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
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
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
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
The main focus of our last scooter trip south to Kaohsiung was to explore the Ghost Axe Canyon, that intriguing spot on the map that turned into such an amazing discovery, but the trip was so much quicker than expected that we had plenty of time to see some of the other sights in the area – butterflies, strange peaks of uplifted coral, a waterfall or two …and mud volcanoes! Kaohsiung County has a number of Taiwan’s best examples of this strange phenomena, and on this trip I revisited all four – two (Wushanding and Yangnu) near the town of Yanqiao in Kaohsiung County that are probably the best on the island, a tricky-to-find one near the town of Qiaotou, and a fourth at Tianliao, near the border with Tainan County.
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
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
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!
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.
Apart from some magnificent temples, the occasional fine old town, and a scattering of miscellaneous minor sights, the flat plains and rolling foothills that run down Taiwan’s western coastal strip is generally a zone to pass through quickly, rather than stop and explore, but in northern Kaohsiung and southern Tainan counties, the otherwise monotonous and unremarkable landscape is punctuated by a quite remarkable series of bizarre landforms, known collectively by the Taiwanese as ‘moon world’ (月世界). Continue reading