Hong Kong has plenty — we mean hundreds of camps and courses lined up every summer. Water sports, intensive language camps, Wing Chun— the list goes on and no area is too small to be left uncovered. Yet mum-of-two Rachel Austin decides to head off to Niseko, Japan for a change of scene, and a brand new exploration.
We’re an international family – I’m Irish, my husband’s Australian and we live in Hong Kong. But we feel a particular affiliation with Japan, not least because my eight-year-old daughter, Ashling, was born there. Hoping to escape the intense heat and humidity of Hong Kong, as well as exploring a completely different side to Asia, we decided to hit Niseko in July last year.
There is no doubt Niseko is usually associated with skiing, but we were lucky enough to live in Tokyo for four years and while we were there, friends invited us to join them in Niseko one summer. It was a revelation.
friends invited us to join them in Niseko one summer. It was a revelation.
In summer, temperatures climb to a comfortable mid-20s with little or no humidity. The fields and forests of Niseko burst with wildflowers, birds and other creatures. Foxes roam and you can hear the hum of woodpeckers building their homes up in the trees. After a bit of googling one afternoon, we discovered EdVenture Niseko, a travel company that runs summer camps here for kids.
Tim King, an Australian who grew up in Hong Kong runs Edventure. As a former primary and secondary physical education teacher, he understands kids of all ages and knows how to relate to them. He also realises that many Hong Kong parents would like the chance to give our kids the freedom to run around in green open spaces and fresh air. To quote Miss Frizzle of The Magic Schoolbus, we’d like them to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy”, which is exactly what EdVenture does.
we’d like them to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy”
King’s enthusiasm for the great outdoors is infectious. His activity ideas stem from his own childhood. Highlights for my children included making their own skateboards one morning and riding them in a local skatepark. And a trip to a cherry orchard followed by a cherry crumble cooking class. One day we went to a grassy hill – normally a ski slope – and the kids slid down in cardboard boxes. Simple but good, clean fun which had the kids laughing out loud.
EdVenture runs a mix of child only and family activities. For the family activities, we joined in a Family Orienteering Challenge around Lake Hangetsu – a picturesque lake in an extinct volcano in the shape of a half moon. The kids and parents had to do fun challenges at various check-points around the lake, including spotting a woodpeckers’ nest with baby woodpeckers in it.
The week culminated with a family camping trip at Lake Toya, another stunning lake in a caldera of a former volcano. This was a highlight for many kids and families including ours. The immaculately kept campground was in a beautiful setting beside the lake and also had a playground area with a zipline which the kids loved.
This year EdVenture is running different programs to suit different families’ needs. The family program is for those families looking to spend a little more quality time together and the week is made up of family and child-only activities, finishing with a family camping trip at the end of the week.
They have another program for parents who would like a little more time to themselves during their stay in Niseko. You drop off your child in the morning and you pick them up in the afternoon from Monday to Wednesday. This program is combined with a family program where you do family activities Thursday and Friday. A further programme aims at six to 14-year-olds, who are ready for the full EdVenture experience on their own. The idea of this program is to foster independence, leadership and a strong sense of self.
My son Kian said his favourite bit was camping at Lake Toya while Ashling couldn’t make up her mind between the skateboarding making and the talent show.
We stayed for a couple of weeks and after the camp-week finished we spent a day rafting on the Shiribetsu River. Kian enthusiastically followed his father into the water where he got a bit of a shock at the melted ice water temperatures! My husband and father-in-law climbed the 2,000m Mount Yotei, otherwise known as Baby Fuji. After the 11-hour hike, they rewarded themselves with a long soak in the local onsen.
If you have only seen Niseko in winter I would highly recommend giving it a go in the summer. We enjoyed a truly wonderful family holiday and will be returning again this year to catch more of the action.
EdVenture summer camps are running for 6 weeks from July 3 to August 11 this year. For more information, go to edventureniseko.com