Taiwan is rainy.
I know this is not statistically proven (well, at least, globally. There are a lot more places, or cities, in the world that has a lot higher annual rainfall – like Colombia), but this is personal. I visit Taiwan a couple of times every year and 9 out of 10 times when I was there, it rained. Yes, I know, Taipei is my new London! What’s worse, London usually has an overcast and the rain comes and goes, raining in Taiwan is basically unstoppable (again, just for me, yay!).
I might not have written this opening if it hadn’t been three days straight since I arrived Hualien and it hadn’t stopped raining. I was really looking forward to visiting Taroko National Park, one of the most stunning landscape in Taiwan, and it seemed like I will be seeing it in the rain.
Taiwan’s heavy rainfall mainly comes from typhoons, and as part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Hualien suffered from a magnitude 5.8 earthquake earlier in February, and it caused at least 6 deaths, and almost 100 missing. I hope the city will have a quick recovery and welcome worldwide tourist to the beautiful Taroko Gorge with open arms.
That morning, and of course, it was still raining heavily (and weather forecast said it would probably continue to rain like that for a next five days), we headed off to Taroko Gorge from the city of Hualien. The park is merely 30 minutes away from Hualien, and we had quite a lot of spots to cover in a day. While I was still, apparently, holding a grudge against the bad weather as I took off, I found my inner peace at the end of the day and began to appreciate the “fairy-like” quality of the mountains as they were surrounded by misty rain and filled with dramatic waterfalls.
Something about… Taroko
Taroko National Park is part of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range and one of the nine national parks in Taiwan. The park is all about mountains and gorges – Nanhu peaks, Qilai peaks, and Hehuan Parks are the main mountain ranges and over half of the national park is covered by mountains over 2,000 meters high.
The most picturesque scenic spots in the park are the Taroko Gorge and the Liwu River, a river which basically carved Taroko Gorge over millions of years; the park is closed to the city of Hualien, the backyard of the island, and the region is always considered the best-kept secret for its stunning beauty, and less-developed tranquility. The route that passes through Taroko is also part of the Central Cross-Island Highway, one of the three important highways in Taiwan that connects the eastern and western parts of the Island.
Like Jiufen, another famous mountain town in northeastern Taiwan, Taroko was a gold mine during the Japanese-era gold rush. While Taroko wasn’t as quite productive as Jiufen in gold, it has also an abundant supply of marble.
First, we stopped by at the Qingshui Cliff (or, Clearwater Cliff), which is layers of the precipitous rock face that rise from the Pacific Ocean. The cliff is one of the end results when Taiwan has formed around 6 million years ago, the collision between the Philippines and Eurasian tectonic plates caused the earth crust to lift and so – a long stretch of cliffs was created along the coast.
Trains could be seen running through the tunnels down the cliff, it was the railway link connects Yilan and Hualien as part of the major development project back in the 1970s. The railway passes through some of the most winding and steep cliff terrains in east Taiwan, yet I considered it a scenic train route that offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean between tunnels.
Rain, Waterfalls and Rolling Stones
As we passed through the Taroko Arch Gate, we reached the Swallow Grotto, the highlight of Taroko. This is the best scenic spot to view the Taroko Gorge and Liwu River. The place is named the Swallow Grotto because the caves on each side of the cliffs are natural havens to spring swallows. As my friend said, it was somehow one of his most frightening road to drive through in his entire life – because it’s narrow, and the road is shared by vehicles and pedestrians. Besides, look out for falling stones, which is quite common on rainy days.
By this point, the rain and dripping water didn’t bother me that much anymore. As I was walking down the trails and tunnels, they are mostly covered, and I was fascinated by the rugged Taroko Gorge scenery. The overcast and clouds somehow filled the gaps between mountain and added a layer of mysteriousness to the gorge. The rainfall also created ephemeral waterfalls, which only formed when it rains, cascading down from the higher mountains.
Afterward, we had a short walk in Lushui, a river terrace made by Luwi River. Lushui is where the offices and exhibition halls of Taroko National Parks located; the Lushui walking trail (which is part of the Old Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road from the Japanese Colonial Period) intertwines with the new Central Cross-Island Highway, offers breathtaking sceneries the Liwu River and surrounding mountains.
With its high mountains, deep gorge and precipitous terrain, the Central Cross-Island Highway lead up to Mount Hehuan, where the climate changes from sub-tropical, to temperate and even frigid; as the surroundings change from mixed coniferous and broad-leaved forest to coniferous forest, then alpine grassland.
There are two river streams in the Taroko Gorge that are quite distinctive, due to their composition of the water. While Liwu River, originated on Mount Qilai’s north peak, is steep and muddy grey. The Shakadang River, on the other hand, is a clam, beautiful turquoise water stream with crystal clear water, owing to its unpolluted water source, and the white marble boulders release calcium carbonate as the water flows by.
It was a joy walking through the mysterious Shakadang Valley Trail. The trail was carved down by the cliff of the valley, which leads to the upstream and passes through the Truku Tribal Village. Today, the Shakadang trail is still the main pathway for the villagers to commute (watch out for the motorcycles that drive by as you are walking on the trail). While entrance to the village is not allowed, there is a small market nearby that features local artisans and food vendors with some special indigenous delights.
We dropped by the Qixingtan Beach at the end of the day while the wind and storm were quite unforgiving. The view of the Pacific Ocean was stunning.
Taroko Gorge has a diverse landscape that appeals to a lot of tourists, and some of the walking trails could be too crowded and they are occupied by the big tour groups coming from China. Hopefully, that won’t cause too much destruction to the environment.