Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Japan 2014

Shiretoko, up close

ABOVE: All aboard for Shiretoko National Park

We woke up in good time for today's shore excursion; it was strange to think that the ship had been tied up at the Abashiri dockside all night long. On Wednesday we had seen the Shiretoko Peninsula from the decks of Sun Princess and now we were going on a coach trip to the National Park that stretched out to cover 150 square miles of this territory. One of the most remote and unspoiled locations in Japan, the park had been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005 and was home to a significant population of brown bears.

We hurried through the usual morning routine, aided by the fact that staff at the International Café now knew what to prepare when they caught sight of us heading their way. When it was time to board the coach, it quickly became clear that this tour was much busier than the one we had taken to Lake Toya.

ABOVE: The Oshin-Koshin Falls

Our first stop was at a roadside beauty spot called Oshin-Koshin Falls, about an hour and twenty minutes from where the ship was docked. The name amused me as I thought it sounded similar to Auchentoshan whisky, made less than ten miles from Glasgow city centre. This Hokkaido waterfall had an alternative name (Soubi no Taki) which we were told meant beautiful forked falls - a classier translation, it has to be said, than the possible alternative of forking beautiful falls.   Once I'd seen the natural attraction for myself, I didn't think that the accolade 'one of Japan's 100 best waterfalls' was necessarily anything to get over-excited about; for my money, an abbreviated version of the name - The OK Falls - would do nicely from this point on.

Another thirty minutes or so of driving took us along the remaining coastal stretch of highway 334, to the point where it turns eastwards to head through the Shiretoko Pass. We then carried on in a north-easterly direction, now on minor highway 93, until we reached the parking area for the first of the Shiretoko Five Lakes, a set of small lakes formed long ago by volcanic eruption. A new 800m-long elevated boardwalk had been built from the parking area to the first lake, allowing visitors to appreciate the wonderful views without damaging the area's delicate ecosystem.

ABOVE: Lunch stop, complete with blue beer

It had been a longish drive to get there, and of course this was going to have to be repeated in order to return to the ship, but the objective had certainly been worth seeing. We made a stop for lunch during the return journey, at a local place that was set up on a suitable scale for catering to numerous coach parties. The food was adequate without being remarkable, but the accompanying beverages most certainly were noteworthy. We both drank the local speciality, blue beer. Yes, blue - not something you see every day, and certainly not when stone-cold sober.

Sun Princess departed Abashiri at 6pm, disembarked the local pilot and set a north-westerly course for the Aniva Gulf, bound for the port of Korsakov. Our evening on board was distinguished by the fact that it was our second formal night, and followed the now-established pattern of cocktails / dinner / assorted nightlife. After two nights' absence, we returned to our reserved table in the Regency dining room, where our allocated waiters Marlon and Farida were beginning to wonder what had become of us.

Thursday 18 Sep

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