The best of the best: five fantastic Taiwan day hikes

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

On the Stegasaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

On the Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

On the 'Cliff Trail', en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

On the ‘cliff trail’, en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

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

Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake

Shuiyang Forest

Shuiyang Forest

The stream just above the lake

The stream just above the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour's walk beyond the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour’s walk beyond the lake

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

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

Adrspach Teplice Rocks: an amazing ‘Rock Town’ in the Czech Republic

In the Adrspach Rocks

In the Adrspach Rocks

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

One of the many narrow chasms at Teplice

The lake at Adrspach

The lake at Adrspach

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The Mayor and Mayoress - the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

The Mayor and Mayoress – the most famous rock towers at Adrspach-Teplice

Off the tourist paths

Off the tourist paths

Looking at photos of the amazing ‘rock town’ of Adrspach-Teplice Rocks, it’s easy to assume that this is someplace in China, perhaps. Certainly before I went, I’d never have guessed such an arresting landscape could have been found in …the Czech Republic… but yep, it is – up near the Polish border, about 170 kilometers from Prague, and the largest and most spectacular of several geological curiosities found in this part of Europe, both in the Czech Republic and over the border in Germany, near Dresden. 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

Some recent Pics…

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

The Heavenly Steps

The Heavenly Steps

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

With research on a new book well underway and a piano recital, it’s been all go recently. Hopefully soon I’ll get to write a bit about the latest favorites, but meantime here are three places in central Taiwan’s Nantou County that are definitely NOT off the beaten track, although none the worse for that (apart from the crowds of fellow visitors, high entrance fees, traffic jams on the way up and over-developed infrastructure). Shanlinsi, Sitou and the Heavenly Steps tend to look better in photos than they do in real life, but ignore the negative impact of mass tourism and they’re all well worth visiting – just start out early in the morning if you visit at the weekend to avoid the masses! 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

Encore Garden: Taichung’s atmospheric abandoned theme park

In the former Orchid Garden

In the former Orchid Garden

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The entrance to Encore Garden

The entrance to Encore Garden

What is it about abandoned theme parks that makes them such irresistible place to explore – for some of us at least? Although there are apparently quite a number dotted around Taiwan, Encore Garden (雅哥花園) at Dakeng, just east of Taichung city, became pretty famous a year or so ago, probably after pics of it did the rounds on the Net.

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