Hokkaido is one of my favorite regions of Japan. I have visited in the fall, summer, winter, and yet I have only seen about a third of this beautiful island. To truly do it justice you need to plan your entire vacation just in this region.
As a tourist you want to include the northern islands on you Hokkaido trip.
On a cool early September day we boarded a ferry for the 1 hour 40 minute ride to Rishiri Island from Wakkani. My first surprise was the ferry itself. From the outside it looked like a normal boat, but once you enter there were different types of room options, from hard bench seats, a room with mats, and the inexpensive elegant first class section with very comfortable recliner seats.
Upon arrival on the island we boarded a bus for a three-hour tour that included a hike to Otatomari Pond near Mt Rishiri, eating fresh-skewered scallops, tasting sea urchins, and a tour of the Rishiri Historical Museum. The island is famous for sea urchins, mackerel, and seaweed. There are 5000 year round inhabitants on this remote island and the ones we came in contact with were very friendly. I highly recommend this tour. It was not rushed and we were given enough time at each stop to take plenty of pictures and visit the various shops.
After lunch we took another ferry to Rebun Island, known for it’s very rare alpine flowers that bloom at sea level and the awesome scenic views. A group of island natives greeted us with song and dance as the boat arrived at the dock.
We opted for another guided tour and it was even better than the one at Rishiri. Both of these islands make up the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park and as a result have very large protected areas. On the tour we were able to get a lot of exercise walking to the various scenic sites and viewing the many varieties of wildflowers.
It is unbelievable that two island so close together can be totally different. Rishiri with Mt Rishiri as the centerpiece is dense forest and vegetation, whereas Rebun has a beautiful scenic landscape around every turn. If you like the outdoors then the Northern most islands of Japan are well worth the trip.
At each port there are information centers however, I would use the one at Wakkani train station to make your reservations and obtain English language brochures.