Taiwan’s Wild Hot Springs 2: The Central Cross-island Highway

Waterfall on the way to Maling Hot Springs, Guguan, on the Taichung side of the highway

Waterfall on the way to Maling Hot Springs, Guguan, on the Taichung side of the highway

The beautiful marble canyon at Wenshan Hot Springs, Taroko Gorge

The beautiful marble canyon at Wenshan Hot Springs, Taroko Gorge

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

Taiwan 101: Part 5. The South

The endemic Formosan macaque at Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

The endemic Formosan macaque at Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

The Boat Burning Festival at Donggang, Pingtung County

The Boat Burning Festival at Donggang, Pingtung County

Titantic Rock, Chiayi County

Titantic Rock, Chiayi County

Sperm Whale skeleton, Taijiang National Park

Sperm Whale skeleton, Taijiang National Park

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

Taiwan 101: Part 2. Eastern Taiwan

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

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

Taiwan 101: Part 1. The North

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan, New Taipei City

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

The Buddha's Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

The Buddha’s Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

I’ve started exploring new places again, and should start getting back to regular blog posts in the next couple of week. Meanwhile, I thought I’d make a few posts giving a short overview (in photos) of my latest book, Taiwan 101, which aims to show the incredible variety of sights around Taiwan (and the ROC-controlled islands). It really is an amazing place, and I’ve come to realize this even more during the several years I’ve spent researching and writing the new books (there are two volumes), during which I’ve seen loads of places, attended a number of amazing festivals, and done quite a few things that I’ve never done here before. Hopefully I’ll get out six posts, one for each of the six main sections into which the two volumes of the book are dvivided.

 

First up: the north: Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Keelung City and Yilan County. Here’s a taste of the many, many places to Continue reading

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

Short and sweet: Ningqing Gorge in Nantou County

The mouth of the short but atmospheric Ningqing ('peaceful') Gorge near Shuili in Nantou County

The mouth of the short but atmospheric Ningqing (‘peaceful’) Gorge near Shuili in Nantou County

Getting upstream to the gorge involves getting past 5 or 6 small dams - luckily it's also possible to climb ROUND them (much easier)!

Getting upstream to the gorge involves getting past 5 or 6 small dams – luckily it’s also possible to climb ROUND them (much easier)!

 

On the edge of Shuili (水里) town in Nantou County, immediately below the busy road that connects the town with Sun Moon Lake to the north, Ningqing Gorge (寧靜谷) appears on quite a few local maps of the area, but I’ve never found any info on the Web or elsewhere, apart from a short description in a decades-old local guidebook to central Taiwan that I bought when I first arrived here, and have treasured ever since. That dog-eared, black-and-white book with its fuzzy pictures and rough, hand-drawn sketch maps lacks the full-color impact of today’s much more stylish guidebooks to Taiwan, but, while the maps nowadays are infinitely better and the info inside the best books (usually those that confine themselves to just one county or small area) is still amazing, they’re still not nearly as detailed as those old books on my shelves, which continue to provide me with the occasional wonderful new discovery after all this years.

Ningqing Gorge is very short and not especially deep, and it’s certainly no Ghost Ax Canyon, but in its small way it’s a fascinating place, and makes for a great, if brief adventure if you’re already in the Shuili area and the idea of scrambling, swimming and wading for an hour or two through a place few people know exists strikes a chord. Continue reading

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 marvelous 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! Continue reading

The Ghost Axe Canyon (鬼斧神宮)

The magnificent Ghost Axe Canyon

The magnificent Ghost Axe Canyon

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It’s hard to believe that a place as magnificent as this could remain so little-known, but the extraordinary defile called the Ghost Axe Canyon, near Maolin in Kaohsiung County, remains to this day inexplicably little-known. Once apparently pretty tricky to reach, Typhoon Morakot, in one of its few semi-positive acts, turned the once strenuous, 3-hour river trace up to the canyon into a wide, flat and easy walk. Unfortunately  it also destroyed the amazingly blue pools inside the Canyon seen on the few pictures of the gorge that can be found on Web (judging from which it looks like it was once a truly awesomely beautiful spot). Visit the gorge without seeing those old photos, however, and you’re highly unlikely to be anything other than seriously impressed. Continue reading

Poseidon’s Palace: A Return Trip

In Poseidon's Palace

In Poseidon’s Palace

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Last summer we really got a taste for the joys of river tracing, so although tackling any streams in the Taipei area at the moment would quite possibly result in a nasty case of pneumonia, it’s great to discover that in southern Taiwan, winter is still a great time to be taking to the water. In fact it’s probably the safest time of the year, since the wet/dry season is far more pronounced down here than in the north, and during the May-September rainy season rivers and streams are often raging, while flash floods are a real hazard.

Anyway so far I know of three or four important streams for tracing down in the south, which I hope we’ll get to explore over the next months, and of course there must be loads of others, so it looks like we’ll be doing some more trips down south this winter!

As a bonus to our great Jiuhaocha aboriginal village hike last weekend, we tacked on a quick river trace to a place I first discovered back in March: Poseidon’s Palace (海神宮).    Continue reading

Hualien Outdoors: Getting (well) Off the Beaten Track on the East Coast

The start of a great day

The start of a great day

On the way...

On the way…

One of the beautiful, ultra-pure pools on the route

One of the beautiful, ultra-pure pools on the route

Until recently Hualien meant little more to me than Taroko Gorge (of course), those crazy rafting trips on the Hsiuguluan River, rhodonite and the awesome Golden Grotto , so it was a real treat to get to spend a hot, sunny Saturday at the end of August with Canadian Matt Hopkins, who runs Hualien Outdoors, an outfit that introduces Hualien’s other amazing sights to foreigners and locals alike. Matt, who knows this area just about better than anyone else, invited us down for a day of river tracing, choosing a route that would be passable and safe following Typhoon Trami, which had pummelled the island a few days before, yet interesting enough to provide an adrenaline rush and a few fun challenges. Continue reading