The Swans of Lake Kussharo
We woke up to a beautiful morning. It was our third day in Hokkaido and I was looking forward to our tour of Akan National Park. We were lodged on the 9th floor of the Prince Kushiro Hotel and I could see the sea from our window. The roads were deserted and snow had created a carpet of white over the town. The thought of walking to the docks and capturing the sunrise did cross my mind but I controlled the temptation and prepared for the days trip.
At 8 am, we went down to the reception and picked up our tickets for the White Pirika sightseeing bus. The White Pirika sightseeing tour offers an all day round trip of the most popular nature spots in Akan National Park including Tancho Crane Reserve, Swan viewing at Lake Kussharo, Sulfur spewing Iouzan, Lake Mashū and Lake Akan. The tickets cost ¥4600 per person. The bus leaves from Kushiro station at 8:30 am. It makes a stop at Prince Kushiro Hotel so we just waited outside the Hotel for the bus to pick us up.
The bus was a few minutes late. As it stopped, a charming lady in red got down to greet us. Her name was Shitona, she was our tour guide. She was not acquainted with English and spoke only in Japanese.
We took our seats towards the front of the bus. The bus was full. I was glad I had made our reservations from before.[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Note: The White Pirika bus does not operate beyond March 6th.[/su_icon]
The lady guide handed us a pamphlet and informed everyone about the route we would be taking along the tour. After a few turns, we left the city behind and entered the Kushiro Marshlands. Kushiro Marshland is a breeding ground for many animals including Japanese cranes. It is also a wildlife sanctuary registered under the Ramsar Convention. We didn’t stop at observation point since there was nothing to see in the snow. In summers one can try walking on boardwalk or even canoeing in the marsh.
The Tancho Crane Reserve in Kushiro
About 30 minutes into the drive, we reached the Tancho Crane Reserve. It is a popular spot for viewing Japanese cranes. The cranes are considered birds of good omen and respected by the Ainu as god of the marshlands since ancient times.We alighted from the bus and walked across to the open enclosure. Within a few minutes a couple of cranes flew into the park from nowhere. The couple played around in the snow. In-between one of them would give out a loud shrieking call. Hearing the call, another bunch of cranes came by, for our view pleasure. The cranes live here as non-migratory birds and number around 600 in the area.
After spending some time watching the cranes playing in the snow, we left for Lake Kussharo. Lake Kussharo is the largest of the three caldera lakes that make up Akan National Park. As with most geographic names in Hokkaido, the lake derives its name from the Ainu. The Ainu word “Kuccharo,” means “The place where a lake becomes a river.”
Lake Kussharo is thought to have been formed over 100,000 years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. Volcanic activity is still active in these parts and if you dig the sand near the banks, you can find hot water.
About an hour later we were at the lake. It appeared mostly frozen from the bus. The bus dropped us off at the parking area. There are no shops or eateries nearby, so if you are going using your own vehicle make sure you pack the essentials.
We walked across the road towards the lake. As we neared the lake I was amazed by its breathtaking beauty. The banks of this vast lake are lined with Sakhalin spruce, found only in Japan & Russia. Across the white lake, I could make out the sprawling Mt. Mokoto, in a distance.
In winter the lake becomes home to hundreds of overwintering whooper swans that fly south from Russia. They keep coming back year after year as if to fulfill a promise. The surface of the lake was frozen, but along the sandy beach, where the hot springs prevent any ice from forming, the swans were enjoying a nice swim in the water. In addition to whooper swans I also noticed some wildfowl.
Far away from the city noise, this place is very relaxing. We walked along the sandy beach in the soft sun. The swans swam by us enjoying their own peace.
Lake Kussharo is a lovely place to put up your feet and relax. I have heard in summers this place is also great for hiking and camping.
We wanted to stay back a little longer but this is the problem with set tours, they allow very less time to enjoy a place truly. So, off we went back to the bus. Our next stop: the sulfur spewing Mt Io.[mapsmarker layer=”5″]