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 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.
Shizitou Waterfall (獅子頭瀑布, 彩蝶瀑布)
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.
Menggu Waterfall (夢谷瀑布, 南山瀑布)
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)
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.
Yumenguan Waterfall (玉門關瀑布)
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.
Zhongkeng Waterfall (中坑瀑布)
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.
Shengquan Waterfall (聖泉瀑布)
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.
Liangjiu Waterfall (良久瀑布)
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!
Nenggao Waterfall (能高瀑布)
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.