Winter in Japan, and Hokkaido is covered in snow and ice. It's a freezing February morning, and blizzards and bitterly cold winds sweep the area as I begin my journey from Memanbetsu Airport to the rich wilderness of Utoro on the Shiretoko Peninsula. Pieces of drift ice lie caught in the frozen sea as I travel through a wintry scene of small towns and valleys.
It may feel desolate and remote, but in spring, this part of Japan transforms from a snowy landscape into a haven of rich greenery. The Shiretoko Peninsula is a treasure trove of forests, wild animals and birds. Its northeast half became a national park in 1964 and then a World Heritage site in 2005. Home to sika deer, eagles, brown bears and hiking trails to see them from, it has plenty for outdoor enthusiasts.
The tallest mountain, at 1,661 meters, is Mount Rausu, which offers spectacular views, while those wanting an easier, more relaxed experience can visit Shiretoko Goko (the Shiretoko Five Lakes), a scenic spot in the midst of primeval forests. Shiretoko Peninsula has two access points — Utoro in the northwest and Rausu in the southeast, both of which are renowned for fresh seafood, including crab and scallops.