Circumnavigation of Hokkaido

Circumnavigation of Hokkaido

From GBP £9,295


Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost and least developed island is often considered by the Japanese to be the country’s last frontier and is a world away from the traditional view of Japan. Only colonised by Japan in the past 150 years, we won’t find a land of ancient temples and shrines or developed cities with skyscrapers during our visit, but what the island lacks in regard to 21st century development, it more than makes up for in natural wonders with large swathes of wild, open spaces, primeval forests, crystal clear lakes, active volcanoes and bubbling hot springs.

Our exploration begins with the bright neon lights of Tokyo where the cityscape of skyscrapers is interspersed with ancient temples and scenic gardens. Before reaching the enchanting island of Hokkaido we spend some time on the north coast of Honshu island visiting the Feudal town of Hirosaki and the spectacular Towada Hachimantai National Park.

Our circumnavigation of Hokkaido then commences and during our time on this remarkable island, we will explore nature trails, watch for wildlife in the national parks, learn more of the indigenous Ainu people and hopefully see the stunning autumnal foliage which should coincide with our visit. More than two million acres on Hokkaido are dedicated to national parkland and we will visit some of the most remarkable including the Shiretoko National Park located on the north eastern tip of the island and which in Ainu means ‘end of the world’. UNESCO has called it one of the richest integrated ecosystems in the world and in 2005 designated it as a World Heritage Site. We will have a full day to explore the national park, home to brown bears, Yezo sika deer and red fox whilst birders can keep an eye out for Steller sea eagles, Blakiston fish owl and white-tailed eagles. Whilst in the Kushiro Marshlands we visit the home of Hokkaido’s resident red-crowned cranes, Japan’s iconic bird, known as the bird of happiness.

Helping us understand all we will see and experience, and travelling with us throughout the voyage, will be our expert naturalist, our knowledgeable Guest Speaker and three Japanese guides, all adding immeasurably to your enjoyment and understanding of this fascinating country. We hope you can join us for this rare circumnavigation of Japan’s most enchanting isle aboard the all-suite MS Island Sky.

Trip Name
Circumnavigation of Hokkaido
Vessel Type: Luxury Small Ship Length: 90 metres Passenger Capacity: 116  Built / refurbished: 1992 / 2010 / 2017 Sister ship to Hebridean Sky. Island Sky and Hebridean Sky are truly sisters. Built in the same Italian Shipyard, both boast spacious, well-appointed suites, stylish common areas, and redundant core technology that allows them to operate smoothly, even under the most challenging of conditions. Both ships are all-suite, all-inclusive small expedition vessels with touches of elegance throughout. The Island Sky is scheduled for additional upgrades in 2017, including the addition of tinted sliding glass doors to all cabins on the Promenade Deck. Services: World-Class Cuisine Complimentary Wine or Beer with Dinner Live Entertainment Complimentary Coffee/Tea station Voyage Photographer On-board MD and Facilities Dedicated Passenger Service Manager Pre-voyage hotel night Complimentary Expedition Jacket Facilities: Elevator serving all passenger decks Upgraded WIFI Internet Library with computers Panoramic Top Deck Observation Platform Bar/Lounge with Live Entertainment Lounge with Audiovisual Facilities DVD Movie Library Tinted sliding glass doors in all cabins on the Promenade Deck World-Class Cuisine: Great expeditions require great food! Our team of world-class chefs offer breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that change daily. They have boat-loads of creativity, so you are sure to experience a variety of remarkable cuisine throughout your voyage. Accommodations: All Suites Feature: Exterior views Your choice of queen-sized or two twin-sized beds Sitting area with sofa and side chair Flat Screen TV with DVD/CD player Telephone Independent temperature controls Mini-Bar Marble-appointed bathroom with fine toiletries Hair dryer 220 square feet or more Sofa can be converted to bed for third person PLEASE NOTE - DECK PLANS CAN VARY.


Day 1 - Day 1 London to Tokyo, Japan.
Fly by scheduled flight.
Day 2 - Day 2 Tokyo.
Arrive today and transfer to our hotel for a two night stay. The remainder of the day is free to relax and explore at your own pace before we meet for dinner this evening.
Day 3 - Day 3 Tokyo.
After breakfast in the hotel we will make our way to the Meiji Shrine which is dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. Surrounded by over 100,000 trees, Meiji is an oasis of serenity and spirituality in a city that never sleeps. We will then visit the Nezu Museum which exhibits an excellent collection of Japanese and East Asian art. Hidden away in its spacious forest-like garden you will find ponds, stone lanterns and several tea houses. The afternoon and evening are free to relax in the hotel or explore independently.
Day 4 - Day 4 Tokyo to Aomori.
After breakfast we will transfer to the airport for our scheduled flight to Aomori. On arrival transfer to the port where we will embark the MS Island Sky. Tonight enjoy welcome drinks and dinner as we moor overnight.
Day 5 - Day 5 Aomori & Oirase Gorge.
Today we will head inland to the spectacular Towada Hachimantai National Park which involves a scenic drive through the Kayano plateau and Hakkoda mountains to the scenic Oirase Valley and Lake Towada, a magnificent ancient caldera lake surrounded by deciduous forests. The scenery is stunning, especially as the hillsides change to red and orange. We will wander the trails at the Tsuta Nana-numa Ponds, a collection of seven lakes which are surrounded by a forest of Japanese Beech trees before continuing to Oirase Gorge. The gorge runs for 14 kilometres from Lake Towada to Yakeyama and we will walk alongside the crystal clear Oirase Stream seeing the beautiful scenery, autumn foliage and waterfalls. After lunch we return to the ship in Aomori or alternatively enjoy some free time in the city, visit the market, try the locally caught sushi or view the crafts and local produce at the A factory. We remain berthed overnight in Aomori for anyone who wishes to take an after dinner stroll or dine ashore.
Day 6 - Day 6 Hirosaki.
We can immerse ourselves in Japanese history and culture as we visit the former Feudal town of Hirosaki which was the political capital of the region in the Edo Period. During a tour of the city we will see the small, three storey castle which was the focal point of the old city and the base of the powerful Tsugaru Clan. Surrounding the castle was the samurai and merchant district where we can visit the preserved houses and the Fujita Kinen Teien, a Japanese landscape garden built in 1919. After a local lunch, we spend the afternoon visiting Neputa Mura Museum showcasing the crafts of the area and dedicated to the annual Neputa festival held in August. Return to the ship and sail this evening.
Day 7 - Day 7 Muroran.
We will spend our morning around the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, named after the two caldera lakes which offer wonderful scenery and excellent hiking and walking opportunities. This is still an active area and a geological wonder with the volcano Showa Shin-zan only created in the 1940s. Our day will be flexible around the weather but if clear we may take the cable car to the top of Mount Usu for the wonderful views to Lake Toya or visit Jigokudani, ‘Hell Valley’, a steaming lunar like valley of steam vents and sulphurous streams formed over 10,000 years ago. Return to the ship for lunch and spend the afternoon at leisure in Muroran, maybe visit the scenic cape and lighthouse or if feeling active you may wish to walk up Mount Sokuryo offering views to the city below.
Day 8 - Day 8 Kushiro.
After a morning at sea we arrive in Kushiro over lunch. This afternoon we will visit Kushiro Marshlands, Japan’s largest wetland and marsh habitat and home to the only known population of Japan’s sacred red-crowned cranes. The cranes were thought to have been made extinct due to overhunting and habitat destruction. However, in 1926 a group of 20 birds were discovered in this area and with conservation efforts now number more than 1000. We will visit the Kushiro Onnenai Visitor Centre with displays of the flora and fauna of the region and views over the marshlands before taking the walking trails where we hope to see the cranes and birds in their natural habitat. Continue to the Kushiro Crane Reserve, which was created 60 years ago to protect and preserve the crane population and continues to rescue injured birds whilst also breeding and releasing young birds into the wild. We remain in Kushiro overnight for anyone wishing to explore ashore this evening.
Day 9 - Day 9 Lake Akan.
This morning we will drive inland to see one of the most scenic lakes of Hokkaido. Arriving at Lake Akan we will board one of the local boats for a cruise, providing the perfect vantage point to the colourful forests lining the banks with views up to the surrounding volcanos of Me-Akan and O-Akan. The lake is also famous for marimo, an aggregation of algae which forms into balls and is unique to this lake. During our cruise we will pass by Takiguchi, one of the most beautiful spots on the lake as well as visit the observation centre on Churui Island. After lunch we will walk to Akanko Ainu Kotan, where we will be able to see the traditional crafts and dance and learn about the culture of the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido before returning to the MS Island Sky this afternoon and sailing.
Day 10 - Day 10 Abashiri.
Spend the morning on deck as we sail in the Nemuro Channel and around the Shiretoko Peninsula where we will keep an eye out for wildlife on land and in the water. Arriving in Abashiri at lunchtime we spend the afternoon learning more about the Ainu culture, clothing, legends and crafts at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples which also provides insight into the cultures and traditions of the peoples inhabiting the sub-Arctic regions of the globe including Inuit and Sami. Afterwards we travel the short distance to the Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum which offers insight into the sea ice that surrounds the city during the winter. Return to the MS Island Sky for dinner and spend the evening moored in Abashiri.
Day 11 - Day 11 Abashiri & Shiretoko National Park.
From our berth we will make a full day excursion to the Shiretoko National Park which covers the majority of the Shiretoko Peninsula and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the diversity of its ecosystems. This remote and untouched park combines rivers, forests, mountains and waterfalls and is home to an array of wildlife including brown bears, Yezo sika deer and red fox. If weather permits, we will take the Shiretoko Pass offering stunning views of the autumn leaves on Mount Rausu. Continue to the Shiretoko Nature Centre where we can learn about the wildlife of the park. Here there will be a choice of either a long or short walk through the wilderness on the lookout for wildlife, autumnal colours and views of the lakes. Return to the ship via the Oshin Koshin Waterfall.
Day 12 - Day 12 Korsakov, Russia.
Arrive this morning at Korsakov where we will clear into Russia. Once the formalities are concluded we will explore part of this city which was founded in 1853 as Sakhalin’s first Russian military post. From here we drive to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the island with a population of just over 160,000. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city became a Japanese prefect capital when the southern half of Sakhalin was declared a Japanese colony in 1905; after World War II it was returned to Russia. Highlights include a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Regional Museum housed in an impressive former Japanese mansion, and the bustling market. Return to the ship this afternoon as we return to Japanese waters.
Day 13 - Day 13 Rishiri Island.
We will clear customs formalities in Wakkanai before sailing into the Rishiri- Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park and berth at Rishiri Island where the skyline is dominated by the dormant volcano of Mount Rishiri, which climbs to 1721 metres. An island tour will include the beautiful autumnal scenery at Himenuma Pond and Kutsugata Cape Park whilst we hope to see black woodpecker during a walk at the Forest Park. There will also be free time to explore the town or take time to visit the hot springs.
Day 14 - Day 14 Otaru & Sapporo.
From our berth in Otaru we visit Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo where we enjoy a tour of the famous brewery. Hokkaido is the birthplace of beer in Japan and it has been brewed in Sapporo since 1877. A tour of the museum will introduce the history of the industry and includes a tasting. Also visit Takino Suzaran, a huge park on the outskirts of the city and a must visit location in autumn. We will take walks along the trails through the woodlands, one of which will take you to the lovely Ashiribetsu Waterfall. Return to the ship for lunch and enjoy a relaxing afternoon at sea.
Day 15 - Day 15 Hakodate.
Our final day in Hokkaido will be at the southern port of Hakodate. We will make our way to Onuma Park, on the outskirts of the city and known for its picturesque, island-dotted lakes and majestic dormant volcano, Mount Komagatake. We have the option to take a series of walks around the lake’s peninsulas and islands, several of which are connected with each other by small bridges and surrounded by colourful birch and maple forests. Return to the ship for lunch and this afternoon either relax on board or join a city tour including the 19th century Fort Goryokaku, built as a citadel but now a public park.
Day 16 - Day 16 Akita.
Spend the day in the Akita Prefecture, known for its rice farming, traditional festivals, and treasured dog breed of the same name. This morning we will drive inland to Kakunodate which was established in 1620 by the Lords of Akita as a military outpost with a castle built on Mount Furishiroyama. Two distinct areas were then developed, one for samurai and the other for merchants. Today it remains one of the best examples of a castle town in Japan and the Uchimachi samurai quarter maintains a number of the original wooden houses and well-maintained gardens which we can explore. The afternoon is free to explore Akita. At the centre lies Senshu Park, built from the ruins of Kubota Castle, a former samurai fortress. Lotus flowers now fill the remnants of old moats and tree-lined walking trails lead to its watchtower, temple and shrine. You may also wish to visit the Akita Museum of Art which includes a large collection of work by Fujita Tsuguharu including his giant ‘Annual Events in Akita’ mural.
Day 17 - Day 17 Niigata to Tokyo.
Disembark this morning and transfer to the train station to board our Shinkansen service to Tokyo. A lunch box will be provided on the train before we arrive in Tokyo and transfer to our hotel for some free time before we meet for dinner this evening.
Day 18 - Day 18 Tokyo to London.
After breakfast in the hotel we transfer to the airport for our scheduled flight to London.
Day 19 - Please note:
The autumn colours are a natural phenomenon and sightings are not guaranteed. We have timed our journey to meet the traditional times for the changing colours in Hokkaido and Aomori but are too early to see the colours in Tokyo.

Trip Dates

StartEndPrice FromRoom Type
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £9,295Magellan Deck Standard Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £9,495Columbus Deck Superior Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £9,695Marco Polo Deck Premium Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £9,995Marco Polo Deck Corner Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £10,495Erikson Deck Deluxe Balcony Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £10,795Explorer Deck Owner's Balcony Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £11,995Explorer Deck Island Suite
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £13,295Magellan Deck Standard Single
16-10-202102-11-2021GBP £13,495Columbus Deck Superior Single


    • Discover Tokyo
    • Visit Aomori & Oirase Gorge
    • Explore Hirosaki, Kushiro & Lake Akan
    • Visit Abashiri & Shiretoko National Park
    • Travel to Korsakov, Russia