Taroko Gorge & Highlands

This post is part of a series called Our Trip to Taiwan
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Adventure is worthwhile.Aristotle

Nov 28-Dec 2 2015

Riding a much slower, but still scenic and enjoyable train from Kaohsiung, we continued our counter-clockwise trip around the island of Taiwan. We arrived into Hualien late in the evening, where we quickly grabbed a taxi to take us to our minsu for the night. Hualien is a plesant city and a great base for touring the surrounding natural attractions. We took a quick walk through some nearby night markets in town, as well as along the coast before settling in for the night.



The next day we would again rent a pair of scooters before heading into to the Taroko Gorge. Made of marble and limestone, the 200 million year old rocks were carved by the erosive power of the Liwu River. We only made it about halfway through the gorge before we decided to turn around and head back into town, topping at the Bridge of 100 Lions, Eternal Spring Shine and multiple suspension footbridges along the way.



The Eternal Spring Shrine recognizes the personnel who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway through the gorge. A beautiful location as there are multiple rivers adjacent to the site. In the back of the Eternal Spring Shrine, there are stairs leading to Kuanyin Caves, Taroko Tower, the Bell Tower, and through a hanging bridge called “Heaven Trail”, to Changuang Temple.



The most phenomenal aspect of the park is the amazing relief. In a single afternoon you can travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of subtropical forested canyons to high elevation sub-alpine coniferous forests. In about 40 miles the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 11,000 feet.



We made it about half way through the complete journey before turning around to head back into town. But had decided we would return the next day and complete the entire length.



The next morning we left Hualien and took our scooters south along the scenic and winding Highway 11, hugging the shoreline it was a dramatic ride, passing through many tunnels along the way it was a good way to get warmed up for our full adventure through the Taroko Gorge.



We ended up traveling deep into the canyon, and then beyond, rising from sea level up to the 11,000+ feet mentioned earlier. It was completely unexpected, as looking on Google maps we didn’t quite get an idea of the the elevation change, assuming we would be in the base of the canyon the entire route. However, eventualy we just kept going up, seeing the road zig-zagging up the side of the mountains in front of us. It started getting dark and very cold, nearly freezing as the sunshine we experience below turned into a wet mist as we climbed. We pushed onward though knowing there was no turning back now.



Once we reached some signs of civilization and seemed to have stopped climbing, it was completely dark. We stopped at a roadside convenience store and warmed up with some hot chocolate while deciding what to do next, not really knowing where we were or where we were going to stay. We decided to call the closest hotel and see if they had a room for the night. Luckily they had room and so we headed 20 minutes further up the road for a stay in a traditional shared Japanese-style tatami room at Song Syue Lodge.



Little did we know we were now at one of the highest points in Taiwan, and one of the highest hotels in all of Asia, equipped with heating and oxygen concentrators. We warmed up while eating dinner and then settled into our room. Our roommates were a couple of hikers from Taiwan, visiting the mountains for vacation.  They were such nice people as we enjoyed chatting with them, via Google translate, well into the night.



The next morning we woke up and saw in the daylight for the first time where we were. The views were breathtaking, looking out across the highland region of Taiwan, perched high above the clouds on an impressive ridge. We decided to scooter further along the ridge tops, ending up at a place called Cingjing, or Qingjing farm, within Nantou County. Full of animals such as lamb, cows, sheep and horses roaming about, that you can interact with and feed. There is also different harvests throughout the year, including kiwi, Chinese cabbage and winter teas while we were there. Large maple trees were bearing red fruits enticing migratory birds travelling to warmer climates, and fresh honey was being collected nearby, full of bees swarming their hives.



After hanging out for a while and grabbing some food, including some delectable cheeses, we began our long ride back across the ridge top to eventually begin our descent back into and through the gorge. Throughout the day, the sun interacting with mist and fog within, around, and over the mountaintops produces some amazing weather effects. In the morning the sun appeared to rise from a sea of clouds. In the afternoon, fog and mist could be seen rolling over the mountains to cover the hillside. The whole journey was certainly memorable, and it definitely sticks out as one of the highlights of our trip.



Going back through the gorge we didn’t want to leave. Lingering to get record some video and snap additional photos at some of the most scenic spots, before finally making it back to Hualien. We then would return our scooters and then catch the night train back to Taipei for the final day of our trip. We ended up traveling some pretty challenging terrain, as well as extremely chaotic and crowded city streets during our scooter adventures around Taiwan. It would end up being the impetus for our future motorbike trip across Vietnam as part of our eventual around the world trip.



Back in Taipei, we would spend our last day back in Beitou, at the Spring City Resort. This time we rented a room and spent the entire day enjoying the hot springs, the perfect way to cap off our wonderful vacation in Taiwan.




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