After chancing upon a picture of Unkai Terrace (Sea Clouds) before our trip from an online article, I knew that it was a place that I had to visit.
We had to alter our itinerary time and again as you can only visit Unkai Terrace during pre-dawn timing to catch the waves of Sea Clouds. Furthermore, Sea Clouds occurrence (which only happens in summer) is not a guarantee and the sea of clouds possibility occurrence will be updated on their website on the afternoon before. Use google chrome to automatically translate the page, otherwise, you just have to look for the number before the % sign.
A Successful visit to Unkai on 5th Aug 2015 – http://www.fleemy.com/unkai-terrace-in-tomamu-resort/
If you are able to spot the sea clouds. you need to be really really lucky. Prior to our visit, the sea clouds did not happen for the past 4 to 5 days and I think the sea clouds only appeared 3 days after our supposed visit. In case you don’t want to waste time reading, we did not make it to the Unkai because of an expressway closure which I will elaborate further.
Most people who visit the Unkai will choose to stay at the Hoshino Tomamu Resort which is more famous as a ski resort. Not just that, they have a photogenic chapel and a lot of other fun activities (mainly for kids). However, we eventually decided to not stay at that resort as we were only interested in the Unkai. We thought we could explore other places if we stayed somewhere else. Furthermore, my friend was willing to drive at 3:30am (no further objections) to see the Unkai. Thus, we settled for a hotel in the city of Obihiro.
Not wanting to rush and be pressed for time, we took the 16:00 ANA flight out of Tokyo, reaching New Chitose Airport at approximately 17:45. Walked over to the car rental counter and used the phone at Nissan-rent-a-car counter to inform them that we have arrived. Shortly after, we were picked up by an elderly man (driver) to the car rental centre.
After settling the paperwork and loading our luggage into our red Nissan X-trail MPV, it was already 18:30 when we were ready to set off.
It was a 2 hour ride from Chitose to Obihiro and we had a toilet break at a rest stop which has this beautiful view and.. a stamp/chop which has a cute mascot for DOTO EXPRESSWAY’S PARKING AREA. Also, my friend spotted a sign which was informing us about expressway closure (something similar to the one on the right) with dates and timings. We ignored that sign, not knowing that it was like a damn important info for us. =/
Anyway, you can check this link to know more about potential expressway closures.
We eventually reached our hotel – Hotel AreaOne Obihiro and (thankfully) secured one of the last two remaining free parking lots at the hotel. It was a pretty decent hotel (given the small town that we were in) with a spacious and high-ceiling lobby. We paid approx $50/each for an old-school family room (suitable for 4) which comes with 1 king, 2 twin beds, a sofa and a coffee table. They even have a large bathtub in the shower room (If I’m not wrong, it is not uncommon for the entire Japanese family with young kids to bathe together). There were two sets of slippers given, one to be used in the room and the other (I supposed) was for outside the room but within the hotel. Tucked at one corner of the lobby, there was also a coin-operated laundry area which had one washing machine and one dryer. It was also timely for us to wash and dry our clothes.
Contrary to our hopeful expectations (no prior research was done), Obihiro was pretty much a very quiet town. The only restaurant (serving awesome Butadon – Pork Bowl Rice) I found online with raving reviews closed at 19:00. By the time we were ready to leave the hotel for dinner, it was already 21:00.
It was quite cold at night (between 9 to 11 degrees), despite being summer as there was a lot of wind. In search for food, we walked down a few lanes, passed a couple of false hopes (closed restaurants, KTV dance club – no idea what it is) before chancing upon a place with the name of 居酒屋 秋田. Despite the intimidating appearance of the shopfront, we went in anyway.
It was a small and cosy shop, capable of serving less than 20 customers. We went into the shop, sat down and stared blankly at the Japanese menu which did not have any pictures. Time to put my anyhow-also-can-whack method to place an order. We started throwing out random words like “Udon”, “Salmon”, “Chicken”, “Pork” and the waitress (who barely spoke English) recommended a hotpot. She tried to describe the pot but it was something that I’ve not heard/seen before, but we ordered it anyway. Choosing Sake was the easiest – all I had to do was to go to the fridge and point at one bottle with the nicest label (as if I knew what I wanted).
Appetizer – can’t remember what it was. Maybe brinjal.
We had tuna as there wasn’t salmon. Thick but small slices. Average for Japan’s standard (they were not specializing in sashimi anyway.. can’t be picky)
Thankfully the word “yakitori” work and we had chicken and pork yakitori sticks.
This was the don’t-know-what-i-ordered hotpot and it came with fanciful “rice cakes” and interesting white noodles with great broth. After doing an intensive research online, this pot is known as kiritanpo pot きりたんぽ鍋, an Akita cuisine.
I would rate this restaurant 4/5 in terms of food quality and service. We paid about $30 each for the meal (includes 2 bottles of Sake). Since we can’t read the menu and I don’t think there was a receipt, we have no idea what was the breakdown.
After dinner, we headed over to the convenience store and bought breakfast for our 3:30am Unkai Terrace adventure.
Barely slept 2 hours before waking up at pre-dawn for Unkai.
We were ready to set off at approximately 04:25 and make our way to the Hoshino Tomamu for the Unkai Terrace (45 mins drive away). Even though the probability of Sea Clouds occurrence was only 30%, we decided to proceed since it was already part of our plan.
So we entered the DOTO expressway only to discover that the west-bound route was closed. (Remember the sign we saw at the rest stop the night before? It was an informative sign alerting drivers about an expressway closure for maintenance works.) Instead of making a U-turn to get out, we eventually ended up traveling eastwards and exited at the next exit (Ikeda) which was 25 minutes away. Yes we paid tolls (520Y each way) for that wrong decision. At Ikeda, It was 5:06 and the only route (which doesn’t use the tolled expressway which was closed) requires like 30 to 45 minutes more traveling time on top of the initial 1 hour and by the time we reach Hoshino Tomamu Resort, it is likely that we will be late for the Sea Clouds (if it happens).
It wasn’t really a tough decision at that moment as most conditions ruled against going ahead with plan. We headed back to the hotel and went back to our room to stone before going out to the convenience shop for more food. There’s a super tempting poster in the lift which advertised on it’s 1,080Y breakfast buffet. On our way back from the convenience shop, we followed the smells and ended up in the breakfast cafe. After recee-ing on the buffet spread, we forsake our convenience shop breakfast and had the buffet. Smoked Salmon, Fresh Ebi, Pumpkin Soup and minced hamburger patty was enough to buy us over. Don’t forget to add the breakfast option if you’re booking this hotel in future!
Goodbye to the Obihiro we barely explored,we had a long day ahead of us. We left at approximately 09:45 and headed towards Kushiro to visit the Crane Park. Stopped by at a random cafe for a toilet break/coffee and had an awesome pudding. Japanese puddings hardly disappoints!
Finally reached the Kushiro Crane Reserve (470Y) after a 2 hour drive from Obihiro. As it was low-season, the place was almost empty, with less than 10 other visitors. The reserve was pretty small, featuring about 10+ cranes and some even have offsprings! The staff at the counter who spoke a bit of English, informed us on the areas we should keep a lookout for the baby cranes.
Do you see the yellow baby crane? If I didn’t recall wrongly, it is only few weeks old! I guess we were really lucky to chance upon it.
As you can see, the entire reserve is one straight path down, with all the enclosures on the left side. Along the way, they will have a trivia question (English) about cranes and there will be 3 choices to the question and you can flip open the answer.
Apart from the cranes, there were other birds (like Owls) which can be spotted at the same reserve. Sadly, my knowledge of birds ain’t good enough to identify the species.
Each enclosed sanctuary has 2 to 3 cranes, with 1 couple and the 3rd one being their child.
The red-crown crane, live in wetlands and rivers. It is only found in East Asia and they are endangered (estimated population of 2,750).
This is an older chick (I think somewhere between 6 months to 1 year), and you can see their brown feathers slowly unveiling into snow white feathers.
Also, we managed to spot a fox from a distance. By the time I made my way there, the fox has already escaped to the thick vegetation. aww.
Happy to know that continuous efforts have been done to ensure the propagation of these endangered cranes. Not sure if these animals would still be around during my (grand)children generation.
Apart from this crane reserve, there are also various viewing platforms at different parts of Kushiro. Sadly, we didn’t have sufficient time to venture to the other areas and attractions in Kushiro.
We moved on to Lake Akan after bidding farewell to the cranes.