Taroko Gorge had been sitting at the top of my ever-growing “Things to Do in Taiwan” list for almost a year, patiently waiting to be crossed out. The beautifully carved gorge is said to be one of the top natural wonders of Asia (although I have yet to find a credible source stating this) and being from a river family, the clear blue water of the river called.
We were lucky to get a three day weekend for Moon Festival and so, we booked a hostel in Hualien for three nights. Hualien is about a 40 min scooter ride from Taroko National Park and about an hours ride from most hikes. Hualien isn’t overly bustling, but lo and behold, there is one hell of a BBQ joint called Salt Lick. Kasey and I ate so much that I felt sick most of the night and he was in a full-on food coma, but it was worth it. Chilli fries, pulled pork sandwiches, jerky, salads with ranch dressing, and homemade banana bread were just some of the things we ordered while listening to some nice live music. Definitely recommended if you are missing home.
We went to the Information Center at the entrance of the park and a woman working there was extremely helpful. She went through the map with us explaining which hikes were closed and which were the most popular. It can rain very heavily in Taroko so it’s a good idea to check what hikes are safe for when you plan to hike. Our first chosen hike was Swallow Grotto. The tourist buses swarmed the entrance, but walking quickly we were able to surpass the hordes. The trail was flat, short, and went through a few tunnels that had some great look-outs of the gorge and river below. We found a side opening of the tunnel to sit and eat our Subway sandwiches at. (Tip: bring your own food. There isn’t much around in the park.)
Further back on the road was another part of the Swallow Grotto trail that went up some very steep wooden stairs and brought us to the Lower Buluowan Terrace, which was a good area to catch your breath, perhaps peek your head into the aboriginal museums, and then head up MORE stairs to the Upper Buluowan Terrace, where the Leader Village Hotel is located. There is a lovely view and the Hotel (which is very traditional and made up of wooden cabins) has a very short trail on the grounds, where you can see bamboo groves and a large, strangling fig tree. Our last stop was the Eternal Spring Shrine, but we didn’t make it out to the trail because as soon as we parked the scooter, the rain came pouring from the heavens. We waited it out in a hidden spot, that I found down some stairs and away from all the other wet tourists, where we could gaze at the shrine through the curtain of rain without getting wet. It was surprisingly relaxing. The rain subsided and we headed back to Hualien.
The next morning, we scootered out to Baiyang Waterfall, a hike that came highly recommended via the internet and the park rangers. Sadly, that meant it was packed with people, but walking swiftly we got away from loud, obnoxious children and got a tiny sliver of peace and quiet on the flat, and mostly tunneled walk. A flashlight isn’t totally necessary for this hike but it is better to have one because the 2km journey (one way) goes through seven, long, dark tunnels and ends at a tunnel with a waterfall crashing into it! That was a bit perilous, mostly because of the crowd of barefoot, poncho wearing, tourists all trying to walk on the one walkway through the wet tunnel. It was a cool experience though and if you have a poncho, you won’t get very soaked. Onward we went to Lushui Trail, which was a welcome change of scenery, as it goes high above the gorge through forest and over a suspension bridge. It is only about 2km, but it was one of my favorite hikes. This could be because we hardly saw another soul as we walked it.
Taroko Gorge is now crossed off my list, but I think I may have to add it back on, because visiting the area showed us that there were so many more hikes to see (especially if we got permits), beaches to relax at, and shops to visit. Taroko Gorge, I didn’t fully conquer you, but I am glad to have made your acquaintance.