Snow shoeing on Notsuke Bay
The Notsuke Peninsula is an approximately 28 kilometer long sand bar, which is said to have been formed thousands of years ago by sand deposits from the Shiretoko Peninsula in the north. The long and thin peninsula offers an abundance of wildlife and pristine nature all year around. Eagles, foxes, deer, seals, cranes and scores of migratory birds, just to name a few, can be seen in the Notsuke Peninsula. The peninsula is also the habitat of some unique wild flowers, and remnants of a once-thriving forest filled with pine and fir trees that grew in the bay can be seen.
Aside from wildlife and walking in the great outdoors, there is not much else to sightsee on the peninsula itself. There are a handful of basic accommodation, but most people who visit the peninsula arrive on bus tours and stay for only an hour or less. Instead of doing a quick tour, I decided to travel slow and made it a two day trip with an overnight stay in the town not far from the Notsuke Peninsula.
Notsuke Peninsula. Beyond the sign is the frozen Notsuke Bay
Hints of flowers
Two eagles just chilling
Deer by the side of the road
Instead of making straight for the peninsula right off the plane, I headed first to Odaito, a little fishing town on the mainland across from Notsuke Peninsula. I had made plans to stay the night in Odaito and leave the best for the next day. It was a 30-40 minute drive from the airport, and I could still make out bits of the peninsula as visibility grew worse in the heavy snowfall and setting sun. In the winter, the fishing town becomes a sleepy town, and there was not much action happening. However, the amazing seafood I had at my accommodation provided a small sample of the fresh and bountiful catch in the nearby waters.
I stayed at Umi no shuku Misaki, a local, family-run minshuku accommodation by the sea. As it turned out, I was the only guest that evening and had the entire place to myself. While the facilities were simple, it was more than enough for an overnight stay. The proprietress of the minshuku was extremely friendly, and we got to chatting during dinner. All the dishes were made in-house, and the ingredients were all locally sourced. The delicious meal made me a very happy girl with a full belly.
Dinner of champions, local seafood everything. The shrimp on the top right are Hokkai Shrimp which are caught in Notsuke Bay
My room for the night
With my power and warmth levels fully charged, I headed out and made my way for the Notsuke Peninsula. The drive from Odaito, where I was, to Notsuke Peninsula Nature Center took about 30 minutes, and there is only one road that leads to and on the peninsula. The nature center is the main stop for almost all tourists who visit, and almost all the walking routes in the area start from there.
Best breakfast in a long while
Parts of the shallow Notsuke Bay get frozen in the winter, which makes it possible to walk on it. My guide and I made our way across the frozen bay towards the withered tree grove and looped back to the nature center. Along the way, the winterscape was quite amazing and reminded me of the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. Our entire walk took about 1.5 hours, and it was a good chance to see the bay.
Walking on frozen water
Feels a little extraterrestrial, kinda like moon landscape
Uyuni Salt Flat anyone?
Boardwalk that is used in the warmer months of May through October
As we looped back towards the nature center, we saw the Amamo seagrass poking out from under the snow. This sea grass is the natural habitat of the Hokkai Shrimp, a local delicacy which is caught in spring and autumn. It was one of the dishes in my dinner the night before! My guide, and the minshuku proprietress the night before, also told me about the local Komai fish, which can be fished in the deeper parts of the bay. And yes, I had that delicious winter fish at dinner too :P
Amamo sea grass
Withered trees in what is known as the todowara area
Vegetation that is usually underwater poking out of the snow
Upon return to the nature center, I took a quick look at the nearby areas as I could not go much farther beyond the nature center. In the warmer months from May to October, visitors can go on walks farther into the marshland to see the flowers, and there are also scheduled boat tours from the mainland across the bay to the edge of the peninsula.
Saw some fox trails first
My first fox!
I did not realise they were there until I was almost beside them
Notsuke Peninsula Nature Center.
The second floor has displays of the wildlife you can see in the peninsula
Bus tour group enjoying their time in the snow
Of interest to me was the bronze sculpture outside of the michinoeki. I found out that the figures were pointing towards Kunashiri Island, which is currently under Russian control, and crying for the return of their separated family members. Additionally, it is only 16 kilometers between Notsuke Peninsula and Kunashiri Island, a distance that is equivalent to the one from the start of the peninsula to the nature center.
With that, my slow trip to the Notsuke Peninsula came to an end. I cannot recommend the quiet peninsula enough to those interested in seeing wildlife. The nearby accommodation, while basic, provided some of the best seafood ingredients I had eaten. It sure made me want to go back in the warmer months!
Nemuro Naka-Shibetsu Airport is the nearest airport to the Notsuke Peninsula. ANA operates three daily flights between Sapporo's New Chitose Airport and one daily flight between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Nemuro Naka-Shibetsu Airport. The one way flight from Sapporo starts from 14,000 yen and takes around 50 minutes, while from Tokyo, it starts from 15,000 yen and takes around 100 minutes.
The mountainous Kunashiri Island behind the Notsuke Peninsula Nature Center
Bronze figures crying and pointing in the direction of Kunashiri Island
The four poles on the left represent the four disputed islands in the north, and the distance between the poles and the figures is a thousandth of the actual distance between Notsuke Peninsula and Kunashiri Island
Notsuke Peninsula in a nutshell. Bay on the left, sea on the right
Getting There and Around
Rental car is the only way to explore the peninsula as public transport is virtually nonexistent. Rental car outlets are available at Nemuro Naka-Shibetsu Airport, and driving from there to the Notsuke Peninsula Nature Center takes about 45 minutes.