Must see in Hokkaido: Noboribetsu
As I wrote in THIS post, for our first weekend in Hokkaido, we decided to leave the city of Sapporo behind and venture to the south. We left on Friday and we drove all the way down to the lovely Hakodate.
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Around midday on the Saturday, after visiting the main attractions in Hakodate (you can read about it HERE), we got back in our car (rented in Sapporo with Rentalcars) and started driving back north towards Noboribetsu!
Despite being the end of June, the weather has been dreadful for the whole weekend, bu that did not stop us from enjoying these beautiful sights.
Plus, it was a pleasure driving around with this little cutie:
First stop: Lake Toya
About 60 Km before arriving in Noboribetsu, we took a detour to see the beautiful panorama of Lake Toya and Nakajima Island from the Shikotsu Toya National Park silo observatory.
This is a simple place, at the top of a hill, with an amazing view of the lake!
The parking is free and a cute cafe and a big souvenir shop are available for you to enjoy and relax!
How to get to Noboribetsu
Although having a car in these remote areas will give you the best experience and the flexibility of changing your plans according to what you feel, Noboribetsu is also easily accessible by public transport.
Direct buses from Sapporo Ekimae Bus Terminal to Dōnan Bus Noboribetsu-Onsen Bus Terminal take less than 2 hours.
From Chitose airport, it is necessary to reach the centre of Sapporo with the Rapid Train first, and then catch the bus towards Hakodate. The stations are 2 minutes' apart.
You can find all the information, in English, HERE.
You can also check and buy your JR HOKKAIDO PASS in advance.
The bus station in Noboribetsu Onsen is just 5 minutes' walk from all the main hotels and the shopping area (Gokuraku Dori Street)
Arriving in Noboribetsu
As most things and places in Japan, also Noboribetsu has its own mascot, which in this case it happens to be a demon (oni, in Japanese)! There are 11 demons around the town welcoming the visitors and interceding in the underworld to secure good fortune for humans. Thank you!
Noboribetsu is located just below the Hell Valley, a spectacular valley full of sulfurous streams and other volcanic activities.
Noboribetsu is famous mainly for its amazing onsen (hot springs). The abundant and diverse thermal waters of this town arrive directly from Hell Valley.
A great number of hotels have grown in the years to cater for the incredible number of people visiting this area. Virtually every hotel hosts a great quantity of onsen (public baths). Each water has different healing properties, so if you have a specific need, check with the hotel before choosing.
We chose a hotel that had many baths on-site, so that we didn’t have to go out in search of pools, but just follow the flow of other people enjoying this “attraction”. We stayed here on a Saturday night and the hotel was pretty crowded, mainly with Japanese families enjoying the weekend and groups of Chinese tourists. I think, on this occasion, we were the only Westerners!
Review of Hotel Mahoroba in Noboribetsu
Because we were not flexible with our dates and had decided to visit this area at the very last minute, hotel availability when I searched on Booking was extremely low. We chose Hotel Mahoroba because it had a Japanese-style room available and the best price for what was included.
Here are some thoughts about this hotel:
It is a huge building of about 500 Japanese and Western rooms. This is not the intimate experience you can have in a Ryokan (like this stunning one where we stayed in Takayama), but it is clean, functional and full of amenities.
In the building there is a massive arcade area on the basement floor, a karaoke room, a relaxation and massage area, a souvenir shop and a convenience store.
The decor may be considered a bit "tacky", but it's part of the charm of the Japanese onsen resort.
We stayed in a Japanese-style room with tatami floor, futon beds and a low table and chairs. Everything in the room was nice and clean, in proper Japanese style. To be a 4* hotel, though, I was expecting better bathroom amenities (but I am being picky!).
Parking is available for free.
It is located just across from Gokuraku Dori Street, that offers choices of restaurants and shops for any necessity (also, the only street in town!)
The package, like often happens in the hotel of this area, included both breakfast and dinner. They are served in a massive restaurant on a “buffet-style”. The food was abundant and of good quality and variety (including lots of fresh crab, for example). We can’t complain at all, but it was not a typical Japanese hospitality experience.
The onsen baths were numerous, big and clean. Despite the amount of guests we had seen in the lobby, the pools were not too crowded and it was a really enjoyable atmosphere.
Overall, we really liked Hotel Mahoroba: check availability and book it HERE!
The Onsen experience at Hotel Mahoroba
At Hotel Mahoroba, the onsen areas for women and men were located in two separate floors, one above each other. From the pools on one floor it is not possible to see the others. In order to allow both men and women to enjoy the different scenery and each individual waters, the allocated floors change twice a day.
I only went to the pools once, as soon as we arrived on Saturday afternoon, so I have only experienced one floor, but from my husband's description I think they were pretty similar.
I was not allowed, of course, to take pictures in the onsen area but you can see the pools on the hotel profile before booking.
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What you should do while in Noboribetsu
Unfortunately, due to the awful weather and the short time, we did not get to experience many things that Noboribetsu has to offer.
If you can plan your visit allowing some extra time (two or three nights would be ideal, I reckon), here is what you should try to do while in Noboribetsu.
Walk to the Hell Valley. The valley, in Japanese "Jigokudani", can be accessed and visited through a nice panoramic walk.
Walk (or drive) It is also possible to reach the Oyunumagawa river (which provides for a natural foot bath) and the Oyunuma lake (sulfurous pond with a surface temperature of 50 degrees Celsius). Be careful though!
If you have kids (or even if you don't!), challenge yourself to find and take a picture of all the 11 demons around town!
it hosts a variety of events throughout the year including the “Noboribetsu Jigoku Matsuri”in the summer, and the “Noboribetsu Onsen Hot Spring Festival” in the winter.
Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe
On Sunday morning, after having breakfast and checking out, we left the hot springs area and headed down to Noboribetsu town centre.
Or at least, we thought we would find a town centre! In reality, the town is small and not very appealing! Plus, on Sunday morning there was none around and the “ghostly” weather helped creating a peculiar appearance!
This is the area of the train station:
With no other specific plan in mind and with this dreadful weather, we decided to visit the famous aquarium of Noboribetsu! It was advertised everywhere and we thought it would be a different experience (that would also give us shelter for few hours!).
The Marine Park was just 2 minutes away from the train station, with a huge, free parking just outside the gate. The building is actually quite nice and “different” from what we were expecting (were we still in Japan?!).
Ok, so, the aquarium was actually very nice! I never hide my “non-attraction” to most animals, but I really liked this place!
In perfect Japanese style, everything is extremely well organized, with leaflets and boards clearly showing the timetable and locations of the activities of the day.
This aquarium is certainly a great experience for families with kids.
We checked the board at the entrance and we saw that the PENGUIN PARADE was about to begin in the internal court of the building!
Despite the rain, ALL the visitors gathered in the square to take a glimpse of these cute animals, and so did we (our internal kids, to be precise)! 🙂
Next, the dolphin show started in one of the buildings.
When little kids were involved, the show was hilarious!
And of course, loads of different creatures that make you say “WTH?”!!! :)
The way back On the way back from Noboribetsu to Sapporo, we didn’t stop much, mainly because of the bad weather we found (can’t always be lucky!).
We made a quick stop for lunch in the city of Chitose, where Sapporo airport is located, where we found a delicious chain-restaurant that made Tonkatsu, one of my favorite food in Japan!
This is basically pork or chicken, breaded and fried (!), accompanied with whatever you want! Rice, pickled veggies, eggs, noodles, you name it! It is sooo damn good!
After lunch, we went for a short walk at a Temple we found near the restaurant and then, refreshed and relaxed, we headed back to the city for our 4-nights’ stay at Royton Sapporo Hotel!
This was, in short, our first weekend away in Hokkaido, at the very North of Japan! The weather has not been very good with us in these days, but we can’t complain because we have still managed to see many beautiful places and make memorable experiences!
Have you been or are you planning to go to Hokkaido? Share your thoughts with me in the comment box below! 🙂
Until next destination… thank you so much for reading!