Rishiri and Rebun, two small islands off Hokkaido's northernmost point, look like something out of a fantasy novel. Think sweeping coastal views, landscapes ranging from wild and craggy to rolling and green, wildflowers and quaint fishing villages, and best of all minimal signs of civilization.
You'll find hiking trails from easy to challenging and places to cycle so that you can take everything in. Add delicacies from the sea, and you've got the perfect island experience.
You can reach these two islands by plane and ferry from Sapporo and Wakkanai, respectively.
Rishiri Airport is a one-hour flight from Sapporo's Okadama Airport. Rishiri and Rebun are approximately two hours away by ferry from Wakkanai. A ferry goes between the islands if you want to see both on the same day.
There are only four ferries per day
You can take a car or bike on the ferry, but for a car, you will need to reserve at least a day in advance
Known as Rishiri-Fuji for its resemblance to Mt. Fuji, Mt. Rishiri provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the island's wetlands and forests from its summit, as well as views of neighboring Rebun Island and even Russia's Sakhalin Island.
Every July, Rishiri has a festival to mark the start of the official climbing season, but you can trek up from late June to early October. There are a few climbing routes, but be aware that you'll need to be in shape and prepared for an ascent.
Rishiri Island looks beautiful year-round. Some of the alpine plants here are truly unique and can only be found on Mt. Rishiri. The blossoming skunk cabbage flowers signal the coming of spring, colorful flowers bloom in the summer, autumn leaves blanket the landscape in the fall, and in winter snow covers Rishiri.
You can rent bicycles and follow the dedicated 25-kilometer cycling road around Rishiri, stopping along the way to explore the forested areas. Camping is also an option.
Rebun is the smaller of the two islands. Roughly 300 varieties of alpine plants grow wild here, even at sea level, and Rebun is known as the “Floating Island of Flowers.” The peak flowering season is from May to August, and a stroll through the blooms is a calming and exhilarating experience.
Cape Sukoton, at the northernmost point of the island, shows an entirely different face of the island with its rough, eroded coastline. So do the crags of Cape Gorota.
Some of the best sightseeing on Rebun can be done from the Momoiwa Observation Deck in the south. There are numerous trekking courses, and sightseeing points almost perfectly surrounded by flowers, including a spot where you can view Mt. Rishiri. From Cape Kanedano, you can see seals basking in the sun from early summer to early winter.
Charming flowers can be enjoyed from late April to mid-September, and are particularly popular throughout the high tourist season from July to August. Keep in mind that from November to February the seasonal winds grow strong, and the average temperature between December and February drops to around -7 degrees Celsius. During this time, the ferry service may also be suspended.
A three-day stay is recommended if you want to see both islands in leisurely fashion and do some hiking and cycling, but you can see a lot of both islands in just a day if you take a sightseeing bus. The buses follow the ferry schedule, making everything easy.