11 Days 9 Nights Hokkaido Self Drive Trip – Lake Toya & Niseko (Part 2)

After visiting Hakodate our next destination in Hokkaido is Lake Toya, renowned for its mesmerizing landscape and natural onsen in the surrounding area. You can read our previous Hakodate (Part 1).

Our short trip in Hokkaido means we have to skip Noboribetsu and leave it for our next Hokkaido trip. If you plan to visit Noboribetsu, do make it your first stop from Chitose while on the way to Hakodate. Noboribetsu is located between Chitose & Hakodate.

hokkaido4Hakodate to Lake Toya

Lake Tōya is a 10 kilometers in diameter volcanic caldera lake in Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Interesting fact to know Lake Toya is one of the few lakes that never ices in winter and 2nd most transparent lake in Japan.

We will be staying in Toyako Onsen 洞爺湖温泉 city which is a hot spring resort town just at the foot of Mt Usu (an active volcano). During May to October, daily fireworks lights up the night.

Our hotel Daiwa Ryokan Annex is situated just in front of Lake Toya giving us a panoramic view of the Lake. Not only that the hotel itself has its own onsen which is free for hotel guests.

Daiwa Ryokan Annex HokkaidoHotel Lobby

Daiwa Ryokan Annex HokkaidoOur Japanese Futon Bedroom

Daiwa Ryokan Annex is a traditional japanese hotel where there is no bathroom inside our spacious room but a common bathing room at the onsen which is an unique experience for foreign tourist.

Daiwa Ryokan Annex HokkaidoOnsen at our hotel

Onsen bathing is a traditional ritual for Japanese and they hold high respect for it and expect foreigners to follow the etiquette as well. I’ll just briefly explain how to take an Onsen Bath.

First of all, avoid going to public onsen if you have tattoo on your body. In Japanese society, only yakuza (gangsters) have tattoo, onsen is a common area, the last thing you want is to scare everyone off. Visitors with tattoo are normally prohibited to enter public onsen. 2 ways to get around this, book a room with private onsen or buy a large plaster and cover up your tattoo well.

2nd, you will be provided locker to keep your shoes & belongings. Next get naked! Everyone must be naked. No swimming wear nor towel is allowed. If this is your first time, you might feel awkward especially among families & friends together however this is compulsory. Trust me 10 mins later, you get used to it.

Daiwa Ryokan Annex HokkaidoGetting Ready for Onsen!

Before entering onsen, take a bath, rarely there is a stand up shower. Instead sit on a stool and wash & scrub your whole body. It is not uncommon for Japanese to take a long wash before entering onsen. Make sure you are clean head to toe.

You will be provided a small towel, it is meant to place on your head and not other place nor inside the onsen, Do not bath or wash yourself in the onsen nor swim nor dive under water. Onsen is meant for your body, not your hair. Lastly, Please dont fart or pee inside!

To keep it simple onsen water is like pure nutritious water for our body to absorb its mineral, so it must remain as clean as possible for everyone to benefit from it.

Upon leaving the onsen, it is not advisable to bath so the minerals & nutrition can be absorbed into our skin. That is the essence why everyone need to follow the etiquette so the onsen can be as clean as possible. After drying yourself wear the yukata provided, and have a short rest, a cup of drink before you are ready to leave!

Daiwa Ryokan Annex HokkaidoOur Hotel Rate includes Genghis Khan Lam BBQ set dinner as well.

Lake Toya HokkaidoLake Toya view from our room

Lake Toya HokkaidoThey say I look like fat version of Kamen Rider Black 

Lake ToyaBeautiful place for photo shoot

Lake Toya, HokkaidoMy family ^^

Lake Toya HokkaidoDo you want to build a snowman? Life Goal – Build our own snowman – Checked!

As we are from tropical country where winter is non existent, we decided to build our own snowman since with the thick snow available & apparently we do have time to spare. It took us approx 1 hour to build & decorate our own snowman which was very fun.

Everyone was exhausted and hungry after our snow man building so we went to the nearest restaurant for lunch.

Lake Toya HokkaidoThis restaurant mainly sell Hokkaido wagyu dish at a very reasonable price and they are also a distributor of Jinnai Wagyu Aka (神内和牛). Definitely a must try when in Toyako Onsen.

wagyuJapanese Wagyu Udon, Wagyu Burger, Wagyu Sukiyaki & Wagyu Don

wagyu hokkaidoJapanese Wagyu Kusiyaki 褐色和牛

wagyu hokkaidoMelt in your mouth – Jinnai Wagyu Aka (神内和牛) 400g Steak A4 grade

And since the restaurant is also a distributor of Jinna Wagyu Aka, you can buy frozen block and request the chef to cook the dish for extra 400 yen on top of steak price which is very reasonable. This 400g steak cost only RM320/S$110.

wagyu hokkaidoMedium Rare Jinna Wagyu Steak

We chose a 400g A4 grade Jinnai Wagyu Aka (神内和牛) steak which literally melts in your mouth. Comparing Australian Wagyu, Japanese wagyu are more flavorful & condense in taste. The perfect balance of fat marbling starts to melt in your mouth. Definitely a must try Japanese Wagyu when in Japan!

Lake Toya HokkaidoLake Toya

Lake Toya HokkaidoMore picturesque view

Lake Toya, HokkaidoAfter visiting Lake Toya our next stop – Niseko! It is one of the world famous ski destination renowned for its quality white powdery snow. Ski & snowboarding enthusiast from around the world will purposely fly in during ski season to challenge the mountain slope. Hence you can find more foreigners than Japanese in Niseko.

Niseko is just a short 1 hour drive from Toyako Onsen and we stayed in My Ecolodge, Kutchan which is 5 mins drive to the ski mountain. Do note Niseko roads has more black ice than other place, so drive super slowly during winter as cars tend to skid.

Niseko Ramen, HokkaidoNiseko Ramen

Niseko Ramen is one of the most famous ramen shop renowned for its potato foam ramen, do expect long queue and wear sufficiently during winter.

Niseko Ramen, HokkaidoMet up with another Penang chick in Niseko, she came to snowboard for 1 week in Niseko

Niseko Ramen, HokkaidoOur Ramen

Niseko Ramen, HokkaidoNiseko Ramen 982 – Creamy & Fluffy Potato Foam Ramen

Niseko Ramen, HokkaidoKimuchi Ramen, Habanero Ramen, Miso Butter Corn Ramen & Clear Shio Ramen

As first timer, we decided to ski & snowboard at Niseko Grand Hirafu which is one of the 4 resorts (Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village & Annupuri) of Niseko United on one mountain, Niseko Annupuri.(1,308m).

Niseko mapNiseko United

Since we are beginners without equipment, we will need to rent most of the boards & ski. If you are planning to ski for more than 1 day, it is advisable to buy your own ski suit & pants during sales in your country than renting here. There are many shops that rent ski wear & equipment in Niseko. The cost of renting ski jacket, pants & ski or snowboard is around 7,500yen per pax.

Niseko Hokkaido

After gearing up, we headed to the beginners slope & bought a 8 hours ski lift pass at 5,900yen per pax. The longer duration ski lift pass, the cheaper it becomes. You can avoid buying this lift pass that brings you up the slope by climbing up the slope yourself however it is not advisable as you might only have the energy to walk up 1 or 2 times only. The lift pass can bring you up easily and for unlimited times throughout the duration.

Niseko, HokkaidoEveryone ready to roll

If this is your first time or do not know how to ski, do spend some money to learn the basic and crucially how to reduce your speed or fall down which is very important. Last thing you want is to hurt yourself or somebody else.

Niseko HokkaidoSkiing & Snowboarding with Mount Yotei view

Niseko HokkaidoSnowboarding is fun

Niseko, HokkaidoNiseko Cheese Tart – Must try when in Niseko

After a fun & thrilling 8 hours of non stop snowboarding & skiing, everyone was satisfied and we were extremely lucky as during the week weather was bad and the only sunny day was during our skiing day. Remember to buy hot chocolate & Niseko cheese tart after skiing, definitely warms you up immediately!

Part 2 of our Lake Toya & Niseko trip will ends here, Part 3 Otaru & Sapporo will be the final part for our Hokkaido Trip. Do stay tuned!

Do FOLLOW us on Facebook & Instagram and feel free to message us if you have any questions on your travel planning. Ill try my best to help out.

Hokkaido Blog

We have started to blog our Hokkaido Self Drive Trip , feel free to read the blog for our full travel experiences in Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Hotels

For our Hokkaido hotels, we uses HotelCombined to search for cheapest accommodation.

Hokkaido Car Rental

We did a self drive trip in Hokkaido which we were glad we did especially during winter and visiting small cities. Driving made our trip much more comfortable and convenient. We rented our Car Rental online from ToCoo!

If you are planning to drive few days, rent from companies that offer Hokkaido Highway Pass which allows unlimited expressway with fix fare on certain highways. Do note not all car rental companies offer this.

Note: International driving license is needed to rent a car in Japan.

ToCoo

About Tommy Ooi 327 Articles

Luxury Hotel Reviewer & Destination Blogger. Passionate for travel, exploring new culture & indulging divine food, Tommy has traveled to 42 countries & 140+ destinations.

69 Comments

    • Hi CKK, we were fortunate our friend knew how to snowboard hence she taught us. Yeah there are beginner ski class to participate. To be honest 1 day isnt enough for me to master it, I merely know how to maneuver around and still falling down ^^

  1. Hi Tommy,
    I’m very impressed with your blog.
    Thanks for the great recommendation.
    Will be traveling to Hokkaido in end May.
    Targeting to visit Hakodate, Lake Toya, Sapporo, Otaru and Furano.
    When will your Part 3 (Otaru & Sapporo) be published?
    Hope to get some info before my trip.
    Thanks.
    SS

  2. Hi Tommy,

    Our family are planning to visit Hokkaido this coming December. Would like to seek your advice about driving in Hokkaido as we really have no experience driving under snowing condition.
    And it’s so difficult to travel around with my kids & senior citizen from New Chitose to Noboribetsu and thereafter to Niseko on 3rd day before heading to Otaru & Sapporo subsequently.
    Thanks

  3. Hi Tommy, I would like to pick up at New Chitose Airport on 4th Dec and return on 9th Dec at New Chitose Airport too. There are six passengers all together.

      • Hi Tommy,

        Thanks for your great help in checking out.
        Is it true that in general, the early to mid-Dec period is the most critical for driving, as the weather may warm up and cool down which leads to the infamous black-ice?

        • Hi Jenny, Dec availability is not out yet I was told, mostly they start inserting it in Aug, so you can search by then ^^ I think any winter period is the same as heat is produced by cars as well.. So drive much slower.. Sometimes we drove 30kph in small towns & at night

          • Hi Tommy,

            Thanks for sharing your personal experience driving under the snowy conditions and also extended a great help in checking out with TooCoo directly on the car rental availability. I shall wait till Aug to check it again.
            I feel more assured and convinced to do my self drive.
            Meanwhile, looking forward for your Part 3 travel experience in Sapporo.

          • Hi Jenny, you are most welcome. The convenience & comfort overwhelmed the danger part for us as long as we drive slowly and be extra careful. Have fun

  4. Hi Tommy, We plan to book Daiwa Ryokan Annex for our stay at Lake Toya and I am just wondering whether the hotel only have onsen and there is no shared bathroom or shower room in the hotel? I guessed there is no toilet and bathroom inside the hotel room. Thank you.

      • Hi Tommy

        We will be in Hokkaido 17 to 23 December 2016.

        We have 6 nights accommodation in Niseko where we will be skiing after which we have 5 days free for travelling around Hokkaido before heading home. Could you please advise if

        (a) the itinerary below works (b) best mode of transport for each leg we wont be driving) and
        (c) recommended accommodation

        Thanks!

        17 Dec Arrive Sapporo Chitose 830am – 10.30am coach to Niseko
        23 Dec Niseko to Hakodate (check in one night) (depart Niseko at 10am)
        24 Dec Hakodate to Lake Toya (one/two nights)
        25 Dec Lake Toya to Noboribetsu (one night if not staying at lake toya for second night)
        26 Dec Noboribetsu to Sapporo (check in 2 nights)
        27 Dec Sapporo to Otaru and back to Sapporo
        28 Dec Depart Sapporo Chitose 10am flight

  5. Hi when will you post your part 3 for Sapporo & Otaru. Hope to hear from you soon as I’m also planning my trip for December.

  6. Hi Tommy. I must compliment you on your blog for your trip as it is very comprehensive and informative. We have planned a trip there in December but are challenged with our car choices due to the size of the luggage we will use as we need to carry winter wear and so will use our larger suitcases. Most of the cars state that they can carry five passengers but only has space for three bags.

    We have tentatively booked a station wagon Toyota Corollafielder 1500 for the four of us and our four pieces of 29″ suitcases (Dimensions in inches are = 29 H x 18 W x 12 D (expands to 14 in depth) and are now unsure if the luggage will fit. Will you be able to kindly advise us whether to go for a bigger car as the prices for the next level taking 6 to 8 persons is almost double.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Charles,

      For us the double amount price is not feasible, 4 of us we rent Nissan Note. What we did was 2 person share a 28″luggage. So I would suggest to trim down luggage instead

  7. Hi may i know which school u signed up for the ski lesson? and did you purchase the lift ticket on the spot or from the official website?

    • Hi Ellyn, we learnt ski before so we have little basic of it, but if you have zero experience, please do learn first as it can be fatal. Purchase on the spot

  8. I enjoyed reading about your trip. Did you rent snow tyres or chains during the trip. Were any roads impassable ?

    • Hi Kay our car include snow tyre but not chain. With chain it is safer. 99% of road are ok, 1% small alley that has black ice and slope, snow trye couldnt drive up so we need to drive larger road

  9. Hi Tommy!
    Very informative posts on Hokkaido. I’ll be visiting Hokkaido for the first time next year at the exact same period with your travel dates. Hence it’s really useful for me as I will be experiencing the almost same weather.

    For first timers do you think 4D3N in Niseko is too long? Our main purpose is to ski only in Niseko. Ski equipment rental are calculated by days correct? ‘cos we are trying to save all the possible cost and make it a budget visit.

    • Hi KC, to be honest 4D3N is not enough for skiiers but too much for non lover. So which side are you? You can use 1 day to learn 2 days to enjoy different slopes. Should be enjoyable if you love ski

  10. Hi Tommy – great blog you maintain here – thanks you for all the sharing!

    I am taking my family for a Hokkaido trip over the xmas and new year period this year so I have a few questions:

    1) you mentioned Niseko has more black ice than other spots – where specifically? we’re driving from Hakodate to Niseko, and Niseko to Otaru (probably around noon) and we’re driving from Otaru to Asahikawa (leaving early in the morning)

    2) we’re booking via Tocoo for a 4WD Subaru and was told the ETC will be delivered to our hotel in Hakodate and we pick it up when reach hotel, then we had to mail it back to them via the provided envelope – is that what you guys experienced too?

    Thanks for helping!

    Cheers
    Casey

  11. Hi Tommy, such a great guide to Hokkaido!

    I’m planning to go to Hokkaido around early of February 2017.
    Is it possible to get around without using car?

    How’s the weather in February, is it bearable to walk around if I don’t rent a car?

    Thank you and looking forward to your reply.
    Cheers!

  12. Hi tommy, for winter driving in hokkaido, do you think renting a 4WD is necessary? I went through toocoo website and tried to find a package to depart from Chitose and end in sapporo. but couldn’t get any package that include both HEP and ETC. I heard sapporo parking rate is expensive and therefore I plan to take train during the last 2.5 days of my trip in sapporo. Do you think it’s a wise choice? thanks

    • Hi Ellyn, not neccessary 4WD is needed cos we rented a compact car as well. Make sure it is snow tyre and to be safer metal chain. Sapporo parking at both our hotel is 2000 yen per day for unlimited entry. So u can drive to far places with car and use public transport in city center

  13. Hi Tommy, fortunate to chance upon your blog! V informative 🙂 thanks so much!
    May i check with you where are we able to get HEP from? We have booked a car with ToCoo! and as we will be travelling quite a bit (chitose airport > Niseko > Hakodate > Noboribetsu > Sapporo > Otaru > Furano > Sapporo), thought having a HEP is more cost effective?

  14. Hi Tommy, can I check if we rent the car through ToCoo! Do they have Hokkaido highway pass? Also I saw their winter car rental package was snow tyre fully equipped, is this meant that the metal chain included? Thanks Tommy

  15. Hi Tommy, may I know you travel to Hokkaido was during which month? I am planning to travel on Feb 2017 I am in dilemma whether it’s dangerous to self drive. Could you share more about your experience self drive during your trip?

    • Hi we went in early March, definitely recommended but do bear in mind to drive extra slowly 50% slower than usual. With car it is much more convenient

    • Hi Annysia, we just returned from Hokkaido on Saturday, 10 dec before it got snowed in and we did six days of driving on our arrival that took us to Lake Toya, Hakodate and Niseko before returning the car in Susukino City in Sapporo. Tommy’s recommendations are tops and we enjoyed many of the sights and the delicious food options he suggested and I especially like the ramen in Niseko. It is safe to drive if you have experienced drivers who are careful and alert. Speed limits are 40 km per hour on the rural roads and 60 to 80 km per hour on the highways but during poor visibility and snow you could be driving at speeds of 25 to 30 km and so you must have patient and alert drivers. You need a car with 4 wheel drive for better traction and in February 2017 it could get colder (or hotter) as we had temperatures of between 2 to 4 degrees most of the days. The Times Car Rental company is very good and the GPS is awesome as it gets you to all your locations without fuss. Driving gives you far more flexibility and you can explore more and so we have no regrets driving. You do need an international driving permit if you plan to drive there. Go for it, it is a worthwhile adventure if you are a competent driver.

        • Hi Charles and Tommy, thank you so much for your valuable comments. much appreciated.
          Glad you had an amazing trip and after reading your comments I have better insights on how to plan for my trip and I’m so looking forward for my Hokkaido trip 🙂

  16. Hi Tommy,

    Have tried to book rooms in sapporo, niseko or even tomamu for mid to xmassy dec 2017 but seem like they are all not available!?! Does room in hokkaido sell out that fast or they are not open for booking yet? Would you recommend self drive during Dec for a family of 5 with 2 luggages? Many thanks in advance.

    • Hi. We were in Sapporo / Niseko / Hokkaido from 1 – 10 December 2016 and we had a wonderful time using information from Tommy’s Blog. We only booked our accommodation around July or August and so I think that you are too early for your hotel booking.

      Unless you have very experienced drivers who can drive in winter, we would hesitate to recommend a self drive as it gets very tricky. My brother in law and I have more than 30 years of driving experience each and for both of us it was the first time we drove in winter and even then it was a challenge especially when it snowed heavily. You also need to apply for an international driving license as the Singapore Driving License is not recognised for driving there.

      With a family of five you will need an MPV and do not forget that it is winter and so two luggages will not be enough for a family of five unless they are young children. We were two couples and we had four large luggages and two smaller bags for snacks and food and still needed an MPV. We hired an 8 seater Mazda Premacy from Times Car Rentals and it was equipped with snow tyres. A very good and safe car as it is a 4 wheel drive. Better to have a 4 wheel drive for winter as it gives you better road holding on ice and snow.

      Hope this helps.

  17. Hi Tommy, I am looking at the having some basic skiing lessons for my wife, my son and I. The price for a family comes up to be about ¥ 35,000 for 3 hours. Is this normal? Are there any cheaper alternatives for family ski classes? The other way seems to be to split us up and join various group classes.

    Please advise. Thanks.

  18. Hi Tommy, what is the average car park rate in Hokkaido? or do you have the list of them?
    I heard Sapporo car park rate is count by hours, then the other cities and tourist spot are count by per entry.
    Is Tyre chain allowed to use in city? I aware it will damage the surface of the road.

  19. Hi Tommy, read ur interesting block on Hokkaido. Me n my girlfriend will be visiting hokkaido on oct 19, 2017 till Oct 30. Arriving Chitose Airport @ 8.10am. We depart from Chitose Airport @ 9.30am. Since we are 1st timers, would greatly appreciate ur great advice in moving around, where 2 start, reasonably-priced accommodation, mode of transportation,food, etc. Since it’s just 2 of us ladies, pls advice best mode of transportation.

    Any further advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks.

    Brgds,
    Margaret

    • Hi Margaret, enjoy your trip by touring CHitose airport, eat your breakfast and visit Doraemon center there. We self drive to Hakodate, Lake toya, Niseko, Otaru and Sapporo

  20. Hi Tommy,

    Thanks for posting up these informative infomations. I would like to seek your advise on below items:

    1) Car rental – Over luggage
    I will be travelling with family of 8 adult. Planning to get an MPV with 8 seater. But the issue we have is the luggage space. Is the car rental will reject your booking on the spot if we have luggage more than what stated in their website?

    2) Car rental- pickup and return
    Can I know if you pick up and return your car at CTS airport? My return flight is early in the morning and i survey on car rental website, their office is only open at 10am

    3) Sapporo City
    I will plan Sapporo city as my last place to visit in my itinerary. I heard that moving around in Sapporo is easy and convenience. Do you think that with 8 adults, it will be cost efficient for us to use public transport or continue renting the car? Also is it convenience to get to the airport by public transport?

    Thanks

    • Hi Tammy,

      There is no point trying to squeeze more luggage than allowed as any damage to the car will be borne by you and it will make trip uncomfortable since there is no place to sit and for luggage.

      Our car rental office opens from 7am so we have no prob. Do recheck the time open. Yes city center sapporo is more convenient with public transport however if going surrounding like Asahi factory, Shiroi Koibito Park then car is easier

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