The Unexpected – Taroko National Park, Taiwan

They say as you get older that time goes by more quickly.  Well, the same can be said for a year long trip.  This adventure is going by too fast.  We booked our flights to Taiwan months ago, and suddenly here we are.  To be more exact, we have been here for nearly a week and a half.

After some time in Taipei and then in Emily’s old town (and her Uncle Joe’s current home) of Dongshi, we made our way to the other side of the island to Taiwan’s tropical east coast. And so day 186 found us in the city of Hualien, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

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Hello, Canada, from the other side of the Pacific!  No swimming is allowed here due to strong currents, but Doug wanted to say he’d been in the Pacific on the other side of the world.
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The beach at Hualien is all rocks, so Doug spent some time practicing his balancing.  Five rocks, are you impressed? Note that Emily spent her time placing rocks in Doug’s shorts, which is not nearly as productive.

We came to Hualien to spend time exploring the nearby Taroko National Park, arguably the number 1 attraction in all of Taiwan.  And, as it turns out, with very good reason.  Now we should preface this with a little bit about travelling to Taiwan in general.  Emily lived in Taiwan for a year, so it holds a special place in her heart and she always wanted to come back as part of our adventure.  On the other hand, Doug had never really given much thought to travelling to Taiwan. If it wasn’t for Emily’s experiences and enthusiasm to return, Taiwan probably wouldn’t have been on Doug’s travel “to do” list.  It turns out that would have been a mistake.  Taiwan may be small, but its unexpectedly beautiful and there are tons of things to do here.  It may not be on the typical backpacker trail in Asia, but it really should be.  Taroko National Park is a great example as to why.

The highlight of Taroko National Park is Taroko Gorge, a 19 km long gorge running from Taiwan’s central mountain range to the ocean.  The Park is 2 hours from Taipei by train.  Emily actually came here 6 years ago, not long after arriving in Taiwan and it was one of her favorite memories from her time living overseas.  Over the years Doug has heard plenty about the park from Emily.  He could tell from Em’s unbridled enthusiasm that it is a special place.  Needless to say, we were both really looking forward to checking it out.

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A lucky day of sunshine at the entrance to Taroko Gorge, with the Liwu River flowing in the background.  

We rented a scooter in Hualien, and made the 30 minute journey north to the entrance to the gorge.  The traffic is heavy along the way, so the pollution is a little smelly – hence the face mask.  But a scooter is definitely the way to see the gorge.  The road is fun, with lots of curves and places to stop off for fantastic views.  Just keep an eye on the endless tour buses that go barreling down what is barely a two lane, and often only a one lane, road.

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The gorge starts to narrow as you go upriver. You can see the road on the right hand side, as it passes through a tunnel. There are plenty of tunnels throughout the gorge.
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The bright white rock at the bottom is marble, worn shiny and smooth by the flowing water.  Marble is really hard, so erodes very slowly – hence the narrowing in this section of the gorge.  
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The brilliant white marble makes for a spectacular scene, especially when the sun is out.

The road crosses the river a number of times, and we saw several new bridges under construction.  The engineering effort to create and maintain the roads, bridges, and tunnels is really quite remarkable.

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Marble lions guard one of the new bridges. They looked lonely, so Emily gave one a hug.
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There are plenty of fun suspension bridges for walking across the gorge, but they aren’t for the feint of heart.  To our great surprise, the Taiwanese tourists actually followed the warning and no more than 8 people went on the bridge at a time.  

Nearly at the end of the gorge we arrived in the town of Tienhsiang, a scenic one-street affair where we could get some much needed lunch (steamed buns and amazing plums -because we are adventurous, we did not try and wash them).  The town is overlooked by the Xiangde Temple, a beautiful Buddhist temple complex.

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Xiangde Temple is a great place to take in the surrounding mountains.  Thankfully the rain held off most of the day, which is rare this time of year.
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The Samanthababhadra Bodhisattva, a golden statue with ten faces and six-tusked elephants.

There are loads of hiking trails throughout the park, ranging from easy walks to multi-day treks over mountains.  Right now Taiwan is dazzlingly hot, so we opted for the relatively flat Shakadang Trail.  Its one of the more popular trails in the park, so we weren’t surprised to find the first section absolutely jammed with tourists.  Most bus tours of the gorge seem to stop here, giving their passengers 30-60 minutes to explore the trail.  But its worth pushing past the crowds, because the views are spectacular.  The water is incredibly clear, and turns a beautiful blue in the deeper sections as it travels through a marble gorge.

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Worth fighting the crowds for.
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One of many massive boulders in the gorge.  Check out the folded layers in the rock.  If Doug remembered more of his first year geology, we’d be able to tell you more than this is a metamorphic rock of some sort.
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The Shakadang Trail was full of huge spiders, which we now know are Giant Golden Orb Weavers.  They are one of the largest spiders in the world, and we saw some that were much, much larger than Doug’s hand.  This photo doesn’t show the scale of how large these things are, but it gives a good idea how crazy they look.  Their webs are enormous, and span over the trail between trees. We saw some webs that spanned between trees that were at least 6-8m apart. 

North of the gorge, Taroko National Park includes a section of coastline known as the Qingshui Cliffs.  This section of Taiwan is where the Eurasian tectonic plate is colliding with the Philippine Sea Plate.  The resulting cliffs are between 1000 and 2000m tall, and apparently they continue down into the ocean for another 1000-2000m. Ok that’s it with the geology lessons in this post! We promise.

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The incredible blue water makes it look like somewhere that Jack would be trying to go back to.

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Its worth coming here for the cliff and ocean views alone, not to mention Taroko Gorge just down the road.  We would have loved to have motorbikes for this stretch of road.
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We went on a path down towards the water, but to our disappointment it didn’t actually let us out onto the beach.  Just like in Hualien, they restrict beach access because of dangerous currents.  But we did get to see this Taiwanese guy doing a photoshoot that looks suspiciously like something from 1930’s Germany.

On our way back to Hualien, we stopped at a local village called Sanzhan.  One of the staff at our hostel mentioned this was a good place to go swim in the river when it gets hot in the afternoon.  We didn’t realize how serious she was and didn’t have bathing suits with us, so we just figured we’d check it out and maybe wade into the river a bit.

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The river in Sanzhan, a lovely place to cool off for the afternoon – if you can handle the crowds.

We were two days exploring the Taroko National Park, and it was well spent.  Renting a scooter was absolutely the way to see it, rather than taking one of the many bus tours.  Having ridden scooters/motorbikes throughout Southeast Asia, Taiwan’s roads are a breeze. The roads actually have traffic lights, and more surprisingly people actually pay attention to them!

We are now headed south along the coast to the town of Dulan, where we hope swimming will actually be allowed. And more importantly, its possible to go surfing.

But before you go, we leave you with this video of garbage day in Emily’s old town of Dongshi. Unlike Canada, in Taiwan every day is garbage day!  The trucks drive around twice a day, and they play music (often Happy Birthday or Its a Small World) so people know when to bring their garbage outside. The garbage truck has a separate section for compost, and the recycling truck follows behind, playing a different tune. They will also yell at you if your garbage, compost, and plastic and paper recycling are not appropriately separated, and make you separate them out on the street.  Its a sight to behold, so we wanted to share it with you. This one is playing Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

  • Doug and Emily / July 9, 2017 @ 9:18pm / Hualien, Taiwan @ World Inn

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Unexpected – Taroko National Park, Taiwan

  1. Oh my goodness, who knew Taiwan was so beautiful? Not as beautiful as all that man hair pulled back in a clawed headband, but still.

    Like

  2. Tough to compete with that (above) kind of beauty!
    Makes our OAC adventure to the Niagara Gorge seem a little less spectacular haha

    Like

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