Hemmed in by the Hidaka Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this sun-kissed route follows Japan’s top racehorse breeding ground with countless stables, passes through the dramatic windy cape Erimo-misaki. Apoi-dake is the most lovely alpine mountain en route designated as a Unesco Global Geopark.
JR Bus (www.jrhokkaidobus.com) between Mukawa and Hiroo is available to use both the Japan and Hokkaido rail passes.
If you start this trip by bus from Sapporo, Donan Bus (www.donanbus.co.jp) operates the intercity buses Pegasus-go (ペガサス号) to Urakawa (6 daily / 4hrs 45min / ¥3280), stopping at Mukawa and Shizunai.
Tomakomai to Tokachi Hiroo via Erimo-misaki
DURATION: 5.5 hours +
BEST TIME: May to October
Tomikawa & Nibutani ›› Tomikawa is a gateway to Nibutani’s riverside Ainu Village. You will find the cultural history museums, folk crafts and spiritual landscapes.
Urakawa ›› Home to JRA Hidaka Training Farm, something like Japan’s Newmarket.
Samani & Apoi-dake ›› Hiking up the flower mountain or coastal footpath in the Unesco Global Geopark.
Erimo-misaki ›› The great Hidaka Mountains meet the dramatic Pacific Ocean.
The coastal industrial city of Tomakomai has one of Japan’s vital commercial ports facing the Pacific Ocean. A number of long-distance ferries operate from Honshu. Most travelers skip this city, but Tomakomai offers a somewhat unique attractions such as a skating rink and bird sanctuary.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› From Tomakomai, Donan Bus services Mukawa (60min) continue to Shizunai (3 daily), Biratori (1 daily) or Hidaka (1 daily). The train to Mukawa (8 daily / 30min) on the JR Hidaka Line is a much better option.
This town is well-known for its shishamo (smelt) fishing at the mouth of the clear stream Mu-kawa. In late autumn, many tourists come here to taste the fish.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› Alternative JR Bus (列車代行) runs between Mukawa Station and Shizunai Station (7 daily / 1hr 50min), stopping at Tomikawa (34min) and Niikappu (1hr 40min) stations. Donan Bus also runs to Shizunai (3 daily / 1.5hrs). Intercity buses from Sapporo pause at the michi-no-eki Mukawa Shiki-no-Yakata-mae (鵡川四季の館前), about a 10-minute walk south of the train station.
DETOUR: 20km Northeast of Tomikawa
This small village along Saru-gawa, at the northern part of Biratori (平取), is a traditional heart of Ainu culture in Central Hokkaido. Nibutani (Jungle in Ainu) is difficult to visit by public transport, but it is worth a visit getting off the beaten path. Donan Bus runs to the Shiryokan-mae (資料館前) stop in the village from Tomikawa and Tomakomai via Biratori.
87km / 93km
Niikappu & Shizunai / 新冠 · 静内
Halfway between Tomakomai and Erimo, the region’s largest town Shizunai (Shinhidaka / 新ひだか) is the base of visit the engaging racehorse stables spread out to the neighboring town of Niikappu. Around the Golden Week (late April to early May), Nijukken Road is full of cherry blooms along with local day-trippers.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› Donan Bus stops in Niikappu at the Michi-no-eki Thoroughbred Road Niikappu (道の駅サラブレッドロード新冠) with a record museum. Shizunai Station is a key transit point for Donan Bus to Urakawa and alternative JR Bus (列車代行) to Samani.
The small capital of Hidaka Region, Urakawa is a good destination for horse lovers. One of the world’s greatest blood-horse training centers spread out near Hidaka-Horobetsu. The Pegasus Road (Route 236) is the shortest route between Urakawa and Tokachi across the Hidaka Mountains.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› If you came from Sapporo or Shizunai by Donan Bus, Urakawa’s Yakuba-mae (役場前) stop near the train station is the end point and where regular JR buses connect to Samani. There are also alternative JR Buses to Samani from the train station.
Listed as a Unesco Global Geopark, this fishing town has a variety of unusual terrains from the coastlines to the flower mountains. It is worth spending a half day for explore the town on the way to Erimo-misaki. The town can be easily explore on foot. Direct JR Bus runs from Sapporo to Samani continue to the town center of Erimo.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› From Samani Station, JR Bus runs to Hiroo (1hr 50min) via Erimo-misaki (1hr). Most buses pause at the Apoi Sanso. Note that the weekday early-morning bus from Samani to Hiroo doesn’t go to Erimo-misaki.
Japan’s most windy point on the level, the 60m-high cliff cape Erimo-misaki (beautiful form in Ainu) is the most dynamic coastal point in Hidaka juts out into the ocean. The mountain rocks are continued under the seabed, you might be able to watch the zenigata-azarashi (harbor seals) through binoculars.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› Two to three JR buses continue to Hiroo on the coastal Ogon Doro (黄金道路) constructed in 1934 with a huge amount of money. Near Hyakunin-hama (百人浜) stop, you can walk to its sandy coast and campsite overlooking the mountains.
At the southernmost town of Tokachi Region, Hiroo is the region’s only commercial port and far from a tourist hot spot. The main reason to stopover this town is a round trip to or from Hidaka Region via Erimo-misaki.
CONNECTIONS ›› From Hiroo bus terminal, Tokachi Bus 60 runs to Obihiro Station (10-14 daily / 2.5hrs). Otherwise, you can go to Sapporo by JR Bus Kosoku Hiroo Santa-go (1 daily / 4hrs 40min / Compulsory reservation).