We flew into Sapporo New Chitose Airport for the last two days of the 2017 Sapporo Snow Festival. Upon arrival, we went down to the bus station to buy bus ticket to Sapporo Downtown Susukino. As mentioned before, taking airport bus can save the hassle of carrying luggage around the train station and direct route to destination. The time taken is not much of a difference.
In this case from New Chitose Airport to Susukino, airport bus was 1030yen/pax for 67mins whereas subway train with one transfer was 1790yen/pax for 50mins. We got ourselves an airbnb for a week and it was situated right at Hosuisusukino station. After we alighted from the airport bus, it was about 7mins walk. Our luggage was light so we had no problems walking on the slippery ground with our luggage.
However on our way back to New Chitose airport, we took the subway train because of our heavy luggage and it would be impractical to walk 10mins to the nearest airport bus station. The entrance to Hosuisusukino station from our airbnb was less than a min away.
Day 1: We walked to see the ice sculptures at susukino station area and snow sculptures at odori station area.
Snow conditions: I want to emphasize on walking on snowy and slippery grounds. Yes, this is Japan and there will be workers to shove the ice/snow away. But they do not do it all the time so you still have to be careful. Upon arrival, we have seen so many slip-and-fall cases, ambulances being dispatched and many near-misses.
You just have to wear some good walking shoes with good traction. You can also add on metal cleats for extra traction. I can tell you that even with good traction, it is not 100% slip-proof. You still have to take precaution by walking in smaller steps, identifying “safe” grounds to walk on.
As for winter clothing, there is really no need for extreme clothing such as thermal underwear. Yes you can wear it but make sure that you will be staying outdoors for long hours otherwise you will feel uncomfortable in them in a heated place.
There was an onsen nearby which was about 15mins walk from JR Sapporo but we wanted to rest early.
Day 2: We bought the subway day pass because the weekend day pass was cheap, at 520yen for unlimited rides. We went to the Tsudome site for snow activities which was part of the Snow festival. Then we went back to JR Sapporo for some lunch. We booked ourselves with a local bus tour operator to bring us to Lake Shikotsu Illumination and Ice Festival. On wkends, there were fireworks too. The bus journey was about 2 hours with one toilet break. We had about 2 hours free time at Lake Shikotsu and the fireworks was at 6.30pm. The fireworks lasted for 20mins and then we walked back to the parking area to head back to JR Sapporo.
Day 3: We headed towards Niseko using local train. From our airbnb, we took the subway train to JR Sapporo then took the JR towards Otaru. From Otaru, we made a transfer towards JR Kutchan. We paid 1840yen/pax for 124mins. Our hotel in Niseko upper village had a free shuttle from JR Kutchan so we were taken care of.
As we were early so we went for early lunch then took the free shuttle bus outside of our hotel to go to Hanazono 360 for our snow mobile – rabbit course. Then we took the same shuttle to go Hirafu Gondola Station to take the gondola to go up to the mountains. This was the only gondola station which allowed “sight-seeing” at their gondola. The others would require you to ski/snowboard down the mountains.
Then we took the shuttle bus back to the hotel and checked-in. We had a private onsen in our suite facing the Hirafu Mountain. The hotel also had public onsen segregated into different genders. Also, if you are shy, you can rent their private onsen for 45 mins for 2000yen. Then we had dinner at Abucha-2 and stood at the traffic intersection and witnessed many fall hazards. Both vehicles and pedestrian will experience these hazards so drive/walk with caution.
Day 4: We checked-out of Niseko and headed towards Noboribetsu, passing by Lake Toya.
We skipped skiing in Niseko because we would need about 4-5days and we did not had enough time. From JR Kutchan, we took the train to Oshammambe, made a transfer towards Noboribetsu. We paid 4370yen/pax for 225mins on unreserved seats.
Upon arriving at JR Noboribetsu, once we exited, there was a taxi-stand and bus station. We had booked a ryokan for the night and it came with kaiseki and breakfast for 2.
We took the public bus heading towards Noboribetsu Onsen for 340yen/pax. We alighted at the JCHO stop which was the hospital stop. This stop was before the onsen so pls ask the driver or check your google map. A few more stops will bring you the the popular Hell Valley/Dai-ichi Takimotokan.
Being a ryokan, it means living room + dining room + bedroom are combined into one room. The gentleman would come into your room to setup the tatami bed. The ladies would come into your room to setup the dinner and breakfast.
For the most time, we just left our main door unlocked.
Once we have arrived, we got to choose our preferred timing for dinner and breakfast.
We chose 5.30pm for dinner and 8.30am for breakfast. The ladies would enter your room slightly early to set up so pls be prepared.
After dinner, we went to the public onsen. Although the onsen was small, it was good enough. The outdoor onsen was too hot and even in the snowy weather; we could not tolerate the hot temperature in the natural onsen.
WE ENJOYED OUR KAISEKI DINNER AND BREAKFAST.
Day 5: The next morning, the hotel was kind enough to send us to the Jigokudani Hell Valley. In fact we can walk about 20mins or take the public bus and alight at bus terminal and walk along the street to reach the hell valley.
On our way back, we chose to walk back in the snow. It was fun but not recommended for senior citizens.
After check-out, we were supposed to head back to JR Sapporo. There was a direct bus at the bus terminal near our hotel but that day they only had a morning bus.
We can also take a bus and make transfer. But we chose to head back to JR Noboribetsu. Yes, we can take the JR back to JR Sapporo but we chose the bus option because it was much cheaper and only cost 1850yen/pax for 100mins.The bus stop was beside a supermarket so we had our lunch there while waiting for our bus.
Then we had a luxury course for dinner at a Japanese restaurant with hairy crab and etc in Susukino. Then we crossed over to take the tram to Mount Moiwa. As we had our ICOCA card, we used it in Sapporo for our travels. In Hokkaido, they accept ICOCO /SUICA/PASMO as well.
We alighted at the Ropeway iriguchi tram station and walked over to the free shuttle bus to reach Mount Moiwa Cable car station. Then it was the same way back to Susukino.
Day 6: We went to the Ice Star hotel whereby the hotel was made of ice. The hotel provided paid shuttle bus service and we used it. The meeting point was at JR Sapporo North Exit at the Bell Square and cost 1000yen/pax/way. Once we arrived, we played on the snow mobile again and this course had up/down slopes and it was fun.
We visited the ice hotel and ice bar and you can stay at their ice hotel if you are up for a challenge. We went back to JR Sapporo and took the train to Otaru. From JR Otaru, it was easy to walk to the famous canal and the Sakaimachi shopping street. Then we walked back to JR Otaru and went back to JR Sapporo.
Day 7:From our airbnb, we walked about 10 mins to visit the Nijo Market to have fresh seafood for breakfast. Then we walked in the snow towards the Sapporo TV Tower and took the subway train to Makomanai Station. Then we would take a local chuo bus number 106 to visit Takino Suzuran Hillside Park Snow World. It was a free entry snow park during the winter and you can play their snow tube for free. The local buses have timing so pls check before you go as there will not be any taxis available once the bus services have stopped.
If you are into bulk shopping for Japanese snacks, you can buy them at Tanuki Koji near Odori station. Here you will pay lesser than what you will pay at airport DFS and they will pack in carton boxes for you to check-in at the airport.
At the time, I will need to inform you that in New Chitose Airport, it is a huge shopping center. This means that you can buy whatever you need at the airport and then check-in. This is completely different from Tokyo airport, whereby you need to check-in your luggage before entering the DFS zone.
So try to arrive at the New Chitose airport early for shopping and visiting the Hellokitty/Doraemon/Royce Chocolate parks.
We arrived early and left our luggage at the locker storage. Then we took the free shuttle bus to Rera Chitose Outlet.
Then we went back to the airport for more shopping!
I hope we will come back again to Hokkaido the 3rd time. We have been here during autumn and winter.
I have written a comparison on how to do tax refund in Paris/Bangkok/Tokyo (link). In Hokkaido, it will be the same. But over at the departure immigration, there are staff asking you to remove the tax refund slips, stapled inside your passport. Be careful to remove it slowly or else you might tear a passport page.
You can read about my previous post on my <Tokyo.Osaka.Kyoto> (link).