Mountain Goat and Xiaoyao Caves, Shiding – a great alternative route to a well-loved summit

Xiaoyao Cave, from below

It’s only the beginning of October, and the northeast monsoon season has already claimed its first hike-plan victim! The original destination for our hike yesterday, to the awesome (and rather tough) Fengtou Peak ridge was postponed when the weather promised showers – not good conditions for walking the more precarious, knife-edge sections of this route.

The replacement hike, hurriedly put together for the six of us that braved the uncertain-looking weather, was a trip to two small caves in the hills west of Shiding (石碇) which I’d known of (from hiking maps) for several years, but which seemed too small and uninteresting to make the subject of a whole hike. The vague plan was to hike out from Shiding to these, then try to find a way up onto the wonderful Mount Bijia ridge  (a personal fave and one of the finest ridgewalks in the Taipei area), and then follow that either back to Shiding, to complete the circle, or on to Muzha. It turned out to be a great choice, with several excellent new discoveries! Continue reading

Lanyu and Green Island: a return visit

Youzihu, Green Island

Pekingese Dog and Sleeping Beauty Rocks, Green Island

A violin made completely by hand by an inmate at Green Island’s notorious New Life Correction Center (the first of two penal colonies on the island)

I’ll keep this short.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Lanyu (Orchid Island) and Green Island are  fabulous! Getting to either involves nabbing a notoriously hard-to-get plane ticket (and they’re much harder to obtain for Lanyu than for Green Island) or putting up with an often rough boat ride. But its well, well worth it! Continue reading

Taiwan’s Bat Caves

Yuemei Cave, above Wudu, near Keelung

The routes to Ruifang, Nuandong Gorge and White Horse General Caves are described on pages 67, 45 and 197)

The routes to Ruifang, Nuandong Gorge and White Horse General Caves are described on pages 67, 45 and 197)

Until my right little finger finally heals, and allows me to practice piano for more than fifteen minutes

The way to Sanmin,  Guanyin, Quhu Immortals, and Sun Moon Caves are described on pages 69, 70, 21 and 171.

The way to Sanmin, Guanyin, Quhu Immortals, and Sun Moon Caves are described on pages 69, 70, 21 and 171.

without swelling up (and God knows when that will be!) I seem destined to releasing my emotional energies on as many long hikes as I can, and on reliving various recent and long-passed adventures on this blog. At least this gives me the chance to look out and arrange some of the huge backlog of photos from trips around the island that are presently slowing down my computer….

My return visit to Huangdidian Bat Cave the other week has set me thinking about Taiwan’s  many other caverns. I’m no geologist, but Taiwan’s geological makeup doesn’t lend it to the formation of deep caves – there’s very little limestone here!  (Now my home country England – that’s a different matter – check out this Titanic cave, discovered only in the year 2000!)  Even Wikipedia, rather embarrassingly, has only one entry on its ‘Caves of Taiwan’ page – the well-known Baxien Caves on the coast of southeastern Taidong County.  Actually there are loads of ‘caves’ on the island, and although most are little more than impressive, wind-eroded overhangs in rock faces, Taiwan has a number of true caverns as well.

Sanmin Bat Cave, the largest of its kind in northern Taiwan

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The east ridge of Huangdidian and the Bat Cave

Descending from the East Peak of Huangdidien

The knife-edges and metal ladders of Huangdidien’s famed ridge hike are so much fun that during the many hikes I’ve done there (I’ve probably been over ten times over the years), I’ve never – even once – been able to tear myself away from the main area and explore much of the nearby trail system. A look at what else the area has to offer has been long overdue, so on the magnificently sunny first Sunday in May, a group of us set off for Huangdidien, to find something new.

Huangdidien Bat Cave

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Hallasan: South Korea’s Highest Peak

The crater at the summit of Hallasan

The island of Jeju, Korea’s southernmost territory,  is a pretty interesting place. It gained a great deal of publicity a few months back when  it became (provisionally) one of the  ‘New 7Wonders of Nature’ in November 2011. The second in a continuing series (the ‘Seven Man-made Wonders’ were confirmed in 2007, and we have the ‘New Seven Wonders Cities’ to look forward to later this year), the official website for this harmless bagatelle amusingly states that the voting process will take “democracy to a new, global level.”  I think the choice of Wonders in both categories so far selected tells us more about national pride (or lack of it) and the power of the telephone vote than anything else. There’s no doubt though that Jeju (or at least its amazing volcanic landforms) is an extraordinary place.

The impressive cone of Sanbangsan, in the southwest corner of the island, rises above fields of canola flowers

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Taiwan’s Top Ten Day Trips

I’ve just written this piece for a Korean magazine, and while most of the places here have already been put on the Blog, it’s probably worth putting the whole thing up here  – Taiwan really is an extraordinary place!

This list is only a start, and on another day I might have come up with a completely different ‘top 10,’ but these are wonderful places, and all are great personal favorites. I’ve uploaded new photos and expanded the write-up on the spectacular Taiji Canyon, which is not covered elsewhere here.

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The secret’s finally out: more and more tourists are discovering that Taiwan is an island of quite extraordinary natural beauty. But whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to the big tourist draw cards such as Sun Moon Lake, Alishan and Kenting. The island’s popular sights are great of course, but be sure to make time for at least a couple of the countless little-known gems that lie scattered around the island and on the outlying islets.

There are enough enchanting spots to keep a weekend explorer going for decades, and any ‘top ten’ list is bound to be highly subjective, but here’s a personal list of ten places – all feasible day trips from one or other of the island’s big cities – that may well prove to leave more lasting memories than lying on the beach in Kenting or zooming through Taroko Gorge in a bus.

1.  Loyal Son Mountain and

2. Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, Taipei County

Descending Loving Mother Mountain

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

The 12 kilometer-long Pingxi Branch Railway Line, an hour’s ride from Taipei city center, is one of the most beautiful train rides in northern Taiwan, but the real attraction of coming here is the host of natural and cultural attractions easily accessible from the tracks. The area is dotted with atmospheric reminders of the area’s coal mining past, and the valley (which boasts the wettest place in Taiwan) features well over twenty waterfalls. The most famous (and touristy) of these is forty meter-broad Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), the widest waterfall in Taiwan, but waterfall lovers can’t do better than take the stunningly scenic, 3-hour Sandiaoling Waterfall (三貂嶺瀑布) Walk nearby. Named for an impressive 30-meter high fall which plunges over a huge overhang behind which hikers can stand, the walk also features a further two beautiful waterfalls, and several exciting but safe climbs up cliff faces on chunky rope ladders.

Niya Waterfall, on the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk

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Hikes next weekend (December 11-12th)

The beautiful Cloud Forest Waterfall, a highlight of next Saturday’s hike

SUNDAY meeting time:  This one’s starting at a slightly more sociable hour: 8:30 at Guandu Station (Red line, three stops from Danshui at the northern terminus) , next to the ticket box (on the southbound platform).

SATURDAY meeting details: We meet at Yongning MRT station, at street level, exit 2 at 7:40 am. Yongning is at the western terminus of the blue (Nangang to Tucheng) line, and you’ll need almost 30 minutes (including possible waiting time: up to 8 minutes!) from Taipei Main Station to get there so please allow enough time to get there!  Yep, I know it’s a bit early, but we have to take a bus from there to Sanxia for the 8:30 bus, and if we miss this bus, we’re heading straight back home, as the next bus is three hours later! Continue reading

Huangdidian Bat Cave

Huangdidian Bat Cave

The route to the cave is described at the end of the Huangdidian walk on pages 183-184.

The route to the cave is described at the end of the Huangdidian walk on pages 183-184.

OK, by no remote stretch of the imagination could be Huangdidian (皇帝殿) be ever considered off the beaten track. Even on the ominously cloudy, misty day we ended up hiking there in early October, there were no shortage of other hikers on the trails. Yep, for better or worse, the regular circuit of the knife-edge precipices of Huangdidian forms one of the Taipei  area’s most renowned and popular hiking routes, so give it a wide berth if you value solitude and the opportunity to commune with pristine nature.  Perhaps the most damaging (or beneficial, depending on your point of view) byproduct of Huangdidien’s immense popularity are the many disfigurements improvements that have been made to make the path a little safer in recent years. Continue reading

Shifen’s Mysterious Bat Cave

The Bat Cave at Nanshanping, near Shifen on the Pingxi Line, is one of the area’s most mysterious places

The way to the cave is explained on pages 83-84.

The way to the cave is explained on pages 83-84, but take care! For Dongshige Old Trail, see pages 166-170.

The Pingxi Branch Line has been a favorite stamping ground of mine for years, providing many days of happy exploring. Until a couple of weeks ago, though, one place (marked prominently, but inaccurately on several hiking maps of the area) remained stubbornly hidden: the Nanshanping Bat Cave (南山坪蝙蝠洞). However thanks to a solitary  reference to the place on a local hiking blog on the Web (the only one source I’ve ever found with any info about the cave), I discovered how to find the trailhead, at the end of a track nearly a kilometer east of the position marked on both my maps. No wonder I’d never found it before…!

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Bitoujiao and Lungdong (the ‘Dragon Cave’)

On Bitoujiao

Both places are described in detail on pages 68-70.

Both places are described in detail on pages 68-70.

The magnificent scenery of Taiwan’s northeast coast was one of the first places I visited on arriving in Taiwan, way back in 1993, simply because it was one of the few Taipei area places listed in the Lonely Planet back in those days that actually sounded worth visiting. My copy of that old edition (with a beautiful, coyly smiling aboriginal girl on the front, I remember) has long been lost, but I remember the author seemed to have a fetish for temples,  introducing loads of them throughout the book while leaving out many major attractions.

The Northeast Coast Scenic Area, as it became known in 1995 (the protected area was extended south to beyond Suao in Ilan County a couple of years ago), has always been one of the great attractions of the Taipei area, and while I usually give such touristy places a very wide berth (Yehliu, anyone?), There’s so much open countryside and such staggering views along the stretch of coast between Keelung and Longdong Bay that I just can’t resist returning often.   Continue reading