Windy Rocks

Since the weather forecast for Tuesday promised even worse conditions than Monday, I decided to try to risk it and catch the bus to the southern end of the island. Monday forecast: very windy, few rain, Tuesday forecast, very windy, lots of rain. The bus came punctually all right and the bus driver seemed totally unimpressed by the wind that hit the bus as soon as it turned to the east side of the island and into the wind. I guess he still does the ride in double the wind speed and I felt like a total landlubber! Lol. A pic taken out of the bus window into the churning sea.

Arrived at the Kafuka port (all ferries cancelled again apart from the first in the morning), I walked towards the target, the so called Jijouiwa rock. The walk included a 1.5 km stretch through a tunnel, which connects the east and west sides of the island. The tunnel is new, built in, or finished in 2015, and while walking through a tunnel isn’t the greatest of all walks, it was okay and better than climbing up and down hills in the crazy wind. The wind was still blowing through the whole length of the tunnel, but it wasn’t too bad. What was impressive though was the noise cars make when driving through the tunnel. It echoes and amplifies through the entire length of the thing and is ridiculously loud.

Arrived on the west side I walked straight to the rock, being the only tourist around. There was a sign and a rope to not go closer due to danger of falling rocks, but you couldn’t see from that angle that the rock is free-standing. So I ignored the warning and went closer, to at least be able to see that it’s detached from the rest of the mountain. Going between the rock and the mountain was tempting, but the falling rock warning seemed all too real in the high winds and one day that rock is destined to crumble.

Jijouiwa is to the north of the tunnel entrance and Momoiwa is to the south. That’s where I walked next and the scenery is truly stunning. It was great to see Momoiwa from the sea side and from below as well as the whole mountain range I walked over in the clouds a few days earlier. Alas the wind was enormous and at times I was walking in a crouched fashion and always at the hill side of the road, not the sea side. One bus with a bunch of tourists rode past me once, but they were gone again when I arrived at the viewing platform at the end of the road.

The remoteness of this island and the lack of people are like balm and the older I get the more I need this break from time to time from the 20 million something people area where I usually live and work.
I admire the people who live in places like this. I cannot really imagine what it must be like there in the half a year of Hokkaido winter, the strength of the winter storms, and just how cold, rough and lonely it must be. That 15 meters per second wind I struggled against must be a balm breeze to them…

Stormy Days at Rebun Island

Wind and rain continued throughout the night and early morning. I had contemplated on going by bus to the main town again and from there to the Motochi rocks, but considering the wind and rain in the morning, I quickly gave up on that, unsure also whether the buses would even be running. I checked the ferry homepage and while they operated the first ferry in the morning (amazingly) all other vessels for the day were cancelled. Luckily the rain stopped for a while and I decided to brace the elements and to go out there. I checked the lake and the beach inside the bay and the latter teased me into wanting to see the open ocean. Already the bay’s waves were quite animated, so what would it be like “out there”?

So I walked the three kilometers one way to Cape Kanedano, which is the northeastern tip of Rebun island. (Cape Sukoton is the northwestern tip and a tad further north than Kanedano). Cape Kanedano did not disappoint. Since the waves are blocked there by land, they were virtually boiling.

The wind came from the southeast and staying on the western side of the cape thus put the hills in my back, which made for relatively comfortable watching of the happenings. I peaked a nose down the eastern side of the cape, but could hardly walk against the wind and quickly fled back to the western side and its wind shadow. Said wind was only at 17 meters per second, or 60 km per hour, which is far from being terrible. I stayed for almost an hour at the western side of the cape, gawking at the waves and taking tons of pics and videos. The road is only at four meters above sea level and since said sea level was elevated it looked pretty amazing, as if standing in the middle of the boiling sea. While I stayed there, three, four other people drove by and stopped for pics, but I was the only one on foot 😉
It was well worth the walk though, those waves were truly amazing.

Cape Gorota and Heat

They predicted a change in weather for Saturday evening and I wanted to make use of the fine weather in the morning and took the bicycle again to Cape Gorota for a “revenge”, since I didn’t manage to climb it the first time due to rain. That worked out fine and this time I managed to get on top of the cape, which is about two hundred meters high. Same story here though as at Momoiwa, clouds shrouding the view.

In a way I was also grateful for the clouds, since they made the climb bearable. While it is cooler here than in Tokyo of course, it was still close to thirty degrees Celsius and that sun beat down mightily. Without the clouds it might even have been too hot to climb.

I rode on to Cape Sukoton once more and then back to Funadomari, getting roasted. After a rest I went once more to the seals to check what they were doing and I found them hunting, only popping their heads out of the water from time to time. On the way back to Funadomari it was the first time ever since I came here that the clouds lifted and I could see the full mountain range to the southwest. During the five minutes I spent in the supermarket the weather changed completely, no joke. When I left the supermarket, wind had come up and clouds had come in and the temperature dropped for five degrees, wow!
The drop in temperatures was highly welcome though since my hotel had no air conditioning and I suffered for three nights in a room of about 28 degrees and the outside temperatures not dropping below 24 during the night. Back in the hotel I opened all windows and gladly put on extra layers of clothing instead of nothing but underwear! I was highly fascinated though with the super sudden change in weather, that’s remote island life!

Momoiwa Trail

There are public buses on Rebun island (running around five times a day) and I wanted to go to the south of the island also and took a bus to the main town of Kafuka. There I wanted to change buses and go to a place called Motochi, which is another cape with stunning rock formations. There would be a 90 min gap between the buses and I thought I check out Kafuka in the meantime. Turns out the tiny town is checked out within twenty minutes. Not wanting to waste any time, I started with the hike up to a viewpoint for a place called Momoiwa (peach rock) with the intention to go down again and catch that bus to Motochi. Turns our Momoiwa is fantastic too!

The hiking trail there looked much better than the one to Mt. Rebun, and I ended up doing the entire Momoiwa observatory hiking trail of 7km which ends at the southern tip of Rebun.

While there were a few people at the Momoiwa viewpoint, since it is also accessible by car, I met a total of four people on the hiking trail south beyond it.

The view was hampered by clouds, but they gave the hike also a bit of a thrill and a mystic touch.

There is a bus from the southern tip fishing village to Kafuka, but when I arrived down there I had a two hour wait to look forward to in a village that does not even have a drink vending machine. So I walked the four kilometers back to Kafuka along the ocean road also! I haven’t walked over ten kilometers in one day in a while.

Undergrowth and Seals

Inspired by the two hour hiking from the day before, I thought I’d tackle the highest hill of Rebun island, which is just shy of 500 meters tall. It has an official hiking trail to it. I rode the bicycle for six km to the entry point but gave up on the first (steep) hill. There was a zigzag path up the hill, but it was so overgrown and entangled that you couldn’t see where you place your feet. I fell twice trying to get up that first hill and gave up on it.

Back on the road I rode around the eastern peninsula instead of taking the shortcut directly to Funadomari. It’s a winding coastline of seven km with plenty of lonely fishing villages along the way. To live here needs some extra stamina. Things are nice enough in summer, but this is Hokkaido and there is snow and ice for six months from November to April. I’m quite interested to know though what it’s like there in winter.

I’m glad that I rode up that road, since at the very tip of the peninsula is a group of seals. They seem to be living there during the summer and can be spotted very often according to a knowledgeable couple watching them whom I chatted with. The seals were holding siesta when I came by. The pics are not so good, since they were too far away for my old iPhone.

I also rode around on the roads close to the not-anymore-in-operation airport of Rebun island. The military area in the back is off limits though, but they sure do have a nice spot up there.

Cape Sukai and Wilderness

Not many words today, but more pictures 😉 On the second day I bicycled to the next cape, Cape Sukai, which has a viewing platform showing this magnificent view with cape Gorota in the distance.

At the tiny fishing village below the viewpoint you could get “nama uni don” raw uni = sea urchin on rice. Freshly caught in the morning, this stuff melts on the tongue and is good! (For those who like it).

It was actually quite early in the day yet and on the way back to Funadomari is the entrance to the longest hiking path of the island. I walked into the path for about an hour, meeting no one else on the trail.

It offered gorgeous views of the rolling hills and also cape Sukai. I met no one else on the trail, so beautiful and lonely and social distancing guaranteed.

Off to Rebun Island

The boat ride to Rebun the next day was smooth despite the not so good weather, since the boat was going west together with the wind and the waves that day. The ferry has space for a few hundred people but only a few dozen were on board. I spent the entire time on deck and was mostly alone there. One could see the base of Rishiri island, but I wonder on just how many summer days it’s clear enough to see the full 1721-meter glory of this dormant volcano.

The plan was to stay on Rebun for nine nights and on Rishiri for two nights. Simply because I found a reasonably priced hotel in Rebun but not in Rishiri. There are cheaper places like youth hostels or Japanese guest houses, but neither are my cup of tea, Japanese guest houses are too simple and shared accommodation in a youth hostel doesn’t seem like the best idea in COVID times either.
My hotel was kind enough to send a car for me to pick me up from the ferry and then we rode some twenty kilometers to the northern end of the island and the village of Funadomari.

Funadomari to the north and Kafuka in the south where the ferry terminal is are the main settlements, but there are plenty of fishing villages in between. The rough west coast of the island has no road or settlement for a stretch of about fifteen kilometers. To be more precise, there is no road between Cape Sukai and Motochi settlements. Funadomari has two supermarkets, one bakery and a kinda general store, that’s it! I went to the supermarket right after arriving at the hotel at around 17:00 because it closes at 18:00.
Praise be to my hotel, since they let me have a bicycle for free 🙂 I took said bicycle and promptly rode to Cape Sukoton during my first day, which is the most northern part of Japan, apart from the tiny uninhabited island off shore that you see in this picture.

On I went into the “wild” and pushed my bicycle up into the hills. I tried my first little hike up Cape Gorota but got interrupted by rain and gave up on it. It’s actually rather dangerous if the steep paths get slippery. I got my “revenge” a few days later when I managed to climb up there. The sights and cliffs are fantastic nonetheless and the whole island reminds of Iceland, Scotland, or New Zealand. It’s hard to believe you’re in Japan 🙂