Certainly it is at the limit of Japan and it is rather difficult to reach but, since the Shiretoko National Park itself is plenty with nature of charming magnificence, this time is the turn of the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, a rare example of hot waterfalls.
What’s special about the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls?
As written above, what stands out the most about the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls is that the water is warm. The temperature of the water ranges from hot to tepid but, as far as you can go while visiting the falls, the temperature is around 30 °C (86 °F). Another characteristic is that they are in a place where the access is limited.
As a matter of fact, the Shiretoko national park is situated in the peninsula with the same name, recorded as a World Heritage by UNESCO. The length of the peninsula is about 70km, but for common people it is possible to go as far as one third of its lenght, leaving all the rest totally to the nature. To go to the farthest place in the Shiretoko peninsula there is no other way but taking an excursion boat.
In other words, being the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls in that area of limited access, you feel that you are going in the middle of nature.
How to get to the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls
Among the places that we have talked about so far, this might be the most difficult to reach, but that itself should be exciting. First you have to head to the eastern part of Hokkaidō. The city with the best transportation (in relative terms) should be Abashiri.
Going to Abashiri
Airplane ⇒ From Sapporo Shin-Chitose airport or Tokyo Haneda airport take a flight to Memanbestu airport
The Abashiri bus goes from the airport to the Abashiri urban area in 30’ and it costs 880 yen. More information here: http://tinyurl.com/ke3gmqf
Train ⇒ From Sapporo take limited express train to
Sasshō line. It takes 5:30 – 6 hours and costs around 9500 yen.
High speed bus ⇒ From the Sapporo central bus terminal
takes 6 hours (to where?). The fare is approximately 6400 yen.
From Abashiri station to Shiretoko National Park
Train ⇒ Get a train on the Senmō line and get down at Shiretoko Shari station
(45’, 880 yen). Here take the Shari bus and get down at the Utoro hot spring,
at the entrance of the national park. The fare is 1600 yen, while the time
required is roughly 50’. More information here http://tinyurl.com/kg7ux38
To the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls
From the Utoro hot spring to the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, there is a bus during the summer, going via the Shiretoko Nature Centre and the Shiretoko five lakes. August 1st-25th and September 15th-24th. Fare is 980 yen and the required time is about 1 hour. Information and timetables as of 2014: http://tinyurl.com/n2n2k3b
Other useful information
Two direct lines of buses to Shiretoko national park are being operated (one during the day and one during the night). The fare is 8000 yen (15000 for the round trip) and there is a student discount (1000 yen off one-way and 2000 the round trip) http://tinyurl.com/mtznfx9
There is also a number of direct bus lines from the airport to the national park. More information here http://tinyurl.com/mmk8nnu
Moreover, for people who are worried about the convenience of access and want to enjoy the trip more freely, I suggest renting a car. The service is available both in the Memanbetsu airport and in the city of Abashiri. Driving from Sapporo, the distance is 450km, which means that you should get there in approximately 6-7 hours.
Some time ago, it was possible to bathe in the Kamuiwakka hot water natural open air bath, but after some accidents involving falling rocks the most popular part has been unfortunately closed. Now you can walk upstream the Kamuiwakka river for just 140 meters. That has become a nice experience too! As the surface of the river is slippery there is also a rope you can grab to climb steadily.
When we went to Kamuiwakka hot falls we used a bus. Since the road to the falls was not paved we felt a bit like we were on a safari. Usually it is possible to see animals like foxes and deers from the bus, so it was interesting.
We have mentioned only the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, but there is the Kamuiwakka waterfall too. This indicates the downstream the Kamuiwakka stream dives into the Okhotsk Sea. With its height of 30 meters, it is a rare example of waterfall falling directly in the sea. As the waterfall is in an area without any road, there is no other way to see it than taking an excursion boat from Utoro.
Two points about visiting Kamuiwakka Hot Falls
Be careful while walking around the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, even more if you are barefoot, as the surface is very slippery. Also, wearing anti-slip socks is good too.
Second, in the Shiretoko National Park humans are guests. In the untouched nature live deer, foxes and even bears. While the first two are not dangerous, an encounter with the Hokkaidō brown bear is not desirable. Because of this, there is the possibility that the forest rangers suddenly limit the access to the area, in case a brown bear is sighted.
In the unlikely event that you happen to find yourself facing a bear, please check this page on the website of the park: http://www.env.go.jp/park/shiretoko/guide/sirecoco/bear02/
For English information about what to do when you encounter a bear, you can read this page: http://www.mountainnature.com/wildlife/bears/bearencounters.htm