So you've booked your accommodation and plane tickets and are looking forward to your upcoming Niseko experience and perhaps your first experience of Japan! With tickets booked to Chitose Airport al that remains is getting to Hirafu, where most likely your accommodation has been booked. From Chitose there are 3 main methods of transportation. A coach bus service, a private transfer or the train. All of these options have their merits and of course there pit falls too, more on these below.
By for the most popular transfer option is the coach, which Holiday Niseko is more than happy to book for you and if you mention reading this, we can disount by 10%! The coach option is popular beacuse it is commfortable, reasonably priced and runs frequently. It is also prefrerred because your luggage will be in the luggage compartment and not under someone elses feet on the train, you are guaranteed a seat and it is warm and comfortable. The bus takes about 2.5 hours depending on the weather and roads and given the incredible amount of snow the area receives, amazingly it is extremely rare for it to be cancelled. The first bus departs from the domestic terminal at 09:30am and the last for the night at 21:20, arriving at the Hirafu Welcome Center at 00:00. If you book with accommodation with Holiday Niseko we provide a free pick up drop off service to and from the Hirafu Welcome center making the journey a breeze, which exactly what you need after spending 24 hours or more getting here!
Tthe most efficient and convenient transfer option is a private transfer. Here you will have a car, van or small bus to your self and there will be a driver waiting for you at the arrival gate and from here you will be taken directly to your accommodation. Private transfers are good value and time saving and for an additional fee you can request a supermarket stop too. Holiday Niseko can also arrage VIP and transfers tailored for private jets.
Autumn is a welcome season here in Niseko, a rest from the heat of the summer and step further toward the incredible snow the area recieves in winter. Everywhere you look there are beautiful autumnal scenes to enjoy, even right here in Hurafu vlllage. This makes the autum a great time to visit the area enjoy the coulurs, the restaurants and the onsens.
Mt Yotei is just one of Hokkaido's mountains that draws visitors to view the colours. On the other side of the valley Mt Annupuri better known for it's skiing also presents a stunning tapestry of foliage. Fukidashi Park is also a local favourite and a draw card in its own right. Hokkaido in fact is brimming with autumn sight seeing opportunities, know in japan as Koyo the islands cooler temperatures make it the first to welcome the changing leaves and one of the most spectacular. The first area and one of the most specatcular is the Daisetsusan National park where you can enjoy mountain hikes or viewing from the Asahi Dake or Kuro Dake ropeways.
Thanks to the wonders of mother nature Hokkaido is an amazing destination any time of the year with every season having highlights that can't be missed. Niseko and specifically the Hirafu Village area is the perfect place to base yourself on a holiday here with a fantastic selection of accommodation from self contained apartments to large chalets and villas big enough for the whole family or groups of friends.
If you are looking for a home away from home in Niseko look no further than Ishi Couloir. This set of three 2,3 and 4 bedroom apartments are modern, cozy and very spacious. Built by West Canada Homes they are as you'd expect the kind of property you'd expect to enjoy in Whistler rather than a resort town in Japan, big rooms an attractive wooden finish and carpeted floors.
Ishi Couloir has a homely feel with very spacious bedrooms all of which can be made up as two single or 1 double bed. Each master bedroom comes complete with ensuite and bathrooms are any rooms without ensuites are located very close to bathrooms. All rooms also have large windows letting in plenty of natural light.
The living areas in each apartment are very generously sized with plenty of room for the whole family plus a couple more, even in the 2 bedroom. Vaulted ceilings and exposed beams give the place an alpine feel and are just perfect for kicking back after an epic day on the slopes. The living areas like the rest of the apartments are nicely appointed with comfortable, stylish furniture.
The kitchens are once again generously sized with plenty of bench space and island benchs make washing up easy and have an extra coupe of seats for the breakfast que too. You will find gas stove tops, coffee makers, ovens and a big fridge in every apartment plus every kitchen comes fully equipped with everything you need for eating in.
Last but not least all of the master bedrooms are ensuited and any rooms without are very close to their respective bathrooms and all have full sized bath tubs. The bathrooms are as you would expect spacious and come complete with towels, hairdriers, towel rails and are all nice and warm in the winter.
Ishi Couloir is a fantastic option and the choice of two, three or four bedrooms make them perfect for groups big all small, just you and the kids or a big group of friends. You can find full details on Ishi Couloir on its property page here.
The Niseko Autumn Food Festival has fast become an event marked on every locals calender. The event showcases the cluinary delights of restaurants from acrosss the village and this year features Niseko Pizza, Bistro Re Arbor, Jam Bar / Mass Bar JAM, Klass Kitchen, Kikoz x Pura / Kikoz x Pura, Niseko Bang Bang, Niseko Gourmet, El Asador, Taj Mahal, Hakko Ginger, Green Farm Cafe, Toshiro's Bar, Niseko Tap Room / Niseko Tap Room, Cedar Coffee Cedar Coffee and official event drink booth Niseko Green Farm. With international travel on pause for the moment this years Autumn Fest was more of a local than ever before and lucky for us the food was better than ever too!
To enter the event festival goers were required to first register online which could be done in advance or at the gate with the help of the handy QR code. Social distancing measures were in place and everyone was also required to wear a mask to enter, these were of course only on until the eating began but one felt secure in the fact safety was a priority. And enter the festival they did with over 10,000 people visiting of the 4 days the event ran. This number was well up on the previous year and shows that the event has become cemented itself in the yearly Hokkaido festival agenda.
The culinary options were fantastic and although the event was busy the waits on food were short and made even shorter with the help of a beer and some banter. We were seated with a group that preferred vegetarian options so the perfect place to start was at a collaboration stall with Kikoz and Pura Tempeh two fantastic grass roots local brands serving up a mix of falafel, soft tacos, buritos and much more. We'll leave you with the video below from TV NIseko for an up close and personal look at this festival favourite.
If you have been to Niseko and stayed in Hirafu chances are pretty good you've been to the Burton Store. It is located on the ground floor of the Odin Place building located at the Hirafu Intersection. The store has been open for the last 5 years and it's patronage growing in leaps and bounds from season to season. For those who don't know The Burton Store is a snowboard shop selling Burton hard and soft goods with everything you need to outfit yourself for your snowboarding holiday in Niseko and beyond. The shop is run by expat Aussie Justin "Grover" Graves who we catch up with below and find out more about him, the store and his personal shred ready recommendations for the coming winter.
Grover hales from Merwether Beach in Newcastle Australia a classic surf town that was also home to surfing legends such as 4 x world champ Mark Richards, Luke Egan, Matt Hoy and Ryan Callahan. Out of the surf and into the snow Grover first stepped on board way back in 1991 in Charlotte Pass in Asutralia. This was a time that marked his introduction to the sport and was really the begginning for the Australian scene too.
From here Grover went on to spend 15 winters in north America in Colorado and California and then 10 more here in Niseko, the last 5 of which he has lived here year round. He first visited Niseko in 2009 on the way to the US. Niseko first came on the radar for him through Kiwi snowbaord champ Olly Brunton who had just visited and ridden with snowboard legend Terje Haakonsen here. It wasn't until he actually came here until he realised how good it really was. "when I came here I was like holy #$&% this is how much it really snows!"
Grover began in Niseko working as a manager at Rhythm and it was from here the Burton Store was born. Rhythm's snowboard retail section was booming but Grover explained, the space was too limited to accommodate the growth. This was recognised by both the Rythm team and by Burton who first floated the idea of a seperate store. The idea quickly grew and seeing the potential Grover, Burton and Rhythm soon made it happen and as Niseko has grown so has the store's success.
Down to the real business end we figured Grover was the perfect person to offer some advice on what kind of snowboard is best suited to Niseko. This he explained was in part dictated on your level of riding but if you are a competent snowboarder Grover recommends a powder specific board, something tapered with the nose wider than the tail, a set back stance configuration, camber under foot and plenty of lift in the nose. According to him having a board like this will help you to float above the powder yet still get traction on the groomed.
Grovers pick for for the 2020 /21 season is the Burton Hometown Hero from the Burton Family Tree line of all mountian powder specific shapes with sizes ranging from 142 to 160cm. Further Niseko essentials that Grover reccomneds are a good pair of goggles, decent gore outerwear, a face mask and hoods. "You need quality gear that is built for the conditions, stuff that you can use for a few season and that wil get you through all of the big powder days". If you've ever been to Niseko with sub par pair of goggles or jacket you'll know what he's saying!
With a quieter season ahead locals here are looking forward to have more time on the hill and riding lines that have been fairly busy over (by local standards) the last few years. Grovers picks are Super Ridge and his favourite gulley lines at Higashiyama / Niseko Village and also trips over to Moiwa, Rusutsu, Kokusai and Teine. The next time you're in Niseko be sure to stop by the store and say gudday to Grover and the team who will welcome you in out of the snow, unless of course they're rippng lines off super ridge!
If you are looking for a large comfortable home away from home in the Hirafu Village within walking distance of the lifts and close to some fantastic restaurants look no further than Ise. This large 3 story, 4 bedroom concrete villa has all the comforts you could wish for split over 3 spacious levels with the open plan living, dining and kitchen set on the second floor.
One of Ise's greatest draw cards is of course its location being just 300m from Seicomart and 350m from the base of the Ace Family Chair. If you wish to ride the Gondola shuttle bus stop # 6 is also only a short walk away. From Ise there are restaurant and bar options a plenty with Steak Rosso Rosso right accross the road and one of Hirafu's most famous bars, Bar Gyu or the fridge door bar just around the corner. If you are looking for an authentic Japanese Dining experience Kato is also just a couple of minutes walk from your door in the Hinzan building.
Ise's 4 bedrooms are teastefully appointed with the ground floor holding the spacious ensuited master bedroom. The remaining bedrooms are on the 3rd floor and feature large windows from which to watch the snowflakes fall. One of the top floor bedrooms is ensuited with the remaining two rooms sharing a bathroom.
Ise is without doubt one of the most conveniently located luxury 4 bedroom homes in Hirafu. Couple this with reasonable rates and great service you have the makings of an incredible winter escape. For full property details you may like to visit the Ise listing page here. If you would like to know more about Ise or have any NIseko related questions please feel free to contact us anytime (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Part 4 of our look at trips to the coast from Niseko looks at Bikuni, a small town on the eastern side of the Shakotan Peninsular. Via Nikki Bikuni is a 1.5 hour drive from Hirafu and is a great stop over on the way to popular destinations such as Kamui Misaki and the Shimamui Coast which we looked at in Part 3. It is also a slightly closer alternative summer destination if you don't feel like driving all the way to tip of the peninsular. Bikuni offers camping, some great dining options, sight seeing, salmon fishing and glass bottomed boat tours.
The camping ground at Bikuni is right on a nice sandy beach with shallow water extending far into the sea making it a great place to play with the kids. During the summer the seas are uaully calm and the water comfortable and refreshing to swim in. The camping area is essentially on the beach and close to the toilets and washing up facilities and it is free. Most people bring their own barbeque and it is asked that you dispose of coals thoughtfully. The beach is also a popular launching area for small water craft and the mouth of the Bikuni River flowing adjacent to the camp is a well known salmon fishing spot in the autumn.
At the other end of the village you will find Cape Ogon (黄金岬) meaning gold coloured and named after the shoals of herring that once glimmered under the setting sun. On top of the Ogon is bulit a tall observation deck that looks out over the foliage providing fantastic views of a dramatic coast line and crystal clear blue waters.
If this wasn't enough to pique your interest in making a day trip from the Niseko area there is also a glass bottomed boat tour and some fantastic restaurants including the tucked away gem Jun's Seafood restaurant that specialises in the local seafood delicacies plus has an extensive menu of beautifully prepared Japanese fare their website here https://junnomise.com/. If you are looking to take a tour on the glass bottomed boat the easiest way to do so is to visit the Shakotan Sight Seeing Infomation Center located here https://goo.gl/maps/Uvxf4KYxkPpgnnvR8.
One of the most popular day trips from Niseko is Otaru, a seaside city famous for fresh seafood, its architecture, a charming canal and sea views. Otaru lies just a one hour drive east of Niseko and draws visitors winter through summer. From Niseko there are a couple of diffferent routes, one which takes the newly formed Yoichi IC expressway or the other over Keinashi Toge passing very popular Kiroro Ski Resort. Both routes are very scenic with the express way offering great seaviews and Keinashi Toge a more mountainous journey. From Hirafu both routes take a little over one hour. If you do not have access to a vehicle Otaru can be easily reached by train form Kutchan Station and takes one hour and 40 minutes.
Otaru is a small city that is easy to see a lot of in just a few hours. Otaru JR Station is very central to many attractions and a walk down the main street from here will take you to a restaurant area and the canals. If you are looking to explore a little further the Otaru Aquarium is an easy place to spend a couple of hours and show cases a magnificent variety of Hokkaidos marine and aquatic life.
The aquarium although a little dated is home to a great number of fish, sharks and rays and is a great place for kids and grown ups a like to get up close and personal with what lives beneath the surface of Hokkaidos lakes, rivers and seas. There is also a dolphin and penguin show with the penguins best viewed during the winter months and a great number of different seal species to see.
The seals are a real highlight with their tanks surrounded by the rocky coast line of the Sea of Japan. There is an impressive seal perfromance to watch that shows these dog like mammals happily performing tricks, leaps and dives for the crowd. If you miss the seal show you can creat one of your own with fish on sale to feed to these playful locals.
If you've been to the aquarium, worked up an apetite and are looking for a hearty lunch or dinner ramen noodles are always a great go to. Mikan Ramen is tucked away in the back streets of Otaru and very popular with locals and tourists a like, it is also next door to a more tradtional Japanese market and a mini park if the kids are getting restless.
Mikan Ramen has a thick and hearty broth, melt in your mouth chashu pork and delicious noodles. The restaurant is family friendly with a mixture of table and bar seating. The place is quite small though and if you are there at lunch or dinner time expect a que, it is of course well worth the wait!
Holiday Niseko have properties in Hirafu and surrounds to suit every taste and every budget wether you are looking for a cozy studio for two or a spacious villa for the whole family. One great option that comes somewhere between is Ikigai, a beautiful 3 bedroom stand alone home in St Moritz just a couple of minutes drive from the base of the Ace Family Chair. Ikigai stands out from the crowd with modern spacious interiors, views of Mount Yotei and it's own vehicle.
Ikigai also comes with a very welll equipped kitchen including modern appliances and plenty of space for entertaining. The floor to ceiling windows in the lounge afford great views of Yotei and stylish furnishings allow you to sit back with a glass of your favourite and take it all in.
If you are interested in exploring outside of the Hrafu area, perhaps to the Rusutsu or Kiroro areas Ikigai is a great choice as during the winter it comes complete with a 9 seater 4WD Hiace van ( please note that the van will not be available for the 2020/21 winter). Having the use of a van opens up a whole new world of experiences and if you've been here before and want to see a little more of what the area offers it is a great way to do so. You can find more information on properties with vans here.
Ikigai has a maximum of 8 guests with two regular bedrooms including the master and a bunk room with 4 beds which is perfect for the kids. The master pictured above comes complete with a dreamscape view, ensuite and generously sized king bed.
The van is perfect for getting everyone to the lifts in the morning, the supermarket or home from the restaurant. If you want to do a little exploring on foot Ikigai is within easy walking distance of Lupicia Restaurant a French/ Japanese eatery that has take out lunch options from the bakery and patisserie plus and a delicious ala carte dining menu in the evening. Alternatively do some snowboard shopping or stop in for a coffee at the Gentem Stick store and cafe. If you are looking for a quick and deliciuos lunch or dinner a little closer to home Elements Restaurant is just a 5 minute walk down the hill. When it does come time to plan your dream holiday to Hokkaido Ikigai is without doubt a fantastic Hirafu getaway to consider.
Getting to Niseko is easy and there are a number of convenient ways to do so to suit every budget and intinerary. Once you have made it to Japan you need to get your self to Hokkaido, the easiest and usually most cost effective way to do so is to fly to Chitose Airport. The majority of Japanese airports have direct flights to Chitose and there are many direct international routes too, the finer details below.
Airports: Tokyo, Narita, Osaka, Kansai, Kobe, Nagoya(Chubu), Asahikawa, Kushiro, Memanbetsu, Rishiri, Wakkanai, Aomori, Iwate Hnamaki, Akita, Yamagata, Sendai, Fukushima, Toyama, Shinshu Matsumoto, Komatsu, Hiroshima, Fukuoka
Airlines: JAL, ANA, Air Do, Skymark, Hokkaido Air System, Japan Air Commuter
Airports: Seoul (Incheon), Busan, Dalian, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Guam, Taipei
Airlines: JAL, ANA, Korean Air, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Express Airways, Sakhalin Airlines, Continental Airlines, China Airlines, Eva Airways
There are also options to catch the train to Niseko too with the high speed Shinkansen service available to Hakodate, Hokkaido's southern most city. It is worth noting that from Hakodate to Niseko the Shinkansen service is not yet available and you will be reliant on local trains to get you to Kutchan Station which is the most convenient station to the Niseko area. If you are considering this option for your departure keep in mind that transportations from the Hirafu Village area to Kutchan Station are limited before 07:00am.
By car Chitose Airport is approximately 2 hours from Niseko / Hirafu Village and slightly longer by bus. So what is the most convenient way to travel this last leg of your journey? For the ultimate in convenience and comfort you can choose a luxury private transfer which start from ¥48,000 one way for up to 5 passengers . If you are looking for something less expensive a coach bus is a very popular option at just ¥5000 per person. Holiday Niseko can arrange private transfers or a coach when you book accommodation with us and we will pick you up and drop you off at the Hirafu Welcome center on your arrival and departure.
From Chitose Airport the train is another option and leaves from directly under the domestic terminal. The train is a nice way to travel and Holiday Niseko can provide a pick up and drop service to Kutchan Station between the hours of 07:00am and 00:00am. If you do choose to catch the train keep in mind that there can be very few places to store luggage and seating is not guaranteed. When travelling with children and or snowboard / ski bags this can make for a challenging journey, especially on the back of a long haul international flight!
Sapporo city is a great city to visit any time of the year but keep in mind it is 40 minutes from Chitose airport so a quick stop over is not always easy. That said if you do choose to spend some time there it is easy to catch the bus from or close to a number of major hotels across the city. The train is also an option from here too and it departs approximately every 1.5 hours from Sapporo Station, just make sure you don't miss the transfer at Otaru!
As you have read getting to Niseko is straight forward and there are options for every budget and itinerary. The coach bus option from Chitose airport is the most popular but private transfers which start at just ¥40,000 for up to 8 guests offer great value and added convenience. Holiday Niseko are more than happy to arrange your transfers and can often offer a disount for repeat customers. Which ever way you choose to travel it will be a spectaculart journey through snow covered mountains and lake sides that will fuel your growing excitement as your ultimate ski holiday draws closer and closer.