Flying is a good option if you are short on time and want to hit remote, and distant, points.
ANA (www.ana.co.jp) Flies from New Chitose Airport to most Hokkaidō regional airports, including Rishiri-tō (1 June to 30 September).
Hokkaidō is a great place to tour by bike and cyclists are a common sight all over the island, especially during summer. The Cycle Tourism Hokkaido Promotion Network has a helpful booklet, called Hokkaido Cycle Tourism, that covers routes, climate, guidelines for taking bikes on public transport and more. Find it at www.hkd.mlit.go.jp.
Buses tend to be the cheapest way to get around Hokkaidō, based on individual fares, and there is an extensive network of routes. Most city-to-city coaches require reservations; purchasing a return ticket usually results in a slight discount. Bus terminals tend to be conveniently located: either next to the train station or, when the train station itself is outside of town, in a central location.Chūō Bus, based in Sapporo, is the biggest operator, connecting the capital with pretty much everywhere.
Regional operators include:
Dōhoku Bus (www.dohokubus.com) Between Asahikawa and Obihiro, Kushiro and Sapporo.
Dōnan Bus (www.donanbus.co.jp) Between Sapporo and points south, including Hakodate, New Chitose Airport, Tomakomai, Niseko, Rusutsu, Jōzankei, Tōya-ko Onsen and Noboribetsu Onsen.
Sōya Bus (www.soyabus.co.jp) Between Sapporo and Wakkanai.
Car & Motorcycle
With the advent of multilingual car navigation systems, more and more travellers are choosing to tour Hokkaidō by car. There is an expanding pay-your-way expressway system (高速道路; kōsoku-dōro), which is relatively expensive and you won't need to use unless you're in a hurry. A reduced-price Hokkaidō Expressway Pass (www.driveplaza.com/trip/drawari/hokkaido_expass) is available for foreign visitors and can be purchased through rental-car companies.
The easiest place to pick up a car is at New Chitose Airport. Shuttles take you directly to the airport car depots, where friendly English-speaking staff will get you on your way.
Prices are comparable among the major agencies, between ¥7000 and ¥10,000 per day (depending on the season), plus the cost of fuel. The following are reliable and can be booked online in English:
JR Hokkaido Rent a Car (www.jrh-rentacar.com) With outlets at major train stations, good for short-term rentals combined with rail travel.
Nippon Rent-a-Car Hokkaido (www.nrh.co.jp) Outlets in Sapporo, Hakodate and most regional airports.
Nissan Rent a Car (http://nissan-rentacar.com) Outlets in Sapporo, Hakodate and most regional airports.
Toyota Rent-a-Car (www.toyotarentacar.net) Outlets in Sapporo and Niseko.
Note that many Japanese companies have a clause that requires you to pay ¥50,000 or so if they are unable to rent the car immediately after you return it. This can be deceptive, as it may apply to a car that must be cleaned or (in the case of a minor accident) a ding or scrape that has to be repaired. Insurance against this is offered, but in otherwise-fair-and-reasonable Japan it seems usurious.
While the shinkansen only runs as far as Hakodate, a number of 'limited express' (tokkyū) trains make quick runs between major cities, as far north as Wakkanai and as far east as Kushiro. Sapporo is the main transit hub for these trains. Local trains ply the same routes and others, for less, but take much longer and often require multiple transfers.
In addition to the country-wide Japan Rail Pass, the following options are available for Hokkaidō-bound travellers. Passes can be purchased from travel agents abroad or from JR information centres in Hokkaidō and Tokyo, including those at Narita, Haneda and New Chitose Airports. For details, see: www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global.
Hokkaidō Rail Pass Unlimited fixed-day (three/five/seven ¥16,500/22,000/24,000, children half-price) and four-day flexible (¥22,000, children half-price) travel on Hokkaidō's network of limited express and local trains (shinkansen excluded).
JR East-South Hokkaidō Rail Pass (adult/child ¥27,000/13,500) Six-day unlimited, flexible travel (within 14 days) on shinkansen trains between Tokyo and Hakodate and limited express trains between Hakodate and Sapporo (via Niseko).