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

Yuemeikang Waterfall

The way to Yuemeikang Waterfall is described on pages 222-227; for Wufengchi Waterfall, see pages 218-219.

The way to Yuemeikang Waterfall is described on pages 222-227; for Wufengchi Waterfall, see pages 218-219.

It’s still early (not even 9 am) when we arrive, yet the car park at the entrance to Wufengchi Waterfalls (五峰旗瀑布) is packed with cars this fine Saturday morning in June, and we’re forced to find an empty roadside place to leave the car. Continue reading

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

Zhongliao and the Chessboard Rock


Tucked away in a corner of Nantou County well away from Sun Moon Lake, Sitou and the other major tourist attractions of the area, Zhongliao (中寮) village receives few outsiders, except those passing through on the way to the nearby resort town of Jiji. Hidden in the steep valleys to the east of town, however, are a number of interesting natural curiosities that make this an excellent half-day stop on any tour of Nantou. The individual sights may be interesting rather than spectacular, but they are unusual, and exploring the area of small, narrow roads which cross this rural, quiet part of Taiwan’s center is a joy in itself. Continue reading

The Amazing Water Curtain Cave of Ping Lai Stream


As a kid growing up in England I never dreamed I’d end up living in the Far East. In fact I don’t think I ever even thought, as a youth, of visiting the mysterious Orient; poring over books describing the wonders of England and Wales (especially the mountains, waterfalls, lonely moors and (for some reason), prehistoric stone circles of the far-away north provided more than enough to set the imagination of this pre-teenager racing. About the full extent of my exposure to Chinese culture (apart from a tablecloth mum embroidered using the ‘willow pattern’ design she’d traced off a plate) was watching ‘Monkey’ on TV. In those days I had no idea that the series was based on a Chinese classic (Journey to the West), and the mad antics of Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy (quite unlike anything else on TV in the UK at that time) made a bigger impression than the fabulous scenery of the locations, so it was only after my hastily planned arrival in Taiwan in 1993 that I learnt that crazy TV series was based on a great work of art. In the novel, the Water Curtain Cave is the home of the monkey king, Sun Wukong, and this wonderfully evocative name has been adopted at some of the island’s most enchanting waterfalls.  ‘Water Curtain Caves’ can be found in Taoyuan, Chiayi, Yunlin, and Hualian counties, but perhaps the most beautiful (and certainly the most mysterious) lies in the hills below the resort of Sitou in the central county of Nantou.  Although not far, as the crow Continue reading