Hokkaido Day 5 (Abashiri) (18 Feb 17) – Next Stop, Abashiri and Cruising on the Ice Breaker

Drift ice is the reason that brought us to Abashiri

Next Stop – Abashiri

Our next stop for this Hokkaido trip is Abashiri. To get to Abashiri, we could have taken the bus from the hotel (costs ¥500), then transfer to the JR (costs ¥3,670). The total time taken for this journey would take us 4½ hours (2 hours by bus from Akanko Onsen to Kushiro JR Station and another 2½ hours by JR from Kushiro Station to Abashiri Station). We were fortunate that the hotel we stayed in provides transfer from the hotel directly to Abashiri JR Station, costing us only ¥500 (we saved ¥3,670 per person). The journey by bus takes around 3 hours. We left the hotel at 9am and arrived at Abashiri at 12.30pm, giving us half a day to tour around the place. Comparing to taking the JR, we will only arrive at Abashiri at 5.16pm, which we would have essentially wasted the whole day. The bus took us through more farmlands and wilderness passing by some towns along the way. The ground is filled with snow on the way to Abashiri, which I was glad to see as I was worried that winter might end soon, after all it is near to the end of winter season. There is a point in time the bus passed by a frozen lake with a sign that says “Lake Abashiri”, I know that we are near our destination Abashiri. As we pulled into Abashiri City, alighting the bus, the temperature felt a lot colder than that in Lake Akan. After collecting our luggages, we headed for the hotel which we will be staying for the next 2 nights. The hotel does not permit early check-in and the staff told us to return at 3pm when check-in will be processed. Wanting to waste no time, my friend and I decided to leave our luggages with the concierge of the hotel and headed for the Ice-Breaker Cruise.
Taking our last wefie at Akanko Onsen before we leave for Abashiri 
The bus bound for Abashiri driving through Akanko Onsen
There seem to be some temple in one corner of Akanko Onsen that we did not manage to visit
On our way to Abashiri
The winter landscape is just charming
Everywhere is covered with snow
Our pit stop, halfway between Lake Akan and Abashiri
Pit stop for passenger to go toilet and buy drinks
We journey towards Abashiri resumes
The winter landscape of wilderness Hokkaido as we drive towards Abashiri
Everything covered in snow is just beautiful
Some random shots on the bus towards Abashiri
A small town we passed by
So peaceful
We are near Abashiri
The snow just makes everything look so peaceful
The frozen Lake Abashiri
Finally arrived at Abashiri JR Station after 3 hours on the bus

Aurora Ice-Breaker Cruise

There is a direct bus from Abashiri JR Station to the Ice-Breaker Cruise Terminal, which is at the end of the bus route. There is no way anyone could missed that. We reached the Cruise Terminal after a 10 min bus ride from Abashiri JR Station. The weather felt colder when we alight the bus, partly due to the cold wind blowing from Siberia up north, the very same wind that brought the drift ice to Abashiri. Most visitors to Abashiri came here for the winter only Ice-Breaker Cruise. Drift ice will only reach Abashiri by early Feb and will completely disappear by mid-Mar each year. My friend and I managed to grab lunch at the Ice-Breaker Cruiser Terminal before boarding the 2pm Aurora Ice-breaker cruise.
Taking a wefie in front of Abashiri JR station
A sculpture in front of Abashiri JR Station
The bus that brings us to the ice breaker cruise terminal stops in front of Abashiri JR Station
Wefie on the bus that took us to the ice breaker cruise terminal
The Abashiri Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal
We got the tickets for the 2pm ice breaker cruise
Vending machine which we ordered our food from
Lunch time
The Aurora Ice Breaker Cruise calling into port
My lunch

 

There are 3 levels onboard the Aurora Ice-Breaker Cruise. Decks 1 and 2 are indoors while the deck 3 observation deck is outdoors. My friend and I opted to stay at the uppermost observation as we did not want to miss the moment the ship steers into the drift ice. As the ship slowly made its way out of the river into the Sea of Okhotsk, it gets colder. Wearing 5 layers of clothing does not seem to be able to keep us warm. The sea breeze got colder the more we cruise into the Sea of Okhotsk. Soon we found ourselves steering into a sea of white. This is the drift ice that we came to see and experience the ship breaking through the ice. With the cold sea breeze blowing, although it is -11℃, it felt more like -20℃. As the ship display its might breaking the ice along the way, it felt like we were cruising in the arctic ocean. As the ship drives into the drift ice, the sea of white gave way and behind us I saw a path of sea cleared of the drift ice following the wake of the ship. This is what the Aurora is made for, to display its might against the ice. The scene is nothing like that in Titanic where the might ship gave way to the ice, it is the other way round, where the ice gave way to the Aurora. A lot more passengers joined us at the observation deck, snapping pictures and taking videos of when the ship smashes though the vulnerable drift ice.
Me in front of Aurora the Ice Breaker Cruise
Wefie at the observation deck of the Aurora
Aurora is underway 
We are on our way to break some drift ice
The Aurora sailing towards drift ice
The white patch over the horizon are drift ice
Drift ice in sight on Sea of Okhotsk
Approaching the drift ice
Drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk
Drift ice everywhere, feels like we are sailing in the arctic waters
My friend on the observation deck of the Aurora with drift ice behind
Me in the observation deck with drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk
Taking a wefie with the drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk onboard the Aurora Ice Breaker 
More Drift Ice
Drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk
Drift Ice
There seem to be a huge chunk of drift ice coming down to Abashiri
Panoramic shot of the drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk

The Aurora Ice-Breaker Cruise went around breaking the drift ice for another 20 mins before heading back to the harbour of Abashiri. It is at this moment, my friend and I felt the cold is too much for us. We headed to the indoor area of the ship and found a seats facing the sea. The instant we were in the interior of the ship, it felt warm. We stayed put on the seats for the rest of the journey back to harbour.  As the Aurora steered into harbour, we saw a couple of warehouse like buildings and decided to head there after the ship docks. The Aurora called into the harbour. After docking, passengers were allowed to disembark the vessel. We headed to the warehouse looking buildings that we saw when the ship sailed into Abashiri Harbour. The building nearer to the Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal sells glasswares. Here we were able to see professionals working their magic in sculpting glass into pieces of ornaments. At one corner, there is even a hands-on counter for visitors to try their hand in making their own glass ornaments. We were not particularly interested in this as we thought Otaru (which we will be visiting later in our Hokkaido Trip) is better known for glass arts. My friend and I exited this building and headed for the building next door. This building sells mostly food stuffs and souvenirs. We did not spend much time here and headed back to the hotel to check into our room.

The glass ornament shop
Some of the items on sale
There are staffs in the room creating some glassware
Seem to be engaging in serious discussions about the glass ware
Taking a wefie in front of the glassware shop
My friend in front of the glassware shop
Look at the thickness of the snow, almost covering the whole building
The Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal

Exploring Abashiri City at Night

It was dinner time. My friend and I decided to walk around the vicinity of our hotel to look for dinner. We were walking the direction away from the Ice-Breaker Cruise Terminal. There do not seem to be any shops or any activities in this part of the city. We traced our steps and headed back to Abashiri JR Station. We walked in the direction of the Ice-Breaker Terminal and found that it is the centre of Abashiri City. At around 6pm, the whole city seem dead. None of the shops except for a small supermarket and a handful of restaurants, are opened. There isn’t much people in the streets either. We found Abashiri City a tad boring and lifeless. We found a place to settle our dinner and headed back to the hotel to rest for the night.
The weather is -11 deg C at night, we were in front of Abashiri JR Station 
The city of Abashiri at night
We spotted some interesting snowmen
City of Abashiri looks abandon at night
This is the city centre of Abashiri, not much people around
Taking a wefie in the empty Abashiri City Centre at night
We ended up having KFC for dinner

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