Hokkaido: Japan's Wild Island

Hokkaido: Japan's Wild Island
May 19, 2018
16 Days
Small-Ship Cruise
100 Guests
From $13,980


Based on the expeditionary nature of our trips, there may be ongoing enhancements to this itinerary.
Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.

Hokkaido, Japan Map

Depart USA

May 19

Board your independent flight to Japan, crossing the International Date Line en route.

Tokyo, Japan

May 20

Arrive in Tokyo and transfer to the ANA Crown Plaza Hotel Narita for dinner and overnight. 

Tokyo / Niigata / Embark Caledonian Sky

May 21

After breakfast, set out on an introductory tour of Japan’s cutting-edge capital city. Discover modern and ancient highlights alike before lunch at a local restaurant. Then board one of Japan’s famed shinkansen (high-speed trains) for the ride to Niigata. This evening, embark the Caledonian Sky and set sail for Hokkaido.  

At Sea

May 22

During a relaxing day at sea, join our naturalists on deck to search for wildlife and attend engaging lectures on such topics as Hokkaido’s natural history and traditional Japanese culture.

Otaru / Sapporo

May 23
Sapporo, Japan

Hokkaido’s dynamic capital Sapporo is famous for its ski slopes, ice-sculpting festival, green spaces, and great culinary scene. For a scenic overview, head southwest to Mount Moiwa Odori Park and ride the cable-car to the summit’s observation deck. Lunch at a local restaurant offers the chance to try Sapporo’s famous beer and perhaps some local seafood before browsing the busy fish market. Birders set out from Otaru to explore the surrounding foothills in search of resident Japanese pygmy-woodpeckers and varied tits, as well as blue-and-white flycatchers and other migrant species. 

Teuri Island / Rishiri Island

May 24
Rhinoceros Auklet, Japan

The northwestern island of Teuri is the seasonal home to tens of thousands of rhinoceros auklets; the largest breeding colony in the world nests in burrows atop the steep cliffs of this island. The nearby island of Rishiri—known locally as Rishiri-Fuji due to its resemblance to Mount Fuji—rises majestically from the ocean, and offers a variety of trekking opportunities.

Rebun Island

May 25

Along with neighboring Rishiri, Rebun Island forms part of the popular Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Between late-April and mid-September, the “Floating Island of Flowers” is blanketed in fields of wildflowers, and your visit is timed to enjoy the blooms before the annual flood of tourists arrive.

Korsakov, Russia / Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

May 26
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia

A former military post and penal colony, Korsakov serves as your gateway to Sakhalin Island’s capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city was a Japanese prefect capital from 1905 until the end of WWII. Visit a Russian Orthodox church, the Regional Museum—housed in an impressive former Japanese mansion—and the bustling market. You’ll also enjoy a performance of traditional Cossack song and dance from a colorfully costumed local choir. Alternatively, join your ornithologist for a day of birding around the southern end of Sakhalin. Watch for Latham’s snipes, white-tailed sea eagles, common cuckoos, yellow-breasted buntings, and long-tailed rosefinches.

Abashiri, Japan

May 27
Lake Mashu, Japan

Fishing is one of the main industries of Abashiri, and your first full day here offers tasty seafood and a choice of tours. A scenic, geological expedition to the south visits a number of calderas and volcanic features, including Lakes Kussharo and Mashu and the Iwo Sulphur Springs. Then try on a surprisingly heavy sumo apron at the Taiho Sumo Museum, before lunch in Kawayu. Or, choose a nature tour in Utoro where you will take a cruise to look for brown bears, white-tailed eagles, and spectacled guillemots. Then drive up to the 2,425-foot-high Shiretoko Pass (weather permitting) for stunning views of Mount Rausu, returning via Lake Toufutsu and Koshimizu Gensei-kaen, a 12-mile-long stretch awash in some 40 species of wildflowers. 

Abashiri / Shiretoko Peninsula

May 28
Humpback Whale, Japan

Abashiri Kando Asaichi, Abashiri’s buzzing morning market, is the first stop on your city tour, followed by Ryuhyo Garasu Kan to shop for unique glass craft gifts. Learn about the Ainu, Inuit, and other indigenous cultures at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples before a short walk around scenic Cape Notoro. If time permits, a visit to the Okhotski Sea Ice Museum offers hands-on insights into the sea ice that encircles the region during winter. Alternatively, join a natural history tour to explore along the shore of Lake Abashiri and Komaba Kinohiroba Koen Park. This afternoon, be on deck as the ship navigates the scenic Nemuro Channel to search for minke, orca, and sperm whales, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins, and Dall’s porpoises.


May 29
Red-crowned Cranes, Japan

Two thousand species of flora and fauna are found in Kushiro Marsh, Japan’s largest peat swamp and wetland reserve. A Ramsar-registered site and national park, Kushiro provides sanctuary to the red-crowned crane, a symbol of luck and longevity in Japan. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, Hokkaido is now home to 1,500 of these rare birds. Enjoy spectacular scenery while you search for them in their marshy breeding grounds. A visit to the Kushiro City Museum offers insights into the lifestyle of the Ainu through a small, but excellent exhibit. 


May 30

Its two namesake lakes—along with hot springs and great hiking—make Shikotsu-Toya National Park a popular escape from Sapporo. Your tour of this UNESCO Global Geopark includes stops at various viewpoints to appreciate Lake Toya, a nearly circular caldera lake; on a clear day, it is backdropped by Mt. Usu, an active volcano that often billows smoke.


May 31
Japanese Fish Market

Hakodate was one of the first ports in Japan to open to foreign trade in 1854, and around the waterfront you’ll find many western-style buildings such as churches, warehouses, and the Old British Consulate. Start your day like a local at the Hakodate Asaichi (morning market), which overflows with displays of fresh seafood, produce, and traditional snacks. Then climb aboard the cable-car and ascend Mount Hakodate for magnificent views over the city. 


June 1
Lake Tazawa, Japan

Nature rules in the Akita Prefecture, known for its rice farming, traditional festivals, and treasured dog breed of the same name. At the center of its capital lies Senshu Park, built from the ruins of Kubota Castle, a former samurai fortress. Lotus flowers now fill the remnants of old moats, and tree-lined walking trails lead to its watchtower, temple, and shrine. The city’s Hirano Art Museum houses “Akita no Gyoji,” the largest canvas painting in the world. Akita also boasts Lake Tazawa, Japan’s deepest lake.

Niigata / Disembark / Tokyo

June 2
Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

Disembark in Niigata and board the bullet train back to Tokyo. A city tour, visiting highlights such as the 2,080-foot-high Skytree—the world’s second highest tower and the beautiful Meiji Shrine. Or, join a birding tour in Kasai Rinkai-koen Park, a third of which is a designated seabird sanctuary. Dinner and overnight at Hotel Okura Tokyo.

Depart Tokyo / USA

June 3

Transfer to the airport for your independent homeward flight, arriving in the USA the same day.