It was an enjoyable two days exploring Sapporo and the nearby town of Otaru. Today marks the sixth day of our epic Hokkaido road trip, and we were bound for the countryside from here on out. Specifically, our first destination of the day was the lavender-filled rural town of Furano, a two-hour drive from urban Sapporo.
Before that, we decided to stop by the incredible Moerenuma Park on the way out.
Having seen some spectacular snapshots of Moerenuma Park’s various features online, we were extremely excited to view them up close and personal. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas, and we were soon caught in a mini-thunderstorm on the way there.
Determined not to let the rain hinder our plans, we braved the downpour and made a dash for the nearest structure, a towering Glass Pyramid called Hidamari.
To our surprise, the place was teeming with locals and tourists alike just hanging out and taking in the sights, in spite of the rain. Good for them.
Formerly a waste disposal site, the entire park was designed by visionary sculpture artist Isamu Noguchi, giving rise to the term “landscape sculpture.” Indeed, it felt like the entire park was an art gallery, with each massive structure as art pieces.
And it was at the Glass Pyramid where disaster struck. At the rooftop, my camera took a tumble off the tripod as the rushing wind blew it off its feet. The result:
Thankfully, the camera itself emerged unscathed – the lens filter took the brunt of the fall, as you can see. I was still able to use my camera as per usual by switching out the lens, albeit with extra care. Hooray!
With the rain letting up a bit, we headed out to take a stroll in the blowing wind.
Unfortunately, the forces of nature proved too much to bear, and after traversing Play Mountain, we decided not to peruse the other 7 main features of the park. For the next trip!
For now, it was off to Furano for us. Along the way, we chanced upon the beautiful Lake Katsurazawa, which was mercifully empty and hence very tranquil. A perfect spot to send the drone up for some aerial shots!
We also came across an empty carpark-like space along the highway, a bit further down, which presented another opportunity to use the drone.
It is the random moments and opportunities like these that make road trips so addictive for us. Pretty hard to go back to organized tours after that!
Finally, we reached Furano, and headed straight for our hotel for the night, Furano Natalux Hotel.
Once we were checked in, it was off to the romantic and cozy cottages of Ningle Terrace.
Each of the lovely cottages here house a speciality arts and crafts store each. The entire area, walkways and cottages alike, are comprised of natural materials. Set amongst pine trees and waterfalls, it does indeed give off a very dreamy vibe, like you’ve been teleported to another world.
As craftspeople ourselves, it was also nice to hang around and watch the craftsmen and craftswomen at work.
Time to grab a quick bite at our next stop, Furano Cheese Factory.
Furano Cheese Factory
Located near the JR Furano train station, this factory is a hot spot for tourists. And for good reason – the cheese that is used to make a whole range of delicacies is simply to die for.
Here, we got to have a peek at the production process of the cheese from behind windows, as well as savour freshly made cheese samples, cheese cakes, and ice cream. There was also a mini pizzeria, which was unfortunately closed when we got there.
I highly recommend the cheesecake, which is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before – in Japan or otherwise. Soft, creamy, and decadent – absolutely delicious.
While we were busy snacking, nightfall had sneaked in, and it was time for dinner. Since it had been a while since we’d eaten sushi (quite unusual for a Japan trip), we decided to try out Fukuzushi, which is a popular eating spot around these parts, and was recommended by the hotel staff.
While we were making our orders, our waitress asked us a strange question, which was something along the lines of “upgrading” our rice to “jumbo” – and for free, too!
It was only when the sushi arrived that we realized that the speciality here was jumbo-sized sushi. Check it out:
Incredible. Truly, the ingenuity of the Japanese people knows no bounds. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal!
With that, it was back to the hotel for the night. Did I mention what a great view we had from our hotel room at Furano Natalux?
The room was especially comfortable and well-designed as well, and made for a great night’s rest.
The next day, our first stop was Farm Tomita, another very popular tourist attraction.
This particular farm is famous for its wide array of lavender and colorful flowers. In fact, it has around 10 flower fields, and around 15 houses which each feature different items made with the flowers.
As such, we were expecting something like this when we arrived:
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the right season when we pulled up to the farm. Here’s what we saw:
To top it off, the rain had made a comeback from the previous day. So we huddled in the local cafe, and got some breakfast and hot coffee. It was strangely pleasant, though pretty chilly.
Still, all was not lost – some of the fields had already begun to bloom, and were quite beautiful.
The local flower shop was also quite an eye-opener:
Our next destination enroute to Biei was another flower haven, as you can tell from the name: Flower Land Kamifurano.
The flowers here bloom from May till September, so we were a tad too early as well. However, we were just in time to grab a bite of freshly picked green asparagus and potatoes, lightly seasoned with pepper and salt and grilled on the spot for us. Simply, but heavenly.
Loved the pictures? Then you’ll probably this full-on, photos-only version of our Moerenuma and Furano experience. Check it out!
Onwards to Biei, then. A tiny town surrounded by vast expanses of hills, fields, and flowers, the stretch of road leading there was extremely enjoyable to drive through. We were also keeping a lookout for the famous Patchwork Road and Panorama Road, which are north-west and south of the town center respectively.
In particular, we were looking for a particular crossroads between the two where the road ahead stretches out seemingly into infinity. When we finally found it, it quite literally took our breaths away:
What an incredible view. Since there wasn’t anyone else around, we took the opportunity to grab more shots.
It was a great spot to chill, so we took a bite out of the cheesecake that we had recently bought from Furano Cheese Factory.
Next up: Shikisai no Oka, another lovely flower garden, to grab lunch and enjoy the scenery.
Shikisai no Oka
Covering some 15 hectares of land, Shikisai no Oka – or Hills of Seasonal Colors – is certainly the largest flower garden in Biei. Featuring field after field of flowers, it was a really pretty sight to behold, and we enjoyed it from the restaurant in the main building over lunch.
While entrance is free, they encourage visitors to donate 200 yen for the upkeep of the place, which is certainly a fair amount. You can add on an additional sum to take the various rides around the area, such as tractors, carts, and buggies.
The next places on our list were the Shirahige Waterfall, and the Instagram-famous Blue Pond (or Aoiike). Located in the Shirogane Onsen village of Biei, the shimmering blue water that fills the Blue Pond in fact originates from the Shirahige Waterfall.
We visited the Blue Pond first, as it was on our way over.
First things first: this place is a massive tourist attraction, so be ready to squeeze around with people from all corners of the globe. That said, the Blue Pond looks beautiful from any angle, so there’s plenty of space to appreciate and enjoy the view.
Further down the road, the Shirahige Waterfall is equally majestic, even when viewed from a distance.
With the mountains towering in the background, this sight is certainly wallpaper-worthy. For a better overall view, head over the bridge and climb the stairs up to the top. Totally worth it.
Phew, that was quite a lot to cover. Time for some rest at Hokkaido’s second largest city, Asahikawa. As night was fast approaching, we headed straight for our accommodation for the evening, Art Hotel Asahikawa.
More on that in our next post!
Loved the pictures? Then you’ll probably this full-on, photos-only version of our Furano and Biei experience. Check it out!