After visiting Hakodate our next destination in Hokkaido is Lake Toya, renowned for its mesmerizing landscape and natural onsen in the surrounding area.
Our short trip in Hokkaido means we have to skip Noboribetsu and leave it for our next Hokkaido trip in 2017. 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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
After 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 is one of the most famous ramen shop renowned for its potato foam ramen, do expect long queue and wear sufficiently during winter.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
We have started to blog our Hokkaido Self Drive Trip , feel free to read the blog for our full travel experiences in Hokkaido.
- 11 Days 9 Nights Hokkaido Self Drive Trip – Shin Chitose & Hakodate (Part 1)
- Travel Guide : 15 Must Visit Attractions & Food in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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.