Mashu-ko, Mashu-dake and Io-zan

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

If you are based in Lake Kussharo or Teshikaga area you can spend a very rewarding day viewing Lake Mashu, climbing Mount Mashu and visiting sulphurous Mount Io. 

Lake Mashu is one of Japan’s most beautiful lakes. Formed following an enormous eruption that resulted in a huge caldera, Lake Mashu has precipitous sides and is towered over on the East side by Mount Mashu. In the center of the lake is the tiny Isle of Gods, the result of a volcanic plug within the caldera.

Start your day at Parking spot #1 off Route 52; the latter winds its way past the West rim of the caldera. The views of the lake and mountains are stunning. Then take the Mount Mashu trail and head East. On the way you will get great views of the surrounding mountains, as well as the birch forests rising out of the endless bamboo groves. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to the peak of the mountain, with the last 400 m being steep but manageable – just don’t look to your right and definitely not to your left. The views of the lake are terrific – the views into the secondary caldera of the mountain are terrifying.

It takes about 2 hours to get back to the parking area. Get back onto Route 52 and go North. Mount Io is about 8 miles away. It’s a little disappointing compared to the easily accessible volcanic areas in Iceland and New Zealnd, but it is every bit as smelly (sulphurous). Still, worth the visit as you are in the area anyway. The take Route 52 back to Lake Kussharo – you might want to visit one of the free hot springs on the way.


Hokkaido, Japan – Drive from Sounkyo Onsen to Lake Kussharo

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

As you depart Sounkyo Onsen going South through the Layer Cloud Gorge be sure to view the Ryusei and Ginga waterfalls streaming down from the cliff tops into the Ishikari River. The recent typhoon in Hokkaido made sure that they looked quite spectacular. 

The drive on Route 39 starts well, with many towering peaks to view. However, once you cross the mountains and descend into the plains it seems to be one long strip mall for about 20 miles until you turn off onto the mountain roads again. It is all worth while, however, when you hit the Bihoro Pass and get your first view of Lake Kussharo in Teshikaga. This lake is the largest caldera lake (volcanic collapse) in Japan and the second largest in the World. Nakajima Island in the middle of the lake is quite stunning. The ph of the lake is 5 – quite acidic – so no fish, but plenty hot springs e.g., Sunayu and Wakoto Onsens. And best of all – this lake is where Nessie’s (i.e., Loch Ness Monster) sister, Kussy, lives.

Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

By Paul S Bryers, September, 2016

Daisetsuzan is Japan’s largest National Park. It is about 2-3 hours drive from Sapporo, dependng on your park entry point. We based ourselves in Sounkyo Onsen, which is on the North East border of the park. Highway tolls from Sapporo are about ¥3500 (~US $35)  – yes, tolls are expensive in Japan, but roads are very well maintained. 

The village itself is a bit tired, but the setting is terrific – right in the Sounkyo Gorge with the cliffs towering above and the river rushing through. 

There are a number of hiking opportunities in the Sounkyo area, but the best idea for a day hike is to take the ropeway from the village to Kuro-dake “5th Station” (¥2200 ~ US $22 return) and then walk 10 minutes to take the chairlift to Kuro-dake “7th Station” Ski hut (¥600 ~ US $6 return) at 1520 m high, and then to follow one of the trails. We hiked up to the top of Mt. Kuro-dake (1950 m) and then to Ohachidaira viewpoint (2075 m) which offers incredible views of the Ohachidaira volcanic crater. It takes 3-4 hours to the viewpoint and then 2-3 hours for the return trip. And of course you have to have a good soak in the (very) hot springs after you get down from the mountain. The springs at our hotel (The Grand) were excellent. 

Beijing Outskirts – Huanghuacheng Section of The Great Wall of China

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

Our guide Sucre, of the Chinamango travel agency (contact Jet Liu), provided a terrific excursion to the Huanghuacheng section of the 8,800 km long Great Wall of China. This section is about 60 km North of the center of Beijing – takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to get there by car. You can get a bus, but realistically you need to get a car and driver. It is worth the extra expense to see this wild part of the wall with zero tourists around. 

Most parts of the wall are sensitively restored, with other parts unrestored and crumbling through weathering and plant damage. It’s a bit of a short, steep climb to reach the wall from the roadway, but well worth the effort. The views South towards Beijing and North/North West to the mountains, behind which lies Mongolia, are magnificent. 

Once on the wall, walking along it is fairly easy, although some parts have steep sections, either with or without steps. Make sure you have shoes with good grip and take plenty water and  insect repellent.

Some folk talk about building a wall on the US Southern border. Personally, I do not think that this is a good idea. However, if you are going to do it, make sure it will look beautiful, last at least 2000 years and in the future become one of the worlds wonders…

Beijing City – Summer Palace

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016
The Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in West Beijing, and is easily accessible by subway. The Palace consists of beautiful buildings, made-made lakes and gardens. The walk along the shore of the main lake offers plenty of shade, either from the avenue of trees or beneath the painted ceiling of the open-sided corridor – the longest such structure in the world. Access to the inside of the Palace buildings is very limited, but their beauty is, in any case, apparent from their external architecture and decoration. There is much talk of the Empress Dowager Cixi in the Palace literature as the Dragon Lady, due to her apparent ruthlessness. I’m not sure she was any worse than any of the Emporers.

Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

By Paul S Bryers, June 2016

I have been coming to Coll for family summer vacations, on and off, for over 55 years. Coll – 12 x 3 miles and pop. 200 – is located 3 hours sail from Oban on Cal Mac’s Clansman. There are flights from Glasgow and Oban, but I recommend the sail. Typically, you will need to spend the night in Oban as the Clansman leaves early morning. There are plenty of great B&Bs in Oban (I recommend the Corriemar House on the Esplanade). It is more difficult to find good places for dinner, but the Ee-Usk on the North Pier is excellent.

The sail to Coll is beautiful, with views to the Morvern and Ardnamurchan Peninsulas and the Isle of Mull. As you approach Coll watch for the Islands of Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna to the North. If you are lucky, you might get to see the Isle of Skye in the distance.

Coll is the best place I know for total relaxation. If you need to be with people, don’t come.

As the Clansman pulls into the pier at Arinagour, the Island’s vilage, you get a sense of the rest of the island i.e., lots of machar with a few houses here and there.

You can stay at the Coll Hotel (simple rooms, great little bar and restaurant), in the village bunkhouse or in self-catering cottages scattered across the island. There is also a walled campground.

Eateries are limited to the Coll Hotel and The Last Port of Coll – both good, with local seafood (and wifi). Food stores are The Coll Stores and a small shop attached to The Last Port of Coll. My advice is to bring most your own food (and wine) if you are going to be self-catering.

You can walk everywhere (if you like 5-10 mile walks), but it’s best to have a car. You might be able to get someone to drive you around, but I wouldn’t bet on it – you cannot rent a car on the island. The island is pretty flat, so biking is an option. Take your own bike or hire from Fiona Kennedy at the Post Office.

There are excellent walks and beaches along the West facing coast of the island, especially at the West End (e.g. Crossapol, Caolis and Feall Bays) where there is a RSPB Reserve (think Corncrake and Lapwing). The East End sports two very beautiful beaches – Sorisdale (famous for Bill Travis in Ring Of Bright Water) and North End Beach. Between the two Ends are plenty of other beaches (e.g., Hogh Bay). Vitually all have golden or white sands and turquoise blue waters. However, if you want to swim, a wet suit is preferable (OK, essential if you are over 10 years of age).

Kayaks are available for rent in the village, and you might be able to get a local to take you out on a boat trip. Seals are plentiful on the rocks off of many beaches, and are very inquisitive so come fairly close.  Finally, there are a wide variety of seabirds, including the very noisy oyster catcher.

Weather – This is Scotland, so it can be wet for a few days in a row. However, over the last 10 years I have found the weather to be consistently good late May and June.

Short Two Night Castle Experience in and around East Coast and Royal Deeside, Scotland

Having always travelled to the West Coast of Scotland while on vacation, it was time to investigate east of Inverness to see some famous castles. First stop, under 2 hours from Inverness, is Fyvie Castle. This National Trust property has terrific gardens (free of charge) and has a long history, reflected in the architecture. The original castle can still be seen in the two towers that rise above the exquiIte gardens. It is well worth doing a tour of the the castle itself – (£12.50 per adult: weekdays guided and weekends self-guided). Look out for the music room with the splendid tapestries – very good place for a classy wedding.  

Next up was Dunnottar Castle. En route, have lunch at the Ythank Hotel, Methlick – great traditional pub food with friendly locals. You can stay in Stonehaven for the night, it is just a short coastal walk to the castle – The Ship Inn is a good option for B&B and dinner with a great view of the harbor. 

And now for the big hurrah – Balmoral Castle, private summer residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This is a wonderful experience – just £11.50 per adult. Exquisite gardens – floral and vegetable. As for the Castle itself, you only get to see inside the Ballroom, but even from that you get a feel for the small scale, private splendor that makes this the annual retreat for QE2 and her family. And yes, there is a corgi trail for the kids to follow. After Balmoral, a trip to Braemar Castle is in order, and a walk along the Queen’s Drive with a follow up walk to Lion’s Head is very rewarding

And finally, stay the 2nd night in Ballater, a Royal Deeside town – in fact, The Royal Deeside town. You must stay at The Auld Kirk (try for Room 4) where you sign in at The Pulpit and enjoy your breakfast under the stained glass windows. Then enjoy dinner at The Lochnagar Indian Restaurant – great ambience. 

Rise early and do an easy 3 hour walk around Loch Muick – wear a deer stalker and plus fours as it is still on QE2’s Balmoral Estate. And finally, finally, a wonderful drive through Cairngorm National Park back to Inverness.

Start Of An Epic Journey

By Paul S Bryers, December 2015

Dull start to the day here in Wilton Manors, Florida. Good day to be traveling, which is just as well as our flight itinerary is Fort Lauderdale -> Houston -> Los Angeles -> Melbourne -> Auckland, arriving latter city early Thursday afternoon i.e.,  Christmas Eve. Dinner booked at SPQR at 8.30 pm and Carol Service and Mass a thought for 11.00 pm. I wonder if either will come about. Auckland is the first major city in the world to reach Christmas Day. I’ll let you know if any calamities strike. We leave Auckland on December 26th for Queenstown, and after a week there, head NW up the coast, ending up in Picton. Then to Wellington by ferry for a night and finally a few days in Melbourne before heading back to Florida. It is going to be an epic trip, so stay tuned for lots of photos and few words.

Traveling from West to North Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015

It’s a 4 hour journey by car from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsjökull Peninsular to Siglufjordur in North Iceland. A lot of dirt track but a good sound surface. Great views of the sea, mountains, big pebble beaches and waterfalls on the way. Plenty of horses with no names. Be aware that there is a 6 km single track tunnel under the mountains just before your reach Siglufjordur. At the end of the ride is a pretty little Siglufjordur, surrounded by snowy mountains and water and with an award winning Herring Museum. The recently opened Silgo Hotel is very pleasant, as is dinner at the affiliated Hannas Boy restaurant. 

Snæfellsjökull National Park, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

We awoke to a wet and cloudy day, but the circular Stykkisholmur – Snæfellsjökull National Park – Stykkisholmur was on our itinerary for the day, so off we set in our 4WD. This route has much to offer, including many spectacular – wait for it – yes, waterfalls and mountains!

First stop was Grundarfjordur fishing village, where the Saga Center folk offered some nice hot coffee, with free refills, and sound advice on what to see/do in the area (should you be so lazy as not to already have a detailed agenda for the day). There are many local hikes. It is important to listen to the center’s advice about individual hike difficulty and safety – these are dangerous mountains.

Next up was pretty little waterfall close to the towering Kirkjufell. While Kirkjufell translates to Church Mountain, I think the mountain looks more like the talking Sorting Hat from Harry Potter – Griffindor! It was 8 C with a brisk wind so we were freezing – for Icelandic Summers remember to bring your woolly hat and gloves; thermal underclothes probably not a bad idea. 
Even though it was only 11.25 am, it was time for some of Anna’s famous fish soup at Gamla in the very small town of Rif – delicious!

The main scenic route in the National Park starts at Route 574 at Hellissandur, where you begin to skirt the rugged slopes of Snaefellsjokill volcano. We started to see lots of lava spurs coming down from the mountain, and many lava fields. We then took Route 579 (dirt track) to Skardsvik golden sands. As it was August, there were hundreds of Arctic Terns feeding their babies – quite the sight! 

We continued on the dirt track and then took a left onto another dirt track for Vatnsborg crater carpark. From the carpark, we walked for about 2 km through a somewhat tortuous lava field, spotted with mosses and alpine plants, until finally reaching the crater. It’s small but you get the feeling that something big happened here about 1000 years ago. 
After returning to our car, we went back to first dirt track and turned left and drove to the end of the road to Svortyuloft bird cliffs – impressive! And a nice light house. 

After the cliffs, we turned around and went back to Route 574. We went south on Route 574 and then followed the marked turn off to Saxholl crater. It is a quick 100m climb to the top for great views of lava flows. 
We continued south on Route 574 and then turned onto Route 572 to the black sand beach at Djupalonssandur (car park and toilets). 
We continued on Route 574 to Arnarstapi, which is the best place to organize snowmobile or snowcat glacier tours up the volcano/glacier. As there was quite a bit of cloud and the real possibility of hypothermia, we decided not go up the volcano and instead we walked part of the beautiful Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal hike (3km return).  We had good views of the volcano below the cloudline, with lovely twisting lava tubes. 
 After that we continued West on Route 574 and headed back to Stykkisholmur.
The day was completed with an excellent dinner at Sjavarpakkhusid (we had fish soup followed by local blue shell mussels).
So, that was Snæfellsjökull National Park and Surrounds.