Hokkaido has a lot of sightseeing to do but unfortunately compared to the rest of Japan, their rural public transport is not as efficient. Getting to a lot of places by bus/train is often difficult and time consuming, so renting a car is the best option. ROAD TRIP!
Renting a car in Japan can be very cheap – the cheapest you can find is from Niconico Rentacar (ニコニコレンタカー) which offers 12 hour rentals from ¥2525. The only catch is that they only rent to Japanese nationals, no foreigners allowed. If you’ve got local friends, try and organise a trip together, otherwise other companies will cost a bit more (still cheaper than public transport options if you’ve got a a few passengers) or day trip tours are also an option (book one here).
Our plan today was to go straight to Biei (美瑛) which is approximately a 3 hour drive from Sapporo, and then make our way down to Furano (富良野) before heading home. Just before we reached Biei, we were distracted by fields of colourful flowers, so took an impromptu stop which happened to be at Kanno Farm (かんのファーム). Situated just off the highway, Kanno Farm is one of the smaller farms but still worth a short visit, with a small café and souvenir shop on site. The flowers here were beautiful, plentiful and vibrant. Despite the poor weather we had, it provided a lovely contrast against the bleak sky.
After this, we stopped by the Biei town centre to have some lunch. Curry Udon is a specialty of Biei and the information centre has an on-site restaurant, along with brochures detailing all the other restaurants in town that serve this dish. We were starving at this point and decided to just eat at the information centre. The dish looked a lot nicer than it tasted, I felt my bowl lacked curry sauce and there was too much cheese on the top, making the noodles very heavy. Nevertheless, the taste was good as I’m sure if another restaurant had served more curry sauce with the udon noodles, it would’ve been a winning dish.
Following this, we headed to Patchwork Road (パッチワークの路), which is a scenic area northwest of Biei’s town centre. The area is quite large, with rolling hills and rural landscapes, a photographer’s dream. There is a small information centre next to the Hokuseinookatenbo Park (北西の丘展望公園) where you can pick up a map, detailing all the famous trees and landscapes in the area. Some notable ones include Ken and Mary’s Tree (ケンとメリーの木) and the Seven Stars Tree (セブンスターの木) which have been featured in some notable Japanese advertising campaigns.
After this we headed to the famous Blue Pond (青い池), about a 15 minute drive from the Biei town centre. The pond was made famous thanks to Apple featuring it as a Mac wallpaper, and is known for its blue hue created by natural minerals in the water that reflect blue light. It’s pretty crowded with tourists near the beginning but if you walk to the end (about a 5-10 minute walk), the tourists start thinning out. There’s two paths – one through the trees which is right next to the pond, albeit very narrow, and a wide open path next to the trees, probably the better path to use to get to the end. There’s no facilities here whatsoever though, so make sure you take a toilet break before visiting!
From here, we looped back to Sapporo via various locations. The first was another impromptu stop at Popura Farm (サンタのヒゲ ポプラファーム), discovered by chance as we drove past a giant billboard featuring melon ice cream and couldn’t help ourselves. Popura Farm is a dessert stop selling soft serve ice cream and rockmelons, so of course we tried both! Sweet ice cream complemented by sweet, juicy rockmelon, a match made in heaven. It’s a wonder why this hasn’t made it to the Western world yet! We were given spoons with jagged edges to use which carve nicely into the melon flesh, very handy.
Our last stop was Farm Tomita (ファーム富田), one of the more popular farms in the Furano region. Many visit here for their lavender fields, however as our visit was in autumn, there wasn’t any more lavender. Thankfully Farm Tomita has fields of other flowers, along with multiple souvenir shops (think potpourri, soaps, fragrances), workshops and restaurants. I also tried the famous Lavender Ice Cream – quite sweet with hints of honey and lavender, nice experience but I’ll probably stick with more conventional flavours from now on.
And then that’s it! A 2.5 hour drive home ensued, through the valleys and mountain ranges of Hokkaido. The entire drive was very scenic, very reminiscent of driving through New Zealand, and watching the sun set behind the mountains was breathtaking. Overall this day trip took about 11 hours, about half the time on the road with frequent stops. A nice day trip for those interested in visiting the Biei/Furano areas which can be done in the one go.
Address: Nishi12 Kita36, Bibaushi Toge, Sorachi-gun, Kamifurano-cho 071-0482, Hokkaido
Address: Hokuei, Kamikawa-gun, Biei-cho 071-0224 , Hokkaido
Address: Shirogane, Kamikawa-gun, Biei-cho 071-0235, Hokkaido
Address: 18 Higashi 1sen Kita, Sorachi-gun, Nakafurano-cho 071-0771, Hokkaido
Address: Kisen Kita 15-go, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido
Cost: Free to enter and view + additional fee for activities