It was a chance glimpse at a photo of Hokkaido’s Lake Toya in a magazine that lead to visiting, and eventually staying, in Japan and since laying down roots I make it a principle to visit this beautiful lake as many times a year as possible.
The lake is a 10 km wide volcanic cauldron situated a short 45-minute drive south from Niseko resort. In a prefecture famed for its eye popping scenery, Lake Toya manages to distinguish itself and should be top of the list for any visitors with a love of the outdoors. It is a uniquely beautiful, almost circular lake with a large uninhabited island rising from its centre, the steep conical slopes of which make it look as if it has been transplanted from some faraway Polynesian lagoon.
The northern and western shores have ample onsen (hot springs) and hotel rooms, but to get a true taste of the outdoors we headed to Nakatoya campground. The campsite curls around the eastern shore of the lake and is separated from the road by a thick bank of birch trees that really help to let you forget about civilization for a while. Because of the trees it can be quite hard to spot the site from the road and one should look out for the brown wooden onsen building, which is directly opposite the camp’s car park. The onsen is a great facility to have at the site; it is small and doesn't have an outdoor bath, but your body will thank you for soaking in it as you zip yourself into your sleeping bag and the residual heat from the hot spring water keeps you toasty through the night.
There is a small shop at the campground selling firewood and other supplies. Visitors should first visit here upon arriving and pay 400 yen for the night before setting up your tent. There is always plenty of space at the campground even on busy summer weekends and I have never had any trouble parking my tent literally a metre or so from the waters edge. The view from the camp is stunning, looking out across the lake you get great views of Showa Shinzan, a volcano that burst out of a flat field at the end of the second world war and now looms over the lake still visibly smoking. Next to this is the larger Mount Usu, and visiting both mountains make for a nice little diversion from camping during the day. During the summer there are nightly firework shows from the main town of Toya Onsen that we got a great view of from the comfort of our camp chairs.
Toya was chosen as the site of the G8 summit in 2008 and I think that was a perfect choice, as no matter if you are one of the leaders of the Free world or a lowly travel writer I fail to see how anyone could visit this place and not leave feeling humbled and completely in awe of the beauty of this very special corner of the world.