Time to search for all the lovely summer flowers that can be found during this beautiful season on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, mainly in the cities of Furano and Biei. I was super excited to be filling my days with a myriad of colors, and flowery fragrance, and just gorgeous scenery all around — because that’s exactly what you get when you travel inland towards the center of Hokkaido.
My Hokkaido Road Trip (Pt.1 of 3)
I was in Hokkaido in the summer 2019 with my mother and her friends. I was tasked as their ‘guide’ — to drive the ladies all around Hokkaido, to take them to the local attractions and have them sample the most delicious Japanese food. It wasn’t that I knew much about Hokkaido, it was only my second time heading back to this northern Japanese island. But I love planning and taking charge of my trips; and I figured that this would be an interesting (and very different) travel experience on the road! The cities of Hokuryu, Furano and Biei were the first stops on our tour of the island — and the first part of this three-part series of articles on my road trip around Hokkaido. The other two places that we visited were the onsen ‘hell’ town of Noboribetsu and the lakeside town of Lake Toya.
Hokuryu, Biei and Furano (北竜町/美瑛/富良野)
We were headed towards the city of Furano, where we would be based for three days of the road trip. Located within the Kamikawa subprefecture, both the Furano and Biei areas are surrounded by large mountains, which include Mt. Ashibetsu, Mt. Yubari and Daisetsuzan’s Tokachi Mountains (read about my last visit to the Daisetsuzan National Park here). The area is famous for their flower fields, dairy products and fresh produce. On our drive from Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo, we also made a quick stop in the town of Hokuryo that is famous for its sunflower fields (because we can never get too much of flowers)!
Our journey from Sapporo took us approximately 3 hours — 1.5 hours north-east towards Hokuryu, and then another 1.5 hours down south-east towards Furano. For a quick list of things to do in these areas, visit here:- Mynn’s Top 10 Things to Do and Eat in Furano and Biei.
DAY 1 – HOKURYU
We arrived in Hokkaido (via AirAsia X) the day before and spent some time in Sapporo, before heading to the TOYOTA Rent-a-Car office in the late morning to pick up our car rental that I had booked online at Tabirai Japan. I have to say that service was efficient, and we rented the car (for the 5 of us) for a total of 6 days for JYP84,780 (~US$780/MYR3,400), and added the 6-day Hokkaido Expressway Pass for JYP7,300 (~US$68/MYR300) — a one-off payment for tolls around Hokkaido.
And then the road trip began! Using the car’s GPS system was extremely convenient — it had English translations and I just had to key in either the postcode or the phone number, and it led me to exactly where I was headed. The car company had also given me a list with the necessary details of all the island’s major tourist attractions. That helped a great deal.
Hokuryu’s Himawari-no-Sato Sunflower Fields
After a 1.5-hour drive along the highway, we finally arrived at our first stop for the day — the Himawari-no-Sato Sunflower Fields at Hokuryu. The town started planting sunflowers in 1979, and it is now said to be the biggest sunflower field in Japan (and at 23 hectares, probably the world too). The sunflowers bloom during summer from early July to August; and the entire town comes to life during this period with sightseeing tractors, bicycles for rent, observatory platforms, and even a sunflower maze! Unfortunately, during our visit in mid-August, most of the fields were already empty; so we only got to admire a smaller portion of the area. After some photos, we headed into the visitors centre for a tonkatsu, tempura and hamburger lunch; and topped it off with a sunflower ice cream. Entrance into Himawari-no-Sato is free.
AirBnb: Furano Base Rental House
From Hokuryu, it was another 1.5-hour drive towards the city of Furano. We arrived in the evening and checked-into our AirBnb Furano Base Rental House. It is situated in a housing area about 5-minutes drive away from the city’s main centre. We were met by the owner, Mr.Ryouji, who was extremely friendly. He took the time to show us around his house, explained Japan’s recycling system, and gave us some suggestions on things to see in the area. Through our conversation, we found out that Mr.Ryouji is a skiing instructor and his house is often booked out during the winter season (Furano is also a popular skiing resort).
The house itself is an old but cozy double-storey Japanese-style home. It comes with a large living area, kitchen, 3 bedrooms with beds and futons, a small toilet and shower, and a back garden; and we had the whole house to ourselves. It was a nice stay… my only problem though, were the freaky creaking sounds at night. You can check it out on AirBnb here.
Dinner: Wagyu at Furano’s Kumagera
For dinner that night, we headed out to the centre of Furano in search of something amazing to eat. And amazing was what we found at Kumagera. The restaurant serves the local Furano Black Wagyu and its signature Nabe Hotpot — with options of meat or seafood in either a Miso or soysauce base. It was an expensive but extremely delicious and satisfying meal, and the best way to end our first night in Furano. Find out more in this post.
DAY 2 – BIEI
On the second day, we spent most of the time in Biei, and returned to Furano in the evening. Biei is only about a 45-minute easy drive from Furano. However, we took a longer route that led us uphill towards Mt. Tokachi, passing by some of the most popular attractions of Biei. The best way to get around this area is by car (public buses are available but it takes time); so I’m really glad that we had rented one and could cover more places in the day.
Tokachidake Bougakudai Observatory
We started the day really early because there were just so many things to see and do! Our first stop was the Tokachidake Bougakudai Observatory. It took us a little less than hour along the windy road to get to it — it’s after all, 950 meters above sea level! Despite its name, there’s no observatory at the Mt. Tokachi viewpoint. It is just a large open area for people to walk around to admire this active volcano from afar, which is the tallest one in the Tokachi Volcanic Group. The only building in the vicinity is a shelter in case the volcano erupts!
There is a rough trail leading to the top of the mountain; with several signs at the entrance to remind hikers to take extra precaution of volcanic gas and sudden eruptions. We didn’t walk too far out — we just reached the site of a stone sign, took some pictures of the breathtaking view in front of us, and then turned back. Entrance is free.
Another 10 minutes downhill along the windy mountain road brought us to our next stop — the Shirahige Falls. We only get to admire the scenery around the falls via the free access across a bridge; and it’s amazing that even from high up, I could see how crystal-clear and blue the river water in the ravine is. Shirahige Falls translates to the “White Beard Waterfall”, and is named so because of the white curtains of water that flows out through the gaps of the cliff from an underground river. The river is such a vivid blue because of the aluminium from the cliffs that mixes with the sulfur from the nearby hot springs. I don’t know the science to that, so I’m just taking it as nature working on its art. It’s just so beautiful to look at.
Shirogane Blue Pond
A short drive down the road and downstream from the Shirahige Falls is the famous Shirogane Blue Pond, known for its unreal blue hue. There was already a stream of people walking towards the pond when we arrived; so we just joined the crowds to see this man-made wonder. The view of the pond was lovely in summer; from the contrast of the lush green trees in the background against the leafless trees emerging from the vivid blue pond. And then I went to get my hands on the pretty Blue Pond Ice Cream that can only be found here. Entrance is free, and you can read more about it in this post.
Biei’s Patchwork Road
It was late morning when we arrived in town of Biei, only a 30-minute drive from the Shirogane Blue Pond. I drove straight to the popular area where the Patchwork Road and the Panaroma Road are located; because the house owner Mr.Ryouji told us that it is worth visiting. And indeed it is. This area of Biei is just miles and miles (and many more miles) of empty hills and meadows of different greens, patched together like a piece of art. No wonder the Biei tagline is ‘the most beautiful village in Japan’. Our first stop on Patchwork Road was a hill that overlooks this handiwork of nature. I think it’s a good place to get an overview of what we were going to see.
I guess day-tours do stops here because it was filled with busloads of tourists when we arrived. Still, it didn’t stop us from admiring the gorgeous panorama from the pyramid-shaped observatory at the Hokusei-no-Oka Hill. And boy what a landscape it is. It’s amazing how beautiful the area is during summer — just green everywhere, gleaming under the bright blue sky. It looks so peaceful and so pleasing to the eyes — like rolls and rolls of carpets stitched together to blanket the earth. No wonder they came up with the descriptive phrase “rolling hills”. That really was it.
Patchwork Road’s Special Trees
After admiring the landscape from above, it was time to drive along Patchwork Road. This 14km road is not just one road, as it forks out into smaller ones that wind through the hills. The roads are actually used by the local farmers to get to their farms; so most of these areas are private property. While on Patchwork Road, I made it a mission to search for the special trees in the area that are given their own names, and featured in some sort of commercial or movie.
There’s the “Parents and Child Trees” which are two huge and a smaller oak tree standing together in a private field; the “Seven Stars Tree” that was pictured on the packaging of the Seven Stars tobacco; the “Ken and Mary Trees” which are poplar trees made famous in a 1972 commercial and named after its characters; and also a “Mild Seven Hill” that features a row of trees in the cigarette commercial. Lots of people visit these spots; and there are signboards describing them, as well as allocated carparks to park our cars for a close up look! We ended up spending more than an hour driving around the area on my little tree-hunt. I’m so glad my travel companions indulged me.
Lunch: Biei Curry Udon at Family Restaurant Daimaru
We were famished after my drive around all that ‘patchwork’, so it was time to stop for lunch. Since we were in Biei, I wanted to try the curry udon that the town is known for. So we made our way to the Family Restaurant Daimaru in town. I have to say the cute little shops in neat rows along the town centre were so adorable, and they were all labeled with the year they were built too! For lunch, I ordered the Curry Udon served with a delicious slab of pork tonkatsu. This mild and sweet curry meal (made with local ingredients) was absolutely delicious. Definitely a must-try when you’re in town! More about the restaurant in this post.
Shikisai no Aka and the Alpaca Farm
And then it was time to head out of Biei, and drive along what is known as the Panorama Road. We were headed for the biggest flower park in Biei — the Shikisai no Aka Farm. I really wanted to visit this farm because I heard that they have Norokko (tractor bus) rides, cart rides and buggy rides to explore the place, because the flower fields here span over hectares of hills. They also have an Alpaca Farm, and I wanted to see ’em alpacas too! The farm was crowded during my visit; but nothing could stop me from soaking in the scenery of the rows of beautiful flowers against the backdrop of distant mountains. Find out more in this post.
Shinya’s Furano Yukidoke Cheesecake
It was late afternoon when we were done exploring the Shikisai-no-Aka, as we made our way back towards Furano. We were feeling a little peckish — so I thought it was a great time to get a taste of Furano’s popular Yukidoke Cheesecake at the Shinya Confectionary Store. We made a quick stop; and had 2 pieces of that delectable creamy, cheesy and light cheesecake. More about it in this post.
We had to hurry a little as I wanted to make it to the nearby Ningle Terrace before dusk. Located just below the New Furano Prince Hotel, this area is a group of 15 cottages connected by a boardwalk in the middle of the forest; each one showcasing and selling specialty arts and crafts. Exploring the ‘village’ is like walking through a fairytale, especially if you get to witness the fairy lights come on when it gets dark. I got a few souvenirs here as well, they are nature-themed and really unique. Read about Ningle Terrace in this post.
Dinner: Furano Omakare at Yuiga Doxon
After our little magical time at the Ningle Terrace, it was time for dinner. We were going to have a slightly early one to beat the crowds. After all, Yuigo Doxon is Furano’s most popular place to eat the Omakare (Curry Omelette Rice). I love the vibe of this rustic wooden ‘cottage’, and had the most delicious sausage-ox tongue-omelette curry. The black-colored curry was oh-so-rich and lip-smacking; and the omelette, soft and fluffy. 100% recommended, and you can find out more details in this post.
I really had such a wonderful time in Biei and Furano today.
DAY 3 – FURANO
And then it was the third and final day to explore this beautiful area of flower fields and mountain ranges…. and the day was all about Furano. After a quick breakfast of some local Japanese snacks that we bought at the convenience store the night before (I just love the range of food they have at these stores); we checked-out of our AirBnb house and got ready to explore as much of Furano as we could before leaving.
Our first stop was the one place that became my favourite spot in Furano — the Farm Tomita. I have to say that this farm is extremely beautiful, neat and well-kept; and full of facilities for visitors. Other than being famous for having the biggest lavender farm in Japan, it also has beautiful fields of colorful flowers. It was almost the end of the lavender season during our visit, but we still managed to get a small glimpse of the lovely purple flowers here. And I also got to try the lavender ice cream! I’ve written more about the farm in this post.
Tomita Melon House
Just opposite the road from Farm Tomita is the Tomita Melon House; and if you love Hokkaido’s melons just like I do, you must drop by! It is at this wonderful place that I got my fill of my favourite Furano melons, and of course, the melon ice cream too. You can read about all the melon-y delights I had in this post.
The ladies wanted to buy some local goodies to bring home, so we made a stopover at the Furano Marche. The marketplace is a huge collection of shops, built around an outdoor seating area. It is like a one-stop shop that offers anything you may need from Furano — there’s a local products (like lavender and cheese) and souvenir shop, a farmer’s market selling the city’s freshest produce, as well as a food court and cafe selling finger food, pastries and ice cream (they serve the popular lavender, cheese, milk and melon flavors).
So if you’ve missed anything on your visits to the local attractions (and regretting it), you may very well get your last chance to find it here. It’s a great place for that last minute shopping spree. It was lunch time while we were there; so we stopped by the cafe and had some sandwiches, hot buns, and coffee.
Furano Cheese Factory
After visiting the market, we still had a little time to spare before leaving Furano. So we decided to drop by one last place — the Furano Cheese Factory. Who can say no to cheese? We explored the factory to see the cheese production, checked out the cheese-y goods on sale, walked about the small cheese exhibition area and had one last ice cream to go (what else but cheese)! You can read about my visit in this post.
… And Next Up on the Road Trip!
It was mid-afternoon by the time we left Furano — with that cheese ice cream in hand. I had an awesome time on my quest to search for the most beautiful flower fields in Hokuryu, Biei and Furano; and I believe that I found what I was looking for. I’m so glad that I decided to allocated three days (from our itinerary) to spend in the area. It really helped that we didn’t have to rush about to see everything we wanted to see; and we got to truly admire the beauty of our surroundings, stroll about the colorful farms, and eat to our heart’s content. This ‘navel’ of Hokkaido is indeed breathtaking in summer. Maybe someday I will be back to experience the area in another season.
And then off it was to the next destination on our Hokkaido summer road trip! And that’s a three-hour drive to the ‘hot as hell’ onsen town of Noboribetsu.