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Published: October 3rd 2014
Shitiping beach lookout
We woke early, ate our vegetable breakfast and the guesthouse owner drove us back across the long bridge to the railway station in Xincheng to catch the train the fifteen minutes to Hualien. Our original plan had been to travel the coastal road from there down to Taitung, a coastal city and then onward to Kaohsiung which was our departure city for Taiwan. Bedore leaving home we had debated whether to travel the eastern or western side of the island. We chose the eastern side mainly because it was much less urbanised. We had read however that there was therefore much less public transport. Most locals used their own cars and tourists hired scooters or bicycles. Neither option really appealed to us - at least not to travel the length of the island on.
Once we arrived in Hualien we decided to use it as a base for one night and travel down the coastal road at least as far as Shitiping (great name!), renowned for its beach rocks and cliffs. We caught a taxi to go to a recommended hotel - he drove for quite a while before we asked him to take us back to the station area
as it seemed ridiculous with our tight schedule to stay in a hotel along way from our transport options. We quickly found another hotel (most smaller hotels here have no signage on the street front which is in English despite all other tourist signs etc being in English and Taiwanese) directly across the large square in front of the station - they had a room but wouldn't allow us to check in (despite the room being ready and no sign advising 'pay by the hour' use of the rooms) until 3pm. It was only 10am so we left our books in the foyer under the (we hoped) the watchful eye of the receptionist and headed out to find an air conditioned cafe.
It was really sunny and humid and we wandered if we were totally mad to be going to the beach in such conditions. Later in the morning, full of coffee and cake we went back to the station square, to check on bus schedules. The town had appeared very sleepy when we first arrived but the station area was now full of tour buses unloading tourists at the train station - no doubt all heading back to
Taipei after touring the gorge. We managed to get a seat on a bus leaving immediately for Shitiping as soon as we walked into the bus station. It was a very pretty drive as the road followed the sea side most of the way. It was very hilly in places - they were covered with the thick green vegetation which has become so familiar to us in the last week.
The closer we got to Shitiping the more beautiful the coastline became. The cliffs were volcanic and they had eroded into wild shapes which flowed into the aquamarine waters. There were no waves at all and the sea was mirror smooth. Shitiping comprises of a small fishing village and a landscaped park nearby. We could see the small manmade harbour with moored blue boats attached around it's edges. All the fishing boats we've seen here so far seem to be blue which we feel is an odd colour to use. The bus dropped us at the entrance of the park. Walking down towards the sea we passed many large tour buses so realised that the site would be very busy.
The main viewpoint certainly was - literally dozens
of mainland Chinese, all carrying their umbrellas and following tour guides (who all carry flags, usually with some small stuffed toy attached to it). When we lived in China we spent the weekend touring the Three Gorges on a Chinese tour. We were the disobedient members of the group as we never stayed with the crowd. It was quite amusing watching them all watching the sea! Probably many of them had not seem the ocean before. It was stunning though. The cliffs were high on the other side of the village and dominated the horizon. We had read that the sea currents were very strong there and it was too dangerous to swim.
Leaving the crowds to enjoy the view we followed the long boardwalk until we came to a deserted area of the beach, complete with a shaded picnic pavilion. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours there, snoozing and reading in the cool ocean breeze whilst contemplating the gorgeous view every do often. It was great just to stop for a while... We wandered down onto the beach for a while and clambered over the rocks for a short while - but it was just too
hot to go far. The beach had many wooden triangular open camping pavilions - no tents needed as you just put down your sleeping mat on the wooden floor and slept undercover but still in the fresh air. A good idea we thought. Picnic tables but no BBQ's or such.
Eventually we wandered back to the road, bought an ice cream, and waited for the next bus back to Hualien.
We were allowed into our room when we got back to the hotel - thankfully our bags were still safe in the foyer. Actually I think that Taiwan is a very safe place to travel in - the people are kind, friendly and happy. A good room for a reasonable price - 1400 NT$ (AUD$52) with our first Asian very hard mattress this trip. Dinner at the night market - 'very far to walk' said the hotel receptionist. Taking that with a grain of salt we set out (Asians don't like walking) but she was correct as we were very pleased to eventually find the market. It was worth the walk though - the best one we've been to so far. Only food and lots of it. Really
Ice cream flavours at Hualien night market
We've been eating more ice cream than we should!
busy with some stalls having very long queues. There was an incredible range of freshly squeezed juices and endless stalls selling grilled meats, vegetables and fish. Pork sausages of all shapes and colour are very popular.
You pick a plastic basket up, fill it with what ever appeals to you, pay and ten minutes later come back to collect it, steaming hot from the grilling racks or deep fryer. There were also many stalls selling sushi - there is a lot of Japanese influences here. Many of the hotels even have tatami bedrooms. Another long walk back to our hotel, calling in to check out a large supermarket on the way, and once there we barely noticed the hard bed...
Next day it seemed silly to leave Hualien without visiting one of the tourist sites within the city so we chose one from the guide book and set out on foot to visit it. We chose Pine Garden, a former WWII command post for the Japanese Navy. It was also where kamakazi pilots were wined and dined before their final missions. We never did actually find it - we do a great job sometimes of getting totally lost
in cities! I think that's what taxis are for... We did get to see a lot of the streets, not particularly busy, a very wide river with a cycle path winding down it (again very little water) and met a few locals who all gave us directions which seemed to contradict each other! Giving upgjhtd we eventually caught a taxi back to our hotel, collected our bags and caught the next train into the East Rift Valley. This valley runs between the two mountain ranges which run close together through the length of Taiwan.
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