Taroko Gorge: one of Mother Nature's best!

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September 16th 2010
Published: October 20th 2010
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We took the evening train 2.5 hours to Haulien, a small town on the east coast which would be our base while exploring Taroko Gorgo. Taroko is a national park area with tall, jagged, imposing marble cliffs and mountains with clear rivers running through the valleys. There are many hiking and walking trails throughout the park and some stunning views to be seen.

In Haulien, we stayed at Formosa Backpacker’s Hostel, a place recommended to us by others at The Meeting Place. This now being “low season” in Taiwan, we walked into the hostel at 9:30pm to quite a sight: doors unlocked, not a soul inside, no one at the bar, bar fridge chain locked, dorm rooms unlocked and empty (except for one bed). It was weird - almost like we were in the wrong place or it was closed…except we had a reservation, so that couldn’t be! After walking around and calling out to people to no avail, we left to get some dinner. We stopped at a small family-run fried chicken joint which reinforced the fact that Taiwanese are some of the nicest and most generous people you will ever meet. So excited to see foreigners, the mother and father were eager to help us, apologizing profusely for not speaking English (when it should have been US apologizing for not speaking their language!). With the help of their teenage son we got some chicken and French fries ordered. While we were waiting, they offered us some free oolong tea which is famous in Taiwan and was delicious! When our food arrived they also offered us some free corn on the cob which had been fried in a pan and rolled in spices- a different, yet delicious take on corn-on-the-cob! Feeling satisfied and in a good mood, we crossed out fingers and went back to the hostel. This time a Taiwanese guy was there and told us the owner was upstairs, so we knocked on her door (she might have been sleeping) and got checked in finally.

The next morning we took the free shuttle bus to the Gorge stopping first at the Tunnel of Nine Turns trail which is supposed to have some of the best views of the gorge. Unfortunately most of the 2km trail was closed due to rock fall. Still, we donned hard hats and walked a whopping 150m along a ridge, and as promised, got some amazing views! Hard to put in words or show in pictures, what we saw was impressive to say the least. Sheer rock faces, vertical cliffs, turquoise waters, natural caves, this place had it all! After the Tunnel of Nine Turns we walked along the road 6km to the farthest point, a small village where we tried to find another popular route along a river to a nice waterfall. The stars were not working with us today, however, because the trail, we found out after walking around in circles for over an hour, was closed for construction. Taroko:2, M&D:0. Two of the trails we were the most excited for and neither of them were open. 😞 We got back on the shuttle bus and went to another area with short trails that gave great views from high over the Gorge and continued on to Swallow Grotto, an area named from the, you guessed it, swallows that swoop down and make pretty songs in the area. The rocks here were gorgeous, with natural caves, clearly visible areas of past rock falls and erosion from the water. So much stunning natural beauty, all in one place!!

Back in Haulien, we walked around the town, down to the coast and were surprised at how much of a ghost town it seemed like. There were trails along the beach and for over an hour we walked and never saw a single other person! Back in the city, however, we found all the people at the night market! This place was bustling with everything from clothing and music stores to food stalls. We stopped at one stall to get a basket of steamed dumplings that were the best dumplings we’d had yet! Soft, hot and juicy we ate til we could eat no more (for only a couple bucks). Back at the hostel, we were informed of the imminent typhoon, Fanapi, which was forecast to hit land the following evening. As we had another day at Taroko planned, we decided to get an early start the next day.

Friday morning we awoke early and were in the Gorge before 8am. Confirming that all the trails were still open, despite the weather forecast, we started at Shakadong trail, an easy 4km trail that follows the cliff and the river through the park. Getting an early start was wonderful as it meant we had the trail to ourselves for the majority of the time and were able to enjoy the peacefulness of nature surrounding us. We walked through so many different types of areas along that trail from rugged rock faces with signs warning of falling rocks to tropical forest areas with palm trees, pretty flowers and huge spiders! All the while walking along a river with some of the most beautiful turquoise water we’ve ever seen! This place was breathtaking. On the return trip, we stopped on some rocks to rest our feet in the cool, fresh water and chase the fishies as they swam about.

Emerging from that trail, we followed the main road to the final hiking trail, the Eternal Shrine, where we passed a temple, a suspension bridge high over the river, a bell tower and a shrine to all the people who died in the Gorge. This steep up and down trail was a stark contrast to the first trail we did that day, requiring a lot more work and when we finished it, we were happy to get on the bus for a rest! We then took the train back to Taipei, happy to have arrived before the typhoon (whose arrival kept getting pushed back anyways, and didn’t hit until Sunday!) and return to The Meeting Place for a couple more nights.

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