GETTING THERE - PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTMOBILES
Step 1 - Perth to Japan
The two main airline routes from Perth to Japan are flown by Qantas and Cathay Pacific
Flies from Perth direct to Tokyo, the capital city of Japan located on the main island of Honshu, in around 10 hours 25 minutes. You must then transit to Tokyo to get to the island of Hokkaido. Transit is available via the following options:
Flying - You will need to transfer by bus from Narita (the international airport you arrive at) to Haneda (the domestic airport you will depart from). You need to allow a minimum 2 hour transfer time due to extreme winter conditions. Tickets for the transfer can be bought at Narita airport upon arrival. You then need to take a domestic flight from Haneda airport to Sapporo (New Chitose Airport). Domestic airlines that fly this route include JAL, ANA, SKYMARK and AIRDO.
Together with more certainty it may be cheaper to book this domestic leg in conjunction with the international flight from Perth so make enquiries when you book your flight.
Fast Train - the famous "Shinkansen" bullet train runs from Tokyo to Aomori, then the Super Shiratori Train runs from Aomori to Hakodate, followed by the Super Hokuto from Hakodate to Oshayamamabe, and finally a local train to Kutchan (the closest train station to the village of Hirafu). The train journey takes about 12 hours, requires 4 train changes and costs around 25,000 Yen. This is certainly a much more time and effort intensive route than the domestic flight!
Bonus of travelling the Qantas route is that you can stop en route in Tokyo and explore this amazing city and it's electrifying lifestyle! We suggest staying at the 'Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza' in Tokyo, within walking distance to the famous Ginza shopping area & the Tsukiji fish markets, an absolute "must see". Ladies (and shopping savvy men) Ginza is also the heart of luxury shopping in Tokyo!
Mitusi Garden Hotel Ginza website: http://www.gardenhotels.co.jp/eng/ginzapremier/
Flies from Perth to Hong Kong and then directly to Sapporo (New Chitose Airport). On the outward leg you connect directly however an overnight stopover is required in Hong Kong on the return.
Bonus of travelling this route is you can drop into Hong Kong for some shopping and a visit to the famous Happy Valley or Shatin Race courses or; you could do a day trip over the border into Shenzen (China) to experience some serious bargain shopping.
Step 2 - Sapporo (New Chitose Airport) to Hirafu
The 100km trip from Sapporo (New Chitose Airport) to the destination village Hirafu has a couple of options. The easiest is either catching a private transfer vehicle or hopping on a private bus - value for money the bus is more than adequate!
PRIVATE TRANSFER VEHICLE
We are yet to use this service but it can be booked through the following website:
The following providers offer the route: Chuo Bus, Donan Bus, Sky Bus, and Niseko Bus. We always take one of these buses and they can be pre-booked through your ground services operator. Cost about JPY3000 each way.
This is probably the most difficult way to get to Niseko and we recommend the bus over the train for expediency and convenience, although the train is very scenic if time is not of the essence. If you are inclined to catch the train the following route is taken:
Catch the train from New Chitose Airport via Sapporo to Otaru where you will be required to change to the local train to Kutchan. From Kutchan you will need to get a taxi (about 15 mins at a cost of approximately 3,000 yen) or be met by your ground service provider who will have a transfer to the ski village of Hirafu arranged for you.
You can hire a car - you will need a current valid international drivers licence (your Australia licence will not suffice) and the rules are very familiar however, due to the snow conditions we do not recommend that you take this option.
There are many many fantastic restaurants in Niseko and they are usually reasonably priced compared to Perth's restaurant scene. Winter is very busy (most people like to eat out after a hard days skiing) so we strongly recommend booking one or two days in advance especially if you are a large group.
Some of our favourites include:
A BU CHA - (Japanese Izakaya) the original A BU CHA is a local icon and everything on the menu is tasty. Our particular favourite, the Teriyaki roll served at lunch, we believe is the only way to fully satisfy the appetite after a morning on the mountain! They are also a bakery and sell and serve fantastic bread/pastries and coffee too!
Bang Bang - (Izakaya & fresh fish) this place is often booked out so make sure you book ahead.
Dragon - A restaurant specialising in modern edge capaccio, very good.
Rin - a local favourite located in middle village. Often booked out but well worth it, inexpensive and a great vibe - very low key!
Syokusai - located in the Hotel Niseko Alpen this is a fabulous restaurant with loads of delicious dishes and space for a larger booking (up to 14). We like to pop into the hotel spa for a massage before dinner, the owners are lovely and the treatments are to die for! (Refer to other activities in Niseko).
Food shopping in Hirafu is a little adventure. All your necessities can be purchased at one of the two mini supermarkets in town, Seiko Mart or Lawsons, but if you need to do a big shop (we always do a few big shops with so many of us) it's best to head to the closest town, Kutchan. Kutchan has two large supermarkets, Max-Value and Co-Op, and both are very good value. Naturally seafood is cheap compared to home and we strongly recommend taking advantage of this by cooking up a seafood chowder after a long day skiing. Getting to Kutchan for the shop is pretty easy, you can either catch a local bus (pay onboard the bus-remember to bring some coins) which takes about 15 minutes, the free night go shuttle bus or a taxi. The bus is obviously the cheaper option and is easy to locate as it leaves from nearby to the supermarket.
Bonus - when you head to Kutchan there are great little local restaurants that offer great value delicious food!
Try - Boroya (Italian - very small & delicious)
ORIENTATION / GETTING AROUND HIRAFU
Hirafu village is small and most people will be able to help you find anywhere you need to go. The village is split into three areas Upper, Middle and Lower with distances between venues logically discernable based on what village segment they are located in. Plus, the constantly running free shuttle bus drops you within 4 minutes walk of just about every venue in town.
Village Map - Hirafu
Free Village Shuttle Bus Route (Grand Hirafu)
Other buses running from Hirafu:
Free Hanazono Shuttle Bus - available to everyone, this takes people to the base of the Hanazono face of the mountain.
Free Kutchan Night Go Bus - available to everyone, this takes people to the closest supplies village where more shopping and restaurants are available.
Free (all mountain pass holders) Niseko United Shuttle Hirafu to Annupuri - available to those holding an all mountain pass, this takes people to the base of the Annupuri face of the mountain.
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN NISEKO - INCLUDING A LITTLE SELF-LOVE!
After a hard day out on the slopes nothing feels better (or even after a hard day walking around town or reading by the fire) than a Japanese massage. Niseko Foot, a massage therapist located on the ground floor of the Hotel Niseko Alpen, is run by a lovely husband and wife team (Nobuo-san & Chi-chan) and we always visit them when in town.
Niseko Foot website and phone number: http://www.grand-hirafu.jp/nisekofoot/ Tel: 0136 22 1224
Be sure to tell them Terrie sent you!
Onsen (hot springs)
A unique Japanese experience enjoyed by locals & tourists alike. A therapeutic and relaxing end to another day in Snow Heaven! Please ensure you familiarise yourself with the bathing etiquette (i.e. usually involves being naked - onsens are generally separated by gender although mixed onsens also exist), indulge & enjoy.
There is a Niseko "Yumeguri" Onsen pass that allows access to 3 onsen at various locations costing JPY1400 (2009/2010) and we recommend this. Transport is available to the onsen and your ground service provider will have the relevant information.
Locally we suggest you try Popolo or J First at the top of the hill and for the more adventurous a trip to Niseko Village (Hilton) or Hotel Kanronomori is recommended.
One way to get back to nature in a slightly more passive environment than heading face-first downhill!
First Tracks Cat skiing
Enjoy the freshest powder of the day heading up the mountain on a cat before anyone else has had a chance to carve out first tracks. There are a number of different providers in town and different mountains to visit and your ground service provider should be able to help with information.
RIDING THE POW POW
Naturally the most important part of the trip!
The mountain has four unique faces all fully accessible with a Niseko United all mountain pass.
Information about the mountain can be found at: www.niseko.ne.jp/en/index.html
The property management company (i.e. your ground services provider) looking after your rental accommodation booking will be able to organise lift passes for you when you confirm your booking. This is the easiest way to book your lift tickets although they can be purchased at any time on the mountain (you will pay more for the last minute privilege).
This past season’s rates can be found on the below website for indicative prices: www.niseko.ne.jp/en/price.html
Snow boarder or skier our number one pick for equipment hire is Rhythm Snowsports. They have by far the largest range of the latest gear, the people are very helpful and you can easily pre-book in $AUD online and just pick up the gear when you arrive.
Rhythm Snowsports website: www.skihirejapan.com/home.php
Buying Boots – Boarders and Skiers
The best place for boots with the most attentive and knowledgeable employees is Boot Solutions. Ned Buckley, owner, is a podiatry student (from Perth) and knows exactly how to fit a boot and fix a boot. This means there are no stresses when you purchase because you can come back and back again if you have any problems! The phone number for Boot Solutions is 090-1381-0462 and the shop is located about 1/3 the way up the hill in Upper Village, ask anyone in town and they will be able to point you in the right direction. Alternatively if you stay at YT502 the shop is literally outside your front door!
Buying Ski/Snowboard Gear - Clothing
Not a cheap exercise - we suggest jumping on the local bus and heading into Kutchan to Takiguchi Sports where the range is quite varied but certainly a lot cheaper than in Hirafu and generally pretty reasonable by international standards.
Before you take the effort each morning to get all rugged up to hit the slopes, make sure you check the daily snow report in case you decide it might be a good day for a massage or a game of cards! Once you’ve gone through the gates at the lifts your ticket will register a day use even if you only go up the mountain once (and decide conditions at the top are no good) so make sure you think about it before heading out.
This website is one of the numerous points of reference available to check the daily conditions: www.niseko.ne.jp/en/weather.html