Continuing my 14 day tour from the northern Hokkaido town of Nayoro. Part one can be read here.
After some wet days I was feeling upbeat knowing the rain was mostly finished. I decided to push out the mileage today about as far as I dare to try see some extra places and regain a little that had been lost due to wet weather. A teaser of what is coming up in the picture below but before that I had another wet and overcast start today on day eight. Hokkaido Motorcycle Tour – part two first appeared on Motorcycle Paradise August 2016
Interesting the flaura this far north changes to birch trees which I cannot recall seeing anywhere else in Japan. This artwork is to represent snow or ice and for sure it must get bitterly cold up this way in winter. I took my time this morning as the rain had just stopped and the roads all very wet. As I moved west towards the ocean on the nice road 239 the traffic ahead had started to make a dry line and I could really enjoy the terrific sweepers and more tight corners on a small range before dropping down to sea level. And then the sun came out properly the first time in a few days and the temperatures rose as I started south along the ocean road and I might have done a little pretend dance standing on the foot pegs The coastal road is scenic with gentle curves and after the rain it was more than enjoyable just to be dry. Temperatures continued to rise settling around 30 degrees and super steamy which was not the best in my gear but acceptable long as I was moving. I had seen a poster on the wall of the hotel reception last night of a interesting looking cape that I was bypassing so I revised my route to go via there which added considerable mileage but with the roads more open and faster flowing in Hokkaido I was confident it would be achievable.
Traffic really ramped up approaching Sapporo and remained heavy to Otaru where it was grid lock due to a major summer fireworks festival. I started to steam in the Gore-Tex gear in 30 degree heat not moving so had to call in a bit more aggressive city lane splitting and other tricks to get the hell out of there quick and into a cool 7/11 for some sports water drinks to make sure I did not dehydrate.
Late afternoon I eventually arrived Shakotan and Cape Kamui which I had seen pictured last night. The scenery here is more stunning than I can capture with my basic photography. I would go as far to say this is the most dramatic coastline I have seen in Japan and it is a country with some stupendous ocean roads but this sits at the top of that pile for now. Click to enlarge any photo. I wish I had more time to see the area better and photograph the sunset but I had to ride on to Niseko, my original destination, so reluctantly I left. The ride south east along the rest of the cape was good also. I got a good run to Mt Niseko so decided to ride over it today rather than leave it for tomorrow. I thought you just never know with the weather I have had so far. The light was fading but it is not a long mountain road and I made it over on dusk. Alas no photos as the top was shrouded in clouds obscuring the views but the road itself was dry and rides very nice. This is how it looked to the GPS which is best I can offer.
I had not intended (originally) to stay in Niseko but every hotel room remotely close to Sapporo was booked out tonight for the fireworks festival so this was the nearest I could find along my route. Niseko is known as Australia village in winter when it is taken over by 1000’s of Aussies who come for the skiing. Like any ski resort area it is dead off season but even so the prices for rooms remained high.
Nothing really attractive about the place to me but can tick it off. Glad I rode the mountain when I did as next day it was covered in thick blanket of fog which would have been no fun. I detoured south on the surprisingly good route 5 then to the coast on a minor road 229 which turned out to be good curves also. Riding south along the coast there were many small fishing villages. A small festival was underway in one. Fishing boats arriving with very colourful flags. Lovely ocean side ride today with interesting rock pools on my right and waterfalls tumbling down on my left. Lovely little spot for lunch in a local park with toilet which as always in Japan is spotless with clean towel and things like a heater and flower display. The way that public amenities are not vandalised here like everywhere else in the world continues to delight me. I did zig-zag half way down the coast to ride some mountain roads and these were terrific riding but the mountains had some clouds once again blocking the views for me so I returned to the coast road. Must get rather gusty at times. Here’s to you Oiwake Soran line. Nice end to my time in Hokkaido. I did ride some more rural roads after this but still lots of clouds away from the seaside and a little rain near Hakkodate at the last lookout point on my route so nature was determined to not let me see any more than this for now.
Arriving at the ferry it was a similar setup leaving Aomori. Scan your code at the self serve kiosk/booth then get a boarding pass printed out. Make my way towards the boat where I was checked and sent straight on. I never got a photo of either ferry but they are a bit big to capture on the dock anyway so this is the official photo of the one operating from Hakkodate to Oma. Just 50 minute sailing to Oma. It worked best for me to do this shorter crossing on the return due to the sailing times. The sun was shining well and truly today and the temperature was scorching hot by mid morning as I set off from Oma a town somewhat lost in time like so many in rural Japan.
More great lunch spots, choice of a small cove one side or park on the other. Sitting under a shady tree won today. The coast road from here route 338 was incredible. Not only the views which were jaw dropping. But also almost zero cars and good surveying and surface which all went on and on. It has to rank up in the top ten rides in Japan. There is also a terrific mountain road section too just in case you think it is all just views. I met a guy touring on a 125cc scooter who recommended I visit the other side to see the wild horses so I made a detour later but just before arriving at the other cape heavy fog rolled in reducing visibility. Got to be some sort of curse on me this ride but it sure cooled things down nicely. Looking at the map below I detoured to the eastern top point before south to Misawa on mostly straight open road that allowed me to arrive not too late. Misawa soon became blanketed in heavy fog also all night.
Day eleven was a big program. First of all I was visiting another peninsular area in Aomori but first I had the wonderful Hakkoda mountains to further explore via routes 394/40/103. Excellent roads there but not easy to photograph.
Riding up the coast I came upon a small park off the main road for lunch with this dreamy view across to Oma region where I had been yesterday. And every view point after this was fantastic. And look no fog or clouds! Things just got better and better. At Minmayatatsuhama you climb steeply and looking back have a view all the way to Hokkaido which no matter how I tried I was unable to capture how impressive this view was. The best of the whole trip yet impossible to covey by photo. I spent a while soaking it up and perhaps should have shot some video here to see if that might have been better.
Some landscapes I find transfer to still 2D photo not too bad while others lose everything and look nothing like what they did to the naked eye. It is something I am pondering about at the moment. I don’t have the luxury to shoot everything at the best time of day as I would never get anywhere. Composure obviously is very important, I find later a different angle I took not expecting anything can turn out to be the best shot with landscapes. Would a larger sensor camera, better dedicated lens help? Perhaps. But more time and better technique on my part is needed. I left the cape area totally satisfied with the amazing views I had seen when around the next part of the cape on the western side I am presented with this. What an amazing place Japan is for a rider. I meander back down south returning to farm lands and some might excellent curves on rural Ajigasawa highway. Very lush farm area as I approach Mt Iwate I see this sign.
What it refers to is the Mt Iwate toll road. This is Japan’s ‘Stelvio’. 69 switchback corners take you almost straight up the side of the mountain. It was 4.00pm and the road closes at 5.00pm but I was only going for a quick look so paid the toll of about $10 and set the FJR ride mode to Sport for the first time in awhile.
69 switchback corners on a FJR, what was I thinking ha-ha. But actually the corner radius are not too tight like Stelvio which has the advantage of being very photogenic but is actually not enjoyable to ride. On a lighter machine like the MT-09 Tracer I rode in New Zealand this road would be magic but the FJR coped better than I expected.
I should take a moment to praise the bike which has been terrific on this tour, the electric screen has deflected the cold and much of the rain then lowered flows plenty of air on hot days. The cruise control came in handy on Hokkaido’s less interesting roads and it was comfortable all day every day. I have bitched about a couple of things in my long term review but I am starting to have doubts about being able to switch to a lighter machine end of this year as planned. Above the clouds Mt Iwate. Yes of course the view was again obscured by clouds by the time I reached the top. I was not even slightly fazed having gotten used to this by now. An amazing day of riding in the the Aomori region. I was staying in Hirosaki tonight and one of the four major Japanese summer festivals the Neputa Festival was being held. Similar to the more well know Nebuta Festival in Aomori city it is a visual extravaganza. People getting ready. You can simply bring a folding seat and lots of food and beer being sold. And then it begins! Have a look at this short video. It was an extraordinary event and huge, it was like above for 2 1/2 hours! I am already planning to return next year. Day 12. I was recovering some of my route yesterday past Mt Iwate to circle north and ride down the coast before turning inland to ride through the heart of the Akita region. This was retracing a train journey I made some years ago taking small regional trains along this route.
The coast road was ok but after riding the previous two amazing coastal roads of Oma and Imabetsu it was not as special and had a little more traffic than I prefer. Riding through Akita was very scenic following the train line I had previously taken. It was a small two carriage train that serviced the many small villages in the valley and mountains. If you like the idea of traveling Japan on something like that then don’t wait as these services are clinging to survival and being replaced by buses. I didn’t take too many photos today. Just enjoyed the fine rural riding. I continued my way south on the west coast side on day thirteen in fine and hot weather.
Some terrific back roads around Mt Chokai. There are some roads that join to form scenic byways here. Not entirely sure on the details on these signs but lovely area and something to explore more in the future I hope.
I was heading to the Chokai Blue Line, the northern ascent of Mt Chokai which is a simply brilliant mountain ride. I broke one of my rules of not passing by either a good photo opportunity (or fuel or food) on the way up thinking no problems I can enjoy a coffee break first. Very clear skies. I chatted a little to this guy touring on a 125cc mini bike. See heaps of these sort of bikes in Thailand but they never leave the city let alone tour on them. Of course you already can guess what was going to happen. My recent cloud curse came into affect again. By the time I had returned to take a photo clouds were rolling in at a high rate of knots and I only had time to snap one quick photo before they cut off the view entirely. Sigh. Easy rural riding on the way to the next destination today called ‘The Three Mountains of Dewa’ Then some nice curves and a small climb to a temple complex where there is a famous five level pagoda. I set off walking but it soon became apparent hiking up a mountain on a 31 degrees humid day in riding boots and gore-tex pants was foolhardy. I reluctantly, but wisely turned around and settled on looking about the main temple grounds.
Most of my photos ended up out of focus, the Lumix LX100 camera has a lot of focus problems as well as it’s jpeg colour rendering is woefully inaccurate. Panasonic don’t issue firmware updates unlike other makers to rectify and improve their cameras so I find my iPhone often takes a superior photo to my real camera and have not moved my photography forward as much as I had hoped before buying this camera. From here some nice mountain roads down to the scenic but busy coast road. Small but nice beaches. I was chatting to a guy who when I said I am from Australia he replied oh it is famous for beaches but what he doesn’t realise is they have huge waves and rip tides and not so safe or relaxing as this. I went back inland along route 290 south which I had read was good. It was ok. Mostly easy and scenic riding through the super green fields of rice. They use remote controlled helicopters to do crop dusting type work here. Tonight was going to be my last hotel and I had a tinge of sadness that the ride was approaching the end so took my time on the pretty rural roads before jumping on the expressway to avoid some late afternoon congestion in the larger towns on the fringe of Niigata. Last day today but I still had some good roads to ride on my journey to the expressway.
A bit of a slow escape from Niigata region with many small towns and traffic. It was already 31 degrees and the forecast was 34. Today I put my jeans on and packed the Andes pants away. Huge difference. Why the hell didn’t I do this sooner? Well I guess it was really only hot in the afternoons before but today was going to be a scorcher. Highlight today would be riding route 252 and a little of route 352. 252 is quite a technical climb from the west, a mixture of every type of corner with a lot of snow sheds as well. But the view once you crest is jaw dropping. You then make a gradual descent to the other side of the lake after couple of hundred corners. ‘I say, it’s rather good old chap’ someone from an old British war movie would quip. I only traveled the eastern part of the 352 and will return to ride all of it in Autumn. Today the eastern section had a lot of road works with cars queuing where one lane was closed and this combined to make it not such a good ride. Actually this pattern continued all the way to the expressway on otherwise what were nice roads but I just struck them on a bad day and no amount of passing was going to get me a clear run so I sat back and marveled at the play of light on the pine trees. I took a break and had my last rest area picnic lunch. I especially enjoy this part of the day when riding here. It is so tranquil. I guess that is also the attraction of camping so perhaps I need to explore options for trying that in the future. And then it was expressway time and the heat just kept on building and at one point hit this… The stage where the cooling affect of the wind stops working and it just feels like you are facing a hair dryer. And I am not even speeding since Yamaha deliberately sell the FJR with a 10% over stated speedometer which is so pointless and dumb. It is software driven so they actually spend time and money to make it inaccurate… Time for an ice cream (and lots and lots of water)
While enjoying this treat in the shade I had the brilliant idea to change my route to go straight through Tokyo rather than around it to the west and thus save myself 60 km and get out of this heat sooner. Once I got into the Tokyo metro expressway system I remembered there is no such thing as before peak hour here as it can be grid lock at any hour as it was now. Oh boy what a dumb idea this was.
The expressway in the metro is very narrow, you cannot lane split between large vehicles there simply isn’t room so you need wait until one gets in front of the other and even then it is really tight and not for the faint hearted. I lost any time gains I would have made twice over and had a nerve racking time as well trying to thread my way and figure out where to go at junctions as the rudimentary navigation of the Garmin is no match for a city this big and it gets confused often saying to take an exit that will just lead you into chaos. Eventually I got to the bayside line and took a break at the service area in the middle of the elevated roadway jungle. I cannot think of anything I like about Tokyo. If I had my summer ride gear with me I might have just turned around right there and gone back to the beautiful green Japan I find so enjoyable Thanks for visiting. Part one of this can be read here. All my GPS routes are available on Ride With GPS. Find me there under user name Warren. Extra photos can be found on Instagram.