Abashiri, Hokkaido: One Day, Three Lakes, Pink Grass and a Festival
Abashiri is located on the east coast of north Hokkaido and it was great to visit in the autumn (technically, it’s still the summer, but in the north the weather has already started to change and we can already start to see some autumn leaves). The other time I was there it was for the snow festival, and the scenery was quite different (it was freezing and all was covered in white).
The morning started off with a 15-minute train ride from Abashiri station to Kitahama station. The journey itself is very scenic, with views of the Sea of Okhotsk, Mount Onnebetsu and Mount Rausu, as well as a glimpse of Lake Mokoto on the opposite side. The little train station is also very cute, with some information, lots of notes from visitors and even has a little café in it. There aren’t many trains throughout the day but, alternatively, there is a bus to and from Abashiri station (opposite side of the road, stop number 3), which takes about 28 minutes. I’ve also seen some people on bikes, who were exploring the coast, so that’s a third option.
Lake Tofutsu (swan lake)
From Kitahama train station, walk down the road for about 7 minutes and then turn right. Immediately before reaching the lake you will see the Birdwatching Building and the Tofutsu-ko Waterfowl and Wetland Centre. Lake Tofutsu is a brackish lake and a designated wetland (Ramsar convention 2005), great to do birdwatching and you can even see some fish. In the winter, the whooper swan is especially famous. If you have time and enjoy nature, you can walk or cycle around the lake and visit, in addition to the birdwatching building and the wetland centre, the Hakucho park on the west side, and the Koshimizu primeval flower garden. There are also toilets in the buildings. If you can’t or don’t want to do a lot of walking, you can just sit outside or at the birdwatching building, the views are amazing and you do hear lots of different birds.
Lake Notoro and the Coral Grass Festival
Like Lake Tofutsu, Lake Notoro is a sea lake. There is a lot of wildlife that can be seen, but I went on the 10th of September, which was actually the day of the glasswort (coral grass, samphire) festival (Sangoso Matsuri, さんご草祭り), so that was the main attraction. Glasswort (Salicornia genus) is a halophyte plant, related to cacti, that turns pink in the autumn. You can take a bus from the train station (stop number 2) and get off at Sangoso iriguchi. There aren’t many buses, so make sure you check the return time. As promised, as soon as we approached the lake, an amazing carpet of crimson could be seen. Apart from the glasswort, there were also some bird species, and they didn’t really care about us filming them and taking pictures.
As it was a 2-day festival, there was also a stage for performances, as well as lots of stalls with delicious food. You could even buy fresh seafood and grill it yourself, as there were some mini-barbeques in the sitting/eating area.
If you still want to go and see the coral grass, it should still be there until mid-October.
I heard there was a 7km nature trail near Lake Abashiri (Yobito birdwatching trail), so that’s what I wanted to do. However, the most interesting thing to see there (apart from the birds) are the skunk cabbages, which flower in the spring (so, no luck in September). Also, I was told by fishermen that lots of bears had been spotted there this year. So, I thought it might not be a great idea to walk alone in the woods in the evening. I still took a bus from the train station (stop number 2) and got off at Yogogakko iriguchi as planned. Then, I just walked back towards Abashiri along the road, as it basically cuts through the woods and there is just vegetation on both sides and the lake on the left. The evening sun through the gaps between the trees and the sparkle of the water made up for quite a magical sight. The views were especially pretty from the side of the Abashirikoso Hotel.
Finally, I made it to the canoe centre and campsite, where I sat down to watch an amazing sunset and some salmons jumping out of the water from time to time (this is the season for them to come back up from the sea). Then, I took the bus back to Abashiri from there (as it was practically dark and I didn’t want to risk encountering a bear). The bus stop is called "Kankou hotel mae". Just in time to grab my bag and head to Memanbetsu airport for the last flight back. You can also get the bus to the airport from the campsite, but I didn’t want to carry weight with me or wait for 40 minutes in the dark.
Some bus timetables
Here you can find the bus timetables to get around. You can get this, a map and more information at the tourist information office inside the Abashiri train station.