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
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
Southern Taiwan has some of the most interesting aboriginal culture on the main island, with atmospheric (and often remote ) villages of Paiwan and Rukai stone houses, and several of Taiwan’s most memorable traditional festivities, including the insane Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, surely one of the most intense traditional annual participation events anywhere in the world.
For lovers of natural beauty, Chiayi County is unsurpassed. The crowds all flock to Alishan, but the best places in the area are Continue reading
In Taiwan 101 western Taiwan is everything from the Hakka lands of Hsinchu and underrated Miaoli, through Taichung City, Changhua, Yunlin (another under-explored corner of the island), and beautiful Nantou County. This long swathe of the island comprises the flat and (for a nature lover) relatively uninteresting western plains, but these are dotted with some of Taiwan’s most historic (and interesting) towns, the majority of Taiwan’s Continue reading
Hualien and Taitung Counties are finally becoming easier of access, with fast (although famously difficult-to-book) Puyuma trains, and big improvements (still ongoing) in the notoriously dangerous Suhua Highway, and the undisturbed, peaceful nature of this region might eventually change, but for now it remains one of the most enchanting regions of the island. Since the Central Mountain Range is relatively inaccessible from the eastern side, the main attractions of the region (apart from Taroko Gorge) is its rich aboriginal culture, beautiful, often Continue reading
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 great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities. Continue reading