A short train ride (that’s 2h short) from Taipei lies Taroko Gorge, a stunning river-cut gorge with marble walls. To get across Taiwan’s mountainous terrain, the engineers had to cut holes in several mountains. Big ones, too, not some pansy little hills–these are massive mountains, and the tunnels are many kilometers long. After all these tunnels, the train emerges to Hualien, a small city on the eastern coast of Taiwan. One interesting feature of Hualien is the Air Force base: there is a tunnel going into the side of a mountain, where the planes are kept in case of an attack by China. This way the planes are safe, ready for a retaliatory strike.
Our (fantastic!) taxi driver, Mr. Wu, met us at the train station and took us north through Hualien and then west into the Gorge. After a brief stop at the tourist information center, we headed up windy roads into the gorge itself.
On to the photos. I haven’t played with the colors, so you can see what this beautiful location really looks like to the eye. Here’s a typical view down the gorge:
Where the river turns there is a face in the rock. The mouth is just at water level, with the nose sticking out to the left. As my friend Matt cleverly pointed out, the rocks are washed clean where the high water level is. Obviously when we were there, it wasn’t during spring snowmelt or a typhoon.
Here’s an image of what the rock walls of the gorge look like up close, visible from one of the many trails just off the road:
The river water must have a lot of minerals dissolved in it to look this color:
It’s also fantastic to see what nature can do. As you may know, Taiwan is an active earthquake area, and these quakes knock loose a lot of rocks. At one point you can see the old road (before an improved road was laid with more tunnels), with fallen boulders the size of trucks in the middle of it. Here you see a rockfall by the Nine Turns trail:
There’s a reason for the hard hats they hand out, although I’m not sure they’ll help against a rockfall of this size. I heard a tourist was killed by a rock a few weeks before we were there–a child who had taken off his hard hat. If you’re there with kids, make sure they follow the safety rules, and stay close to the wall.
Here’s another interesting scene. Unfortunately this bridge wasn’t open to the public, as I would have loved to walk across!
Mr. Wu took us up the winding roads and stopped at each attraction or viewing area. At the end of the day, we had also hiked for a couple of hours, including a fantastic trip up a mountainside next to what looked like a temple. We were told it was a memorial for workers that died building the roads and tunnels through the Taroko Gorge area.
Finally, Mr. Wu let us off in downtown Hualien. I have to send a shout out to him; his English is very good and he picked a fantastic aboriginal Taiwanese restaurant for lunch. As I write, he is probably flying people out from typhoon-stricken areas of Taiwan in his “day job” as a helicopter rescue pilot!
In coastal Hualien, we looked around for a restaurant for dinner, focusing on seafood. I saw a city-block-sized covered area with the traditional red lanterns hanging beside it, signifying “restaurant.” Anything that big in a non-tourist town has GOT to be good. We tried it out, and were treated to a fantastic feast. Note: there was not a single English sign or menu, but a very nice local helped us figure out what to order. The sushi was excellent. The salmon was excellent. The Kung Pao chicken was the best I’ve ever had. And of course, the Taiwan Beer was flowing freely.
Here’s what I could find on the web about the restaurant (based on the phone number on the sign in my photo). I don’t speak Chinese, but if you print it out I’m sure any Hualien taxi driver could find it. http://twhl.inbegin.com/html/front/bin/ptdetail.phtml?Part=chfood0025 If you can find this restaurant, by all means, go there! Just point to what you want in the tanks, they should be able to grill it up to super-tasty perfection.
Getting to Taroko Gorge:
Here’s where it gets tricky. We had fantastic travel arrangements from Taipei through a friend, Kirsten (THANKS!). I recommend that if you don’t know Chinese, you find a reputable travel agent to book your train tickets (express train if possible) and a taxi to meet you at the train station. I’m sure there are other ways to do it as well, with tour groups, your own rental car (if you know some Chinese), and so on. Any way you choose to do it, you’ll visit one of the most amazing natural sights in Taiwan. Just drive up the road through Taroko Gorge and stop at each viewing point / parking lot along the gorge road for fantastic views and short hikes.
Link to Taroko National Park.
Thanks for reading, and hope to see you here again! If you wish to follow via email or RSS, you can subscribe with the orange buttons in the left sidebar.