Taiwan’s Top Hundred Peaks: 2. Eight Easier Treks

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Yushan, Taiwan’s highest mountain, is also one of its easiest to climb

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Mountains in Taiwan are famous for their sunrises, but often it’s the sunsets that are the most unforgettable

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Early morning on Mount Tao, Wuling Quadruple

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Jade Mountain is both an exciting climb and a surprisingly easy one

Let me start by saying I’m no expert at hiking Taiwan’s high mountains! Of the Top 100 Peaks (a list of one-hundred mountain peaks from the 270-odd summits in Taiwan that exceed 3,000 meters in height), I’ve so far only done 29 – a lot less than some hiker friends of mine. However I’m acutely aware that starting out on the Top Hundred can be be a bit daunting – the difficulty of the peaks on the list varies hugely, and while two or three summits on the list are within the ability of all able-bodied people, and a further ten or twenty can be conquered by anyone that’s reasonably fit and has a few Taiwan day-hikes under their belt, after that the difficulty level quickly goes through the roof, and inexperienced hikers could easily find themselves in serious trouble if they pick the wrong trek. 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 3. Aspects of Taiwan

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung County

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung County

Guardian at the Zheng Chong-he Tomb , Miaoli County

Guardian at the Zheng Chong-he Tomb , Miaoli County

On the 8-day-long Longde Temple Matsu Pilgrimage, which starts in Taoyuan City and heads all the way down to Yunlin County and back

On the 8-day-long Longde Temple Matsu Pilgrimage

Salt fields at Jingzaijiao, Tainan County

Salt fields at Jingzaijiao, Tainan County

 

While the natural beauty of Taiwan will always be its greatest allure for me personally, the island also has an extraordinary wealth of cultural, historic and industrial attractions. Salt harvesting has been carried out on Taiwan for hundreds of years (with a history of eight centuries on the ROC-controlled island of Kinmen). Today salt production is a very minor industry here, but some of the salt fields (and a pair of unusual salt ‘mountains’) remain; the best have a strange beauty that’s quite unlike anything else on the island. Sugar, one of Taiwan’s biggest industries in the 1950s and 60s is now produced at only two sites on Taiwan, but some of 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

Twenty Favorite Taiwan Waterfalls

The Golden Grotto in Hualien County

The Golden Grotto in Hualien County

The YUanuang Waterfall on the Xiaonianxi in Kaohsiung County

The Yuanyang Waterfall on the Xiaonian Stream in Kaohsiung County

Longgong Waterfall, Chiayi County

Longgong Waterfall, Chiayi County

Taiwan is paradise for a waterfall lover like myself. It’s a bit of a joke among friends and family, but I’ve loved these things since I was a kid and used to scan guidebooks back home in England, reading about stunning cascades with rich and evocative-sounding names such as Cauldron Snout, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Falls of Glomach and Sgwd y Eira. When I finally passed my driving test (em…on the fourth try…) and got my first car, a Datsun Violet, there was no stopping me  – in a series of weekend trips and longer holidays I started methodically touring first Wales and then England, exploring all those waterfalls I’d read and dreamt about in books. Within a year or two the interest had become almost an obsession, resulting in me writing a book (sadly never published) covering the complete waterfalls of England (totalling some 370… named examples).

It would probably be near-impossible to see all the waterfalls in Taiwan even if I made it my full-time job, since they are just too numerous and many are simply very remote or otherwise difficult to reach, so it’s just as well I’ve at least partly grown out of my youthful obsession. Waterfalls are still an irresistible magnet  however, and I’m never happier on a hike then when it includes at least one (but preferably more than one) waterfall. Continue reading

Stone Dream Valley Trail: one of Taiwan’s great day hikes

The wonderful Stone Dream Valley hangs suspended on the spectacular cliffs high over Fenghsan village

The wonderful Stone Dream Valley hangs suspended on the spectacular cliffs high over Fengshan village

Sunset near the Stone Dream Valley trailhead

Sunset near the Stone Dream Valley trailhead

The gorge near the trailhead is spanned by a fine suspension bridge

The gorge near the trailhead is spanned by a fine suspension bridge

I’m acutely aware that my enthusiastic, glowing descriptions of many of the places in Taiwan that I write about could all too easily read like the exaggerated ravings of an over-zealous soul who’s seen too little of the rest of the world, and in my defence I can only say that the reason is perhaps that Taiwan not only has an abundance of amazing landscapes to brag about, but that most of them are also accessible to a degree that is rarely found in other mountainous corners of the world.

And now I’m going to skate on really thin ice by saying that of all the places I’ve been on this island, the Stone Dream Valley (石夢谷; or rather the area around it) is one of the most magical places I’ve visited on all my ramblings around this fabulously scenic island. (Once again) my photos simply don’t do this almost other-worldly landscape justice. Whether it was my mood that day, the weather, the fine company of my hiking buddies, the fact that the location is far more spectacular than I was expecting, or a combination of all of these, the day we did the Stone Dream Valley walk was one of those rare conjunctions of moon and stars that made for a quite unforgettable hike. Continue reading

A Few Photos

Husband and Wife Trees, New Central Cross-island Highway

Husband and Wife
Trees, New Central Cross-island Highway

Maliguang Waterfall, Hsinchu Conty

Maliguang Waterfall, Hsinchu Conty

Above the aboriginal village of Laiji, Chiayi County

Above the aboriginal village of Laiji, Chiayi County

It’s been so long since I’ve been hiking that I’ve started putting on weight and seem to be entering a mild depression.  The plum rains seem – hopefully – to be loosening their grip on the island and there are hopes that we might have a good weekend exploring coming up (our last attempt, a scooter trip around the mountains of Chiayi three weeks ago turned into a soggy disaster). Meanwhile, partly as a little self therapy, and to replace my last, angry, post from top position where its been for the last couple of weeks, here’s a couple of photos from recent and not-so-recent trips around the main island of Taiwan. Thanks to Oksana for the ancient tree photo – much better than any of the ones I took myself!

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On the road up to Luchang, an aboriginal village in magnificent countryside in Miaoli County

Continue reading