Sunday, April 19, 2015

Teshikaga/Kushiro: 28th Feb 2015

We woke up not because of the alarm clock, but due to hearing the strong howling wind outside our windows and yes, everywhere was heavy snow. Snowstorm was still continuing strong. It was the first time I thought snow could be a danger. Mostly because in Singapore, we do not experience snow and we find snow to be a beautiful season. Of course it is, but too much of something always bring along danger!

We packed up and quickly checked out. Today, Takashi-san was not there to receive us. Instead, his colleague, whom I had forgotten her name, met up at the lobby. The vehicle she came by to pick us was not as big as previous days. But Takashi-san told us that she is a professional driver.

We struggled moving our luggage to the van as the snow had reached to our kneecap level. Praying for the best, we steadily moved ourselves and our barangs up the van.. Hoping to set off. But, something happened! The van could not move or budge at all due to the heavy snow. This lady driver could only speak Japanese and minimal English. In fact, I was trying my best to understand what she meant whenever she said something. I could see she was also frustrated with the snow. We helped her out by shoving the ice beneath the wheels away..and some of the guys helped to push the van. It was a real challenge!

Finally, we got some help from the hotel too. I remembered we spent 1.5hours just in the snow, hoping to move the van. At the end when we finally reached the main road where snow level is much lower, our van could finally move and we were all elated with joy! Initially, we planned to visit Lake Kussharo again but with the weather like that, it was impossible. So, to avoid any delays in boarding our plane, we decided to make our way to Kushiro Airport.

I must say this lady driver is indeed a professional, not just in driving, but also in wild-life spotting! She told us not to worry, we should reach Kushiro Airport on time. She even tried to suggest some places we could visit as it was still very early. But, this worrisome bunch of Singaporeans cant wait to reach the airport haha..

Along the way, she suddenly drove to a small road and told us to get down but keep quiet. Initially, I wasnt sure what she meant and what was the purpose. Then, she mentioned owl in japanese.. I was surprised and stunned as she pointed out Ural Owls resting in the tree holes at a protected area. This was simply an unexpected discovery! Although the slope to reach the area was quite steep, we managed our way and took many photos of this beautiful Ural Owl. What luck!!

After that, we made our way back to the van and then, our female driver spotted another young Sika deer along the roadside. None of us spotted the deer. And I felt the deer was giving us a smile to say Sayonara just before we left Hokkaido! I would never forget this scene!

As there was still time and we were appraoching Kushiro Airport, I made a suggestion to have a brief stop at Kushiro Washo market for some seafood quick brunch! Since all of us did not have any breakfast earlier on.. In Kushiro, the main attraction is really this market, which offers the best seafood as compared to Sapporo and other parts of Hokkaido. It works in a way, you buy a bowl of rice according to the amount you want, then you visit other stores and buy sashimi to place it on top of your rice. And there are benches for you to rest and have a meal! I got some crab legs from hairy crab and snow crab. They were really fresh! I wished I had visited Kani Honten at Sapporo but due to lack of time, I didnt :( Leave it for the next trip then!

My mini-crab feast

Busy day at Washo Market

 So after a short 30min at the market, we set off for Kushiro Airport which is about 20min drive away. Bade farewell to the female driver and I said O-tsukaresamadeshita to her! It meant thank you for her hard work. I could not have imagined what will happen if we did not get away from the heavy snowstorm-laden road! It was indeed a wonderful trip with an adventurous moment putting an end note to our stay in Hokkaido. A 1h flight to Tokyo, and we left the mountaineous Hokkaido with huge spans of winter landscape to an urbanised Tokyo! All seen from the plane window.

And I said farewell to the rest of the photographers who would be continuing their journey to Nagano to see the snow monkeys. It was an amazing trip! Adventure! Wildlife! Discoveries! Onsen! Gourmet! You name it, we did it! As a team :) I really look forward to visit Hokkaido during the summer season in the near future! Probably to areas like Furano, Biei where picturesque landscapes have often captivated my eyes when I read brochures related to these places. Hope to catch Takashi-san again as my guide in future trips to Hokkaido!

In any case, if anyone is keen to engage Takashi-san as your tour driver in Hokkaido, you may contact him via the details below. It's tough to find Japanese drivers in Hokkaido who can also speak English and Im glad to know him through this trip :).Also, thank you for C.S.Ling Photography for helping to coordinate this trip.

Japanese Guide: Mr Takashi Miura

Wildlife Photography Trip Organizer
By C.S Ling Photography

Yoroushii/Teshikaga: 27th Feb 2015

It was a morning filled with worries and anxiety. We were told there was a snowstorm out there and we did not manage to get out of this place before 11am, the road might be blocked! Cant imagine what's going to happen. This meant we gotta stay at this posh hotel for more days. Kinda an irony haha.. because I really love this hotel but dont really wanna delay my trip!

The scary snowstorm!

So we woke up and had the most sumptious buffet breakfast that morning. The spread was enormous and the food was very very oishii beyond words.. There were many other photography enthusiasts groups aside from us.

 My very sumptuous breakfast!

This place is very famous for its milk and is used to make Haagen Daaz ice-cream!

And unfortunately, we didnt see any martens.. so I took a picture of the marten photo which I saw at the lobby :)

Takashi-san came by punctually. It was really crazy mad snow outside the hotel. The wind was strong too. There was a tinge of shiver going through my spine actually. I hoped we would not be stuck somewhere in the middle of the road under this weather condition.

Having some fun in the snowstorm!

Takashi-san drove carefully to move through the winding snow road. There was absolutely nothing to see outside the vehicle. Everywhere was snowy and miserable! We just prayed the snowstorm could stop soon and we could reach our next destination safely.

We reached Meitonomori Hotel Kitafukuro safely. From the time we left the vehicle, we were struggling to unload the luggage and get into the hotel due to the heavy snow pelting on us everywhere. As it was still early before check-in, we wandered around the lobby. Similarly, it has large window panels facing the forest outside. But no wildlife was seen, possibly due to the heavy snowstorm. And then, we did the most crazy thing in this trip!

A snow fight! haha..what better ways to enjoy in the midst of a snowstorm? :D
So we scooped snow, dumped it on each other, quite painful I must say haha..and started making snowman and snow angels.. And we had a snowman-making competition. My snowman looks like little Buddha, as one of them mentioned haha.. I wasnt placing much focus in making it, more like a just-for-fun attitude haha..

My KNS snowman

Having fun in the snow

And after this, we checked in, placed our luggage in our rooms and set off for our lunch to have the famous Teshikaga Ramen, which was highly raved. I had this ramen before at one of the outlets in Sapporo Ramen Yokocho. It tasted really good! And this time, I tasted another flavor of this ramen at the place of origin, which adds even more flavor. It didnt disappoint me and we had gyoza too..

Me with Takashi-san :)

After lunch, we made our way to Lake Kussharo. Although the snow did not reduce, we went ahead to Lake Kussharo to spot the swans. Boy, the crowd was quite overwhelming. Have never seen so many swans coming together. I must say they are very graceful. If only the weather is less harsh, I think sunset time will be a great timing to shoot.

The young on the left, the adult on the right.

Up to some mischief!

The frozen Lake Kussharo

We went into the nearby souvenir shop to's really cold out there..and we chanced upon a recording toy..which was able to record sound and speak it out in its own funny voice. we were really having fun as we spoke different languages to the toy..and it resonated out the same exact words. it was simply hilarious!

Enough shooting, and shivering in the cold, we headed back to hotel.. guess what I did? went straight for onsen hahaha... they had the rotenburo. The view was not bad but I felt the one at the previous accomodation was better. And usually after onsen, I really felt a strong urge to fall asleep while skipping dinner.. But dinner was at a fixed timing. .. this was my last night..time just flew so quickly when you are on a vacation. The cuisine was yummy as expected and we enjoyed laughing aloud and enjoying the cuisine, with the heavy snowstorm outside. 

All of us were hoping the snowstorm would be less severe the following that we could reach Kushiro Airport... but..little did we know there would be more adventures coming by... ;)

Rausu/Yoroushi: 26th Feb 2015

Again, our alarm clock did not fail us and we did not disappoint ourselves. We woke up punctually at 4am, got ready by 430am and set off to board our boat to catch the intense action of the Steller's sea eagles!

Today, the sunrise was really beautiful. You could see the sun slowly approaching upwards, with very nice shades of gold, yellow and orange creating beautiful light in the sky. The eagles were already on standby, awaiting for food. I found a good seat this time and I desperately needed it. Reason being on the previous day, I was on my knees and in the end, had much bruises on them that I could not bend my legs well :( So a seat was much needed this morning!

Some tango among the eagles

Crow on the left, Steller's sea eagle on the right.

No crow/eagle is going to catch its fish!

Trying to perfect its landing

Close-up photo of the Steller's sea eagle

3 hours of intense shooting and I saw much action that day. We were anticipating what we saw yesterday. We were all trying to get better shots than the previous day haha. In fact, today I ditched my tripod in the car as it was so tough juggling both the tripod and myself on balance on the boat.

All of us felt pretty satisfied and we made our way back to hotel for our breakfast. So looking forward to a hot bowl of miso soup at that instant!!

After breakfast, we packed our stuff, rested a while, before meeting Takashi-san to drive to Yoroshii. I went to say farewell to Kuma-san, the dog in the hotel. He was just too adorable and I gotta take a last look of him :)

We took a brief stop at a museum which showcased the various wildlife that one can catch at Shiretoko Peninsula. A pity we didn't manage to see the seals. We thought we saw one..but end up it was a Stellar's sea eagle :( Talking about daydreaming -_-

The beautiful landscape outside the museum

We set off for Yoroushi and along the way, we spotted so many deers! Beware of the photos below..nothing but the deers!

They spotted us and ran away! 

Luckily, we spotted more deer as we drove towards Yoroushi. Some battle happening real-time!

Taking huge heaps of fresh air

Father and child : Connection

Then, we drove past along the coastline and saw few wandering deers, looking through for some food in the midst of snow and debris.


I love animal photography. One of the reasons is that I learn the animal instinct from them. Many times, man will think that he is the smartest living being on earth. But animals do have their intelligence as well. Just like how they signal to each other whether there are vehicles coming along their way and making sure it is safe before crossing the road. It is through animal photography that I practice patience so that I can capture and witness these priceless moments of communication between the animals. 

And so the whole herd of deers quickly made their way across the road. Safety is the utmost importance.

Drift ice along the drive

It was already 2pm by the time we had lunch. Time just passed when you are busy snapping away haha..and we didnt really felt the hunger. What shocked us is the huge servings of food served at that particular restaurant. 

The food was oishii but the amount was too much for us to take in. A single meal could be a better choice for 2 person sharing haha.. Then we learnt from the guide that people staying around this area are all farmers who work very hard, and they have big appetite. Hence, the food serving size is usually big to cater for them. Now we appreciate the reason haha.

After lunch, we slowly made our way to our hotel at Nakashibetsu town. There is only one road to this hotel. It is pretty secluded. The hotel is known as Yuyado-Daiichi
I can tell you this is the most posh onsen/ryokan accomodation I have ever stayed in. I will go visit again in the future!!It is so much better than in Kinosaki and Shibu onsen area haha. This I believe is the splurge factor of the trip!

The spacious lobby which we did all our shooting

We hoped to see some martens at the area. An excellent place for photography as the hotel lobby is facing large window panels, which faces the forest outside. So you could witness any animal action and photograph them while in comfort and warmth!
And our guide informed us that the onsen at this ryokan was the top best! It is a must try and of course I would not miss the chance!

Upon reaching the hotel, I changed and marched straight to the onsen hahaha..and it was just about the rotenburo(outdoor onsen) offered spectacular views of the forest! It was a luxury as you immersed in the hot onsen while enjoying snow falling on your head :)
Something which I always envy while watching Channel News Asia's Japan Hour haha
And after freshening up, I headed to the lobby to meet the rest of the gang. We were awaiting the sight of any wildlife right outside the hotel window. After waiting for 1h or so, suddenly there was a big commotion at one corner. A Blakiston's fish owl was spotted! 

It was our first encounter and we were overwhelmed at this sight! The boss of the hotel commented that we were very lucky to spot this owl right in front of the hotel!
If not, we might be spending hours in the snow awaiting the arrival of this owl!
Everyone were so excited. Any slight movement of the owl was accompanied with heaps of camera clicks haha.. well I guess the owl must be very proud to have captured such an attention!

You can see how happy the owl was, savoring its catch!

And then, another person alerted us to another owl, which was hidden above the branches in the trees! Goodness! Two owls that night. It's likely the martens would hide though, as they knew there were the owls around... too bad , we did not spot any martens :(

With that owl-watching for 1.5h, we were famished and headed off for our long-awaited dinner.
The total number of dishes served was astonishing! We almost could not finish every single of them. But, it was real whole luxury for all of us! I didn't take any pictures as I was too famished but the food quality was really good!

To celebrate a wonderful night, some of us headed off for onsen again before resting!
It's my first time doing onsen at night. A memorable experience too :)