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Hakuba Snow Guide for Aussies

People ask me a fair bit about going to Japan so I thought I’d whack all the information I know into a post – using my recent snowboarding trip to Hakuba as an example.

Please use these prices as a guide only! Can’t help if things change here and there.

Mobile Phone access
I got two data only SIM cards this year – one for myself and one for my wife. Makes it much easier to communicate if required (Coverage on the mountains is typically pretty good – go with a DoCoMo sim) – Had them delivered directly to my accomodation in Hakuba. They need about 2 days to get it there, so book it prior to leaving. Great for using Google Maps – Using this in Tokyo you can actually select the Public Transport option and it will route you on the Tokyo subway system. Very handy!

No need for voice/sms access as we just used iMessage/Facetime/Skype/etc.

Few things to note if you change SIM on an iPhone – Beware that your iMessage/Facetime account is sometimes activated via your Aussie mobile number. You can go into your “Settings” – “Messages” and change the “You can be Reached by iMessage at:” and “Start New Conversations from:” – I had my Gmail and iCloud accounts so I just selected these as well. The Japanese SIM is data only you cannot get any SMS verification etc – This also stopped me from using WhatsApp as I couldn’t register the phone…it detected a new mobile network, and no way to verify!

If you have roaming on your normal sim card and use a Pocket Wifi – You’d probably get around that problem.

Costs:
4100yen for 1GB that lasts 30 days. (Sim card)

eConnect Japan

Flights
As of April 2014 there will be a direct flight from Melbourne – which will be awesome!

Don’t forget even though JetStar flights start cheap, they add up when you add all the crap onto them, especially if you are going to be lugging all your board gear up. All my boarding gear for a week inc my usual gadgets, came in at a touch under 20kg. If you take into account the booze and food consumed on the flight (and I went a bit nuts on the flight up) costs can add up – I spent about $100 on food and (mostly) grog.

If you can find a Qantas or Singapore Airlines flight (find a A380 flight, with a couple of hours stopover in Singapore – Arriving at Narita early morning) that would probably be preferred. Then you can spend the day looking around Tokyo and grab the Nagano Shinkansen to Hakuba.

Costs:
$1300-1600 per person – Make sure you factor in extra weight you might need for your gear. Also don’t forget travel insurance – This year we had some huge snowfalls which closed roads and shutdown airports!

$800-$900 per person if you can find a Jetstar sale flying in the right months..

Transfers
The past two trips I have jumped on the Hakubus – It connects with Jetstar flights and usually leaves around 830-9PM from Narita Terminal 2. It’s a long bus ride to Hakuba – around 5 hours (with 2 rest stops) – Can be a long day if you have spent the whole day flying already…

Next time I would look at getting into Tokyo earlier in the day and then jumping on a Shinkansen to Nagano and then connecting Bus to Hakuba.

Depending on which Shinkansen you get, it will take around 1:30-2hrs – The bus from Nagano to Hakuba is usually around an hour.

Costs:
Nagano Snow Shuttle (Hakubus) – 9900yen per person
Nagano/Hakuba Bus – 1500yen per person (or 4500yen for 4 people)
Asama Nagano Shinkansen – 7700yen per person (add 3000yen if you want a reserved seat on a green car)

Nagano Snow Shuttle
Alpico Nagano <-> Hakuba Express Bus Timetables
Nagano Shinkansen Timetables, Fares, etc

Accomodation
If you are staying in Hakuba – I recommend staying at Snowlines Lodge. Stephen and Sarasa are awesome hosts and provide great value accommodation in a very decent location. Happo-One is about 15 minutes if you want to walk, or walk 50m out the front door to their very own bus stop…then its only a 2 minute bus ride! There is a Lawson convenience store about 80m down the road, and Echoland is also just a short stroll up the road…Not to mention the liquor store that you have to pass with a massive selection of Sake – and spirits at prices that will shock any Australian…so cheap.

They have a cozy bar that opens at 4PM, excellent breakfasts and spacious rooms. Can’t wait to get back there soon!

Costs:
500yen tap beers
1000yen bacon/eggs breakfasts
6500-10000yen per night depending on room.
free fruit/cereal/tea/juice
free transfers to/from hakuba happo bus terminal

Snowlines Lodge

Lift passes
Nearly all resorts have a coupon/discount ticket that includes a 900yen lunch voucher. You can print these out or your accomodation will be able to give them to you. The Snownavi Website is probably the best one-stop place to get all the discount coupons for all the major Hakuba resorts. There is a whole load of useful info there as well.

Costs:
5000yen per person – Happo-one lift ticket inc. 900yen lunch (with coupon)
12500yen per person – 3-day Hakuba Valley all resort pass

Snownavi Hakuba English website

Hakuba Links/FB Pages/etc
Hakuba Tourism Website  – Check out their Essentials Guide
Hakuba Happo 【Official English Page】  白馬八方尾根 – Happo-one FB Page – Has daily updates on conditions, etc
白馬岩岳 Hakuba Iwatake – In Japanese, but you can figure out the snow reports.
Japan-guide.com – There is a WEALTH of info on this website – Be sure to have a good look through!

Luggage Transfer/Storage
I used this service last year and it saved me carrying my board bag on the bus/shinkansen/tokyo metro. Give 2-3 days and you can have your board bag delivered direct to the airport for when you depart.  We had Snowlines arrange this for us and take care of everything, worked out really well.

This year because of the heavy snowfalls – the roads were closed. I had to get my bag into the bus cargo hold from Hakuba to Nagano (Which was PACKED! Lucky we even got on! – 5 of us) – Once we got to Nagano, it was a quick shuffle to get onto the Shinkansen (We only took up about 5 rows of overhead storage – no one really cared though!). On arrival to Tokyo – getting the board bags around the metro system was a pain in the arse. Hugging the bag, making sure not to whack anyone, going up and down stairs – really gives you a workout. Then getting it to the hotel, and then back to a storage the next day (So we didn’t have to lug it around all day) was just a big pain in the butt.

I stored my board bag at the JR East Baggage Services desk at Tokyo Station near the Maranuchi North entrance. For my smaller bags I just used the lockers right near that entrance within the station.

Costs:
~2500yen – Takuhaibin/Ta-Q-Bin Courier Service – 165cm Dakine board bag loaded with about 15kg of gear.
300-400yen – Tokyo Station Lockers
500yen – JR East Baggage Services storage. They only operate from 730am to 830PM so not sure if they store overnight.

Map of Tokyo Station – JR East Baggage Services location
Airport Ta-Q-Bin Service
Japan-Guide Takuhaibin Information

Tokyo Subway/Narita Express (NeX)
Use the machines! Don’t waste your time lining up at the ticket desks. They all have an “ENGLISH” button on them and you should be able to work out what you need.

To get around the Tokyo subway system – it can be a bit confusing as there are a few different companies – Tokyo Metro, JR East, Toei – I find it much easier to just buy an IC card – Suica or Pasmo – Much like Melbourne’s Myki (Just not slow and shit) – load it up and off you go without having to worry.

Most vending machines and some stores can use these cards too.

To get back to Narita from Tokyo Station – Use the Narita Express (NeX) – They leave leave pretty frequently from this station. Timetables linked below.

Costs:
Pasmo – 1000 yen – 500yen deposit for card, 500yen for travelling. Top it up at the machines as required.
NeX Ticket – 2740yen per person (Low season is 200yen cheaper – JR East Fares & Charges page for more details)

Narita Express Timetables, Fares, etc
Pasmo English Tourist Guide
Pasmo English Website

Resorts
This is pretty much up to personal preference. I like Happo-One which is the largest one in the Hakuba valley and have also been to Iwatake, Goryu/Hakuba47 (Which are connected at the top..2 for the price of 1) – however there is a huge range to choose from so go explore!

Here’s a list of what you have access to..The furthest out is Cortina which is about a 45 mins bus ride away..Which also apparently gets a bit more snowfall too.

Sanosaka
Minekata
Happo-One
Goryu
Hakuba 47
Iwatake
Tsugaike
Norikura
Cortina

Thats about all I can think about adding for the moment.. Hope you find this useful! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. If I think of anything else I will add it as I go.

Written by Aaron Tan

February 23rd, 2014 at 3:14 am

NZ Snowboarding Trip – Mt. Hutt & Methven

I lost my camera and had to use an iPhone for these photos, in case you were wondering..

Thursday.

12PM flight from Tulla to Christchurch. Head to the Airport with Alex – Steve and Pete come a bit later – Try some smooth scotch through Duty Free (Pete buys 2 1Lt bottles of Chivas Regal) and then jump on the plane for the 3 and a half hour flight or something. Gotta love how Jetstar charge you if you want to sit next to your mates..so we were pretty scattered. Steve and Alex up the front, Pete and I up the back.

We land around 530PM and get a cab to our motel near Christchurch. Check in and get our stuff sorted. Headed out to the Christchurch casino – which was the only thing to do really. The city is still in ruins, the main CBD area isn’t even open. Very surprising considering the earthquake was in February – We just never hear about it in the news anymore so assume that all is OK.

Damaged Buildings @ Christchurch

The casino was fun, won some money on the Roulette table, had some dinner.. Its good how laid back the place was. We were lounging around the pokies area – Pete was almost horizontal at once stage – and no one even cared.. We spent a bit of time out in the “Smoking Garden” and met a few locals. These two blokes were pretty interesting characters. One of them licked beer off the ground for $20 that this other NZ local put up – TWICE. Dirty dirty dirty. Hilarious for us though.

Walked out of the casino pretty late..must have been about 4am – Jumped in a cab and went back to the hotel – Where I left my camera in the cab. Stupid. Spent the next 45 minutes calling all the cab companies in Christchurch with no luck. Travel insurance will come in handy here. I need to organise a letter from the cab companies where they state that all has been done to find it.

Friday.

A few hours after getting to sleep, I wake up at about 5:30AM to the room SHAKING! There was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked us for a good 15 secounds. Didn’t feel anything like the Japan quake, more of shaking this time. Earthquakes seem to be following me around at the moment.

Time to pick up the rental. Cabbed it to Ace Rentals near the Airport, sorted out a silver Subaru Legacy and started the 95km drive out to Methven, the ‘gateway’ to Mt Hutt – A fairly easy drive – NZ roads are pretty good, the scenery was lots of green farmland and obviously, Sheep, grazing around the place.

Got to Methven, checked in at our accomodation which was above the Blue Pub (Across the road from the Brown Pub) and took the 40min drive up to Mt Hutt to check out the roads Got up the 3/4 up the mountain and visibility was shit, the guys fitting chains told us it wasn’t worth it so went back down to Methven.

The Blue Pub, Methven

Shaddock Homes

Had a lot of drinks that night, crashed out about 3am with the music beneath us still blaring.

The Blue Pub has AWESOME nachos too by the way.

Saturday.

Snow time. Went to Big Al’s and rented our gear, took the drive up at about 10am. Spent most of the day getting familar with a board beneath my feet, thankfully it was much easier this time (being the 3rd time ever). Had lunch around 1230PM at the bistro area – Beef Deluxe burger was impressive.

Beef Deluxe @ Mt Hutt

Alex and Steve spent most of their time on the magic carpet beginners area, while Pete and I hit up the Quad lift most of the time. His leg’s been cactus for the past few weeks, but still got a decent amount of runs in.

Heading up @ Mt Hutt

Ez Saver Cancel

A cool think about NZ is the lift pass system, MyPass – It’s an RFID system that you just leave in your jacket pocket and pass through gates. Really simple and it even tracks statistics for you.

MyPass Stats from the Website

By the end of the day I was pretty confident on my heels, just needed to do more stuff toe-side. We were all pretty buggered so left the mountain around 330PM to avoid the rush at the end of the day.

Got back to the Blue Pub and had some dinner and watched a ska band called Rubix Cuba which played in the bar. Went a little easier on the drinks this night, however the others didn’t.. Pete got called out for actually knowing the words to Bodyjar cover the band played..I was surprised no one else knew the words either to Not The Same…Are we that old? haha..

Sunday.

Woke up at 930AM – The others were pretty ratshit from the night before… I went to the supermarket and got some breakfast. By about 1000AM the guys were going to stay in bed so I made the decision to drive up to Mt Hutt on my own..I went across to Big Al’s and checked the snow report – Road was CLOSED! I got my gear ready anyway and waited for the road to open, which was about 12PM by then. Jumped in the car and got stopped at the base of the mountain road – I was lucky to make it up as they were only letting up big 4WDs – After a little wait there the grit truck came down and must have cleared something and I was allowed to go up with the chains on.

Mt Hutt Sunset

The Subaru Legacy we had was awesome in the snow. For the first part of the mountain I followed the grit truck (which I was happy to do) and then he waved me past… The whole trip took about 40 minutes. When I got to the carpark it was pretty empty compared to the day before. Windy as well. I seriously would not have any other car while in these conditions over here. The thing stuck to the road and even when I was trying to get it to step out, it just kept going.. A RWD/FWD car would just suck arse here. So if you’re going to do a snow trip over here and get a rental, get a Suby.

Trusty Subary Legacy


Got my lift pass, discounted because it was past 1230 already and headed up the quad lift for a bit of a run. Came down Highway 72 and my face nearly froze, the wind was crazy cold and I had no mask – Also visibility was pretty low with the white gust blowing across me. By the time I made it down, went straight to the shop and bought a bandana to cover my face..which made a huge difference. I took the six chair to the Summit once, the conditions up there were even more crazy! Went down the Morning Glory run through to Highway 72 – From then I just did the Quad Chair up to the start of Broadway and Highway 72 and hit those up for the rest of the day. Happy with my progress, got my toe side stuff pretty good, going natural and switch.. So it should be like riding a bike now right?

Lift View @ Mt Hutt

I left the mountain about 345PM and gave a guy a lift down back to Methven, he commented on my driving ability actually. Had a good chat about various car fatality stories and during the drive down, I saw in my rear view a Honda CRV that was pointing towards the cliff edge after spinning out 90 degrees..scary shit!

The rest of the night was pretty chilled. We had some dinner over at Dom’s across the road. Kebab for the win, they a cool brick wall there where visitors from all over had used chalk to leave their mark.

Gents @ Dom's, Methven

Steve and Pete met a bloke who took them over to the Brown pub so Alex and I met them over there. The guys were talking to these two females that they had met – They were up here for a fishing trip and to check out a few bits and pieces in town. Was good to meet a few locals and get their view on the whole earthquake situation, how life is, etc.

The Gents @ The Brown Pub, Methven

Very mellow mood too which was great, no one was trying to hit on anyone, everyone was just there for a few beers and a good chat.

My body was absolutely smashed from the two days up the mountain. My quads and abductors have never felt so much pain! Stretching helped, and recovery was pretty quick thankfully.

So came the end of our Methven stay. We headed back to Christchurch where it was snowing like a mofo, checked into our accomodation at the Aloha Motel (Free Wifi there..recommended!) and we all cooked a good hearty mexican dinner.

Nachos with Beef Mince

Got supplies from Countdown – which is the NZ equivalent of Woolworths/Safeway – Another one of those funny little differences here. Not to mention the trundler for trolleys!

Trundles!

Due to the snow the flights were delayed so the boys were a bit on edge as to whether they would actually get out or not. I dropped them off around 730am and was pleased to hear they boarded around 10am.

Snowy @ Aloha Motel, Christchurch

Ez Saver Cancel

So now all that is left is work until Friday lunchtime where I will finally get to fly home and reunite with the much missed wife and little cat.

Costs.
About $680 not inc. food/drink/booze for the 4 of us for 5 days in NZ.
Jetstar flight to NZ via Melbourne – $270
Ace Car Rentals – Subaru Legacy Wagon w/ Chains/Roofracks for 5 Days- $303NZD + $90NZD petrol = $77AUD p.p
Mt Hutt Lift pass = $91NZD for full day, $61NZD for half day Sunday (slept in) = $120AUD p.p
Big Al’s in Methven – Board/boots hire for Saturday and Sunday = $60AUD p.p
Accomodation @ The Blue Pub in Methven for Friday, Saturday and Sunday night = $70AUD p.p
Motels for Thursday and Monday night = $70AUD p.p
Taxi’s = $20p.p

There’s a few more photos in the flickR set here.

Tips for next time:
Take 2-way radios – Way easier to communicate on the mountain and in general. I had some small uniden units which would have been perfect, if you are in a couple of separate groups.
Be careful about booking early trips out (<8AM) and renting a car, as dropping it off may be an issue if they aren't open yet..

Written by Aaron Tan

July 27th, 2011 at 11:54 pm