Guguan Seven Heroes, Taichung

Near the summit of Mount Baimao

Near the summit of Mount Baimao

Mt. Wuwowei, the steepest climb of the seven, is also one of the most interesting

Mount Wuwowei, the steepest climb of the seven, is also one of the most interesting

Mount Tangmadan, although the l;owest of the seven peaks and the shortest hike, is one of the most unremittingly steep climbs

Mt. Tangmadan, although the lowest of the seven peaks and the shortest hike, has one of the most unremittingly steep climbs

The Seven Heroes are also described in Taiwan 101, volume 2, on pages 57-60

The Seven Heroes are also described in Taiwan 101, volume 2, on pages 57-60

Flowing westwards down from the mighty central mountains towards Taichung city and the coast, the Dajia River (one of Taiwan’s major waterways) cuts a magnificent gorge through the foothills of the Snow Mountain Range, threaded by highway eight (the Central Cross-island Highway). Before part of the road was severely damaged during the great 921 Earthquake in 1999, the highway connected Taichung with Hualien on the east coast, climbing over the Snow and Central Mountain Ranges. Once one of Taiwan’s best road trips, part of the western half of the highway remains closed in early 2016, although there are persistent rumors that the road may eventually reopen.

Until that day, heading eastwards from Dongshih (東勢), just east of Taichung city, highway eight can be followed for only about 35 kilometers, till just after the hot spring resort village of Guguan (谷關), beyond which a roadblock bars further progress. It’s a very scenic drive out there, however, and Guguan itself (apart from the charms of its hot spring resorts and hot spring park) has a magnificent setting, deep in the Dajia River gorge. Continue reading

Taiwan 101: Part 5. The South

The endemic Formosan macaque at Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

The endemic Formosan macaque at Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

The Boat Burning Festival at Donggang, Pingtung County

The Boat Burning Festival at Donggang, Pingtung County

Titantic Rock, Chiayi County

Titantic Rock, Chiayi County

Sperm Whale skeleton, Taijiang National Park

Sperm Whale skeleton, Taijiang National Park

Southern Taiwan has some of the most interesting aboriginal culture on the main island, with atmospheric (and often remote ) villages of Paiwan and Rukai stone houses, and several of Taiwan’s most memorable traditional festivities, including the insane Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, surely one of the most intense traditional annual participation events anywhere in the world.

For lovers of natural beauty, Chiayi County is unsurpassed. The crowds all flock to Alishan, but the best places in the area are Continue reading

Taiwan 101: Part 4. Western Taiwan

Hakka sanheyuan house near Xinpu

Hakka sanheyuan house near Xinpu

Dabajianshan, Taiwan's most magnificentlly distinctive high mountain peak

Dabajianshan, Taiwan’s most magnificentlly distinctive high mountain peak

Temples at Shitoushan, Miaoli County

Temples at Shitoushan, Miaoli County

Shuiyang Lake, a beautiful creation of the great 1999 earthquake

Shuiyang Lake, a beautiful creation of the great 1999 earthquake

In Taiwan 101 western Taiwan is everything from the Hakka lands of Hsinchu and underrated Miaoli, through Taichung City, Changhua, Yunlin (another under-explored corner of the island), and beautiful Nantou County. This long swathe of the island comprises the flat and (for a nature lover) relatively uninteresting western plains, but these are dotted with some of Taiwan’s most historic (and interesting) towns, the majority of Taiwan’s Continue reading

Taiwan 101: Part 2. Eastern Taiwan

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Hualien and Taitung Counties are finally becoming easier of access, with fast (although famously difficult-to-book) Puyuma trains, and big improvements (still ongoing) in the notoriously dangerous Suhua Highway, and the undisturbed, peaceful nature of this region might eventually change, but for now it remains one of the most enchanting regions of the island. Since the Central Mountain Range is relatively inaccessible from the eastern side, the main attractions of the region (apart from Taroko Gorge) is its rich aboriginal culture, beautiful, often Continue reading

Taiwan 101: Part 1. The North

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan, New Taipei City

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

The Buddha's Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

The Buddha’s Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

I’ve started exploring new places again, and should start getting back to regular blog posts in the next couple of week. Meanwhile, I thought I’d make a few posts giving a short overview (in photos) of my latest book, Taiwan 101, which aims to show the incredible variety of sights around Taiwan (and the ROC-controlled islands). It really is an amazing place, and I’ve come to realize this even more during the several years I’ve spent researching and writing the new books (there are two volumes), during which I’ve seen loads of places, attended a number of amazing festivals, and done quite a few things that I’ve never done here before. Hopefully I’ll get out six posts, one for each of the six main sections into which the two volumes of the book are dvivided.

 

First up: the north: Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Keelung City and Yilan County. Here’s a taste of the many, many places to Continue reading

The best of the best: five fantastic Taiwan day hikes

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

On the Stegasaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

On the Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

On the 'Cliff Trail', en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

On the ‘cliff trail’, en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Without a doubt, Taiwan’s finest hiking is in its astonishing high mountains, but with a very few exceptions (the peaks of Hohuanshan and the Southern Three Stars, which are still out-of-bounds over half a decade after Morakot destroyed the road leading to the trailheads) arranging the logistics of the trip (permits, transport, accommodation etc) is guaranteed to prove anything from a headache to a full-blown migraine.

However Taiwan (and especially the northern half!) has scores of outrageously good day hikes, most of which are free of such irritating hassles, and there are enough hikes of all grades to satisfy all but the most demanding of hikers. Continue reading

Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake

Shuiyang Forest

Shuiyang Forest

The stream just above the lake

The stream just above the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour's walk beyond the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour’s walk beyond the lake

The great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities. Continue reading