advice or recommendation of budget city hotel?

    1. Hi there,

      Lake Toya and Shikotsu is only 1 hour away from each other so you might not need so much time.

      For budget hotels, I do not dare to make recommendations as I have not stayed in them. Normally what I would do is to check out their rankings and reviews in Tripadvisor . Have fun!

    2. Thank you for your fast reply.

      My trip will be 13-22 Oct autumn, any recommended places to go other than the listed I indicated? I only plan for central and south Hokkaido. Some recommends sounkyo too.

    3. Hi Kenny,

      Seems like the places that you are going are more or less the same as where I have been, I don't think you have time for more. My recommendation is all in the post. Save the rest for the next trip! :)

  11. Thank you for your fast reply. As I'm heading 13 to 22 Oct, any other places recommended to go? So far I only plan central and southern Hokkaido which are the listed locations, some suggested sounkyo too

  12. Sure thanks, now gotta to headache and work out the detailed itinerary before booking the hotels at diff locations.

  13. HI,

    Am planning for Hokkaido trip from 7 Nov to 12 Nov 16. Many sites said that during that period ie beginning of winter there's nothing much to see and simply no flowers in Furano and Biei. It is true ?

    1. Hi Japanlover,

      It's true that you can't see that many flowers all over the fields but you will definitely see the imported ones at the flower farms. Search for Furano flower fields or farms to see which are open when you visit! Have fun :)

  14. Thanks so much for your reply. really looking forward to see those beautiful flowers. Am travelling from KL on 5th Nov onward till 12th Nov. Expected to reach Shin Chitose airport abt 8am and am planning to take train to Sapporo. Below will be itinerary and would appreciate your valuable advise !

    Day 1 - Shin Chitose - Sapporo - Otaru - Mitsui Outlet Kotahiroshima
    Day 2 - Sapporo - Asahikawa Zoo Ramen Village,
    Day 3 - Sapporo - Furano Biei
    Day 4 - self drive to Hokadate
    Day 5 - Hokaidate - Lake Toya - Noboribetsu
    Day 6 - Shin Chitose - Rera outlet

    Is my above itinerary too full ? hope it is still safe to drive during that period.

    1. Hi Japanlover,

      It should be safe to drive and if it snows too much, I think the car rental will provide tire chains. However, I did not see much snow on the ground when I was there probably because they clear the roads very efficiently. Not to worry too much and just go at a leisurely pace.

      I don't think your itinerary is too full but too bad you can't depart from Noburibetsu airport. You might be travelling quite far to Hakodate so if there is not enough time, you can just skip it. That might give you more time to explore the Lake Toya area. Enjoy!

  15. thanks so much for your advise. Cheers !

  16. HI, I read through your advise.
    If I would like to plan a trip to Hokkaido, road trip during 1st April - 6th April 2017. is it safe to drive these time ? I believe still winter time. we are 7-8 family members, should rent MPV to drive. where I can explore ? I touch down in Sapporo airport, I think can direct get the car there and drive ! hope you can give me some idea where I can explore for these 6 days trip.
    Thanks in advance.
    regards, Yen from Malaysia.

    1. Hi Yen,

      I doubt April will be much of a trouble as it's nearing Spring and snows should have cleared by then. I believe the car rental company will assist you accordingly if you are still worried.

      You can follow my itinerary as I landed at Chitose Airport which is only 1 hour away from Sapporo. It's just nice for 1 week trip. Have fun and stay safe! :)

  17. Hi Jes,

    I'm really late here but I just happen to chance upon this interesting trip of yours here! Coincidentally, I've completed a smaller version (as I've made the trip in the weekends.. due to weekdays being tied to work here!) of Hokkaido Self Drive earlier last month and I've written briefly about it. Hokkaido is a really nice place especially to drive around! The scenery while driving is so beautiful that you'll not get tired of it.

    Just like you, I love self-exploration and couldn't wait to set off for more of it! Your holiday post is really really interesting! Perhaps I could use your Jeju self-drive for future reference :p

    1. Hi Sleepydevil,

      You are new to my blog but it is never too late! Woah, I just read your Hokkaido posts, I only did the tourist stuff but looks like you went more in depth. The places we went are so similar, Lake Toya, Goryokaku, Hakodate... Guess it's like the must-visit places.

      Indeed, the scenery is so beautiful that it never gets boring. It's so peaceful and laid back so won't feel any worries or stress at all! Self-drive is so easy, not sure why people like to go with tour groups, haha.

      Nice! I bet you will cover many more places, will be looking forward to your travel post. I have linked up your blog to my website. Oh, Jeju is not as fun as Hokkaido, oops! :)

  18. Hi Jes,
    Great blog you have here. I am planning self drive in Hokkaido and was wondering how the driving condition is like. Would be great if you can share your experiences. I read some where that speed limit on most non-express roads is 50km/h... which is pretty low. I am also planning to drive from Hakodate to Lake Toya... would such roads be congested?
    Your reply would be most appreciated.

    1. Hi Hp,

      I think the road conditions are pretty safe and non-congested. There would be more cars in the cities but definitely not as congested as in Singapore. Normally you would not want to drive too fast as you would be busy enjoying the scenery and have a leisurely drive.

      Don't worry too much and just do it, you will thank me later :)

  19. Hi Jes,
    Thanks for your blog. Been looking around for self guide in Hokkiado. Can't find anything even from Mainly are with tour guide trips which cost a bomb/each. Imagine 4 of us,4 BOMBS per activity X numbers of days. Your review will serve as a very good guide line for me in planning the trip for early 2019. Once again, thank you very much.

    1. Hi there,

      No problem, I also had problem finding information which is why I had to write all these down. Self driving is a very nice vacation especially for families, enjoy your holiday!


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