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
Mount Baiguda (3,341 meters, no 45 on the ‘Top Hundred’ list) on the border between Nantou County and Taichung City doesn’t seem to get nearly as much love as some of the other summits on Taiwan’s Hundred Peaks list. Permission to climb is easy to get (only a police permit is required), yet there were few other people up there this last weekend, despite the absolutely perfect weather. It’s among the tougher peaks on the list I’ve done to date, especially since we did it in 2 days (meaning a 14-to-16-hour second day of hiking!), but it amazed us all with its beauty. Photos I’ve seen on blogs and elsewhere are usually of the deceptively gentle, rounded, wooded summit dome, which looks boring as anything, but is in fact steep and very rocky, with a stellar 360-degree view from the top. Even more rewarding are the series of crags which the trail follows on the way to the final slog up to the summit peak – nothing technical or difficult, but plenty of tough, knee-breaking ups and downs, and absolutely stunning views over the surrounding wilderness. Definitely one of my top five high mountains so far, and among the tougher ones too! Continue reading
The beautiful Central Cross-island Highway, which once linked the cities of Taichung on the flat western plains of Taiwan, and Hualien, below the towering mountains and sea cliffs of the island’s east coast is, like the North Cross-island Highway, graced with a number of fabulous hot springs. Like their northern counterparts, developed resorts (at Guguan) can be found, but the remaining three main hot springs along the highway remain pristine, and fabulously scenic to boot. Continue reading
UPDATE September 21st: In true Taiwanese fashion, a resourceful local hiking group has already found a way round the ominous sign that blocks entry to the Stegosaurus Ridge trail, with a new trail skirting around the perimeter of the disused copper plant. It starts a little further down the coast road at the 80.2 kilometer marker. A post on the group’s Facebook page (in Chinese but with a sketch map of the new route, which joins the original route behind the compound) is up here: https://www.facebook.com/paul.lee.79827/media_set?set=a.1378880355474393.1073742720.100000573244989&type=3&hc_location=ufi
Yesterday I learned that the trailhead of a very popular Taipei-area trail, which I (and many others, no doubt) regard as one of the finest day hikes in Taiwan, has now been officially closed, and with warnings of jail-time, no less, for those caught trespassing. It’s just the latest event in an ongoing, but seemingly intensifying attempt to curb or limit access to Taiwan’s beautiful countryside, or to ‘tame’ it with the intention of making it ‘safer’ and more ‘accessible’. Continue reading
We’ve got Taiwan’s position on the Pacific Ring of Fire to thank not only for its hot springs, spooky, steaming fumaroles and volcanic peaks, but for its very existence! The island was created as the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate met, pushing the first under the second. Of course it’s not always peachy living on the scenic collision point of two massive chunks of the Earth’s crust, and earthquakes (most, thankfully, only big enough to jolt rather than do any real damage) happen several times each year, even in Taipei.
The benefits, of course, generally far outweigh the potential for violent natural mayhem, however. Taiwan probably wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful, as mountainous, or as enchanting if it were created any other way, and the chilly, rainy weather that descends on the northeast corner of the island every winter from December to about April (thanks to the prevailing northeast monsoon winds) would make life in the capital a lot more dreary if we didn’t have a choice of hot springs (to the north, east and south!) to head for during those long, cold, wet evenings.
Taiwan’s hot springs were generally only enjoyed by the island’s aboriginal population until the Japanese introduced hot spring culture to the island during the colonial era (1895-1945). The ensuing popularity has since seen most of the island’s hot spring sources (many in beautiful, wild spots, deep in the mountains) developed, robbing them of their former wild beauty. The last decade or two has seen a huge growth in more aesthetically pleasing hot spring spas, and while most of them make no attempt to blend into their surroundings, they do at least look less of an eyesore than the horrible, purely functional concrete-box designs that once seemed to be the default for hot spring developments island-wide.
For the nature lover, however, the relatively few completely unspoilt, undeveloped hot springs sources that can still be found around Taiwan can’t be beat. Just a couple, such as Wenshan Hot Springs (文山溫泉) in Taroko Gorge and that wonderful gift to Taipei-dwelling nature lovers, Bayan Hot Spring (八煙溫泉) lie just a short walk from the road, and can be enjoyed by just about any able-bodied person. The real charm of most of Taiwan’s undeveloped hot springs, however, is in getting to them. Getting to several of the island’s remoter springs takes several days, which is too big a commitment for most explorers. A number of others, however, are day hikes – remote enough to keep the crowds (and the developers) away, but within the range of reasonably fit hikers. Over the last few years I’ve started exploring more of the island’s natural hot springs, and a goal for the approaching winter/spring season (2016-7) is to get to some of the others. Meanwhile I’m hoping, in a series of blog entries, to write up those I’ve already visited. As I explore the others, I’ll add them to the blog. Continue reading
Flowing westwards down from the mighty central mountains towards Taichung city and the coast, the Dajia River (one of Taiwan’s major waterways) cuts a magnificent gorge through the foothills of the Snow Mountain Range, threaded by highway eight (the Central Cross-island Highway). Before part of the road was severely damaged during the great 921 Earthquake in 1999, the highway connected Taichung with Hualien on the east coast, climbing over the Snow and Central Mountain Ranges. Once one of Taiwan’s best road trips, part of the western half of the highway remains closed in early 2016, although there are persistent rumors that the road may eventually reopen.
Until that day, heading eastwards from Dongshih (東勢), just east of Taichung city, highway eight can be followed for only about 35 kilometers, till just after the hot spring resort village of Guguan (谷關), beyond which a roadblock bars further progress. It’s a very scenic drive out there, however, and Guguan itself (apart from the charms of its hot spring resorts and hot spring park) has a magnificent setting, deep in the Dajia River gorge. Continue reading
WARNING: This blog entry includes an image of a bawdy traditional folk belief which might offend some readers!
After three years of writing, and a gaggle of delays and headaches, my latest (and probably last!) books are out. They finally emerged at the end of May, just a week before I jetted off for my summer holidays (which themselves didn’t turn out anything like I had planned, although that’s another story completely…).
Anyway I think Taiwan 101 is my best work (although I suppose I would say that), and I certainly learned more about the history and culture of this wonderful island than while writing anything else about it.
I’ll keep this brief, since I’ve got to get back to regular blogging, so if you’ve bought a copy, thanks, and of not, buy them! They’re available in Eslite and Caves books around Taiwan, and I can send them by mail if you don’t mind paying the postage.
Here’s the advertising blag (and I’ve scattered a few photos around to keep things colorful too…):
Taiwan 101: Essential Sights, Hikes and Experiences on Ilha Formosa
Taiwan is a perfect illustration of the saying that good things come in small packages. In comparison with more popular tourist destinations in the Far East, Taiwan is very modest in size, but despite its diminutive scale, the island has an astonishing amount to offer the curious explorer.
The two volumes that make up Taiwan 101 are the perfect guide for exploring the very best of Taiwan: not only the island’s finest hikes, but also its best historic towns and cities, brightest traditional festivals, unique Chinese and aboriginal cultural riches, and its little-known natural wonders such as eternal flames, mud volcanoes and badlands.
Together, Taiwan 101 Volumes 1 and 2 present Taiwan’s finest attractions to anyone who wishes to get to know this island of kaleidoscopic charms, and comes with detailed information on getting around by public transport, and accurate GPS coordinates of nearly 800 fascinating places.
My latest book, Taiwan 101: Essential Sights, Hikes and Experiences on Ilha Formosa, will be published in May (in two volumes), and the photos in the following six blog entries describe just some of the hundreds of places and events that appear in the book’s 101 chapters. After this main part, a substantial section at the end of volume two gives a run-down of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes, the island’s listed historic relics, its National Parks, National Scenic Areas and National Forest Recreation Areas etc. and there are tables with info on the complete Top One Hundred Peaks and the Little Top Hundred Peaks. About 800 GPS coordinates pinpoint the locations of all the main places described in the book, and there’s info on car and scooter hire from various cities around the island, and bus/train access, where available. It’s been the hardest of all my books to put together, but immense fun, and during these several years of selecting which places to include, re-visiting many favorite places and visiting many new ones for the first time has only reinforced what an incredibly dynamic, diverse, and outrageously beautiful place Taiwan is!