Although Hokkaido is famed for its ski resorts, we decided to visit the island in Autumn. It was one month of joy thanks to the spectacular nature and food, both of which we indulged greatly.
For the first half of the journey, we rented a car and did a road trip. Afterwards we settled in Sapporo for the rest of the trip. Hokkaido is a large island, without a car it's not possible to see all the wonderful nature it has to offer.
We hiked at every opportunity during the road trip, especially in the World Heritage site of Shiritoko National Park and Akan Mashu National Park and really challenged ourselves at some of most rocky and steep trails on Mount Rausu and Mount Asahi-dake. For example, when hiking on Mount Rausu, we had to do a 1,400 meter vertical climb in the seven km up section - that's almost four Empire State Buildings, not to mention having to cope with the unseasonably warm weather - 28 degrees and 95% humidity.
While out there hiking, we often came across local Japanese hikers, more often in small groups than not. They tend to wear similar outfit, also like a hiking uniform - long sleeve shirt with a T-shirt on top, long pants with shorts on top, a big sun hat, gloves, no sunglasses. A lot of hikers were in the 50+ group and looked very fit and healthy.
In addition to the strenuous hikes and amazing views, some of other highlights in this nature's paradise include: soaking our tired feet and legs in a natural hot spring, discovering an ancient forest with clever music and video installations, exploring a beautiful art gallery complex in a lush forest with a creek running through it, appreciating over 100 stone-carved statues peacefully standing on an overgrown forest floor and mesmerising by some of the most beautiful lakes.
Of course we also visited a few famous flower farms with rows of rows of vibrant flowers forming beautiful patterns on a large scale. From a distance, they look like a harmonious flower symphony!
Hokkaido is also famous for its seafood and diary products and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was immediately converted back to be a milk drinker (from a non diary user), not only that, got obsessed with the full fat 3.7% milk, which had an incredible aroma in the nose and mouth. We had the best soft serve ice cream and the best Japanese cheese cake (which we frequently had for breakfast). Wild salmon was in season during our stay and they were such a treat! We also had a lot of fresh sashimi at a fraction of the price you would normally pay in Australia. We loved one of the local specialty dishes - soup curry which consists of lots of spices with chicken thighs cooked until tender and vegetables that have been lightly fried in oil.
Speaking of food, Sapporo's popular annual Autumn Festival was on during our stay. It's a food festival showcasing local Hokkaido cuisines. Food stalls set up in the Odori Park sprawling over 6 street blocks. Various seatings such as bars, tents could be found along the stalls. Huge crowds walked around eying for their favourites. It was truly a feast for the eye, and tango for the tongue! We also discovered Donguri - a killer bakery chain. The stores have mouth-watering displays of sweet and savoury bakery items and continue to pump more every few minutes. They are extremely popular with the locals, judging by the full tray of items carried to the long check out line.
The only negative quirk of Hokkaido I would say is the expensive fruits. Considering it was the harvest season while we were there, one would expect to see abundant fruits in reasonable prices. The reality couldn't be further - variety was limited and price was extraordinarily high. How about USD$25 for a rock melon? One explanation for such high prices was that the Japanese fruits are of great quality, hence the matching high price. Honestly I'm not convinced - sure the quality was good - I only tried bananas and apples which were affordable, but they tasted no better than any other bananas and apples I'd had in other countries. From a positive perspective, the cheap seafood and sake can offset the expensive fruits.