Having a car is essential at Tanuki Lodge in winter and, excepting experienced touring cyclists, also in summer. A car will allow you to explore much more of Hokkaido and get to the restaurants, mountains, rides and sights that everyone else misses, not to mention the supermarket and farmer’s markets. Tanuki Lodge does not provide any transportation and nestled in forests away from the busy towns, you need to have arranged your car rental yourself. Easiest is to book your car rental before you leave your home country. You will need an International Driver’s Licence in order to do this. (Available from your local automobilists association, e.g.: RACV for a small fee) Alternatively, there are car rental desks at New Chitose (Sapporo) Airport.
You can arrange to pick up your car from New Chitose Airport or from Hirafu Village, Kutchan or Niseko, depending on how you plan to get here, how much driving you want to do and who you are renting from.
Niseko Auto provide rentals and have a focus on providing services to english speaking clients. You can pick up your rental car from the airport or from their office in Niseko, just up the road from Tanuki Lodge. They will also bring it to you accommodation. With a small fleet their winter bookings will fill fast so book early!
Toyota Rent-a-car also provide rentals from either the airport, Kutchan, Hirafu or Sapporo. They do have some English speaking staff and you can request an english language GPS. Just be careful, a car picked up from one location has to be returned to that location.
Driving in Hokkaido is straightforward in summer. Just be sure you are familiar with some of the local quirks, for instance: lower speed limits on highways and freeways and an alcohol limit of ZERO for all drivers at all times. There are heavy fines for being over the limit in Japan and they apply not only to the driver but passengers who allowed him or her to drive as well.
Winter driving can be more challenging due to the Siberian storms Hokkaido is prone too. While these ensure all that lovely powdery snow you have come for, they can make driving challenging if you get caught in one. You need to be confident on icey roads with the chance that you will be caught in white-out conditions. Your rental car will be fitted with winter tyres and the roads in Hokkaido have more infrastructure for winter driving than say, Australian alpine roads commonly do.
A winter option is to catch the train or bus from New Chitose Airport to Niseko, Hirafu or Kutchan and pick up your hire car there, avoiding the longer drive on winding mountain roads. The drive to Tanuki Lodge from these towns is shorter and on more open roads. Just keep in mind that this will also mean you can’t drive direct to the airport when you are leaving and whether you need to stop at the supermarket in Kutchan or to pick up bed linen.
Download this handbook for driving in Hokkaido.
There are three routes to Tanuki Lodge from New Chitose Airport all of which all take a similar amount of time.
Northern/Otaru Route (173km) This route goes through both Sapporo and Otaru so tends to have heavier traffic traffic but it is freeway and highway (some tollways) almost the whole distance.
Central/Mountain Route (121km) The shortest and most direct route by distance, it uses mountain highways all the way for some picturesque scenery en route but slower speeds.
Southern/Freeway Route (194km) A relaxing drive, much of it through State Forests, there are fewer towns, less traffic and more bears! Relatively fast and free of traffic but is the longest distance of the three.
Once you have made your booking we will give you direct instructions to Tanuki Lodge.