Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hokkaido Autumn Guide: Koyo-chasing (fall foliage) in Furano, Biei, Blue Pond and Sounkyo Onsen!

This is one post of a multi-part series covering our Two weeks Tokyo & Hokkaido Travel Guide:
    ▫ Singapore Airlines Suites Class from Singapore to Tokyo
    ▫ Three Days in Tokyo: Off the Beaten Path
    ▫ Sapporo, Otaru and Cape Kamui: Scenic Self-Drive Guide
    ▫ Furano, Biei, Sounkyou and Asahikawa: Amazing Autumn Colours
    ▫ Jozankei, Noboribetsu and Hakodate: Unparalleled Beauty
    ▫ Scoot's ScootBiz Class from Tokyo to Singapore



In our view, Hokkaido is best visited either during Winter (for skiing/snowboarding and the Sapporo Snow Festival), or during Fall/Autumn, when gorgeous hues of yellow and red lend character to the monotony of an otherwise all-green foliage. We'd heard that the mountain range & hills of the Daisetsuzan National Park are the best place to chase the autumn colours in early October, so we plot a course to one of the popular entry points: Sounkyo Onsen, with pit stops along the way at Furano and Biei.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Biei Sounkyo Onsen map

From our starting point of Otaru, the expressway to Sapporo is a dull, boring drive. A little further into the mountains, though, and the straight road starts winding and curving around the hills. The backdrop also improves noticeably, with progressively increasing hues and tints of yellow and red; compensating somewhat for the annoying 40-50km/h speed limits.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Biei Sounkyo Onsen road
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Biei Sounkyo Onsen road

Two-and-a-half hours later we take a first pit stop at Furano. The town, and the various surrounding farms, are hugely popular for visitors in the summertime for lavender flower fields. October is quite a bit past the peak lavender season, but there are still quite a few nice autumn flower fields around.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano flowers

Before visiting the most famous of all the touristy farms around the area, Farm Tomita, we pay a visit to Tomita Melon House: A small collection of charming buildings serving up slices of juicy and impossibly sweet Hokkaido Melon, and other snacks & tid-bits like Melon Pan (with actual melon cream) and creamy, fatty Furano Milk.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Tomita Melon House
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Tomita Melon House
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Tomita Melon House

We then head over to the adjoining Farm Tomita proper! Interestingly enough, access to the farm and its various flower fields is totally free. The biggest of the lavender fields are, unfortunately, out of season, but the smaller ones are full of multi-coloured autumn flowers and are beautiful in their own way.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Farm Tomita Flowers
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Farm Tomita Flowers

There are a few rows of lavender flowers - purple and majestic; with a terrific backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Daisatsuzan Mountains.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Farm Tomita Lavender

The farm's primary source of income is extracting essence of lavender (and other flowers) to make perfume, which it sells in the various gift shops littered around the property. If that's not quite your cup of tea, the cafe serves up some surprisingly fragrant lavender soft serve ice cream, cream croquettes and Buttered Corn & Potato (じゃがコーンバター).

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Furano Farm Tomita Snacks

After stocking up on a few bottles of lavender perfume as gifts for family back home, we get into our car and head to Biei; stopping briefly only for a quick photo of this cheerful little sunflower field ...

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sunflower Field

... before reaching the Blue Pond. This pond shot to fame when a photo was featured as part of OSX Mountain Lion's desktop wallpaper. It normally has a very milky light blue colour, but strangely enough in our visit it was more a murky dark green.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Biei Blue Pond
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Biei Blue Pond

As there's some sunlight time remaining, we head over to Biei; to explore the area north-west of town known as the Patchwork Road (パッチワークの路).

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Biei Map

Why Biei? Well, thanks to the farms and contours of the hills, the entire area is simply amazing.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Biei Patchwork Road

We also engaged in some Japanese-style sightseeing: Hunting down various groups of trees that are famous for various reasons. Pictured below: the Mild Seven Tree (famous for being in a cigarette commercial a long time ago), and the Parent Child Tree (famous for some other unknown reason).

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Biei Mild Seven Tree
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Biei Parent Child Tree

Since tree-chasing after sunset is probably a bit of a waste of effort, we drive to our accommodation for the next two nights at Sounkyo Onsen: Choyo Resort Hotel.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sounkyo Onsen Choyo Resort

Our Japanese-style room comes in at ¥30,350/night, and is inclusive of buffet breakfast and dinner. In the evenings, a crew goes from room to room setting up the futons - thin, Japanese-style mattresses that are great for cultural immersion but not so great for actual comfort to older backs.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sounkyo Onsen Choyo Resort Japanese Room

The dinner can only be described as adequate; other than the free-flow ズワイガニ (snow crab) legs, the remainder of the buffet items aren't particularly delicious.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sounkyo Onsen Choyo Resort Buffet Dinner



With a full day of sightseeing done and dusted, we retire for the night. Tomorrow, we visit the rest of Sounkyo Onsen, the Kurodake Mountains, and the Asahiyama Zoo on the way back to Sapporo. Do check it out!

7 comments:

  1. Hi there, may I know what were the dates that you travelled? Hope to gauge the koyo season for next year as I'm doing a similar trip to yours! Thanks!

    -Jo

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jo, our overall trip was 4th-17th Oct. Specifically for this post (Furano/Biei) -- 10th Oct. Have fun planning your trip!

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    2. Ah so I gather that you were in Hokkaido 8th - 17th? Thank you! :)

      - Jo

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  2. thank you very much for your blog and suggestions ! it is my first time to Japan and we start at Hokkaido- for 5 days only so your suggestions are most valuable- one question- would you recommend a night in Sapporo ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Celeste,

      I'd say it depends on whether you're interested specifically in spending some time in Sapporo - e.g., if you want to go up to Mt Moiwa, or have genghis khan (bbq mutton and beer), or to visit one of the morning markets for fresh seafood on rice. You can always check out the Japan Guide page at http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2163.html - if the attractions are interesting to you then it could be good to spend a night.

      On the other hand, since you have only 5 days in Hokkaido, I might be tempted to skip Sapporo and just go to the surrounding areas - Otaru, Jozankei, Noboribetsu, Biei, Furano, Sounkyo Onsen, etc etc - and leave the "city viewing" for Tokyo or Osaka.

      Hope that helped, have a great trip!

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  3. Hi, this post is interesting as I am planning for Hokkaido trip coming Oct.
    Will arrive Shin-chitose on 15th Oct morning, and planning to leave Hokkaido to Osaka on 20th Oct at noon by domestic flight. That will give me 5-1/2 days in Hokkaido, and I am thinking of visiting these places:
    1) Furano / Biei / Asahikawa
    2) Otaru / Otaru canal
    3) Noboribetsu / hell's valley
    4) Hakodate
    5) Sapporo (may skip if not enough time)

    Hope you can recommend from where I should start and end my journey, how many days / nights to spend at each spot.

    Your advice is much appreciated.

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  4. Great and very informative blog. REALLY helped me a lot in planning a trip. Thank you very much.
    Bala, Singapore

    ReplyDelete