Taking the High Road
A local's guide to Niseko's most scenic autumn drive.
Japan is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places in the world to witness the stunning golden and auburn shades of autumn. Hokkaido’s unique mix of Japan’s famous maple tree as well as Hokkaido silver birch, or shirakaba, make the northern island a completely unmatched destination to marvel at Mother Nature’s most colourful season.
Mottled hillsides are a plenty in the Niseko region, as a dazzling display of gold, copper and bronze, blur as far as the eye can see. Meandering through the mountains is the area’s renowned Niseko Panorama Line. Full of hidden gems along the way, the locally-famous road is one of the best ways to experience autumn in Niseko.
Enjoy the Drive
The winding road runs from Niseko out to the Sea of Japan to the small, sleepy fishing town of Iwanai.
Starting the journey at Niseko Town on highway road 66, enjoy views of magnificent Mt Yotei and Niseko-Annupuri mountain ranges. Travel to the highest point of your trip to Chisenupuri Pass, which is also the boundary between Rankoshi and Kyowa and roughly the half way point of the trip.
As you pass the borders of these two visually-breathtaking areas, soak up the stunning views of the golden leaves of Erman’s birch trees cascading across the valley. From Kyowa, overlook the incredible panoramic views of iconic Shakotan Peninsula. This is definitely a picture-perfect moment!
Scenic Shinsen Numa
Take a break, stretch your legs and get your camera out with a pit stop at one of the region’s most beautiful natural landmark’s–Shinsen Numa. With shinsen meaning “god” and numa meaning “marsh”, the autumn reflections on the marsh water are reminiscent of a painting.
Great for all ages and fitness abilities, stroll along the boardwalk for around 15-20 minutes until reaching the picture-perfect marsh. It’s a serene spot to feel the autumn atmosphere and witness the beautiful shades of copper. Afterward, relax and enjoy a snack at the resting house back at the car park before setting off on the road again.
Onward to the Sea
Make the final leg of the Panorama Line down to the port town of Iwanai, one of the oldest towns in the Shiribeshi region. Take a drive past the old, hard-worked fishing boats and scavenging gulls by the ocean side. Iwanai, famous for squid, keep an eye out for local fishermen dropping a line in off the mainland to try their skill (and luck!) with catching a big one.
End your trip with a delicious, quintessentially-Hokkaido dish of soup curry at on the back-streets of Iwanai at cozy Suzuya. Hidden off the main road, this restaurant is a local secret and feels like home away from home. Order the chicken soup curry or try one of their popular omelettes off the menu. If you still have a little energy left, head on over to Family Bowl Iwanai for some ten-pin bowling action. Hit the road back to Niseko via road 276, then route five.
The Panoramic Line is around 45km in length and takes about 50 minutes to drive without stopping, but as they say it’s not all about the destination, but the journey, and the star-studded road is certainly true to the motto.
To get yourself a set of wheels to hit the road, why not hire a car for your stay in Niseko.
When to go:
Early-mid October for the best autumn colours. Road 66 (Niseko Panorama Line) between Yukichichibu Onsen and Iwanai closes annually for winter from late October around the 24th until late April.
Be sure to stop by some of the best places for freshly made sandwiches, bread and pastries in Niseko.