Taroko Gorge, an Unexpected Beauty
Spectacular, breathtaking, drop dead gorgeous, magnificent, awe-inspiring, none of these is sufficient to prepare you for the jaw-dropping scenery of Taroko Gorge. It is just that beautiful. Among the oh so many reasons to visit Ilha Formosa or the Beautiful Island, Taroko should be at the top.
Taroko Gorge, cut by the clear blue water of the Liwu river, runs 19 km long and rises to 3700 m above the Pacific ocean. It spans Hua Lien, Nan Tou and TaiChung counties. High mountain peaks and sheer ravines and canyons of marble grace its interior.
This u-shaped canyon It is home to a plethora of indigenous species, the Formosan Macaque (rock monkey), Formosan blue magpie, and Formosan Laughing Thrush. Black bears and sambar deer also can be seen. It is a protected and unique ecosystem of varying climate zones which produces an array of vegetation from dwarf bamboo to Chinese hemlock and the mighty Taroko oak.
The cultural heritage is rich with prehistoric sites and the aboriginal people, the Taroko tribe. Once headhunters the gorge was its hunting ground until the practice was abolished during the Japanese occupation. The history of the gorge, the development of the route through is interesting.
When I first visited there back in 1999, tour buses were few, the road through the gorge was narrow and landslides many. Now, the Taiwan government has installed safety rails, closed 9 turns pass for foot traffic only dug new tunnels and widen the roads.
Each season of the year has its advantages with a colorful autumn and rains filling the numerous pools and tributary streams. The Gorge is passable year round but most stunning when its peaks are shrouded in mist. It is easily accessible from Taipei by train or bus, but a stay in Hua Lien City, its gateway, is well worth a night or two
Most are happy watching the majestic scenery by bus or car and getting off and on at the major stops like Swallow Grotto where thousands of swallows roost in natural caves and the Eternal Shrine Spring but for the more adventurous rent a scooter in Hualien City or a bicycle and camp along Heliu, Lyushui, or Baiyang campgrounds.
Several high mountain trails and ecological protected areas are strenuous and require registration at the Park Headquarters and even a Taiwanese guide. Avoid the crowds and take in some fascinating and little known culture of Tupido Tribe Trail near Tianhsiang.
Places in the Gorge Really Worth Visiting(in order)
My personal favorites :WenShan Hotsprings
Sliding along the small waterfall which is along side the natural hot springs. Finding a perfect pool with the perfect temperature mixed from the frigid water of the river and the hot water of the springs rising out of fissures in the river.Shakatong Trail
The blue green water and massive boulders in this tributary river makes the scenery both stunning and tranquil. The cabin with a movie at the end of the trail is a nice little reward after a half day's trek. The river trace along the Shakatong Trail is just a pleasurable, quiet hike.
When the Portuguese landed and cried out Ilha Formosa!, they were understating the magnificence of this slice of what heaven should be.
(BTW-- Yushan National Park was just nominated for New Seven Wonders of the World finals!)