It once got down to minus 5.4 degrees in Canberra. I ran up the nearest hill dressed only in shorts and t-shirt as tiny flecks of snow fell around me. By the time I returned to the house my hands were almost too numb to open the door.
On another day in Canberra it got down to minus 8.7 degrees, but I didn’t get out of bed.
So far in Hokkaido I’ve not seen the thermometer beat either temperature, but I sure felt cold standing out in the snow of Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park.
With the big ski resorts very busy and booked out the Sapporo Tourist Information Office pushed up towards Takino Snow World. The park is accessible via the Namboku subway line and a half hour bus ride from Makomanai station.
We had to wait about an hour at Makomanai, where the footpaths were canyons in thick snow. To waste time we wandered through a small local shopping centre before returning to a growing queue at the bus stop number 2, waiting for bus number 106.
Our fellow passengers seemed to be mainly from China as we crammed into the bus. I’m glad I got a seat as I drifted off a few times in the warmth with the bus winding its way through the town and out into the hills.
Most of the passengers, including us, exited from the final stop, Higashi Guchi (East Gate). Many guests had hired skis or were pulling young kids in plastic sleds. We’ve never skied in our lives, though we’d love to learn. However, it was already late so we crunched through the snow to the sledding course.
Along the way were weirdly shaped buildings, a children’s playground for the summer months.
It doesn’t cost anything to do sledding on the course. You pick up a rubber ring and either trudge up the slope or queue to use the tow rope for a ride up. Then you wait your turn on one of the six lanes that run 200 metres down the hill.
I gave it one go, B and Alex three. You scream down the slope, spinning around in your tube until you reach the end. I was one of the few to make it all the way to the finish line, most lighter souls had to get out and drag their tube to the end.
While B and Alex had their next couple of goes I snuck into the warmth of the waiting room for a canned hot chocolate from the vending machine. It felt so good, even if Japanese hot chocolate usually leaves a lot to be desired.
There was another heated room right below the slope with a rope playground that Alex had a quick climb around. Unfortunately we then had to rush back to catch the final bus of the day.
After a vending machine can of chicken and cheese soup, that is.
They required three buses to deal with the long queue of Chinese and other Asian tourists (and me) and even then the buses were packed to the brim.
As we drove through the lonely hills there was a young lady standing at the bus stop, just a sign poking through a small gap in the roadside wall of snow. This is Japan.
It was handy having Suica cards on the bus, as the other tourists fumbled for change upon exiting.
We caught the subway back to Susukino where Alex was demanding that we eat Mosburger for a very late lunch. Much better than McDonalds, but B and I didn’t want to leave it at that. Hokkaido is supposed to be a food paradise, why waste your stomach on fast food chains?
The local dish of Soup Curry sounded good and I located a recommended restaurant only a block away.
We had a short wait for Soup Curry Suage, which is opposite the Norbest building with the big Ferris wheel on top.
Soup Curry is a bowl of watery curry sauce with meat and vegetables inside and you eat it with rice, served separately. I tried the Hokkaido fried chicken, B the Pork Belly and Alex just stole from us.
Really good and we were really, really full at the end, so we walked back through the subway corridor back to Sapporo Station, where we did a little shopping at Loft.
Takino was a lot of fun and very good for those looking for an introduction to snow. It’s a pity that we didn’t get a chance to try skiing, but now we’ve got some cold weather gear we might just be back.