Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost and least developed island is often considered by the Japanese to be the country’s last frontier and is a world away from the traditional view of Japan. Every year the island emerges from a bitter Siberian winter into the warmth of spring, when the thaw reveals a glorious landscape littered with wild flowers. Only colonised by Japan in the past 150 years, we won’t find a land of ancient temples and shrines or developed cities with skyscrapers during our visit, but what the island lacks in regard to 21st century development, it more than makes up for in natural wonders with large swathes of wild, open spaces, primeval forests, crystal clear lakes, beautiful alpine flowers, active volcanoes and bubbling hot springs. During our circumnavigation of this remarkable island, we will visit the outlying Rebun and Rishiri Islands, explore nature trails, watch for wildlife in the national parks, learn more of the indigenous Ainu people and hopefully see the multitude of colourful flowers that should be in bloom to coincide with our visit.
More than two million acres on Hokkaido are dedicated to national parkland and we will visit some of the most remarkable including the Shiretoko National Park located on the north eastern tip of the island and which in Ainu means ‘end of the world’. UNESCO has called it one of the richest integrated ecosystems in the world and in 2005 designated it as a World Heritage Site. We will have a full day to explore the national park, home to brown bears, Yezo shika deer and red fox whilst birders can keep an eye out for Steller sea eagles, Blakiston fish owl and white-tailed eagles. Whilst in the Kushiro Marshlands we visit the home of Hokkaido’s resident red-crowned cranes, Japan’s iconic bird, known as the bird of happiness. We hope you can join us for this rare circumnavigation of Japan’s most enchanting isle.
Arrive in Hakodate on the south coast of the island of Hokkaido. Transfer to our hotel for an overnight stay and spend the rest of the evening at leisure to explore or relax in the hotel.
Spend the morning at leisure. Early risers may wish to make their way to the market where you will find many stalls and restaurants selling fresh seafood and local specialties including Ika-somen, a squid sashimi. Alternatively, explore the 19th century Fort Goryokaku, built as a citadel but now a public park, take the cable car up Mount Hakodate for views over the city or simply relax in the hotel. In the early afternoon we will make our way to Onuma Park, on the outskirts of the city and known for its picturesque, island-dotted lakes and majestic dormant volcano, Mount Komagatake. We have the option to take a series of walks around the lake’s peninsulas and islands, several of which are connected with each other by small bridges and surrounded by birch and maple forests. Return to the city and embark the MS Caledonian Sky later in the afternoon. Enjoy Welcome Dinner and Drinks as we sail late this evening.
We have a day at sea as we start our cruise around Hokkaido. Enjoy our onboard lecture programme and learn more about the culture, flora and fauna of this northern region of Japan.
At dawn we arrive at the tiny island of Teuri Jima, part of the Shokanbetsu- Teuri-Yagishiri National Park and an important sanctuary for nesting seabirds including common murre and black-tailed gulls. We will use our ship to sail by the cliffs and if time permits we will use the Zodiacs for a closer look. Later this morning we continue our journey to the Rishiri-Rebun- Sarobetsu National Park, arriving at lunchtime. At Rishiri Island the skyline is dominated by the dormant volcano of Mount Rishiri which climbs to 1721 metres. On an afternoon tour we will see the beautiful scenery and alpine wildflowers in bloom at Himenuma Pond and Kutsugata Cape Park whilst we hope to see black woodpecker during a walk at the Forest Park.
We remain at anchor overnight in the National Park and will spend the day at neighbouring Rebun Island which is famous for its rich flora, including many alpine flowers some of which cannot be found anywhere else on the world, and which carpet the island from late April to mid September. Today we will take a series of walks around the coastline offering views over to Rishiro volcano and Cape Gorota. We also hope to see the protected “Rebun Usuyukiso” alpine flower. Return to the ship for lunch and sail this afternoon. We will clear immigration formalities from Japan this evening as we sail to Russia.
Arrive this morning at Korsakov where we will clear into Russia. Once the formalities are concluded we will explore part of this city which was founded in 1853 as Sakhalin’s first Russian military post. From here we drive to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the island with a population of just over 160,000. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city became a Japanese prefect capital when the southern half of Sakhalin was declared a Japanese colony in 1905; after World War II it was returned to Russia. Highlights include a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Regional Museum housed in an impressive former Japanese mansion, and the bustling market. Return to the ship this afternoon as we return to Japanese waters.
We return to Hokkaido this morning at the port of Abashiri where we will spend a day and a half. From here we will make a full day excursion to the Shiretoko National Park which covers the majority of the Shiretoko Peninsula. This remote and untouched park combines rivers, forests, mountains and waterfalls and is home to an array of wildlife including brown bears, Yezo shika deer and red fox whilst birders can keep an eye out for Steller sea eagles, Blakiston fish owl and white-tailed eagles. If weather permits we will also take the Shiretoko pass offering stunning views of Mount Rausu. We will return to the ship via the Koshimizu Gensai-kaen, an eight kilometre long dune covered in over 40 varieties of wildflowers against a backdrop of the Sea of Okutsk. Return to the ship this evening as we moor overnight in Abashiri.
There will be a choice of activities this morning. Choose to take a trip to Lake Kussharo, a beautiful caldera lake where we can enjoy the scenery or join a nature walk and maybe take a dip in one of the hot spring baths. As we return to the ship we hope to see the Shibzakura Park in Ozora, an eight hectare park which is covered in tiny red, pink, white and purple flowers during the spring. Alternatively spend a more leisurely morning in Abashiri and learn more about the Ainu at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples and visit the Okhotski Sea Ice Museum which offers insight into the sea ice that surrounds the city during the winter. Return to the ship for lunch and spend the afternoon on deck as we sail this afternoon around the Shiretoko Peninsula and into the Nemuro Channel where we will keep an eye out for wildlife ashore, the abundant birdlife and minke, orca and sperm whales who inhabit these waters.
Today we will visit Kushiro Marshlands, Japan’s largest wetland and marsh habitat and home to the only known population of Japan’s sacred red-crowned cranes. The cranes were thought to have been made extinct due to overhunting and habitat destruction. However in 1926 a group of 20 birds were discovered in this area and with conservation efforts now number more than 1000. We will visit the observatory with displays of the fauna and fauna of the region and views over the marshlands before taking the walking trails. Return to the ship via the small but excellent Kushiro City Museum that offers an insight into Ainu culture and natural history of the area.
Spend the morning at sea as we arrive into Tomakomai in the early afternoon. Choose to visit the Shiraoi Poroto Kotan Museum, one of the country’s best museums about the Ainu people, situated on the banks of Lake Poroto. Made up of five traditional thatched houses each demonstrate different aspects of Ainu traditions and culture and offer a rare chance to see traditional dance and music. Alternatively visit Hokkaidos’s capital city of Sapporo where we can explore the colourful botanical gardens, visit the small Ainu museum displaying around 2500 artefacts and enjoy a tour of the famous brewery.
Our final day in Hokkaido will be spent around the Shikotsu-Toya National Park named after the two caldera lakes which offer wonderful scenery and excellent hiking and walking opportunities. This area is still an active area and a geological wonder with the volcano Showa Shinzan only created in the 1940s. Our day will be flexible around the weather but if clear we may take the cable car to the top of Mount Usu for the wonderful views to Lake Toya, visit Jigokudani, “Hell Valley”, a steaming lunar like valley of steam vents and sulphurous streams formed over 10,000 years ago or enjoy scenic walks in the volcanic peaks that surround Lake Shikotsu.
This morning we arrive on the northern coast of Honshu. From our berth in Aomori we offer a choice of options. Maybe join the tour to Towada Hachimantai National Park, which involves a scenic drive through the Kayano plateau, Hakkoda mountains and scenic Oirase Valley. We will take the Hakkoda cable car which climbs to 1324 metres above sea level and offers stunning views before continuing to Lake Towada, a magnificent ancient caldera lake surrounded by deciduous forests. Enjoy walking along the paths and through the woodlands to the viewpoints around the lake. Alternatively, visit the former Feudal town of Hirosaki which was the political capital of the region in the Edo Period. A tour of the city will include the three storey castle, which was the focal point of the old city and the base of the powerful Tsugaru clan. Surrounding the castle was the samurai and merchant district where we can visit the preserved houses and the Fujita Kinen Teien, a Japanese landscape garden built in 1919.
Spend the day in Akita Prefecture, known for its rice farming, traditional festivals and treasured dog breed of the same name. This morning we will drive inland to Kakunodate. Established in 1620 by the Lords of Akita as a military outpost with a castle built on Mount Furishiroyama. Two distinct areas were then developed, one for samurai and the other for merchants. Today it remains one of the best examples of a castle town in Japan and the Uchimachi samurai quarter maintains a number of the original wooden houses and well maintained gardens which we can explore. The afternoon is free to explore Akita. At the centre lies Senshu Park, built from the ruins of Kubota Castle, a former samurai fortress. Lotus flowers now fill the remnants of old moats, and tree-lined walking trails lead to its watchtower, temple and shrine. Whilst the Akita Museum of Art includes a large collection of work by Fujita Tsuguharu including his giant “Annual Events in Akita” mural.
Disembark this morning and take the bullet train to Tokyo. On arrival we enjoy an afternoon city tour including Meiji Shrine, Sensoji Temple and the Imperial Palace Plaza. We then transfer to our hotel for an overnight stay.
After breakfast in the hotel transfer to the airport for your flight back home.
Suites on the Castle Deck measure 22.7 square metres and feature four port holes, en-suite bathroom with shower and spacious wardrobes.
Caledonian Superior Suite
Suites on the Caledonian Deck measure 21.6 square metres and feature en-suite bathrooms with bath tub and shower (except for suites 329, 330 and 331 which feature only a shower), spacious wardrobe and large window.
The Premium Suites on the Promenade Deck measure 20.2 square metres and feature a spacious wardrobe, en-suite bathroom with shower (cabins 431 and 432 feature a bathtub) and a large window.
Bridge Deluxe Balcony Suite
Balcony Suites The Premium Balcony Suites on the Promenade Deck measure 20.2 square metres and feature a walk-in wardrobe, en-suite bathroom with shower and a private balcony measuring 5.6
Promenade Prem. Balcony Suite
The Premium Balcony Suites on the Promenade Deck measure 20.2 square metres and feature a walk-in wardrobe, en-suite bathroom with shower and a private balcony measuring 5.6
Castle Standard Suite Sole
Sole Occupancy. Suites on the Castle Deck measure 22.7 square metres and feature four port holes, en-suite bathroom with shower and spacious wardrobes.
Caledonian Superior Suite Sole
Sole Occupancy. Suites on the Caledonian Deck measure 21.6 square metres and feature en-suite bathrooms with bath tub and shower (except for suites 329, 330 and 331 which feature only a shower), spacious wardrobe and large window.
Promenade Owner's Corner Suite
The two corner suites on the Promenade Deck measure 22.6 square metres and feature one window facing to the side and two forward facing portholes, a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite bathroom with shower.
Vessel Type: Luxury Expedition
Length: 90 metres
Passenger Capacity: 114 (in 57 suites)
Built: 1991 / refurbished 2012
The MS Caledonian Sky accommodates a maximum of 114 passengers in 57 spacious outside suites. Many have walk-in wardrobes and some feature tub baths. There will be seven categories of suites and sixteen suites will have private balconies. For those familiar with the MS Island Sky she will feel like a second home, although there are some differences. The dining room, lounge, Lido Deck and bar are all similar. However, the ‘Club’ on the MS Caledonian Sky has been transported to the very top deck. Here, there is a library and bar which leads out on to a lovely forward deck. The ‘Club’ has wonderful views with ceiling to floor windows.
If you like the MS Island Sky, we are sure you will also approve of her sister. And, of course it is important that we offer the very best of facilities. However, equally as important are the staff on board whether they are the vessel’s crew or our own expedition staff. Noble Caledonia’s reputation has been built on providing the very best in all areas. Their crew of 74 not only offer an excellent service they are also noted for their kindness and attention to detail. A well run ship with a warm atmosphere is what we are known for, and it is because most of our crew have been with us for many years that we are able to engender such an atmosphere.
Onboard there are 57 exceptionally spacious and well designed suites. The passenger accommodation is arranged over four decks and all suites have outside views. All feature a sitting room area and some have private balconies. Each affords considerable comfort with en-suite bathroom featuring a country style wash basin, hot towel rack and vanity unit with sink and walk-in shower and/or bath tub.
Facilities in the suites also include walk-in or spacious wardrobes, dressing table with large mirror and stool or desk, mini-fridge, flat screen television, telephone, programmable electronic safe, hairdryer, assorted toiletries, air-conditioning and heating. Bottled water, towelling dressing gowns and slippers are also provided for your comfort.
The spacious and finely decorated public rooms include a large lounge where daily briefings and talks will be provided throughout the voyage and an elegant bar where a pianist plays periodically throughout the day. The bar also features a 24-hour tea and coffee station. In addition there is the Club Lounge on the Panoramic Deck which features a bar. The onboard travel library is the perfect place to relax with a book and is stocked with reference books pertaining to the places the vessel is visiting along with a selection of games and two computers with internet access. Daily newspapers and magazines are also placed in the library depending on local availability. Outside there is a rear Lido deck where meals are served in warm weather under shade. On the top deck there is a further observation and sun deck with bar service and comfortable deck furniture for sun bathing or relaxing with a book. There is also a small gymnasium onboard and hairdressers with appointments made on request.
With only one sitting and a maximum of just over 100 passengers, the quality of cuisine will be of a consistent superior quality. Where possible and when it meets his high standards, our accomplished chef will obtain local produce in markets or buy the catch of the day from a passing fishing boat. Such purchases enhance the well stocked larders and bring a local touch to the varied menus. In the main elegant dining room, breakfast is served buffet-style, with certain items cooked to order and lunch and dinner is à la carte. When weather permits, breakfast, a buffet-style lunch and dinner are also served on deck. To enhance your dining experience even further a selection of wines are included with lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea is served in the lounge and tea and coffee are available 24 hours. With sufficient notice, most diets can be catered for on board.
For your comfort, safety and security
The vessel is equipped with the latest safety, navigation and communications equipment along with roll stabilisers to minimise the ship’s motion. The Captain and officers operate an open-bridge policy that allows passengers onto the bridge at most times with the exception of arrival and departure from port and during times of complicated navigation. Here you can check the ship’s progress by charts and learn more from the officers about your journey. There is also a dedicated channel on your television in your suite showing the routing of the vessel along with technical information and estimated times of arrival and departure from port. On board you will also find a clinic and doctor and a lift that serves all decks. Smoking on board is restricted to outside decks only.
Unlike many other cruise vessels, onboard the MS Caledonian Sky you do not need to worry about tipping staff as we have included them in your holiday price. In addition we tip all their guides and drivers along the way, thereby taking away the hassle of always having to remember to have some small change with you.