Known for: 4th largest city in Japan (population) Snow sports Natural Onsen Hotsprings Mountain ridge walks Historical villages Nikka Whisky
Ski down a snow capped mountain in the morning, hike through the woods at lunch, warm up with an early evening onsen and dive into crisp, fluffy sheets at the Keio Plaza for a good night’s sleep.
We arrived at midday in Sapporo itinerary-free but eager for adventure after seeing countless magical photographs in books and online.
With picturesque snowy mountains, wild animals and rugged wilderness, I couldn’t help feeling a touch of nostalgia for New Zealand.
WHAT TO DO
1. Rent a car from Nissan Rentals near the Sapporo station. They are reasonably priced and comfortable cars.
Travel tip: Ask for an AUX cord so you can play music while driving.
2. Head west to Otaru. The drive is quite spectacular and you’ll get to see a changing landscape of forest and countryside.
While you’re there check out the canal.
3. Stay at Emina Backpackers. Our host Motoko and her children are so lovely! Motoko is very knowledgable about the Hokkaido area and gives excellent food recommendations. We also shared interesting conversations about Japanese lifestyle compared to our own culture.
4. Visit Shinko onsen. This tradition hot spring is separated into male and female private pools. Entry cost: 800¥
Travel tip: Drink a lot of water in the onsens, the dehydration will kick in hours later if you’re not careful.
5. Visit Nikka Whisky Yoichi distillery. We went for a morning tipple as it is right before Lake Toya. They also offer the most delicious fresh apple juice if you are not a Whisky fan. Entry cost: free.
6. Drive further south to Lake Toya.
7. Hike up the mountain next to the lake for a better vantage point.
WHERE TO STAY
The Keio Plaza is perfectly positioned in the hub of Sapporo centre, within walking distance to many shops, restaurants and 7/11s. We enjoyed a comfortable stay on the newly renovated 20th floor, with incredible views encapsulating the hour to hour life of the city. The views are especially exquisite during snowfall (late November).
Equipped with fully functional heat pumps, the rooms heat up fast, providing a cozy haven after exploring the icy city.
While there is no members lounge or business centre, the additional leisure facilities include pay-to-watch television, massage, lap pool and sauna, however it is important to note that these services cost an additional fee each starting at 1,000¥ ($15NZD).
There are many restaurants on site including French, Chinese and Japanese cuisine, however we were treated to the breakfast buffet which boasted a large range of western and local dishes. Buffet entry costs x per adult and is open to the public as well.
WHERE TO EAT
Nepalese Cafe: If you’re craving a decent curry and the most delicious samosas you’ll ever eat, hit up this place on your road trip.
Keio Plaza restaurant: a bento-box style meal will cost you approx. $30NZD and includes sushi, sashimi, miso soup, noodles in veggie broth, tempura vegetables, curd and a side salad which you can choose from a buffet. The most delicious thing we tried was the salad selection, they were absolutely delicious.
Treat yourself to some of this chocolate.
WHAT TO WEAR
Thermals! Even at the tail end of fall you’ll be thankful for your spare merino and longjohns when braving the icy streets.
During the day I could get away with a dress and tights in the city, but by the evening it was thermal pants, jeans, boots, a merino top, cashmere sweater and a Parker.
Next feature: Hawaii.