Around midday on the Saturday, after visiting the main attractions in Hakodate, we got back in our car and started driving back north towards Noboribetsu Hot Springs, our next stop!
About 60 Km before arriving in Noboribetsu, we took a detour to see the beautiful panorama of Lake Toya and Nakajima Island from the Shikotsu Toya National Park silo observatory.
This is a simple place, on the top of a hill, with an amazing view of the lake!
The parking is free and a cute cafe and a big souvenir shop are available for you to enjoy the moment and relax!
What to do in Noboribetsu
Noboribetsu is famous mainly for its amazing hot springs. A huge number of hotels have grown in recent years, hosting a great quantity of onsen (public baths).
We chose a hotel that had many baths on-site, so that we didn’t have to go out in search of pools, but just follow the flow of other people enjoying this “attraction”. We stayed here on a Saturday night and the hotel was pretty crowded, mainly with Japanese families enjoying the weekend and groups of Chinese tourists. I think, on this occasion, we were the only Westerners!
My thoughts on Hotel Mahotoba in Noboribetsu
- It is a huge building of about 500 Japanese and Western rooms. Staying here is not an intimate experience!
- In the building there is a massive Arcade area on the basement floor, a karaoke room, a relaxation and massage area (to pay for), a souvenir shop and a convenience store.
- Parking is available for free just across the street.
- We stayed in a Japanese-style room with tatami floor, futon beds and a low table and chairs. Everything in the room was nice and clean, in proper Japanese style. To be a 4* hotel, though, I was expecting better bathroom amenities (to be picky!).
- The package included both breakfast and dinner. They are served in a massive restaurant on a “buffet-style”. The food was abundant and of good quality and variety. We can’t complain at all, but it was not a typical Japanese hospitality experience.
- The onsen baths were numerous, big and clean. Despite the amount of guests we had seen in the lobby, the pools were not too crowded and it was a really enjoyable atmosphere.
You can see availability and book Hotel Mahoroba HERE!
My first experience with the Onsen and what I have learnt
- There can be different types of thermal waters in every location, each of them with its positives and negatives for the body: make sure you read the description and instructions provided in order to only do good to yourself!
- To bathe in the onsen, you MUST BE completely naked. Swimming costumes and other clothes are not permitted.
- Everybody has to wash themselves thoroughly with body soap, shampoo etc in the public showers available at the entrance of the onsen area.
- Nobody is (at least visibly) interested in looking at other people’s bodies. Try to do the same!
- Public bathing in the onsen is an antique practice and in Japan it is treated with the highest level of respect.
- Most of the onsen are divided between male and female areas.
- For obvious and correct reasons, it is not possible to take pictures of the onsen when in use.
- If you are not used to walk, seat, stand, lay down and shower NAKED in front of tens of people, it may be a daunting experience at the beginning! Try to embrace it by understanding that it is just a very natural experience… and hopefully the shyness will disappear.
There is really nothing quite like the feeling of walking around naked in the fresh air of dawn or sunset, surrounded by green mountains and gently slip into a pool of fuming hot water.
The warmth of the water, the silence of the nature, the reality of the nudity…
- Unfortunately, yes, giant tropical butterflies do exist! :/
(if you don’t know me well, yet: I have a terrible phobia of insects! In this natural environment, in the middle of the mountains, I was expecting some “encounter”, though… On this occasion, I was actually lucky, because the giant butterfly was still on a tree and I could just walk back inside and return slowly to my room, instead of running away on that slippery surface and make a fool of myself in front of everybody else!)
Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe
On Sunday morning, after having breakfast and checking out (praying to be let alone by those huge butterflies around!), we left the hot springs area and headed down to Noboribetsu town centre.
Or at least, we thought we would find a town centre! In reality, the town is small and not very appealing! Plus, on Sunday morning there was none around and the “ghostly” weather didn’t help creating an attractive appearance! This is the area of the train station!
With no other specific plan in mind and with this quite dreadful weather, we decided to visit the famous aquarium of Noboribetsu! It was advertised everywhere and we thought it would be a different experience (that would also keep us inside for few hours!), so we went!
The Marine Park was just 2 minutes away from the train station, with a big, free parking just outside the gate. The building is actually quite nice and “different” from what we were expecting!
Ok, so, the aquarium was actually very nice! I never hide my “non-attraction” to most animals, but I really liked this place!
There are some very well organized activities, first of all, the PENGUIN PARADE! I loved the penguin parade!!! Penguins are so funny!!! 🙂
And the dolphin show was extremely cute as well, as always happens with dolphins! Kids were being involved in giving signals and orders and some moments were hilarious!
And of course, loads of different creatures that make you say “WTH?”!!!
The way back
On the way back from Noboribetsu to Sapporo, we didn’t stop much, mainly because of the bad weather we found (can’t always be lucky!).
We made a quick stop for lunch in the city of Chitose, where Sapporo airport is located, where we found a delicious chain-restaurant that made Tonkatsu, one of my favorite food in Japan!
This is basically pork or chicken, breaded and fried (!), accompanied with whatever you want! Rice, pickled veggies, eggs, noodles, you name it! It is sooo damn good!
After lunch, we went for a short walk at a Temple we found near the restaurant and then, refreshed and relaxed, we headed back to the city for our 4-nights’ stay at Royton Sapporo Hotel!
This was, in short, our first weekend away in Hokkaido, at the very North of Japan! The weather has not been very good with us in these days, but we can’t complain because we have still managed to see many beautiful places and make memorable experiences!
Have you been or are you planning to go to Hokkaido? Share your thoughts with me in the comment box below! 🙂
Until next destination… thank you so much for reading!
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