This is my one day itinerary covering Noboribetsu. Noboribetsu is a small town strategically located between Sapporo and Hakodate and makes for a good layover for travellers going from one city to another. The town is rather quiet and laid back and the main attraction is to experience Hell’s valley, a place so desolate that it is befitting of Dante’s circles of hell. Join me as I experience walking in Hell’s own valley. Just before your mind starts playing tricks on you, the Onsen dates back to the Edo period and only started to play up the hell theme now. The Onsen traditionally had no links to the demons and devils currently associated with it. But with all that sulphur smelling air, it does not require too much imagination to associate the place with hell.
Getting to Noboribetsu Onsen
Noboribetsu can be reached by train from either Sapporo or Hakodate via the Hakodate line. The train ride will take approximately two hours from Hakodate. Once you get off at the station, exit the platform and head out of the station. Look out for the bus stop on your right. There is a regular bus service that takes you to the onsen area. The fare is 340 yen and operates in the same manner as the trams in Hakodate (perhaps a similar system across Japan? As to how it works, I covered it in my other post here). So prepare your coins! If you don’t have exact change, there is a coin exchange machine built into the same payment box. Drop your 500/50 yen coins into the coin slot to have it broken down into 100s/10s. Once you have your exact change, make the necessary payment.
However, unlike the trams in Hakodate, the numbers on this bus’ ticket don’t jump in order; it appears that some stops share a similar ticket number. This caused some confusion as we had the impression that we were still far from the Onsen when in fact we had actually reached. If it helps explain this better, the screen at the front of the bus would display the price payable for each ticket number. We had expected there to be at least 10 fares displayed before reaching Noboribetsu Onsen as it is the eleventh stop for that route (the 10 fares corresponding to the 10 earlier stops). Instead, only six to seven fares were shown. The only indication we had reached was the fact that the fare payable for our ticket had risen to 340 yen. Please take note of this!
Lunch at Noboribetsu: What to eat
You will likely arrive in Noboribetsu Onsen around 1pm thereabout. Head over to your accommodations to deposit your your luggage as it will be too early for you to check in (it appears that 3pm is a common check-in time). With that out of the way, head over to the main shopping street (Gokuraku Shopping Street) for your lunch.
Don’t expect to be surrounded by loads of eateries or be overwhelmed with choices. You are no longer in Sapporo/Hakodate anymore!
We went to a small eatery that is diagonally opposite of a Family Mart store. The place appears to be a bar serving simple but good food. We ordered Takoyaki (Octopus Balls), Seafood Okonomiyaki (a kind of Japanese Pancake) and a beef bowl. Although simple, the food tasted great! The stronger flavours offered a good break from the lighter tasting seafood bowls we ate while in Hakodate (if you haven’t read it yet, I shared my experience of visiting and eating in Hakodate’s morning market here).
There are other food stalls along the road but some of them were closed. So have a look around and see what is available. You can consider trying ramen which I read is also pretty good.
Walk to Noboribetsu Hell Valley (Noboribetsu Jigokudani) – What to see and do
A short walk from Gokuraku Shopping Street is the Hell Valley (also known as Jigokudani) which surprisingly is a free attraction! No tickets required to visit the Hell Valley and its neighbouring attractions (i.e. Oyunuma Pond and Oyunuma River Foot Bath)
Oyunuma Pond and River Oyunuma Foot Bath
Somehow, during my research, it appeared to me that most bloggers/travellers do not venture beyond the valley to the Oyunuma Pond and the Foot Bath area. Well, at least that was based on the blogs I read. Most visitors tend to keep to the valley as it is the most accessible.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the valley is perfectly fine a spot with pretty decent views of a land so barren from the volcanic activity in the region. However, the fact that it is highly accessible also means large hordes of tourists being let loose in the area.
Thankfully, it appears that Oyunuma Pond and also the River Oyunuma Foot Bath have eluded the tourists. Both attractions together make whole the entire Noboribetsu experience and should feature in your travel itinerary if you do visit Noboribetsu.
Don’t be put off by the map. Both attractions are actually within short walking distance from the Hell Valley. To reach the River Oyunuma Foot Bath from the Hell Valley via Oyunuma Pond would take approximately 1.5 hours with multiple stops along the way for photos. Just continue following the path and the directional signs placed along the route. The climb starts off pretty gentle before becoming physically demanding as gentle inclined slopes become replaced with steps. So for those who may have difficulty climbing, you might want to give yourself some extra time to take it slowly. Do take care especially when attempting the hike after a bout of wet weather. As the paths are mainly dirt paths, they become wet and muddy. At certain areas, the path becomes slippery from the wet mushy layer of dead leaves covering it. The hike is the toughest at the earlier stage as you climb up to a peak overlooking the pond. Thereafter the hike is mostly downhill:
Oyunuma Pond is a huge body of water that is 50 degrees (metric) at its surface and 130 degrees (metric) at its deepest point. Take some time to wash the waters bubbling away from the thermal heat radiating from the earth’s molten core. Be mindful of the wind direction as a strong gust in the wrong direction will have you covered in a warm sulphur smelling mist!
Once you are well soaked by the sulphur smelling mist, the Oyunuma River Foot Bath is about a 15 minutes walk away. Follow the sign and stay on the road. Do stop once a while and look back for a different perspective of Oyunuma Pond. Isn’t the view splendid?
The pond is emptying out into a small river. This is the start of the Oyunuma River.
You will soon be diverted off the road and back onto a path down into the trees. This path will bring you right down by the edge of the river. The water is still hot but has cooled down considerably in the short distance it flowed since it last left the Oyunuma Pond. Keep following the river and you will spot a man made structure further downstream: A wooden platform parallel to the river. You reached the foot baths!
The Oyunuma River Foot Bath offers a unique experience of being able to enjoy a natural hot spring right at its source in the middle of a forest. A truly authentic experience! The water temperature here is actually cooler than I expected it to be. If you been to a man made bath, you will be used to waters ranging from 37 degrees to 39 degrees. These waters would have likely been artificially heated back up to achieve such temperatures. Here, the foot bath feels slightly cooler than that. Well, maybe slightly above body temperature? I do suggest testing the water first before dipping in just in case sudden volcanic activity had heated the water up. The water depth here is shallow and you can wade in the river barefooted. Look out for the plastic sheets available on a nearby rack that you can sit on if you don’t want to get your pants wet or dirty.
From the foot baths, it’s about a 10 minutes’ walk back to the edge of the town. Along the way, you may notice tourists bringing their own towels and making their way to the foot baths. If your accommodations are close to the edge of town, you can always consider popping by again later in the evening or early in the morning for a quiet soak.
This is my 1 day itinerary for Noboribetsu covering all the must sees and must dos while in Noboribetsu. If time permits, you may consider including in a visit to the bear park (which was closed for inspections when I was there). As to my dinner, I will cover it in another post where I will review my stay at the Grand Hotel in Noboribetsu and also its half board service. Be sure to look out for it in the coming days.
Bonus Content: Visiting Noboribetsu while on a budget
For those travelling on a budget, there is an alternative itinerary that you can consider that can help you save some money. Instead of staying one night at Noboribetsu Onsen, the other alternative is to make it a side trip on route to either Sapporo or Hakodate and have your luggage deposited at the station while you are there (there are both coin lockers and left luggage services). This will allow you to save on your accommodations as hotels at the Onsen area are typically more expensive than in the main cities.
Take an early train into Noboribetsu Station before 10am. This leaves you almost the entire day to explore Noboribetsu Onsen. You can visit the Hell Valley, Oyunuma Pond and the foot baths before heading back to Gokuraku Shopping Street for lunch. You can then for a small fee visit any one of the baths offered by the hotels and/or the public baths for a soak. Once you are done, you can then take the bus back to the train station, retrieve your luggage before heading to your intended destination.
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