Kamuiwakka Waterfall (Kamuiwakka-no-taki [カムイワッカの滝])

Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 1
Kamuiwakka Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

The Kamuiwakka Waterfall (Kamuiwakka-no-taki [カムイワッカの滝]; Kamuiwakka Falls) was a pretty well-known rotemburo (hot springs waterfall) deep in the wild Shiretoko National Park. The fact that it was a thermal springs-fed waterfall made it stand out from the rest of the waterfalls we had seen in Japan so far. Unfortunately for us, we couldn't experience the onsen aspect of this rotemburo as the only way we were able to experience this waterfall was by boat. Had we been able to do this waterfall both ways, we would've bumped up the rating score of this waterfall for sure.

From our trip research, we could have been able to visit on of this waterfall's upper tiers where there was a geothermally heated plunge pool that would've allowed us to soak in its sulphur-rich hot water right beneath the falls itself. Unfortunately, we weren't able to exercise this option because we needed to take the unsealed road through bear country on a shuttle bus that ran only from July 15 to August 15! We weren't sure if this very restrictive access was to protect the bears or for maintenance and remodeling or all of these. In any case, we were here a month too early so we had to find another way to see the falls.

Context of the Kamuiwakka Waterfall's lowest tier as seen from the boat tour As for the boat ride, we took a pricey four-hour tour from the town of Utoro. That said, the price of this tour might be on par with some of the boat rides we had been on in the States (especially when we thought of it in terms of price per hour). The sea-facing tiers of this waterfall was not visible had we done the land method as we would've been above these tiers, so that was one benefit of seeing this waterfall by boat.

In any case, the boat tour took us along the western coast of the Shiretoko-hanto (Shiretoko Peninsula) up towards the peninsula's tip where there was a lighthouse that we witnessed from a distance. This tour featured wildlife sightings, including eagles and bears as well as small sea arches, and many other waterfalls.

In fact, since this was the only way we experienced the Kamuiwakka Waterfall our June 2009 visit, we could've lumped this in together with the many other Shiretoko Waterfalls we're featuring on a separate page. However, we left this waterfall on its own page because of its unique geothermal characteristics, how it stood out against those other Shiretoko Waterfalls on its own, and how it was possible to easily access it by land had it been open.

During the boat ride, something that really caught our eye about the Kamuiwakka Waterfall was the evidence of sulphur in its waters. From the boat, we could clearly see yellow-stained rocks lining the outflow of the falls, which was strong evidence of the presence of sulphur in the stream. Moreover, we could see how the light green waters coming from the Kamuiwakka Stream mixed with the darker green waters of the Sea of Okhotsk, which was an interesting juxtaposition of mineral-rich freshwater and salt water. And if the visual evidence wasn't enough, the strong sulphur smell around the falls also dominated over the sea spray smell that we would otherwise be used to whenever we were near an ocean or sea.

Finally, we're not sure what the word "kamuiwakka" means, but we do know it's Ainu (the indigenous peoples of Hokkaido and surrounding islands as well as Northern Honshu). We say this because of the many Japanese sound characters in its kanji name spelled out, which hinted to us that the word was not Japanese to begin with.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

In Shiretoko (which Kamuiwakka-no-taki belongs to), wildlife and waterfalls seem to go together as this photo of native sea birds flying in a line across the Kamuiwakka Waterfall would attestIn Shiretoko (which Kamuiwakka-no-taki belongs to), wildlife and waterfalls seem to go together as this photo of native sea birds flying in a line across the Kamuiwakka Waterfall would attest
Shiretoko National Park is known for wild Nature (there's practically no development here), and it was quite a treat to see this bear looking around for foodShiretoko National Park is known for wild Nature (there's practically no development here), and it was quite a treat to see this bear looking around for food
A short distance further northeast of Utoro led us into the wild Shiretoko National Park, which included the beautiful Shiretoko Goko (Five Lakes)A short distance further northeast of Utoro led us into the wild Shiretoko National Park, which included the beautiful Shiretoko Goko (Five Lakes)
Roughly 2 hours southwest of Utoro (or about 45 minutes south of Abashiri/Shari) was Lake Wakoto and the Wakoto-hanto, which had views of the lake like this as well as a natural onsenRoughly 2 hours southwest of Utoro (or about 45 minutes south of Abashiri/Shari) was Lake Wakoto and the Wakoto-hanto, which had views of the lake like this as well as a natural onsen
A pair of dogs who loved being petted while we waited for our boat tour in UtoroA pair of dogs who loved being petted while we waited for our boat tour in Utoro

View along the Shiretoko coastline as we embarked on our boat tourView along the Shiretoko coastline as we embarked on our boat tour

Angled closeup look at the last tier of Kamuiwakka-no-takiAngled closeup look at the last tier of Kamuiwakka-no-taki (note the yellow rocks right on the coastline attesting to the sulphurous nature of the water)

Direct look at the Kamuiwakka WaterfallDirect look at the falls

A more distant direct look at the Kamuiwakka Waterfall revealing more hidden tiers further upstreamA more distant direct look at the Kamuiwakka Waterfall revealing more hidden tiers further upstream

Looking back at the Kamuiwakka Waterfall along some interestingly-shaped coastal rocksLooking back at the falls along some interestingly-shaped coastal rocks

Looking back at the Kamuiwakka Waterfall and a tiny ephemeral companion to its left.  Note the mix of sulphur-infused freshwater and the darker green saltwaterLooking back at the Kamuiwakka WAterfall and a tiny ephemeral companion to its left. Note the mix of sulphur-infused freshwater and the darker green saltwater

Some volcanic peak we noticed during the boat ride providing further evidence of volcanism in these parts so the presence of onsens and rotemburos shouldn't be surprisingSome volcanic peak we noticed during the boat ride providing further evidence of volcanism in these parts so the presence of onsens and rotemburos shouldn't be surprising

An interesting small sea arch somewhere near the turnaround point of our boat tourAn interesting small sea arch somewhere near the turnaround point of our boat tour

When we were done with our boat tour, we had lunch at a very good place in Utoro where we got this seafood sashimi rice bowl that could very well have been the freshest we had ever eatenWhen we were done with our boat tour, we had lunch at a very good place in Utoro where we got this seafood sashimi rice bowl that could very well have been the freshest we had ever eaten

Looking back at the town of Utoro as we headed towards Shiretoko National ParkLooking back at the town of Utoro as we headed towards Shiretoko National Park

The road to Shiretoko National Park was what we had to take to get to the Shiretoko Goko (5 Lakes), but the turnoff for the Kamuiwakka Waterfall was on the wayThe road to Shiretoko National Park was what we had to take to get to the Shiretoko Goko (5 Lakes), but the turnoff for the Kamuiwakka WAterfall was on the way

The boardwalk that provided us with beautiful vistas as well as letting us get close to the five lakes making up the Shiretoko GokoThe boardwalk that provided us with beautiful vistas as well as letting us get close to the five lakes making up the Shiretoko Goko

We saw these deer grazing in a scenic meadow as we headed back towards UtoroWe saw these deer grazing in a scenic meadow as we headed back towards Utoro


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Short bottom up sweep of the falls with loud speakers blaring in the background


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The boat excursion we went on was right within the Utoro township. I believe all the tour operators on these types of tours are based on the docks here, which can be accessed on a fairly obvious road leaving Hwy 334 towards the sea.

Even though we didn't do the land-based option, we did see the unsealed turnoff (which was gated) deep into the 40-minute drive from Utoro to the Five Lakes part of Shiretoko National Park. We can't say more about it since we didn't do it.

For geographical context, it took us a pretty brutally long and slow 5 hours of driving to get from Asahikawa to Utoro by way of Abashiri and Shari. Asahikawa was 137km (2 hours by car or 2 hours by train) northeast of Sapporo. Sapporo was about 9.5 hours by train or 90 minutes by flight from Tokyo. It was also possible to fly to Sapporo from Osaka (under 2 hours) or Kobe (2 hours; this was how we did it on our trip).




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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