Hua Island: truly off-the-beaten-track in Taiwan

Hua Island Lighthouse

Hua Island Lighthouse

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Hua Island village

Hua Island village

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island's north coast

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island’s north coast

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Hua Island (花嶼), with no airport and only three weekly boats connecting it with the outside world, is probably as far off the beaten track as you can go in Taiwan, short of walking several days into the high mountains. It’s the westernmost island in the Penghu archipelago (and is often quoted as being the westernmost point in Taiwan; in political talk Matsu and Kinmen belong to the ROC but are not part of Taiwan itself – look it up!). Quickly moving away from a highly sensitive subject, I think we can all agree that given it’s lack of connections with the rest of the world, Hua Island is something of a backwater.

The Hua Island boat, at Magong harbor on the main island of Penghu

The Hua Island boat, at Magong harbor on the main island of Penghu

The arrival of the thrice-weekly ferry  signals a flurry of activity at the harbor, as locals arrive to help transport provisions etc bought in the big city at Magong off the boat to the village

The arrival of the thrice-weekly ferry signals a flurry of activity at the harbor, as locals arrive to help transport provisions etc bought in the big city at Magong off the boat to the village

On the south coast

On the south coast

Little Whale Cave, just along the coast from Hua Island village

Little Whale Cave, just along the coast from Hua Island village

On the north coast, near the Cat's Tail

On the north coast, near the Cat’s Tail

One of the surfaced tracks that cross the island

One of the surfaced tracks that cross the island

A temple in the island's interior

A temple in the island’s interior

Since the island is one of the places in my upcoming book, I can’t really spill all the beans and give the complete info on getting there on this blog. In any event, it’s now too late in the year to enjoy a trip, since all of Penghu gets pretty cold, rainy and (especially) extremely windy from November until April, and there’s a big chance of being stranded on-island for days if the wind picks up. Some basic info though. Small boats depart from Magong three times a week (presently on Monday, Wednesday and Friday) for Hua Island. The trip takes about an hour, and boats leave Hua Island around 9 am and return from Magong to Hua Island around 2 pm (as you can see, they’re laid on so that islanders can go to the city for the day, rather than for tourists). There’s no official accommodation on the island at preset, so you’ll have to stay with an islander. The island Head rents out a couple of simple rooms (with A/C – absolutely essential during the killingly hot summers on the island) for the occasional tourist. Food is eaten at the village store (which has basic provisions and a fridge with cold drinks including  – yessss! – cold beer!). The village Head’s wife will cook cook three tasty meals (which always seem to include fish), or you can put together survival rations for lunch if you head off round the island for the day. It was so hot when we were there in August though that we returned to our A/C-cooled room for a long siesta each day.

The epicenter of Hua Island's social activity (and the place we ate all our meals): the village shop!

The epicenter of Hua Island’s social activity (and the place we ate all our meals): the village shop!

In Hua Island village

In Hua Island village

The road between the harbor and the village

The road between the harbor and the village

Entering the village

Entering the village

Hua Island village

Hua Island village

A few traditional Penghu houses made of coral, with decorative air vents

A few traditional Penghu houses made of coral, with decorative air vents

Preparing our dinner...

Preparing our dinner…

The island has just one small village, 5 minutes’ walk from the harbor. It’s a picturesquely shabby kind of place, from where narrow concrete tracks radiate out to other parts of the island. It only takes about 20 minutes to walk across the island, but there’s loads and loads to explore. Away from the roads, paths are few, and it’s rough-going around the rocky coastline, but absolutely beautiful, and on the shortest possible, three-day stay (in which case you’ll actually only get one full day on the island, and two nights) it’s a challenge to explore even the main ‘sights’. One thing you probably won’t see during your exploration though is other tourists – Hua Island is still rarely visited by tourists, and as a foreigner you’re likely to become a figure of great curiosity, and will get to know many of the villagers, even during a short sojourn!

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A Thread of Sky, on the south coast near Hua Island village

A Thread of Sky, on the south coast near Hua Island village

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Sunset at the Guanyin Rock, west coast

Sunset at the Guanyin Rock, west coast

A fishermen's glass float, discovered on the north coast and now gracing my living room at home in Guandu...

A fishermen’s glass float, discovered on the north coast and now gracing my living room at home in Guandu…

On the northeast coast

On the northeast coast

Northeast coast

Northeast coast

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On the east coast, looking south towards the lighthouse

On the east coast, looking south towards the lighthouse

Hua Island village

Hua Island village

Enjoying the setting sun on the west coast

Enjoying the setting sun on the west coast

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Adrspach Teplice Rocks: an amazing ‘Rock Town’ in the Czech Republic

In the Adrspach Rocks

In the Adrspach Rocks

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

The lake at Adrspach

The lake at Adrspach

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The Mayor and Mayoress - the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

The Mayor and Mayoress – the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

Off the tourist paths

Off the tourist paths

Looking at photos of the amazing ‘rock town’ of Adrspach-Teplice Rocks, it’s easy to assume that this is someplace in China, perhaps. Certainly before I went, I’d never have guessed such an arresting landscape could have been found in …the Czech Republic… but yep, it is – up near the Polish border, about 170 kilometers from Prague, and the largest and most spectacular of several geological curiosities found in this part of Europe, both in the Czech Republic and over the border in Germany, near Dresden.

In 'Siberia' gorge

In ‘Siberia’ gorge

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The Chapel

The Chapel

Climbing up to Strmen

Climbing up to Strmen

Ascending Strmen

Ascending Strmen

Near the top of Strmen

Near the top of Strmen

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Exploring the Adrspach-Teplice Rocks is an enthralling experience, partly because the area is remarkably peaceful and soporific, despite the increasingly large numbers of tourists that are making it there these days, and partly because the landscape is such an awesome anomaly in an otherwise rather spectacularly un-rugged country.

In the Mouse Hole

In the Mouse Hole

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The rocks are divided into two parts: Adrspach (which has the tallest and perhaps the most impressive columns) and Teplice, a few kilometers to the south. A loop trail encircles the most impressive rock formations in each of the two areas, which are linked by a raised boardwalk path through the attractive wooded Wolf Gorge, which makes it possible in a longish day’s walk to see both rock towns. Getting to Adrspach-Teplice is inconvenient enough though to make an overnight stay and a more leisurely trip worthwhile though. Despite the spectacular nature of the landscape here, the main trails around the various rock formations are firmly family friendly; happily though, there seems to be ample scope for (discrete) exploring off the trails, with some very interesting features such as long ladders secreted in deep off-the-path clefts and trails heading up steep banks into the rocks that promise some rich exploring possibilities.

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In Siberia

In Siberia

Wolf Gorge

Wolf Gorge

If (perish the thought!) there was time to see only one area of the nature reserve, then the 6 kilometer-long loop trail through Teplice Rock Town would probably win the day, if only for the amazing clefts of the Chapel (whose walls, just a few meters apart, tower over seventy meters (which looks a lot more spectacular than it sounds), and Siberia, one of the best of the several narrow box canyons cutting through the rocky masses.

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In Wolf Gorge

In Wolf Gorge

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The loop around Adrspach Rocks (which can be reached in less than 2 hours walk from Teplice, via the Wolf Gorge path) is much shorter (2.5 kilometers), but makes up for its brevity with an astounding assortment of gravity-defying rock pinnacles. Near the end of the loop, the trail squeezes through the narrowest of all the area’s amazing chasms – the Mouse Hole, which I, with my svelte figure, only just managed to pass through – generously proportioned hikers would probably have to turn back at this point and retrace the outward route for fear of getting permanently stuck inside the fissure!

Surely the only reason that Adrspach-Teplice Rocks isn’t a standard fixture on the Czech Republic tourist  circuit is that it’s a bit tricky to reach; from Prague we had to change train no less than four times (a long morning’s travel), and upon leaving had to change another four trains during our onward journey to beautiful Olomouc.  It’s richly worth the hassle though. and with several very nice (and surprisingly cheap) homestays just yards from the entrance to the reserve, there’s no excuse not to make a longer stay of it!

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Slovensky Raj: spectacular (and easy) hiking in eastern Europe

Sucha Bela Gorge

Sucha Bela Gorge

Piecky Gorge

Piecky Gorge

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Summer is long gone, and my travels in eastern Europe seem like a distant memory by now, but before catching up with a few of the remarkable places in Taiwan we’ve been exploring the last couple of months, I had to make a brief blog about two amazing European day-hike spots, one each in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Continue reading ‘Slovensky Raj: spectacular (and easy) hiking in eastern Europe’

Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem

The 'cave' on the Shanghuang Stream

The ‘cave’ on the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

Yangminshan has a couple of classic river traces – the wonderful Masu Stream (still one of my favorite river traces to date) and the popular Toucian Stream – a very popular place for beginners to learn the art of river tracing. The remaining river traces in the national park (and it’s beginning to look like there are quite a few good ones!) seem to be the preserve of keen local river tracers, and, if our discovery of this real gem last week is any indicator, there are some jealously kept secrets on YMS waiting to be discovered by the rest of us!

We only discovered the Shanghuiang Stream and its amazing gorge/cave scenery after a member of our hiking group posted a video of two blokes kayaking (yes, kayaking!) down it (probably after a typhoon). Continue reading ‘Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem’

An English Lakeland Summer

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

 

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

 

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

 

The English Lake District has been well and truly on the tourist path for the last 150 years or so, yet although as a teenager I spent long expeditions collecting the area’s numerous waterfalls for a youthful (and finished but never-published) book documenting the complete waterfalls of England, last week was the first time I’ve ever climbed any of the peaks in the National Park. The extraordinary beauty of this area has been well documented since Tennyson’s time, of course, but in fine, sunny weather, and with the company of a few like-minded hikers, considering the tremendous rewards to reaped for relatively little effort, the Lake District’s peaks simply can’t be beat in my book. It’s simply fabulous up there! Continue reading ‘An English Lakeland Summer’

Batongguan Historic Trail (Dongpu Section): Another of Taiwan’s Finest Day Hikes

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

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In a blog entry several years ago, I wrote that the awesome Zhuilu Cliff Trail is the finest day walk in Taiwan. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but in it’s different way the Western end of the cross-island Batongguan Historic Trail is probably an equal partner. I walked this stretch (from Dongpu Hot Springs to Yinu (‘one girl’) Waterfall), permits are required to go further) once twenty years ago and it blew me away. Continue reading ‘Batongguan Historic Trail (Dongpu Section): Another of Taiwan’s Finest Day Hikes’

Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

Another Giant, in Grove B

Another Giant, in Grove B

Poison Dragon lake is small and reached only by an long, exhausting climb, but it's an atmospheric place

Getting to the little Poison Dragon Lake involves a long, exhausting climb, but it’s worth it – it’s an atmospheric place

It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.

One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. Continue reading ‘Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves’


Hi and thanks for visiting!

I'm a musician (a pianist) and writer who's been living in Taiwan since 1993. This blog is a new attempt to document my travels all over Taiwan and the outlying islands. I have written six books (Taipei Day Trips I and II, Yangmingshan: the Guide, Taipei Escapes I and II, and The Islands of Taiwan). Most of my post-April 2010 trips will hopefully appear here, along with some favorite past explorations, many of which are based on articles from a column I wrote (called 'Off the Beaten Track') for the China Post newspaper, here in Taiwan.

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