Shiretoko National Park A paradise of pristine nature at the end of the Earth

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Traveling to the end of the Earth

  A narrow peninsula juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk. Lying at the northeasternmost extremes of Hokkaido, it was named sir etok, meaning “the end of the Earth”, by the indigenous Ainu people. This is the origin of the peninsula’s Japanese name, Shiretoko.
  The Shiretoko Peninsula was forged through volcanic activity. It is approximately 70km long and 25km across, with a mountain range home to peaks between 1,200m and 1,600m at its center. Collectively known as the Shiretoko Mountain Range, the slopes of these mountains run all the way to the sea. As a result, the majority of the peninsula comprises mountainous terrain with very few flat areas, even along the coast.
  Due to the harsh winters and unforgiving landscape, this area remained relatively untouched by human activity for centuries. This is a crucial element in the story of the nature of Shiretoko.
  Hokkaido is home to brown bears, the largest land-based mammals in all of Japan. It is estimated that more than 200 of these bears live on the Shiretoko Peninsula, giving it one of the highest population densities in the world.
  Orcas and whales can be seen in the seas along the peninsula’s Nemuro Strait coast, while Steller's sea eagles migrate to the area from the north over winter.
  Large creatures of the land, sea and sky can all be found in Shiretoko. This is testament to its abundant natural resources, which provide a home for a huge variety of wildlife.
  This is a place of pristine nature where intertwined ecosystems come together.

The coastline is lined with cliffs formed by erosion from drift ice. The flow of the groundwater is cut off by these cliffs, creating impressive waterfalls that descend into the sea. Several such waterfalls can be found along the west coast of the peninsula.

Nature born from the blessings of drift ice

  The drift ice that comes to Shiretoko each winter plays a fundamental role in the abundance of nature to be found there.
  During its formation, this drift ice causes disturbances in the water, drawing up the plentiful nutrients found near the sea bed. Through this process, the ice fosters the development of phytoplankton in the water. This provides a source of food for small fish, which feeds up the food chain to support larger marine wildlife and birds.
  Salmon and other fish also carry these nutrients deep into the forests by climbing up rivers and other waterways. In this way, the blessings brought to the sea by the drift ice also serve to nourish the flora and fauna on land.
  The Shiretoko Peninsula was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, in recognition of its incredible biodiversity, precious wildlife and ecosystems that tie together forest, river and sea.
  This unique environment can only be found at sir etok and is made possible by the rich nutrients carried by the drift ice.

Drift ice draws nutrients up from the seabed, which are carried to the forest by fish and animals. The beautiful sea nurtures the forests, and the forests provide nutrition back to the sea in return.

Heading out to sea in a kayak

  As mentioned above, the Shiretoko Peninsula is made up of predominantly mountainous terrain. While there are some lakes and marshes, boats are generally prohibited in this protected area. The rivers are also too narrow and steep to be suitable for kayaking.
  When it comes to paddle sports on the Shiretoko Peninsula, taking a kayak out onto the Sea of Okhotsk, where sea conditions are more stable, is the way to go. While the nutrients brought by the drift ice have provided the Shiretoko Peninsula with many blessings, this ice has also eroded the rocky shore over the years. As a result, cliffs about 100m high line the west coast of the peninsula.
  Taking a trip along the water, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the nature of Shiretoko as you gaze upon the rugged cliff faces, with the Shiretoko Mountain Range in the background.
  There are so many things to see, including the Furepe Waterfall, which is formed by groundwater gushing out from the middle of the cliffs. When approaching by sea, it is possible to see the gushing waterfall up close.
  Surrounded by such abundant nature, it is easy to see why so many people often take several days to explore the sea around the peninsula. However, this area is also home to bears, and it is easy to inadvertently come ashore in their territory. The weather can also turn in an instant, and it is common for the sea to get rougher as it rounds Cape Shiretoko and heads into the Nemuro Strait.
  Spending a few days on a sea kayaking tour around the peninsula, stopping to camp along the way, is one of the best ways to explore the wilderness. An experienced guide will ride with you and keep track of the conditions as you paddle along the 70km route. Along the way, you can fully immerse yourself in the rich nature of Shiretoko from aboard the sea kayak, as you watch bears search for food on the shore and encounter white-tailed eagles flying through the sky.

The Okhotsk coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula features cliffs formed by erosion from drift ice. There is no road leading to this coast, and it can only be accessed by boat. Cape Puyuni, the point where the road heads away from the sea and towards the Shiretoko Pass, is an ideal spot to enjoy sea kayaking as this magnificent landscape stretches out before you.

The delights of the sea

  Given its location, it is natural that the Shiretoko Peninsula has an abundance of delicious seafood. Shari, a tourist town on the Okhotsk coast, has boasted the largest salmon catch in Japan for 16 consecutive years. Locals also catch an abundance of sea urchin, horsehair crab, scallops, Okhotsk atka mackerel, broadbanded thornyhead and kelp in the foreshore around Shiretoko.
  In Utoro, there are also plentiful hot springs with a range of facilities. You can feel at one with nature and enjoy the magnificent surroundings as you take a relaxing bath at one of the area’s resorts.
  These high-quality facilities that bring out the best of the nature around them are just one of the attractions of the Shiretoko Peninsula.

The Shiretoko Goko Lakes are five lakes surrounded by primeval forest. The elevated wooden path is perfect for a leisurely walk to the observation decks, which offer expansive views of both the lakes themselves and the Shiretoko Mountain Range. For those who want to get even closer to nature, a trail of ground pathways is also available. Brown bears are known to inhabit this area, and visitors must attend a safety briefing before entering. Entry is also prohibited in the event of a bear sighting.

There are a number of local restaurants along the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula. The Utoro Gyokyo Fujinbu Shokudo, shown in the picture above, is a cafeteria run by the wives of local fishermen. They take great pride in using their unique knowledge of the area’s abundant seafood to showcase its true flavor.

Things to do

Food

The fresh taste of Shiretoko’s unique seafood:
Triple salmon rice bowl

  The Shiretoko Peninsula has an abundance of seafood. There are delicious dishes wherever you go, but salmon holds a special place as the true taste of Shiretoko. In fall, salmon travel to the peninsula’s Okhotsk coast to spawn. The eggs of these fish are served as salmon roe. Salmon roe sourced in September and October is known to contain particularly large eggs and have a rich flavor. Serving fresh salmon roe with fatty fall salmon sashimi on a bowl of rice creates a salmon-inspired take on the traditional Japanese favorite oyako-don (chicken and egg rice bowl). The fishermen’s wives at the Utoro Gyokyo Fujinbu Shokudo add pulled and roasted salmon to the mix to create their signature dish, the triple salmon rice bowl. This brings together the rich umami of salmon roe, the sweetness of fatty salmon sashimi, and the savory taste of pulled salmon. Enjoying each part in turn is like taking a tour of Shiretoko’s delicious salmon without leaving the table.