February 26, 2010

Hokkaido - A Trip of Many 'First' : Part 5 - Snowmobiling at Furano, Herb Hill Furano, JR Sapporo Station

Woke up early and took a walk around the front of Sahoro Resort Hotel. A large number of Japanese teens were already going through their morning exercise routine - could be warming up for their early ski runs. They were probably students taking courses in skiing at the resort. The freshness of the air and calmness of the place was so uplifting and invigorating. The snow covered grounds looked bluish against the early morning sky; the stillness of the view invoked a sense of peacefulness and calmness. Would have loved to stand where I was longer but it was time for breakfast.

We soon boarded our coach for the hour and a half drive to Furano. Today the 17 December 2009 is when many of us in the group will have a first taste of cruising on a snowmobile.

The place we were heading for was the "Hill of Seasonal Colours - Hill of Shikisai" (四季彩の丘). This large farm is located near Biei (美瑛町, Biei-chō?) on a rolling hill which provides visitors with a breath-taking view of wide fields and hills that includes the Tokachidake mountain range. This 7 hectares wonder boasts a variety of beautiful flowers and plants that transform the whole region into a kaleidoscope of colours during the warmer periods of the year. In winter it becomes a playground of white for those seeking some fun in the snow.

Hill of Seasonal Colours - Hill of Shikisai
On arrival many headed straight for the little rooms to answer the call of nature. A little commotion soon followed as everyone tried to find themselves a snowmobile. More of the vehicles were brought out from a shed when the staff there realised that the tour group was actually much larger than their normal batch of fun seekers. Some in the group also avail themselves to gloves and jackets that were presented for use. This little interlude lasted for nearly half an hour before we were ready to move off.

Snowmobile at Furano
We were soon engulfed in fumes from the exhausts of the snowmobiles as the convoy roared off at the start of a ride that would bring us through a few kilometres of tracks, cutting through snow blanketed expense of open spaces, bushes and trees. The pungent stink of exhaust fumes disappeared as our snowmobiles picked up speed. We were now breathing fresh mountain air as wind rushes past our faces while our vehicles rise and fall with the undulating terrain.

Snowmobile at Furano
Wow, the view around was exhilarating. You could see for miles and miles - hills and fields of white, interrupted, here and there, by occasional pockets of bushes, tress and houses. We were surrounded by the beauty of nature at her very best. I wasted no time in recording the panoramic view with my camcorder - my wife was controlling the vehicle and I was riding pillion. I was so captivated by what laid before me that I was oblivious to the fact that we were moving through uneven grounds most of the time. The result is of course footages that would drive viewers crazy with dizziness and nausea.

Snowmobile at FuranoThe convoy soon snaked to a halt as a couple of snowmobiles stopped in their tracks and could not be re-started by their riders. That was when the unwelcomed and irritating exhaust fumes returned to peg us. Then came the rescue party - a couple of the guides came knifing through the snow on their high performance machines to assist those who were desperately trying to revive their vehicles. I seized the opportunity and recorded the surroundings with my camcorder but had to stop doing so after a short while as my exposed fingers were going numb. We were soon on our way heading upwards along the slopes of a hill.

Our tour guide had planned a photo shoot for the whole group at the top of the hill. As it turned out some members of the group were held back for quite a long time. When they eventually appeared it was too late as time for the ride was up and we had to head back to the farm building where we started from.

Snowmobile at Furano
The delay was actually due to a minor accident involving Uncle J and Aunty A. The latter had decided to try her hand at controlling the vehicle but made too sharp a turn and both of them ended up with their heads partially buried in a soft powdery cushion of snow. The immediate moments after the "flying stunt" were captured by Eddie who is always at the ready with his hands on the "trigger".

Snowmobile at Furano
Shopping at Herb Hill FuranoLeft the farm just after noon time and proceeded to Herb Hill Furano (ハーブヒルふらの) for the popular "Furano" buffet. Found the curry rice (Japanese style) and ramen rather nice. After lunch it was shopping time; here is where you will find many of the Lavender products like the Lavender Water Cream, Lavender Skin Conditioner, Lavender Q10 Cream + Horse Oil and of course the Lavender Pillow. Soon it was time for us to go, time to head back to Sapporo.

By the time we reached JR Sapporo Station (札幌駅) it was 4:33 pm, the sky was already dark. This place is the transportation hub for all of Hokkaido and its the place to board JR lines, the subway, and both local and tourist buses. But connected to it is a large underground shopping area. Here you will find the Daimaru Department Store and other shopping malls like Apia, Paseo and Esta. We were supposed to have dinner there that night but food was definitely not on the minds of the ladies in my group. Yes they were hungry but its not for food, their huge appetite is for shopping.

Burberry Boutique at DaimaruIn no time almost every one of them made a beeline for Daimaru to invade the Burberry boutique. Their target, the "Blue Label". This exclusive Burberry check pattern spin-off line is only available in Japan and it's designed for the younger generation of Japanese in mind. Quite a number of the handbags and wallets were snatched up by members from the tour group. This label is supposed to be sold only in Japan but some visitors actually buy and carry back large quantities to be resold back home as such the company has issued new sale rules on 28 December 2009 to try and prevent this practice.

SapporoTV Tower & Odori Park at NightSoon it was time for us to head for the night's accommodation at Hotel Com's Shin-Chitose Airport. On the way we detoured to take a look at the Tokeidai (Sapporo) Clock Tower, as promised by our tour guide since we missed this earlier in the week during a day city tour as mentioned in Part 2. I guess it was lucky that we did missed seeing it that day because in the night this venerable landmark looked much more elegant under the illumination of gentle lights. We also get to see the magnificent Sapporo TV Tower and Odori Park with their beautiful decorative lightings.

That night we had our dinner in our rooms at the hotel with food bought from the numerous eating outlets at JR Sapporo Station shopping malls plus drinks and titbits purchased from vending machines located at the reception lobby. This was followed by some serious packing as we will be checking in our luggage and cartons of stuff for our flight back home tomorrow. How time flies, seems like it was only yesterday that we have just landed at the airport ...

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