Wild Peninsula at the Eastern End of Hokkaido
Shiretoko Peninsula is located in the north-east of Hokkaido island. It is home to a National Park renowned for its unique marine and forest ecosystem, enlisted in the UNESCO Natural World Heritage since 2005. This wild and preserved destination can be discovered through guided hikes and cruises.
The Shiretoko peninsula enjoys an exceptional wildlife thanks to its volcanic soil and water-surrounded environment. Shiretoko National Park protects the primary forest that is home to many wild species such as brown bears, foxes and deers. On the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk it is also possible to watch dolphins colonies, seals as well as seaside birds such as sea eagles, cormorants, and gulls.
Visitors must be aware of the wildlife’s huge presence and take precautions. It is strongly recommended to check the situation before going, especially weather forecast. Movement restrictions due to storm warnings at sea, typhoons 🌀 or wild animals spotted in specific areas occur on a daily basis.
The main activities in Shiretoko, like hiking in the forest, and cruises along the coastline, are therefore supervised and usually available from spring 🌸 to autumn 🍁, namely from late April to late October. In winter time, ferry ⛴️ boat cruises are occasionally organized to watch the drift ice (ryuhyo).
While the JR station Shiretoko-Shari is the closest to the entrance of the natural reserve, it is still necessary to drive on the Road 334 or take a bus to go there. It is possible to visit part of the national park by car 🚙, through the 30 kilometers of the Shiretoko Pass, a high road crossing the peninsula east to west between Utoro and Rausu ports. It is by the way closed in winter due to snowfall.
🛥️ Boat cruise from Utoro Port
Located on the west coast, Utoro is, along with Rausu, one of the 2 departing ports for sightseeing cruises. During about 1 hour, the boat navigates along the high cliffs of the Shiretoko Peninsula and its wonderful landscapes. There a views on:
- Rock formations, such as sea caves;
- Pebble beaches 🏖 where brown bears sometimes come close to the sea;
- Several waterfalls falling into the Sea of Okhotsk, such as Furepe Falls or Kamuiwakka; and,
- The summits of the Shiretoko Mountain range such as Mount Io.
The boat trip is very popular in summer time and the ship can be crowded, with only explanations in Japanese over a microphone. We rather recommend going for a walk and follow the marked trails in the forest as they have beautiful viewpoints and offer an immersion in nature.
👣 Hiking around the Shiretoko Goko 5 Lakes
Shiretoko Goko 5 lakes trail is one of the national park’s easiest hikes. Near the western coastline, the natural formation of 5 volcanic lakes, each named by a number from 1 to 5, is spreading around a wetland. The magnificent landscape offers a panoramic view on the mountains and their perfect reflection on the quiet waters. Several pathways were arranged:
- An elevated wooden boardwalk, extending on 800 meters long, for an easy family walk that is also accessible to visitors with reduced mobility, and is punctuated by 3 lovely observatories on lake n°1; and,
- The 2 ground trails circling around lakes N°2 and 3, for approximately 40 minutes to 1h30’ walk (1,6km to 3 km).
Hikers are strongly advised to NOT carry food to avoid attracting wild animals, only water is allowed. Moreover, it is recommended to talk loudly while walking, or carry a small bell on the rucksack, so that animals are warned of human presence. Each visitor willing to walk the trail must be registered and pay an admission fee. On top of that, during the seasonal peak of brown bears’ activity from May 10 to July 31, a guide is required for all tours.
Shiretoko is a fascinating nature destination, still giving an authentic "end of the world" feeling. The unique natural balance, both on the sea surrounding the peninsula and inland in the heart of the mountains and primeval forest, is humbling.