Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park (利尻礼文サロベツ国立公園) is on the north-west tip of Hokkaido, Japan. It consists of two islands, Rishiri-to (利尻島) and Rebun-to (礼文島), and an adjacent section of coastline on Hokkaido itself, known as the Wakasakanai Coast (稚咲内海岸). The two islands are the main attraction of the area, featuring native wildflowers, spectacular landscapes and fantastic hiking for both experienced and beginner hikers.
Rishiri-to is a small island off the north-west coast of Hokkaido made up of a single volcano called Rishiri-san (利尻山) which towers some 1719m over the surrounding sea. It can be seen from over 100km away.
Rebun-to is the smaller of the two with its highest peak, Rebun-dake (礼文岳) a mere 490m (and thus much easier to climb). The island has many wildflowers and some waterfalls, and the view of Rishiri-to from it is nothing short of spectacular.
These islands belonged to the Ainu until the recent migration of the Japanese to Hokkaido.
Flora and fauna
Heavy snow in winter. Summer is the best time to visit.
To get to Rishiri or Rebun, take a ferry from the city of Wakkanai. There are also ferries directly connecting Rishiri and Rebun. There are about five services a day during summer, and this is cut back in winter. 2nd class one way tickets to Rishiri or Rebun cost ¥2200. Like many other Japanese ferries, 2nd class has almost no seating inside -- you sit on tatami mats on the floor (after taking your shoes off). There is outdoor seating, weather permitting.
There are also limited turboprop plane services from Wakkanai.
There are buses on both islands. Bus timetables are available at the ferry terminals and on the ferry itself. Rishiri has a bike path that circles the whole island. Roads don't go to the interior of either island, so the best way to see them is on foot. There are hiking trails on both islands that really let you explore the best parts of the islands, and it may be desirable to take buses or taxis to the trailheads. Cars are available for rent on Rebun. It is also possible to book a nature tour by bus on the islands.
Wildflowers on Rebun and the amazing view from the peak of Rishiri. You can see the Russian island of Sakharin on a clear day.
Hiking is the main activity that can be done, and there are fantastic trails for beginners and experts alike. Hiking maps are available in English from Wakkanai railway station and the ferry terminals.
- Eight hour hiking course (八時間ハイキングコース). On Rebun, the main hike is the Hachijikan haikingu-kosu, which literally translates as the "Eight Hour hiking course". It runs along the eastern coast of the island from the northern to the southern tips. The actual walking time depends on the speed of your group — you shouldn´t hike alone — and it may well take you 10 hours. This lookout offers fine views of Rishiri-to and Momoiwa, a rock which is shaped, well, like a peach. There are many other interesting hikes around the island.
- Peach Rock Lookout hike. For those desiring a less grueling walk, there's a shorter, 40 minute hike to the Momoiwa (Peach Rock) lookout (桃岩展望台) starting nearby the ferry terminal town of Kafuka (香深).
- Mt. Rishiri. On Rishiri, the big hike is the grueling climb to the peak of Rishiri-zan. There are two approaches, starting from either the north or the west. You can go up one and down the other or in-and-out the same way. Get supplies in town before heading out. Starting from Oshidomari in the north, walk, bus, or taxi to the Rishiri Hokuroku-yaei-jo campground. If you start after 9:00, the campground workers will give you a map and ask you to sign their hiking book. After several hundred yards, you reach the Kanronsen Spring. This is your last chance to get water, so get a lot (perhaps 3 liters). The trail gradually winds its way upward. There are a few outhouses along the way, and also an unmanned emergency-use cabin. Closer to the top, the trees get smaller and you walk up an exposed ridgeline. In the sun, this section gets hot and dry. In bad weather this section could be very dangerous, so bring appropriate gear and go down if the weather gets bad. Several minutes below the peak, the western trail forks off to the side. Continue to the summit, and you'll find a small shrine. Speed hikers have done round-trip hikes on the northern path in 6 hours, though most people take 8-10 hours.
The specialty of Rishiri & Rebun is raw sea-urchin served on a bed of rice, called Uni-don (ウニ丼) and it's wonderful. If "adventurous" for you means trying a new kind of pizza then Uni probably won't be your thing, but even compared to Uni at high priced Sushi shops in Tokyo or Sapporo this is a world apart. It can be found in eateries surrounding the ferry port terminal at Kafuka, as well as Oshidomari on Rishiri.
- Momoiwa-so Youth Hostel, Aza Motochi, Kafuka, Rebun-to (There is a bus service, but mainly just look for the hotel staff for transportation, they are easily recognisable, as they will be frantically waiving the YH flag, while screaming), ☎ . Nothing in the world can quite prepare you for a stay at this wonderfully wacked youth hostel, but if you bring a huge dose of self-irony and enthusiasm, a stay here can easily turn out to be your greatest experience in Japan. While the 9:30 lights out and a strict no alcohol policy, can sound dull, rest assured, after a day of hiking, singing and dancing you won't mind one bit. The hostel is nicely located next to the sea at the end of a dirt road just around the corner from Momo-iwa (Peach Rock). ¥3150.
- Hostel 3.9, Oshidomari, Rishiri-to (Just ask in the tourist information for the 3.9 hostel. As of 2009 it appeared in the Japanese maps but not yet on the English ones.). It was open in June 2009 and everything is sparkling new. The owner speaks English well and can give you advice on hikes and restaurants. The owner may also give you a ride to/from the trailhead. No food is available, though tea is. ¥3700.
- Rishiri Hokuroku-yaei-jo (From the Oshidomari ferry terminal, head west several hundred yards. Then turn south and follow signs for the campground or trailhead.), ☎ . The campground, which is the northern trailhead for Mt. Rishiri, is about 3km from the ferry terminal. Either walk, or take a taxi. The campground office has limited hours (9-5), and sells soft drinks and beer. If you want a bath, go back towards Oshidomari about 2km to the Rishiri Fuji Onsen Hoyoshisetsu, which also has a laundry machine. Camping for adults ¥300, children ¥100; cabins for ¥3000..
- Rishiri Family Camping Ground (From the Oshidomari ferry terminal, head west several hundred yards. Then turn south and follow signs for the family campground. It's across the street from Rishiri Fuji Onsen Hoyoshisetsu.). This family campground, so you can drive your car to your tentsite, is about 1km from the Oshidomari ferry terminal.
Everywhere on Rebun and Rishiri can be reached by day hikes, so there is no backcountry.
- Minshuku Kaido (民宿海憧), Ooaza-Funadomarimura (船泊村), Rebuncho (礼文町), Rebun-gun=, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. ¥6000-.
- The trail to the peak of Rishiri is not easy, so plan accordingly.
- Water from streams may be unsafe to drink without purification. Try to obtain water from pure sources.