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

The Daylily Mountains of Hualien and Taidong

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Liushidanshan

Liushidanshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

Winter is returning, and with it the Yangmingshan Calla Lily festival, which means that once again while heading up Yangmingshan to teach students there twice a week I’ll have to share the bus with gaggles of giggling young couples clutching armfuls  of white calla lily blooms.

What’s the big deal with calla lilies and the annual Jhuzihu Calla Lilly Festival? What drives so many to venture up into frigid, mist-shrouded Yangmingshan at the nastiest time of year just to see a muddy fields of apple-green foliage studded with white funnel-flowers which don’t even have a scent? Those who seem to think that the calla lillies at Jhuzihu make a fine display in the early months of the year really must make a point next summer of hiring a scooter, renting a car, joining a tour, or otherwise finding some way to get down to Taiwan’s east coast during the hot months (August and September are best) and see one of Taiwan’s most astounding annual sights: the blooming of the three great daylily plantations in southern Hualien and northern Taidong Counties 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

Hualien Outdoors: Getting (well) Off the Beaten Track on the East Coast

The start of a great day

The start of a great day

On the way...

On the way…

One of the beautiful, ultra-pure pools on the route

One of the beautiful, ultra-pure pools on the route

Until recently Hualien meant little more to me than Taroko Gorge (of course), those crazy rafting trips on the Hsiuguluan River, rhodonite and the awesome Golden Grotto , so it was a real treat to get to spend a hot, sunny Saturday at the end of August with Canadian Matt Hopkins, who runs Hualien Outdoors, an outfit that introduces Hualien’s other amazing sights to foreigners and locals alike. Matt, who knows this area just about better than anyone else, invited us down for a day of river tracing, choosing a route that would be passable and safe following Typhoon Trami, which had pummelled the island a few days before, yet interesting enough to provide an adrenaline rush and a few fun challenges. Continue reading

Hohuan North and West Peaks (合歡山西/北峰)

Hohuanshan North Peak puts on a spectacular show each May as the rhododendron bushes studding the mountainside come into bloom

Hohuanshan, straddling the Nantou-Hualien County boundary in the center of Taiwan, is the most accessible slice of high mountain magnificence in the whole of Taiwan.  And high it is – Wuling (武嶺), the highest point of the road (route 14, which connects the town of Puli in the south with the Central Cross-island Highway at Dayuling in the north) is 3,275 meters above sea level, making it the highest road in Taiwan, and one of the highest in northeast Asia.

Near the North Peak

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Taiwan’s Top Ten Day Trips

I’ve just written this piece for a Korean magazine, and while most of the places here have already been put on the Blog, it’s probably worth putting the whole thing up here  – Taiwan really is an extraordinary place!

This list is only a start, and on another day I might have come up with a completely different ‘top 10,’ but these are wonderful places, and all are great personal favorites. I’ve uploaded new photos and expanded the write-up on the spectacular Taiji Canyon, which is not covered elsewhere here.

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The secret’s finally out: more and more tourists are discovering that Taiwan is an island of quite extraordinary natural beauty. But whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to the big tourist draw cards such as Sun Moon Lake, Alishan and Kenting. The island’s popular sights are great of course, but be sure to make time for at least a couple of the countless little-known gems that lie scattered around the island and on the outlying islets.

There are enough enchanting spots to keep a weekend explorer going for decades, and any ‘top ten’ list is bound to be highly subjective, but here’s a personal list of ten places – all feasible day trips from one or other of the island’s big cities – that may well prove to leave more lasting memories than lying on the beach in Kenting or zooming through Taroko Gorge in a bus.

1.  Loyal Son Mountain and

2. Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, Taipei County

Descending Loving Mother Mountain

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

The 12 kilometer-long Pingxi Branch Railway Line, an hour’s ride from Taipei city center, is one of the most beautiful train rides in northern Taiwan, but the real attraction of coming here is the host of natural and cultural attractions easily accessible from the tracks. The area is dotted with atmospheric reminders of the area’s coal mining past, and the valley (which boasts the wettest place in Taiwan) features well over twenty waterfalls. The most famous (and touristy) of these is forty meter-broad Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), the widest waterfall in Taiwan, but waterfall lovers can’t do better than take the stunningly scenic, 3-hour Sandiaoling Waterfall (三貂嶺瀑布) Walk nearby. Named for an impressive 30-meter high fall which plunges over a huge overhang behind which hikers can stand, the walk also features a further two beautiful waterfalls, and several exciting but safe climbs up cliff faces on chunky rope ladders.

Niya Waterfall, on the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk

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The Mud Volcanoes of Southern Taiwan

Yangnu Mud Pond, near Yanchiao in Kaohsiung County

It was a bit of a shock a couple of years ago when a couple of professors at Taiwan University suddenly announced that the volcanic peaks of Yangmingshan (which loom above my apartment window near Guandu) are not extinct, as was generally assumed, but that there is in fact still an active magma chamber below, and the volcanoes may well erupt again at some time in the future. Luckily, they hastened to add, Taipei citizens shouldn’t expect any trouble in the foreseeable future. However somewhere out in the boonies of Kaohsiung, Taidong and Hualien Counties, several volcanoes are very much active, erupting up to several times a year and inundating the surrounding countryside with their all-consuming, liquid contents. Glad to say though that these aren’t malevolent, lava-spewing giants, but another, completely different and much less dangerous kind of force of nature, the mud volcano. Continue reading