The Okhotsk Line (Route 238) is a long coastal byway dotted with outstanding natural landscapes, such as brackish lakes, hidden marshes, wildflower gardens, rocky capes and seaside farms. This line is designed as North Okhotsk Prefecture Natural Park. In winter, you might look over the endless frozen sea from the coastal road.
DURATION: 5 hours +
BEST TIME: June to October for touring. February for sea ice cruising.
Esashi ›› Halfway on the coastal Okhotsk Line between Monbetsu and Wakkanai, Mikasa-yama offers grand ocean view.
Hamatonbetsu & Kutcharo-ko ›› Admire the elegant swans and migratory birds on Northern Hokkaido’s largest lake.
Soya-misaki ›› Reach this national-famous cape after the long road trip northward, then follow the scenic footpath on the Soya Hills.
Monbetsu (紋別) is the third-largest city in Okhotsk Region and most travelers come here to take an ice breaker cruise and meet the seals in winter. You can reach Monbetsu by bus from Sapporo, Asahikawa or Engaru on the JR Sekihoku Line.
Monbetsu terminal (紋別ターミナル) sends 12 buses to Okoppe (興部: 45min) and five buses continue to Omu (雄武: 1hr 17min). It is a good base for traveling to Wakkanai on the Okhotsk Line.
Okoppe (興部) is a key junction of the Okhotsk Line and Route 239, where the town center offers the michi-no-eki (道の駅おこっぺ) located at the bus terminal. There are daily Meish Bus (www.meishibus.com) to Okoppe if you are start this trip from Nayoro (名寄) on the JR Soya Line.
If you are heading from Abashiri to Wakkanai via Saroma-ko by car, you are halfway there. Michi-no-eki Omu (道の駅おうむ) and a bus terminal are in one building.
Omu (雄武) bus terminal is a striking construction with an airship-shaped observation deck (free) overlooking the Sea of Okhotsk. Soya Bus operates two daily services from Omu to Esashi (枝幸: 1hr 12min).
The fishing town Esashi (枝幸) has the largest catch of kegani (horsehair crab) in Japan. If there is a long wait between local buses, drop in the friendly tourist information office and stroll the town.
There are four buses from Esashi to Hamatonbetsu (浜頓別: 45min) via the unusual rocky cape of Kamui-misaki (カムイ岬). Otherwise, you can switch to the intercity bus here for Asahikawa (3.5hrs) or Sapporo (5.5hrs) via Otoineppu (55min).
Hamatonbetsu (浜頓別) is North Okhotsk’s main transport hub for Wakkanai and Otoineppu. Northern Hokkaido’s largest natural lake, Kutcharo-ko is a paradise for migratory birds near the town center.
The bus terminal is inside the modern Michi-no-eki Kita-Okhotsk Hamatonbetsu.
126km to 188km
Hamatonbetsu to Soya-misaki
If you plan to head north on the Okhotsk Line from Hamatonbetsu, there are four daily departures to Onishibetsu (鬼志別) terminal in the center of the fishing village Sarufutsu (猿払). You have enough time to see the small railway gallery inside the bus terminal.
From Onishibetsu, there are four buses daily to Wakkanai Station (1hr 40min) via Soya-misaki (44min).
Wakkanai’s most popular tourist destination, Soya-misaki (宗谷岬) is the northernmost tip of mainland Japan overlooking Sakhalin Island (just 43km away from here) on a clear day. Note that the last bus to Wakkanai from Soya-misaki leaves at 14:55.
Japan’s northernmost train station (and bus terminal) of Wakkanai (稚内) is an important turning point for all tourists. They spend a couple of time in the town and its surroundings before traveling onward.
Wakkanai has ferry connections to Rishiri-to and Rebun-to islands. In summer there are also international ferries to Sakhalin Island, Russian Far East. JR Soya Line connects Wakkanai with Asahikawa. There are also intercity buses to Sapporo vis the coastal Ororon Line.