Good holidays are supposed to be a way for one to flee the daily grind, usually at a beach, or with some cheap retail therapy. But if the usual tourist hotspots like Bali or Bangkok just don’t give you the same thrill anymore, if you’re looking for somewhere new to escape, you might want to consider Taroko National Park in Taiwan. Accessible via a drive from Taipei, you can catch one of two daily flights from China Airlines.
Named after its iconic Taroko Gorge, the massive 920 km2 park could fit the whole of Singapore comfortably inside it, and spans 3 counties: Taichung Municipality, Nantou County, and Hualien County. According to the lore of the area, the gorge, and subsequently the park, was named Taroko after a Truku indigenous tribe member walked out of the gorge, saw the view of the Pacific ocean and cried out “Taroko!” which in the Truku language means “magnificent and beautiful”.
The park certainly lives up to its name, with several amazing sights to see. The catch (or bonus, depending on how much you like exercising) is that most of the sights require visitors to hike to them. So if you’re ready for an adventurous holiday you can brag about back home, read on.
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To start off fairly easy, try walking along the Lushui-Heliu trail. Though the trail is a relatively short 2km, it includes a stretch of 30-metres in a tunnel (bring flashlights), and a walk along a cliff that overlooks the Liwu River. The trail follows the old Cross-Hehuan Mountain road, which was built in the Japanese colonial era, and is an easier trek than its higher-up sister, the Zhuilu Trail. Be wary of falling rocks while on the trail, or borrow a hard hat from park authorities free of charge if you’re worried (and not worried about helmet-hair).
Along the Lushui-Heliu trail is the Heliu campsite, where a night under the stars costs a bargain NT$200 (about S$8!) Be sure to pack a meal beforehand because the campsite does not have any stores or vendors. The Heliu Campsite does make up for its lack of food by having toilets and showers (cold water only, unfortunately), washstands and BBQ frames, so you won’t be going completely without facilities.
Another relatively easy walk, the Baiyang trail is a 2km path that will take about two hours to complete (there and back). Along the walk, you can expect to journey in and out of tunnels, some straight, some winding. You may want to bring a flashlight, because while you can see the light at the end of the straight tunnels, the winding tunnels can get pitch black.
In reward of your bravery, you will be treated to the sight of the Water Curtain, where spring water cascades through a tunnel ceiling. Unfortunately, water rushing through cracks in the rock is not the most stable design for a cave, and so visitors are only allowed to see the first section of Water Curtain – in case it collapses on those venturing deeper. You may want to bring rain gear or an umbrella – after all, you can’t expect to stay dry after walking through something called a water curtain.
The Baiyang Trail also gives you a view of the Baiyang waterfall, its namesake. This waterfall consists of two steps of tumbling water from a 200-metre cliff, and pictures really don’t do it justice. The trail begins 900 meters west of Tianxiang, by the Central Cross-Island Highway, which leads to most of the other attractions in the park.
Even if you’ve always avoided visits to the Jurong Bird Park and Sentosa Parrot Aviary, the Swallow’s Grotto is definitely worth seeing. The site is just off the central Cross-Island highway, and is a great quick detour between other sights.
The Swallow’s Grotto is actually a section of the Taroko Gorge that is very narrow. As the Liwu River races down below, it carves a path through the rocks, and over time the narrow canyon with a pock-marked face formed. Swallows love the holes in the cliff face for their nests, and its easy to lose track of time as you watch them dart in and out of the rock and squabble among each other. Understandably, the swallows only show up in warmer weather, so if you’re a bird-lover, be sure to plan your trip to Taroko in the late spring or summer months.
Even without the swallows, the sight of the towering rock faces that twist and turn around each other as icy blue water gushes below is enough to warrant a visit to the Swallow’s Grove.
Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shrine
Taroko National Park not only has natural wonders, but also its fair share of man-made beauties. The Changchun Shrine is the latter, a monument built to commemorate the 226 military veterans who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway.
Built on the Changchun Falls, the spring water cascades out from under the shrine all year long, giving it its name Eternal Spring Shrine. Though the Shrine itself is only a 20 minute walk along the Changchun Trail, you may chose the more challenging trek beginning behind the Changchun Shrine up the “sky ladder”, a 1.3 km trail of steep steps which leads you to the Guanyin Cave, Taroko Tower, and the Changuang Temple. The trail will take an hour for the entire loop. It is quite steep and can get slippery on rainy days, so if you’re bringing along your 80 year old grandmother, stick to the shorter Changchun Trail.
Taroko is a four hour drive from Taipei, and renting a car might be a good idea as public transport within the park is not the most reliable. The drive itself is beautiful, taking you through Taiwanese countryside, mountains and by ocean views.
To make things simpler, China Airlines flies twice a day direct to Taipei from Singapore and twice a week to Kaohsiung from Singapore, also a direct flight. You can search your flight and book directly only at www.china-airlines.com. If you prefer a package deal, you can also take a look at China Airlines’ Dynasty Packages for free & easy tours to Taiwan.
This article is supported by China Airlines and the Taiwan Tourism Board.