Hua Island: truly off-the-beaten-track in Taiwan

Hua Island Lighthouse

Hua Island Lighthouse

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Hua Island village

Hua Island village

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island's north coast

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island’s north coast

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Hua Island (花嶼), with no airport and only three weekly boats connecting it with the outside world, is probably as far off the beaten track as you can go in Taiwan, short of walking several days into the high mountains. It’s the westernmost island in the Penghu archipelago (and is often quoted as being the westernmost point in Taiwan; in political talk Matsu and Kinmen belong to the ROC but are not part of Taiwan itself – look it up!). Quickly moving away from a highly sensitive subject, I think we can all agree that given it’s lack of connections with the rest of the world, Hua Island is something of a backwater. Continue reading

Batongguan Historic Trail (Dongpu Section): Another of Taiwan’s Finest Day Hikes

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

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In a blog entry several years ago, I wrote that the awesome Zhuilu Cliff Trail is the finest day walk in Taiwan. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but in it’s different way the Western end of the cross-island Batongguan Historic Trail is probably an equal partner. I walked this stretch (from Dongpu Hot Springs to Yinu (‘one girl’) Waterfall), permits are required to go further) once twenty years ago and it blew me away. Continue reading

Jiufenershan: A sobering reminder of the Power of the 921 Earthquake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The Grand Canyon at Zuolan

The Grand Canyon at Zhuolan

The Slanting House at Jiufenershan

The sloping house at Jiufenershan

 

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

At 1:47 am on September 21st, 1999, the most powerful earthquake to hit Taiwan in over a century (measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale) struck the center of the island, killing 2,415 people. Over 11,000 were seriously injured, and damage to property (many of the buildings that fell were shoddily constructed or designed to inadequate safety standards) was estimated at NT$300 billion.

The quake has become part of the national conscience (most people still usually refer to it as simply “921”, after the date on which it struck) and although the island has well and truly moved on, plenty of memories of that awful night remain to this day. Like Jiufenershan, a place guaranteed to bring home the primeval power of the catastrophe. Continue reading

Fascinating Keelung

The Buddha's Hand

The Buddha’s Hand

Keelung French Cemetery

Keelung French Cemetery

Hoping Island

Hoping Island

Baimiwong Fort

Baimiwong Fort

Keelung Island

Keelung Island

Sheliao Fort

Sheliao East Fort

Fairy Cave

Fairy Cave

For details, see Taipei Escapes I

For details, see Taipei Escapes I

Keelung was true to its reputation on my last visit a weekend or two back – rainy, misty and cold. It was also every bit as fascinating and scenic as ever, and it’s surprising that this much more positive aspect of Taiwan’s second port is so relatively little known. Partly to collect some photos taken over the years in one single place, and also to (hopefully) give an idea just how fascinating Keelung is, here’s a series of photos (and a few words) on some of the city’s most interesting spots (apart from the Miaokou snack street…).

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More from Kaohsiung County

Badlands near Yanqiao

Badlands near Yanqiao

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter...), near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter…), near Maolin

The Natural Cleft behind the 'Stone Breast' Temple near Tianliao

The Natural Cleft behind the ‘Stone Breast’ Temple near Tianliao

The 'Grand Canyon' near Nanhua

The ‘Grand Canyon’ near Nanhua

The main reason for our recent scooter weekend in Kaohsiung County was to explore a couple of new sights, and revisit the area’s mud volcanoes for a new project I’m working on, but we got to fit a lot more into those two jam-packed days.

First up came the wonderful Badlands landscapes: the magnificent ‘Grand Canyon’ (大峽谷) near Nanhua (南化), just across the border in Tainan County… Continue reading

Jiuhaocha: A Forgotten Aboriginal Village deep in the mountains of Pingdong County

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Approaching the Cliff Path (day one)

The abandoned aboriginal village of Juhaocha

The abandoned aboriginal village of Juhaocha

The long way back (day two)

The long way back (day two)

The vast majority of multi-day hikes in Taiwan seem to be in the high mountains, so it’s refreshing to come across a few places such as the Walami Trail in southern Hualien County where hikers can really get away from civilisation for two days without suffering headaches from the altitude, freezing each night, or – worst of all – having to beg for a precious permit from one of the not particularly foreigner-friendly National Park authorities.

To really get away from civilization for a weekend though, you’d be hard put to find a better  place than the abandoned aboriginal village of Jiuhaocha (舊好茶), high in the mountains of southern Pingdong County. This old Rukai settlement, abandoned over 30 years ago, is the only aboriginal village in Taiwan afforded Historic Monument status (and Grade Two, at that, which makes it pretty important). It forms the focal point of a remarkable 2-day hike in the magnificent mountain scenery of northern Pingdong County. Continue reading

Mount Sandiaoling (A Sandiaoling to Jiufen Ridge Walk)

The lovely Two Phoenix Waterfall is near the start of the hike

The lovely Two Phoenix Gorge Waterfall is near the start of the hike

The hike ends at Jiufen, in the shadow of shapely Mount Keelung

The hike ends at Jiufen, in the shadow of shapely Mount Keelung, which dominates the view on the trail descending from Mount Jingua

Some of the trails in the this book (but not the Mount Sandiaoling trail) are described in detail on pages 80-81 and 124 -137.

Some of the trails in our walk (but not the Mount Sandiaoling trail itself) are described in detail on pages 80-81 and 124 -137.

Add another wonderful trail to the plethora of wonderful trails in the upper Keelung River Valley. The Sandiao Dalun (三貂大崙) trail, which basically connects Sandiaoling station with Houtong along the fine ridge to the east of the Keelung River via the historic Golden Letters Tablet (金字碑) is neither one of the most strenuous nor the most beautiful of the trails in the area, but those are very relative qualifications, because in most other areas around Taipei this would be prime hiking territory. In the event, the trail seems known only to hiking groups, which can only be a big “plus”.

The trail forms the constant centrepiece of several interesting routes that connect Sandiaoling with Jiufen and Jinguashi. This makes for an interesting hike culturally as well as a very scenic one, connecting the coal mining areas (and relics) of the upper Keelung River Valley at Houtong with the gold and copper mining centers on the other side of the ridge, passing a couple of atmospheric, long abandoned miners’ villages on the way, now nearly reclaimed by the jungle. Continue reading

Gone, but Definitely Not Forgotten

The remarkable Lost Soul Valley at Caoling, now buried beneath millions of tons of earth dislodged during the great earthquake of 1999. (Photo taken in 1993).

The remarkable Lost Soul Valley at Caoling, now buried beneath millions of tons of earth dislodged during the great earthquake of 1999. (Photos all taken in 1993)

The Ferris wheel and rocket ride at the abandoned theme park above Pitan, Xidian (photo taken around 1995)

The Ferris wheel and rocket ride at the abandoned theme park above Pitan, Xindian (photos taken around 1995)

Last Christmas, while clearing out heaps of junk in my bedroom back in the UK, I came across several boxes of old print photos from my various world travels in the early 1990s, along with some photos from my earliest years in Taiwan, almost two decades ago.  Among the tourist must-sees such as Wulai Waterfall, Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge and Yehliu, however I found photos of two places which will be far less familiar to the majority of Taiwanese expats, for the simple reason that (for completely different reasons) neither of them exist anymore! Continue reading

Kenting – SO much more than beaches, booze and banana boats

A rare example of a natural Eternal Flame at Hengchun, near Kenting, where natural gas rises through cracks in the rock and is ignited at the surface

A rare example of a natural Eternal Flame at Hengchun, near Kenting, where natural gas rises through cracks in the rock and is ignited at the surface

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Qikong Waterfalls

Climbing Big Sharp Rock Mountain, the Kenting area's most conspicuous (and impressive) landmark

Climbing Big Sharp Rock Mountain, the Kenting area’s most conspicuous (and impressive) landmark

In the Fairy Cave (supposedly Taiwan's largest stalactite cave), Kenting Forest Recreation Area

In the Fairy Cave (supposedly Taiwan’s largest stalactite cave), Kenting Forest Recreation Area

The 'Big Gorge,' Sheding Park

The ‘Big Gorge,’ Sheding Park

The old town walls at Hengchun

The old town walls at Hengchun

I’ve lived in Taiwan (apart from an eighteen month hiatus around the Millennium) for exactly twenty years this month (June 2013), yet in all that time have only been to the Kenting area once, about a decade ago. Finally I paid a repeat visit last weekend when a group of us zoomed down there by HSR for a weekend exploring. Local guidebooks suggest that there’s more to the area than the famous beaches (which I still don’t think are that great) and the party atmosphere (which is admittedly a lot of fun), but it was only on this second trip that I realised just HOW much there is to see, do and experience around Taiwan’s southernmost tip.

Here are seven sights within a short(ish) scooter’s ride of the party strip that are guaranteed to change anyone’s view of this well-loved but under appreciated corner of Taiwan. A couple are already firmly on the (local) tourist trail, but the others are still an open secret guarded by those in the know. The most astonishing of all – Big Sharp Stone Mountain – is an inescapable landmark from almost anywhere around Kenting, but few actually climb it because the trail is hard to find. Climbing to the summit of Kenting’s most memorable landmark (which lies on private land) is also technically illegal (although when that stop people doing anything in Taiwan?) and fairly hard, vertiginous work, so consider if you want to risk it before going. If you make it to the top though, the panoramic view over Taiwan’s southernmost tip is unequalled. Continue reading

A Few Photos

Husband and Wife Trees, New Central Cross-island Highway

Husband and Wife
Trees, New Central Cross-island Highway

Maliguang Waterfall, Hsinchu Conty

Maliguang Waterfall, Hsinchu Conty

Above the aboriginal village of Laiji, Chiayi County

Above the aboriginal village of Laiji, Chiayi County

It’s been so long since I’ve been hiking that I’ve started putting on weight and seem to be entering a mild depression.  The plum rains seem – hopefully – to be loosening their grip on the island and there are hopes that we might have a good weekend exploring coming up (our last attempt, a scooter trip around the mountains of Chiayi three weeks ago turned into a soggy disaster). Meanwhile, partly as a little self therapy, and to replace my last, angry, post from top position where its been for the last couple of weeks, here’s a couple of photos from recent and not-so-recent trips around the main island of Taiwan. Thanks to Oksana for the ancient tree photo – much better than any of the ones I took myself!

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On the road up to Luchang, an aboriginal village in magnificent countryside in Miaoli County

Continue reading