My overnight Singapore Airlines flight landed at Haneda International Airport on a beautiful morning. Spot the iconic symbol of Japan?
We cleared immigration, collected our bags, walked through customs and were directed to the ANA domestic check-in counter at the arrival lobby. There was an issue with my mom’s boarding pass but it was quickly sorted out and our luggage was checked in for the domestic flight to Sapporo. After going through security check, we took the airline connecting bus which brought us directly to the departure gate at Haneda Domestic Terminal.
- If you’re traveling in a group with senior citizens and kids and sizable luggage, and your transit time is less than 2 hours, the easiest and fastest way to transfer from international to domestic terminal is to recheck in your luggage at the Domestic Connecting Flights counter (see diagram above) and take the Airline Connecting Bus. I didn’t know about this and was actually planning to take the monorail. What to note with this transfer method? 1. The bus ride takes about 10-15 mins depending on the traffic conditions inside the air terminal grounds. 2. Alight at the correct stop, either South or North, depending on your departure gate number. 3. The bus brings you directly to the departure gate so you won’t be able to shop around the domestic terminal.
It took an hour and a half to fly from Haneda to New Chitose Airport and we arrived at 9.30am. I buffered enough time to suit up into warmer clothes and grab a bite at MOS Burger before collecting our cars at Nippon Rent-A-Car at 11am.
The car rental counter was located at one end of the arrival lobby, away from the eateries. We got a number ticket after showing our confirmation email, and took a shuttle bus to the car depot 10 mins ride from the airport. It took a while to sign all the relevant forms, make payment and for the staff to explain our insurance package and traffic rules. We then had to inspect the cars and learn how to use the GPS, before we could load up our luggage and head off.
- Dress light for the plane ride. Pack thermal wear, warm clothes and outer coats in a hand carry bag to change in the toilet upon arrival at airport.
- Wear snow boots up the plane. It’s not that uncomfortable and frees up luggage space from having another pair of shoes. My family wore slip on shoes and changed to snow boots when we arrived in Hokkaido. We didn’t bother to change back on our return trip. Mainly because there’s no space in our bags to pack in our snow boots. And if we didn’t have our other shoes, we could have shopped more?
- Buffer time to eat at the airport by choosing a later pick up time if you’re renting a car. Our one and a half hour transit time at Haneda didn’t give us time to eat, and ANA didn’t serve any food on the flight to Hokkaido. Moreover, the car rental process took almost an hour.
Our final destination was Furano, about 2 hours drive from Chitose. I mentioned in my post on winter travel that driving in winter was not what I had expected. For first time drivers like us, it’s not safe to drive non-stop for more than an hour. The road could be clear one moment and then totally covered with snow further up. Or a sudden snow storm could come and fog up the road ahead.
Moreover, we seemed to need to use the restrooms more often due to the cold weather. So half-way in our drive, when we entered Shimukappu town, I saw a rest stop sign and decided to pull in. It was one of many Michi-no-Eki (roadside rest areas) all over Japan. This one was called Shizen Taikan Shimukappu (mapcode: 694 513 094). My original plan was to have lunch at Mepuru, a restaurant near Shimukappu Station but we already ate at the airport. This particular Michi-no-Eki had quite a number of facilities. There were food stalls, tourist information and a small souvenir shop selling local produce. We couldn’t resist buying some biscuits.
Looking at how unpredictable the weather could be and not feeling confident we could drive at night, I decided to give Furano Cheese Factory a miss and visit Ningle Terrace in the day instead of at night. It was snowing when we arrived which gave a magical feel to the place.It was our first encounter with falling snow. Everyone was not used to walking in the cold so we all hid in a coffee house. A pity it wasn’t the famous Mori no Tokei (珈琲森の時計) coffee place. After coffee and hot chocolate (the cakes were sold out), we ventured into the cold again to explore the many huts selling handicraft. They all looked pretty expensive so we left empty-handed.
On our way to the hotel, we turned into Furano Marche. I was hoping to get food from Sweets Cafe Sabor for tomorrow’s breakfast and some souvenirs from Argent. We got neither. The place was closed for maintenance :(. There was nowhere else to go except Furano Natulux Hotel.I got to admit my first impression of the hotel wasn’t great. It looked like an industrial building and there was no drive through. We had to park our cars along the road and pull our luggage through the snow into the hotel. But it was a different story once we entered the lobby. Everything looked clean, new and chic. The staff were friendly and spoke relatively good English. And the rooms? They were sizable and very comfortable. Perhaps the only drawback was the glass panel between the room and the bathroom although the blinds will ensure privacy.Dinner was the last activity of the day. I had 2 dining options – Kumagera for hot pot or Yuiga Doxon for curry and sausages. Everyone voted for hot pot so I got the hotel staff to reserve a table for 10. It was snowing when we left the hotel. The map showed it was a short walk away, opposite Toyota Rent-a-car. The distance may be short but it took us some time to reach the restaurant. Everywhere was covered in snow and we couldn’t differentiate between pavement and road.
Finally arrived at Kumagera. The outside was really pretty. Inside was nice and warm, and we were seated in a cozy corner.We ordered 3 hotpots to share, 2 seafood and 1 meat (chicken, duck and veal). We also had cheese tofu, and 1 serving of tonkatsu with curry for my girls. All the dishes were really delicious. One final snow fight on our way back to the hotel.
- Always have a few options in your itinerary, be it attractions or food. This will allow you to choose depending on weather, preferences and other factors.
- If driving, ensure that the hotels chosen have parking facilities. Even though Natulux didn’t have a driveway, there are ample free open air parking lots just beside the hotel.
- When traveling in a group, best to make dining reservations, especially during weekends and for popular restaurants.