05 August, 2013

Our Hokkaido Adventure Day 11

Wednesday July 3, Shumarinai Lake to Wakkanai

Taking a walk at lunch time. This day we discovered
michi no eki, also extend to non-express highways
in Hokkaido. Literally that means "road stations" or
places where you can stop and rest, use the facilities,
buy food, fill-up the car etc. In Honshu on the express-
ways they are called "road islands"!
The ugliness over the bees continued the next morning as we packed up. The boys stood around all hunched over, and ready to run at the slightest hint of a bee. It was very frustrating because we wanted the boys' help for packing up camp. I can’t say that I dealt with it very well. I apologized to them later in the day for the nastiness that spilled out of me.

I think this is the wetlands south of Wakkanai. We took
a little detour to drive through there. It is unusual in
Japan to see such flat land with nothing on it. There
were signs warning people not to go off the road,
especially on their snow skiis.

Mt Rishiri, off the coast on Rishiri Island. This is one of
two islands just off the coast at Wakkanai. They
both have a number of campsites, but we decided just
to stick with Wakkanai this time, especially as our
goal was to see more of Hokkaido than just the area
around Wakkanai.
Moods improved as we drove out of the campsite and headed to our next destination: Wakkanai, at the top of Hokkaido (and Japan). Unfortunately we’d run out of expressways and had to travel the cheaper, but much slower ordinary roads, which are all 50 km/hr. No slowing down for towns (except for the traffic lights), traffic travels slowly the whole way. Though admittedly most traffic seemed to travel around 65-70. It still took us more than 4 hours to travel 200 km, though we did not hustle over lunch.

We were almost alone at this campsite (aside from the
many, many park-golfers but they didn't sleep the night),
partly because of a threat of rain. Lots of room for the
boys to play with the frisbees.
On the way up we admired the island Rishiri. It is 40km off the coast but looks much closer as a 1,700m mountain dominates it!

Wakkanai is bigger than we thought, it has about 38,000 people. This city has an average annual temperature of 6.5 degrees Celcius, with 6.6m metres of snow annually, one of the highest for any city in the world. An average January day would have temperatures between -2.7 and -6.8. Add to that an average wind speed of 20 km/hr and you have a pretty inhospitable place.

We’re glad we’re here in summer, not winter! Earlier in the week it was about 30 degrees. The day we arrived it was probably more like 18 degrees. It also has the distinction of being the windiest city in Japan. Thankfully it isn’t very windy today, although it has rained for a good portion of the night.

With a threat of rain, we had very cooperative kids in setting up camp, possibly our best set-up time the whole trip. We had the basics completed in under an hour. It helped that there was a lot less “nature” around (i.e. no bees). The campsite is a large grassed area with no large trees. Actually, from the look of the city, large trees seem to be very scarce. It looks exactly as you might expect a city with a severe winter to look: hills that are covered only with grass and short brush.

Driving into Wakkanai from the west.
Once the basics of the camp were set up, I drove 10 minutes back into town to get supplies. There only seems to be one grocery store, but it was a biggie, with lots of choice. It took me ages to get what I wanted, combination of a large, unfamiliar store and a good deal of indecisiveness about the menu on my part.

One shocking thing for me were the signs that had Japanese and Russian on them, not Japanese and English. I'm definitely not used to that. I gathered that they have a reasonable Russian population. Actually I found out later that we could have (with a lot of money and a little preparation) caught a ferry to the Russian island Sakhalin from Wakkanai, it is only a 5.5hr journey. We found out later that there is a good deal of emotion in the area regarding this island's possession by Russia. It's a controversial subject and the ownership has gone back and forth between the two countries over the centuries, but I won't elaborate on that today.

You can see how it is mostly low-shrubs. I figure the large
trees of the rest of Japan just don't get a chance to grow. 
They make use of the wind. We couldn't count how many of these electricity generating windmills there were on the hills around the area.

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