The Wonderful Waterfalls of Puli, Nantou County

Shuishang Waterfall

Shuishang Waterfall

 

Zhongkang Waterfall

Zhongkeng Waterfall

Yumenguan

Yumenguan

 

Despite the fact that many locals have a certain affection for the place (which I actually share, since I lived there for 18 months in the early 1990s, just after arriving in Taiwan) the town of Puli, sitting at the geographical center of Taiwan, is a pretty nondescript kind of place, indistinguishable from many other provincial towns around the island. However what richly merits a visit to the town is its marvellous surroundings. There’s enough exploration and even adventure to be had around here to keep the most avid explorer busy for a week or more, from easy family friendly strolls (Guanyin Waterfall) to day-long adventures into surprisingly remote places (the tricky-to-reach Shicheng Gorge (石城谷). Even today I’m still finding new places (such as the wonderful Zhongkang Waterfall, which I discovered just two weeks ago!), so it doesn’t look as if the area has revealed all its secrets even now. Anyway, the subject at hand is waterfalls, so here’s a quick run-down of (most) of the waterfalls in the Puli area. And since these don’t appear in my new book (due out early next year), I’ve added basic getting-there info for each, too!

Guanyin Waterfall (觀音瀑布)

The main Guanyin Waterfall, in winter

The main Guanyin Waterfall, in winter

 

The attractive lowest fall, just above the road

The attractive lowest fall, just above the road

The most famous, highest, and one of the easiest to reach of the many waterfalls around Puli, 40 meter-high Guangyin Waterfall is actually a lovely series of waterfalls, culminating a big one at the top, a stiff 20 minute walk from the road. The trailhead is easy to find: simply take national route 14 (the road towards Hohuanshan) eastwards out of town for 5 or 6 kilometres, park at the signposted parking place to the left of the road, and follow the wide, paved path directly opposite up past the lower falls and up to the big one, at the top of a steep flight of steps.

Approaching Guanyin Waterfall

Approaching Guanyin Waterfall

Shizitou Waterfall (獅子頭瀑布,  彩蝶瀑布)

Shizitou Waterfall

Shizitou Waterfall

Getting to the waterfall involves a short but interesting river trace

Getting to the waterfall involves a short but interesting river trace

A kilometer or so further along route 14, turn right up a track just before Shizitou Bridge, beside a house, and it ends in a couple of meters at the trailhead for Shizitou Waterfall. The stream here was bone dry when we visited, but fear not – the water is piped into irrigation pipes below the waterfall, so this certainly doesn’t mean it’ll be dry up there where it matters.

Scraps of trail lead up the wide gorge (badly scarred by a typhoon damage) for about 15 minutes, but after a pair of startlingly ugly water tanks the gorge narrows greatly (and gets much more scenic too); the only way onwards is to get the feet wet and trace the last few minutes up to the foot of the waterfall. Bring river tracing shoes, as it’s rough-going and slippery in there, with a few easy scrambles.

The trailhead for Shizitou Waterfall: Shizitou Bridge on route 14

The trailhead for Shizitou Waterfall: Shizitou Bridge on route 14

Menggu Waterfall (夢谷瀑布,  南山瀑布)

Menggu Waterfall today...

Menggu Waterfall today…

...and in 1994

…and in 1994

Continue along route 14 eastwards for another 5 or 6 kilometres and it passes through the village of Nanshan (南山). Just after crossing a small bridge in the center of the village, turn left down a narrow, unsignposted lane, which immediately crosses another, larger bridge. Follow this lane up the attractive valley, keeping ahead at junctions, and in about two kilometers it ends at  a viewing platform above the devastated Menggu (“dream valley”) Waterfall. Typhoons have ripped out most of the lush vegetation that clothed this enchanting place when I knew and loved it in the 1990s, but its austere, bleak new appearance also suits it pretty well, although unfortunately it’s no longer the tempting summer swimming spot it once was.

Another couple of kilometers further up, route 14 enters the narrow gorge below Wushe (霧社) at the cleft known as Renzhiguan (人止關). A rough track on the right here gives (or at least once gave) access to the wide gorge of a side stream and little Yuli Waterfall (玉麗瀑布) just a short distance up here on the left, a few meters up a tributary stream. It’s gentle thing of unusual shape, although I’ve no idea if it’s as lovely as it once was, since I haven’t been there for twenty years.

Still further east and north Route 14 gives access to a couple more waterfalls, including a favorite of mine in this area, Chunyang Waterfall (春陽瀑布), but that’s another article…!

Shuishang Waterfall (水上瀑布)

Lovely Shuishang Waterfall in the dry season

Lovely Shuishang Waterfall in the dry season

One of the loveliest of the waterfalls around Puli, this one would make a fabulous swimming spot in summer. Take the Sun Moon Lake road (route 21) south from the town for a couple of kilometers, and turn off into county route 64, passing through the village of Taomi (桃米), hit especially badly by the 921 Earthquake, but now rebuilt and boasting the locally famous Paper Dome. Follow route 64 around a very tight bend, climbing into the wooded hills, and look out for a large map board on the left, beside the trailhead for the waterfall. A steep, concrete lane winds down the hillside, soon becoming a rocky trail that drops down to the stream below the waterfall in about 10 minutes, joining it at a beautiful pool of deep blue water. Turn right, cross the stream, and follow the trail on the other side for 5 minutes upstream to the base of the waterfall, which plunges into a huge pool.

The trailhead for Shuishang Waterfall

The trailhead for Shuishang Waterfall

Yumenguan Waterfall (玉門關瀑布)

Yumenguan Waterfall

Yumenguan Waterfall

The attractive rocky glen (the ‘jade gates’ of the name) are more impressive than the waterfall at this place, but it’s a fun 10-minute river trace downstream from the footbridge across the gorge to the head of the small cascade. Unfortunately getting down the cliffs to its foot from this direction is pretty dangerous.

Yumenguan is just off county route 68, which runs basically parallel to both the main Caotun-Puli  route 14 and Freeway 6. Heading east, pass the waterfall, glimpsed in the gorge below on the left, and soon after it a narrow lane on the left heads downhill a few meters to a small scooter parking area. Steps here lead down to the footbridge across the gorge about 200 meters above the top of the waterfall.

The rocky cleft above the falls is probably more interesting than the waterfall itself!

The rocky cleft above the falls is probably more interesting than the waterfall itself!

Zhongkeng Waterfall (中坑瀑布)

Little-known Zhongkang Waterfall

Little-known Zhongkeng Waterfall

En route to the waterfall

En route to the waterfall

For some reason this high and very lovely waterfall doesn’t appear on any maps I have (even the large-scale ones), and it was only by accident that I found it, online. Getting there is pretty easy, yet because it’s comparatively unknown it’s still in pristine condition. Take county route 71 south out of Puli and follow it to about the 6 kilometer mark. Turn left at a junction with a temple and a large white stone with the Chinese characters “中坑瀑布”  (Zhongkeng Waterfall) beside the road on the left, and then turn right in about a hundred meters, immediately after crossing a small stream. The narrow road follows the stream up to a car parking area (it costs NT$20 to park a scooter here), from where an unsurfaced track climbs a bit to rejoin the stream, which is followed upwards (no real path, but easy enough to follow) for about 20 minutes to the foot of the waterfall. This would be a marvellous spot to cool off in summer.

Stone on route 71 marking an important  the junction on the way to the waterfall - turn left here!

Stone on route 71 marking an important junction on the way to the waterfall – turn left here!

 

Shengquan Waterfall (聖泉瀑布)

Shengquan ("sacred spring") Waterfall in the dry season

Shengquan (“sacred spring”) Waterfall in the dry season

Not really near Puli (it’s a bit closer to Catun (草屯), Shengquan Waterfall is included because it was another favorite waterfall that I made repeated visits to when I lived in the town. It’s quite different now - like Menggu Waterfall it’s much less lush and green than before, but it’s a secret, little-known spot, reachable these days only after some easy river tracing, and boasts yet another great, deep pool at its base.

To get there take national road 14 from Puli westwards towards Caotun, and at about the half-way point turn right into county route 136. Cross the river and passing through a small settlement just after the bridge, the road makes a wide swing to the left. Take the lane on the right at this big bend (in the middle of the village) and follow it into the woods, keeping right at each junction; the correct lane will soon veer into the large wooded gorge to the right. The road, which is now very narrow in places, finally joins the stream and crosses two bridges in quick succession. The stream you want is the first one, a tributary of the main stream, crossed by a small concrete bridge. Look for the plastic irrigation pipes. Trace up this stream (it may be dry at first, but again this isn’t necessarily a problem, as the water is piped out from below the waterfall) and after a few easy clambers over low cascades and rocky obstacles, the waterfall will be reached in 20-30 minutes.

To get there start tracing up the little stream from this bridge...

To get there start tracing up the little stream from this bridge…

Liangjiu Waterfall (良久瀑布)

Liangjiu Waterfall

Liangjiu Waterfall

This place may look very close to Puli on the map, but it’s a bitch to get to, involving a painfully slow, 3-hour-long clatter over horrible, unsurfaced roads (the route passes close to Zhongkeng Waterfall near the start), followed by a short hike down to the strange Shicheng Gorge (石城谷) and finally a long wade upstream. It’s a great adventure (allow a whole day for the trip from Puli and back), but it takes a bit of a toll on a scooter or bike. Whatever you do, park the bike at the big warning sign at the top of the extremely steep and rough hill near the end of the track above Shicheng Gorge. It’s extremely hard to get a machine back up that terrible incline once you’ve got it down there, and I nearly ended up getting stranded in there on my visit!

Shicheng Gorge (1994 photo)

Shicheng Gorge (1994 photos)

 

Nenggao Waterfall (能高瀑布)

Nenggao Waterfall (print photo from 1994)

Nenggao Waterfall (print photo from 1994)

And finally, this small and less interesting waterfall lies just outside Puli, near the end of a series of (apparently now signposted) lanes several kilometres north of the town. I haven’t been there for years, but from recent photos it’s clear the authorities have spoilt it by building an ugly concrete viewing platform right in front of the waterfall.

Below Shizitou Waterfall

Below Shizitou Waterfall

 

 

 

Jiufenershan: A sobering reminder of the Power of the 921 Earthquake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The Grand Canyon at Zuolan

The Grand Canyon at Zhuolan

The Slanting House at Jiufenershan

The sloping house at Jiufenershan

 

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

At 1:47 am on September 21st, 1999, the most powerful earthquake to hit Taiwan in over a century (measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale) struck the center of the island, killing 2,415 people. Over 11,000 were seriously injured, and damage to property (many of the buildings that fell were shoddily constructed or designed to inadequate safety standards) was estimated at NT$300 billion.

The quake has become part of the national conscience (most people still usually refer to it as simply “921”, after the date on which it struck) and although the island has well and truly moved on, plenty of memories of that awful night remain to this day. Like Jiufenershan, a place guaranteed to bring home the primeval power of the catastrophe.

Turn south off the main Caotun to Puli Road in Nantou into county route 147 following a stream through an attractive valley between the foothills of the island’s central mountain range and after a few kilometers, a signpost (with the intriguing English translations “Explosion Site” and “Sloping House”) points up an even smaller, bumpier road climbing up the hillside to Jiufenershan, close to the epicenter of Taiwan’s great 921 earthquake. A huge landslide, triggered by the quake dislodged an estimated 3.5 million cubic tons of the hillside, which tumbled into the valley below, killing many people, and creating two new lakes by damming a pair of streams.

The Slanting House

The Sloping House

Roads in the area, many wiped out by the huge landslide triggered here by the quake, have been rebuilt and now form a long loop passing through this extraordinary open air museum to Nature’s awesome power. The first place on the route is the famous Sloping House, a one-story structure that survived almost completely intact, although it now stands at a crazy tilt, several meters higher than its position before 921, and walking inside this giant optical illusion is guaranteed to play strange tricks on your sense of balance.

Betal nut trees at Jiufenershan; whole patches of land, loosened by the quake,  slid down the hill that night, and the trees, finding themselves growing on a different incline than before, are struggling to gorw upright once again

Betal nut trees at Jiufenershan; whole patches of land, loosened by the quake, slid down the hill that night, and the trees, finding themselves growing on a different incline than before, are struggling to grow upright once again

A little further along the road is another house which is badly damaged but still standing, only apparently it’s now 150 meters downhill from its position prior to 921. Amazingly the inhabitants all survived, because the house and the entire chunk of land it stands on slipped bodily downhill, like a carpet down stairs. Many of the betel nut trees that that grow nearby here have oddly distorted trunks because they once grew on a different gradient than that on which they now find themselves.

The "Explosion Position" at Jiufenershan

The “Explosion Position” at Jiufenershan

Another view...

Another view…

Beyond the second house the entire hillside has been scoured flat to the bedrock, and it’s still desolate and largely bare of greenery, despite Nature’s best efforts to repair her damage during the intervening years. Nearby is the area known as the “Explosion Position” (爆發點). Many years after the event, the devastation here remains shockingly clear. The area looks like a bomb hit it, with jagged cliffs of dirt skirting an ugly crater. An iron-roofed house, completely demolished, hangs clinging to the top of a great cliff of dirt, and huge boulders of earth and rock pepper the site, almost as if thrown there by some huge volcanic eruption.

IMG_0971

One of the two lakes created by the landslide at Jiufenershan

 

Beyond the Explosion Position the narrow lane crosses the huge, sloping expanse of hillside, ground flat by the landslide, before being swallowed at the far side by the returning betelnut palm plantations that once covered much of the surrounding hills, then finally descends to a small car park above one of the two large and rather beautiful lakes formed when the 921-triggered landslide dammed a stream flowing through the area. The steep slopes that surround both lakes are naturally extremely unstable, so there’s been no attempt to develop these lovely expanses of water with unwanted improvements such as paths and rest pavilions, and they’re both remarkably pristine and beautiful spots. Above the lake stands the marble 921 Earthquake National Memorial, engraved with the names of people killed in the disaster, and just below it stands the Shimen Observatory, built to monitor the highly unstable land around the lakes and give early warning of any possible breach of the earth banks below the lakes due to further earthquake activity or flooding.

The Memorial at Jiufenershan

The Memorial at Jiufenershan

A visit to Jiufenershan provides an immediate and powerful sense of the magnitude of the disaster, but to learn more facts about the Big One, pay a visit to the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, housed in the remains of Guangfu Junior High School in Wufeng, just south of Taichung.

The running track at Guangfu Junior High School shortly after the quake (photo in 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan)

The running track at Guangfu Junior High School shortly after the quake (photo in 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan)

The track today

The track today

The destroyed Guangfu Junior High School, now the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

The destroyed Guangfu Junior High School, now the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

Twisted train tracks (originally on the Jiji Branch Line) at 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

Twisted train tracks (originally on the Jiji Branch Line) at 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

The Earthquake Experience Theater at 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

The Earthquake Experience Theater at 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

The school lies directly on the Chelongpu Fault line, which ruptured during the quake, and the museum consists of several sections housed in impressively designed new structures grouped around the ruins of the school buildings and its now famous playing field and sports track. One of the most popular attractions at the museum is the Earthquake Experience Theater, a room decked with cardboard bookshelves and furniture, polystyrene books, and padded floor and walls, in which visitors can experience the sensation of being in an earthquake. It’s interesting for short-term visitors to Taiwan who may not get to experience the real thing, but hardly more intense than the tremblors we experience on an annual basis here, and unlikely to be anywhere near the 7.3 intensity of 921 itself. Performances run at regular intervals, but arrive a bit early, as there’s space for only 25 people each time.

Other Earthquake Relics 

The Grand Canyon at Zhoulan

The Grand Canyon at Zhoulan

There are loads more memorials around central Taiwan, both natural and man-made, to the events of that night. Two of the most impressive lie near the northern end end of the ruptured Chenlongpu Fault. The quake created deep cracks in the mudstone of the Da An River, just east of Zhuolan on the Taichung/ Miaoli border, which were later opened up by floods caused by succeeding typhoons to create the spectacular chasm known as the Grand Canyon. I haven’t been there for many years (although friends who tried to go a year or two back said the whole area is fenced off now). This being Taiwan, there’s almost certainly some way in, although it’s probably a lot more eroded than when I took these pics 6 or 7 years ago, and it might be less spectacular than it once was.

A few kilometres southwest of Zhuolan, the Shigang Dam (on the Dajia River) lies directly on the fault line, and was severely damaged during the quake – one end of the dam has been thrust upwards 9 meters above the rest!  – while a few hundred meters below, the rupturing fault line also pushed up the bed of the river, creating the seven meter-high Pifeng Waterfall.

The broken dam at Shigang, near Taichung

The broken dam at Shigang, near Taichung

Memorial Park at the destroyed Shigang Dam

Memorial Park at the destroyed Shigang Dam

Seven meter-high Pifeng Waterfall, created by the earthquake

Seven meter-high Pifeng Waterfall, created by the earthquake

Perhaps the most famous symbol of 921, however, is found, fittingly, at Jiji, the nearest town to the epicentre. On the edge of town the first floor of Wuchang Temple (武昌宮) neatly buckled under the weight of the remainder of the building during the quake, leaving the upper half of the building and the ornate roof resting on the ground, while an incense burner, ornate stone boundary wall, and lion figure stand, undamaged, just a few meters away. It’s an almost surreal sight, which makes for a great photo.

The collapsed Wuchang Temple at Jiji

The collapsed Wuchang Temple at Jiji

 

Encore Garden: Taichung’s atmospheric abandoned theme park

In the former Orchid Garden

In the former Orchid Garden

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The entrance to Encore Garden

The entrance to Encore Garden

What is it about abandoned theme parks that makes them such irresistible place to explore – for some of us at least? Although there are apparently quite a number dotted around Taiwan, Encore Garden (雅哥花園) at Dakeng, just east of Taichung city, became pretty famous a year or so ago, probably after pics of it did the rounds on the Net.

Continue reading ‘Encore Garden: Taichung’s atmospheric abandoned theme park’

Taipei’s National Palace Museum: What on EARTH are they thinking…?

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(click here for the full story)

First they tried to charge hikers to use the new Paiyun Hut on Yushan (Taiwan’s highest mountain; which is fair enough), but then decided to charge foreign climbers way over twice the price paid by local and expat resident hikers to use the same facilities. Now, according to a news story that appeared on March 17th, the local authorities have come up with the bright idea of increasing entrance fees (by between 56% and a staggering 150%!) to possibly Taiwan’s greatest single tourist attraction, the National Palace Museum, but only for foreigners - apparently tax paying expats as well as visitors. Meanwhile Taiwanese visitors will actually enjoy a 6.2% decrease in the ticket price when the proposed new measures come into effect.

I’m not even gonna try to work out the logic or reasoning behind the daft and potentially extremely harmful plan as described if this tier pricing system does actually come into effect.

I, and I’m sure many other foreign visitors, find it offensive that on the evidence of this, the Museum authorities seem to think the Taiwanese people have priority to see and enjoy the magnificent contents of this museum. Especially odd is the decision to increase the price of group tickets (the majority of groups visiting the Museum being of Mainland Chinese tourists) by a mighty 150%. Is the sublime irony lost on them?  The custodians of the collection, the Taiwanese (many of whom are at great pains to distance themselves from their Chinese heritage these days) technically stole the collection from its original owners in Beijing, and will now charge the Chinese a great deal over the odds to view one of their own country’s great treasures.

In any event it might not bode well at all for Taiwan’s hopes to have places such as the basalt formations of Penghu, the historic battlefields of Kinmen, and the unique aboriginal culture of Lanyu (Orchid Island) added to the UNESCO World Heritage list if they think they can get away with welcoming foreign tourists to visit another of the island’s world-class attractions, but then charge them way more than the Taiwanese for the pleasure of seeing another piece of world heritage lying within its borders. Another one that, in the spirit of UNESCO, should be preserved for the good of the ‘entire world citizenry’ .

(photo from Wikipedia.org)

(photo from Wikipedia.org)

Fascinating Keelung

The Buddha's Hand

The Buddha’s Hand

Keelung French Cemetery

Keelung French Cemetery

Hoping Island

Hoping Island

Baimiwong Fort

Baimiwong Fort

Keelung Island

Keelung Island

Sheliao Fort

Sheliao East Fort

Fairy Cave

Fairy Cave

For details, see Taipei Escapes I

For details, see Taipei Escapes I

Keelung was true to its reputation on my last visit a weekend or two back – rainy, misty and cold. It was also every bit as fascinating and scenic as ever, and it’s surprising that this much more positive aspect of Taiwan’s second port is so relatively little known. Partly to collect some photos taken over the years in one single place, and also to (hopefully) give an idea just how fascinating Keelung is, here’s a series of photos (and a few words) on some of the city’s most interesting spots (apart from the Miaokou snack street…).

Continue reading ‘Fascinating Keelung’

More from Kaohsiung County

Badlands near Yanqiao

Badlands near Yanqiao

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter...), near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter…), near Maolin

The Natural Cleft behind the 'Stone Breast' Temple near Tianliao

The Natural Cleft behind the ‘Stone Brest’ Temple near Tianliao

The 'Grand Canyon' near Nanhua

The ‘Grand Canyon’ near Nanhua

The main reason for our recent scooter weekend in Kaohsiung County was to explore a couple of new sights, and revisit the area’s mud volcanoes for a new project I’m working on, but we got to fit a lot more into those two jam-packed days.

First up came the wonderful Badlands landscapes: the magnificent ‘Grand Canyon’ (大峽谷) near Nanhua (南化), just across the border in Tainan County… Continue reading ‘More from Kaohsiung County’

Mud Volcanoes, Revisited

Wushanding Mud Volcano

Wushanding Mud Volcano

Yangnu Mud Volcano

Yangnu Mud Volcano

Another view of Yangnu

Another view of Yangnu

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The main focus of our last scooter trip south to Kaohsiung was to explore the Ghost Axe Canyon, that intriguing spot on the map that turned into such an amazing discovery, but the trip was so much quicker than expected that we had plenty of time to see some of the other sights in the area – butterflies, strange peaks of uplifted coral, a waterfall or two …and mud volcanoes!  Kaohsiung County has a number of Taiwan’s best examples of this strange phenomena, and on this trip I revisited all four - two (Wushanding and Yangnu) near the town of Yanqiao in Kaohsiung County that are probably the best on the island, a tricky-to-find one near the town of Qiaotou, and a fourth at Tianliao, near the border with Tainan County.

I described them all (and a number of others, on the blog here, so this time I’ll put up some more pics of these strange, strange things… Continue reading ‘Mud Volcanoes, Revisited’


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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