Lakes Mashu and Kusshiro
I am in a single carriage train travelling from Abashiri to Awayu-onsen. Since leaving the coast at Shiro, the train is hugged closely by the surrounding forest. My destination, the caldera lakes, Mashu and Kusshiro in the Akan National Park, eastern Hokkaido, Japan.
Arriving at Awayu-onsen Station I do not how to proceed to the lakes. In my ignorance I wander into a room containing a foot bath. Something to be considered for later. A logical spot to orientate is the tourist information center. Purchasing a two-day bus pass, costing 1500 yen, even though I only plan to stay a day, probably is not amongst my wisest decisions. I do not know if there is a one day pass. The lady at the tourist centre speaks very little English. If you have time, a two day pass is good value. Visit the sights on the first day and enjoy the hot springs, located along the shore of Lake Kusshiro, on the second.
The bus is partly tour, partly hop-off, hop-on. It does stop for extended periods at Lake Mashu, Mt Io, Sunayu and Bihiro Pass. If you wish to stay longer you will have to reboard when it returns or catch the next bus. It does not linger at any of the hot springs.
If your journey commences at the station the first destination is the Lake Mashu Observatory. It is reached after a step 200m climb to the top of the crater followed by a two kilometers drive along it. Most of the time I am here it is raining, restricting views and photographic opportunities. Though not appreciated at the time because of the inclement weather, Lake Mashu is one of the clearest lakes in the world.
We stay, for about twenty minutes and then retrace the route back to the train station and proceed to Mt Io.
Mount Io, an active sulphurous volcano, is 1.7km from Awayu-onsen Station. Though known to eject liquid sulphur during eruptions, the last occurring in 1936, vents can be closely approached. A mixture of sulphur and sulphur dioxide gives the air a mild rotten egg smell. However, it is not over powering. Between 1865 and 1867 Mt Io was mined for sulphur.
Steam vents from the surrounding heavily forested countryside.
Sunayu, on the shores of Lake Kusshiro, is the next significant stop. Noted for its warm black volcanic sands, people make their own mini onsens by digging into the sand. Cold lake water is warmed as it seeps through the sand. While I was there no one was bathing. I am not sure how stable the dug holes would be for a full bodied bath, but it would be satisfactory for foot baths.
Bihiro Pass is the last stop before the bus retraces the route back to the station. Though it has the usual resturant and souvenier shops the real attraction is the panoramic views of Lake Kusshiro and Nakijima Island. The viewing area, a little higher than the resturant/car park area, is reached by walking along wide gently ascending steps.
Return to Awayu-onsen Station
Returning, the bus stops at the same places as the forward journey, but only long enough to board or alight.
Now, back at the station, I take advantage of the foot bath. The hot water sooths and warms my feet. Today, I really should have worn shoes with socks.