A Bird’s-Eye View of Taroko Gorge: Jhuilu Old Trail

The cliff section of Jhuilu Old Trail in better weather (on my first trip there, April 2009)  

Taroko Gorge never fails to impress greatly during a first visit, and bits of it – the Tunnel of Nine Turns, Swallows’ Grotto, the Lyushui Trail –  are always a delight, but after a couple of visits the area’s limitations soon become apparent. There’s little chance to get off the main road for long and enjoy the scenery away from the hoards of noisy tourists, cars and coaches, and it’s only by getting away from the road that the full beauty of this natural marvel can be really appreciated.  Although there are a few trails to explore,  the choice of longer, really interesting trails for keen hikers within the gorge is very limited. The Datong Trail (which takes a full day) isn’t really in the gorge, and two of the better short trails (the Baiyang and Huoran Pavillion Trails) are both closed for the forseeable future. All in all, Taroko really isn’t a great place for hiking.

There is, however, one notable exception.  Closed for a decade following the great 1999 earthquake, the Jhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道) has always been Taroko Gorge’s most coveted hike, for the simple reason that it’s by far the most interesting hiking opportunity in the Gorge, offering some truly jaw-dropping views.  Although the trail Continue reading

Teapot Mountain and Mt Banping: Taipei County’s most spectacular hiking country

For full details of the route, see pages 116-123.

For full details of the route, see pages 116-123.

Together with the magnificent area around Pingxi on the headwaters of the Keelung River, and the ‘forgotten’ far northern limits of Yangmingshan National Park (especially around Mt Zhuzi), the Keelung Mountain group (looming over the wildly popular twin mining/tourist towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi) offers some of the most spectacular hiking in Taipei County.  Aside from the rather monotonous, stepped climb to the summit of Mt Keelung itself (great view at the top though!), the  remaining five main peaks of this miniature ‘range’ (the result of ancient volcanic activity) make for some fabulous hiking amid surprisingly rugged countryside, with barely a view-blocking tree in sight.  Continue reading

The Golden Grotto: spectacular chasms, stone-throwing monkeys and, blue, blue water

The spectacular waterfall at the highest accessible point of the Golden Canyon

The Golden Canyon of Sanjhan has long been on my ‘to do’ list, but for all kinds of reasons I never made it to this spectacular place on Taiwan’s east coast until this hot, sunny May Day weekend.  Now I’ve been I don’t think I’m up to going through all that again, but wow! it’s a truly amazing place….   Continue reading

Caves, Waterfalls and Archeological Sites: Guanyin Mountain’s little-known curiosities

Guanyin Mountain summit from Mount Jhan

Guanyin Mountain is a familiar sight to anyone who’s taken the MRT from Taipei to Danshui as the shapely, many-peaked mountain rising across the broad waters of the Danshui River estuary. It also makes for some great hiking, commanding one of the Taipei area’s most magnificent views from the top if you’re lucky enough to get a clear day.  I generally avoid the popular ‘tourist’ route up the mountain from the showpiece Lingyun Temple in favor of a less well-known but more interesting (and demanding!) route from the front (river) side of the mountain, via the satellite peak of Mt. Jhan (占山).


   Taking this route also has the advantage of passing close to one of the peak’s most intriguing yet little-known landforms, Chauyin (‘tidal sound’) Cave, a very narrow box canyon rather than a real cave, housing  a tiny shrine and, at the end, a small waterfall. Continue reading