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
Taiwan 101: Part 4. Western Taiwan
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
Taiwan 101: Part 3. Aspects of Taiwan
While the natural beauty of Taiwan will always be its greatest allure for me personally, the island also has an extraordinary wealth of cultural, historic and industrial attractions. Salt harvesting has been carried out on Taiwan for hundreds of years (with a history of eight centuries on the ROC-controlled island of Kinmen). Today salt production is a very minor industry here, but some of the salt fields (and a pair of unusual salt ‘mountains’) remain; the best have a strange beauty that’s quite unlike anything else on the island. Sugar, one of Taiwan’s biggest industries in the 1950s and 60s is now produced at only two sites on Taiwan, but some of Continue reading
Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves
It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.
One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. Continue reading
Twenty Favorite Taiwan Waterfalls
Taiwan is paradise for a waterfall lover like myself. It’s a bit of a joke among friends and family, but I’ve loved these things since I was a kid and used to scan guidebooks back home in England, reading about stunning cascades with rich and evocative-sounding names such as Cauldron Snout, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Falls of Glomach and Sgwd y Eira. When I finally passed my driving test (em…on the fourth try…) and got my first car, a Datsun Violet, there was no stopping me – in a series of weekend trips and longer holidays I started methodically touring first Wales and then England, exploring all those waterfalls I’d read and dreamt about in books. Within a year or two the interest had become almost an obsession, resulting in me writing a book (sadly never published) covering the complete waterfalls of England (totalling some 370… named examples).
It would probably be near-impossible to see all the waterfalls in Taiwan even if I made it my full-time job, since they are just too numerous and many are simply very remote or otherwise difficult to reach, so it’s just as well I’ve at least partly grown out of my youthful obsession. Waterfalls are still an irresistible magnet however, and I’m never happier on a hike then when it includes at least one (but preferably more than one) waterfall. Continue reading
A Few Photos
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!
Taiwan’s Bat Caves
Until my right little finger finally heals, and allows me to practice piano for more than fifteen minutes
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.
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.
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
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.
The Gentle Giants of Beidelaman
Standing for a group shot in front of the simply named Ancient Tree no. 1, there’s ample room for ten of us to pose, lined up in a row and leaning on the tree’s prodigiously broad, curving trunk. The biggest of the four Beidelaman Ancient Trees (北得拉曼神木) on the slopes of Mount Niaozui (鳥嘴山) in Hsinchu County, it’s a true giant, so it’s astonishing to find this leviathan has no place in Taiwan’s top ten largest (or rather hugest) ancient trees. Continue reading