Flower power in Hokkaido

George Wyndham checks out fields of psychedelic flora in Hokkaido

'Its name is Pikoro,' the hotelier beams, gesturing to a mouth-less fluffy toy with black beady eyes and green hair. 'It's a fairy! Please take him with you for good luck.' We stuff the mascot into a day-pack, saying thank you. We're lingering in the lobby of the Takinoue Hotel Keikoku, a three-star accommodation shaped like a fairy-tale castle (complete with turret and adjacent dark forest). The night before, we'd dined on pink sushi and pink ice cream before sleeping in between pink sheets in a room opened by a pink key. When the hotelier approaches, we're waiting for a taxi to take us to bear witness to the 'Fairies' Dance Hall', the local name for Hokkaido's flower season, a time when the hills are carpeted in bright magentas, pinks, reds, whites and purples.

Hundreds of Japanese tour groups arrive every summer for the purple lavender, pink moss and red tulips; a colourful alternative to the island's popular snow-white ski slopes. They seldom leave disappointed, as despite being one of the coldest places on earth in winter, Hokkaido blooms magnificently from early May until mid-August. Almost like clockwork every year, the snow melts, temperatures soar and a torrent of flowers open to reveal nature's brilliant colours.

The fields around the neighbouring towns of Furano and Nakafurano are our first stop. The journey from Hokkaido's largest city, Sapporo, takes around 2.5 hours by car or bus. Like many visitors, we head for Nakafurano's Tomita Farm (which has free entry), a family-owned flower plantation supposedly containing the richest lavender fields in the region – a worthy starting point for any budding horticulturalist.

Upon arrival, one soon understands that Tomita Farm is as much a celebration of cuteness as it is of plant life. Almost everything – from the farm's wheelbarrows and staff scooters, to the ice cream, lollipops, lemonade, pudding, cookies and jelly – is either purple or lavender-flavoured. Enthusiastic farm employees in purple shirts line up to greet you at the entrance, gesticulating towards the multicoloured meadows groaning with lavender. Friendliness abounds. While ambling around the farm in the sunshine, we notice a smiling purple cartoon creature on most of the farm's vehicles and buildings; a cheerful staff member informs us that this is Lave-san, a lavender fairy who has its own regularly updated Facebook page. Adorable!

Lave-san

The range of flamboyant flora at Tomita Farm is broad, with a total of 80 thriving flower varieties. In addition to lavender, there are tulips, poppies, marigolds and salvia planted in parallel rows, creating a rainbow effect.

A short distance from Tomita Farm, the rolling hills of Biei are home to multiple parks with various flower fields. In the distance, snowy mountain peaks tower over the landscape while below thousands of yellow sunflowers gently turn their heads in the fields. Tranquility reigns. It's easy to spend a few hours here, walking along the many trails, driving a rented golf car, and hitching a ride on a tractor-pulled wagon driven by a Japanese farmer. But for anyone seeking more action, activities such as hiking, water rafting, off-road cycling, winery tours, plus the occasional cheese festival are also available.

Three hours further up the road from Biei, via the city of Asahikawa, resides the pink wonderland of Takinoue. This sleepy town hosts 'Shibazakura': four weeks of the year when a large park close by is carpeted in a surreal pink Phlox (moss). Just like the lavender at Furano, Takinoue's pink moss is more of a man-made than natural phenomenon. The man in question is a now-deceased Japanese horticulturalist named Mr Kataoka, who first sowed the idea of planting it after a typhoon wiped out the park's cherry blossoms in the 1950s. Since then, local volunteers have planted more of the moss every year, to the extent that the outwardly psychedelic flora now encompasses a 100,000-square-metre area.

The park is eerily devoid of other people during our visit. Drifting through the largely deserted wave of pinkness, we're vaguely aware of speakers softly piping instrumental versions of Beatles hits. Pikoro, the slightly sinister looking lavender fairy, is often our only companion. To describe this place as 'a bit trippy', as we overhear one British tourist say along the way, is an understatement.

Lavender path

At one point, we spot a helicopter parked nearby. The pilot waves us over and explains that 10,000JPY (around 630RMB) will buy us a five minute ride and the best view of the region. We jump aboard. He slams on the pedals and the rotor blades kick into action. Thirty seconds later, we're hovering way up in the sky, gazing down at the pinkness below.

It was our last day on Hokkaido and the island stretched away into the distance, bathing in the warm sunlight. It was hard to imagine that in a few short months temperatures would drop to below 20 degrees, and all the vibrant shades would disappear under a blanket of white snow. Like all seasonal spectacles, Hokkaido's summer colours are as fleeting as they are striking.

Essential Info

Getting there
There are direct flights from Beijing Capital Airport to Sapporo's New Chitose Airport daily from around 5,800RMB return. If you're willing to take in a stopover, prices can be half that. Once in Hokkaido, hiring a car is recommended, but there's also a reliable and extremely affordable bus system. Schedules are handily available online, as is ticket booking, though you'll need a reasonable grasp of Japanese for the latter. Those without the requisite language skills can purchase tickets at bus stations or from any Lawson or Family
Mart in Japan.

Lavender season
Where Furano, Nakafurano and Biei. When Peak season is early July until August.
How to get there It's a 2.5 hour drive from Sapporo, or alternatively you can take the JR (Japan Railways Group) train to Lavender Farm station (a seven-minute walk from Tomita Farm) or Nakafurano Station for around 680RMB one way.
Where to stay Hotel Naturalwald Furano is conveniently located for the flower fields and has comfortable rooms from around 2,000RMB a night.

Pink moss season
Where Takinoue.
When Peak season is early May to late June.
How to get there Driving takes 4.5 hours from Sapporo; 1.5 hours from Mombetsu City; 4 hours from Furano by bus or car.
Where to stay Takinoue Hotel Keikoku is your best bet, with rooms from 1,134RMB a night.

Sunflower season
Where Akeno Park in Hokuto.
When Peak season is July to late August.
How to get there Take the Kayagatake Mizugaki Denen Bus from outside the JR Nirasaki Station (which is reached by train from Sapporo).
Where to stay The charming Yatsugatake Lodge Atelier offers rooms from 1,089RMB per night, but it's popular so book early.

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