Niseko is world famous for its incredible winters, but the region’s choice of summer activities is bound to get your heart racing with excitement and adrenaline. One of the most popular outdoor adventure activities is white water rafting, a service proudly operated through a range of suppliers including Hanazono Sports.
Hidden beneath the snow is the Shiribetsu River, which runs 126 kilometers from the Sea of Japan before meandering through the magical town of Niseko. In late April the snow melt causes the water level to rise and can create grade 2-4 rapids. There is only a short window to raft the rapids swollen by the spring time snow melt but once summer hits there is an alternative set of rapids which are ready for holiday makers to conquer. The team from NISADE was lucky enough to catch this window for spring rafting and we enjoyed every second!
At 8:30am our team met at NISADE’s head office in Setsumon and began the 15 minute journey to Hanazono. Our rafting guides met us with enthusiasm at the entrance door, and thus began our introductions.
We quickly learned our guides were all Nepalese with various levels of experience and loved teaching students the art of river rafting in Niseko. Our rafting leader, Basanta Gurung, has lived in Japan for almost 10 years and enjoys rafting in summer and skiing deep powder in the winter. Not a bad lifestyle, we must say.
By 9.15am we had our dry suits and water proof booties on (after much lycra struggle), and we moved outside to receive our paddles, helmets and life jackets. After a few adjustments with helmet straps we eagerly jumped on the bus where Basanta was waiting to give us our crash course in safety precautions and how to conduct ourselves on the river.
We arrived at our entry point not far from Hirafu Station by 9.45am, and split into three groups of four with one guide. Basanta showed us the basic strokes and what to do when our guides called move left and right. We were keen to get out on the rapids so our guides Basanta and Mani pushed us off the shore at 10:00am with our safety kayaker in tow and a photographer hot on our heels.
The first leg of the journey consisted of us trying to adjust and form a paddle rhythm, but we quickly learned how hilarious it was to splash our coworkers with the paddles instead.
The 15 kilometer journey was dotted with class two and three rapids, with many flat and calm areas to relax and enjoy the view. Snow was still surrounding the water’s edge and we could already tell by the splashes that the water was below zero.
In the middle of our journey we came to the Shiribetsu dam, where we had to group our boats to the left edge of the river while the guides inspected the small pass. Once the ‘all clear’ was granted we were told to place our paddles at the back of the raft and hold on. As we braced ourselves for the three meter drop, our safety kayaker decided to paddle over the dam’s center wall and completely submerge himself in the water below. Cheers, laughter and girlish screams could be heard as we regrouped at the end and high fived each other with our paddles.
We continued to make our way down the river, with our guide Basanta seemingly impressed with our paddle strokes and asked us “would you like to do something crazy?” Of course our reply was a unified “YES!” He told us all to move to one side of the boat and sit on the edge as he made his way to the opposite side with a rope in hand. The weight of the four rafters was enough to tip the boat backwards and we found ourselves lying with our backs in the water facing the sky.
We ended the trip below the Higashiyama (Niseko Village) yellow bridge at 11:30am, and carried our boats across the edge to the awaiting bus and trailer. The 30 minute trip back to Hanazono was one filled with tales and stories about what an amazing morning we had – and of course a little complaining about sore arms and shoulders from so much paddling. Back at Hanazono office we changed out of the dry suits and back to our clothes and thanked our guides for such an amazing and exhilarating morning.
As we began the short trip back to the office our bellies were pulling us in a different direction. We stopped at Guzu Guzu café where we all enjoyed freshly made sandwiches with warm potato fries and coffee before we arrived at Setsumon at 1:00pm to begin our working day.
If you are interested in Hanazono white water rafting or any other activities run by Hanazono, please contact our friendly Guest Services Team who would be happy to book you in, a service it is our pleasure to offer free of charge for all those who book NISADE accommodation services.
Article by Bree McDevitt