Saturday, December 7, 2013

Taiwan 2013 Travelogue: Hualien | Taroko Gorge National Park

When I was planning the itinerary for our Taiwan Trip, I have no idea where is Hualien and what tourist attraction spots it has when my sister mentioned about it. Hualien is the largest county in Taiwan, located at the eastcoast facing the Pacific Ocean. As we all know, people visit Taiwan for its food and to shop but in fact, it has more to offer. There's a reason why Taiwan is formally called as Ilha Formosa which means beautiful island cause this island is indeed a home to amazing and beautiful landscapes. Taroko Gorge is one of them, world famous for its majestic beauty and marble-walled gorge scenery. If you're a first timer to Hualien, it is the top must-go-places. 

We embarked on our journey heading towards Hualien on our first day, taking the 7.30am train. Having only 4 hours of sleep the night before doesn't make me feel any less energetic cause I've been looking forward to Taroko Gorge! 
The TRA station is located in Taipei Main Station which is also where you can board Taiwan HSR and Taiwan MRT. The railway platforms are located on the B2 level, while the B1 level serves as a waiting area. Ticketing services are on the first floor. 
We took Tze-Chiang Limited Express (272) which took us 3 hours and 15 minutes to reach Hualien from Taipei. Note that, the travelling time may differ according to different train class and number. 

The bear is still exhausted and cold, obviously :P 
As always, the train is punctual and waits no one. Make sure you're waiting in front of your car number which is stated on the platform and your ticket as well. 

We arrived on time as well and we were greeted by the minsu owner, Aunty Liu along with the taxi driver who will be bringing us for our Taroko Gorge one day trip that we booked through her. Since we didn't have a proper breakfast earlier, he brought us to have early lunch at a restaurant nearby Taroko.

And off we go exploring Taroko after having our tummy filled.
Group selfie shot at the entrance of Taroko! 

According to our driver, every visitor must take a photo with this stone sculpture and the Taroko Archway on the left in the photo. As the gateway to Taroko Gorge, it makes a perfect introduction to the enthrailing adventure that is about to begin. 

That's Mr.Liu, our driver explaining a brief history of Taroko to us. And I must say the weather was really kind that day, it was all chilly that we get walk around without sweating buckets. This place is way bigger than you expect so be prepared to walk a fair bit, do come with comfortable walking shoes.

Some the scenic spots in Taroko include Swallow Grotto, Tunnel of Nine Turns, Qingshui Cliff, Shakadang Trail, Eternal Spring Shrine and Tian Xiang. The good thing about hiring a driver is that you can have him to drive you from one scenic spots to another which definitely save a lot of time and it's more convenient. He will drop you off for picture taking before moving on to the next spot. Other alternatives would be shuttle bus (not recommended), scooter or bicycle. I've seen quite a lot of foreign youngsters (mostly angmo hehe) going around the place in scooters, I would love to experience that one day too!
| Shakadang Trail 砂卡噹步道 |
The trail itself is 4.5km which will take at least 2 hours to walk to and fro so we decided to skip it as there is nothing much to see except for that stream of Shakadang river. As you head down further, you'll pass by a Truku tribal village and there will be a 3D cabin at the end of the trail. 

| Eternal Spring Shrine (Changchun Shrine) 長春祠 |
This Eternal Spring Shrine was built to commemorate the 226 military veterans who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway. There is a mountain tunnel from the bridge which will lead you to the shrine and it takes approximately 20 minutes. If you're up for a challenge, you can walk another 2.2km starting from behind the shrine with stairs to Guanyin Cave, Taroko Tower, and the Bell Tower. We obviously skipped that part too and just stopped by at the carpark to take some photos.

Don't you just find the waterfall so pure and serene?

Before moving on the next spot, Swallow Grotto, we had to drop by this guardhouse to collect safety helmets (free of charge) as this spot is particularly known for rock slides. 

Another mesmerizing sight with this suspension bridge but it's closed. Loving the crisp blue river.
| Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) 燕子口 |
Due to long-term erosion of Taroko by the Liwu River into an extremely narrow and deep valley, the marble cliff faces were scoured into hundreds of potholes, which have become a natural nesting location for swallows. Thus, that's how the name Swallow Grotto came by. 
Our taxi driver dropped us at the entrance of Swallow Grotto and we were required to walk a half kilometer to JinHeng bridge. The walk is pleasurable cause we get to enjoy the sight of Liwu River and amazing marble-rock formation. I've never felt so close to nature, appreciating every fresh air I breathe in  as I immersed myself in the nature. 

Potholes on the cliff faces.

Swallow Grotto is also where the river runs at its swiftest as the trail scattered with tunnels and overlooks the narrowest portion of Taroko Gorge. 

Warning signs everywhere reminding visitors to always be cautious. 

Stone sculpture of JinHeng, a chief engineer who was killed in a landslide during the construction of the highway at the JinHeng Park. Thus there is a park and bridge named after him to commemorate him.
Another scenery shot from JinHeng Park. Try to spot the "Chieftain's profile rock" that resembles an Indian chief if you can! 

Close up look of the so-called Chieftain's profile rock which looks more like a lion to me HEH
Well, it really does look like an Indian chief in the original photo shown by our driver but the lower part of the rock which was supposed to be the mouth of the Indian chief was eroded bit by bit these few years.   
Anytime for an ice cream break! Mango and Cranberry ice creams at NTD350 each.
I prefer the mango flavoured one more.  

Then we continued our journey to the next stop. We passed by Tunnel of Nine Turns (Jiuqudong 九曲洞步道) said to be the most magnificent part of Taroko but sadly it was closed due to recent rock slides. 

After passing Jiuqudong, we arrived at Cimu Bridge (Motherly Devotion Bridge) which was built by former President Chiang Jing-guo in dedication of his mother, First Lady Soong May-ling, wife of the late President Chiang Kai-shek. It's pretty impossible to miss this bridge along the way since it's painted in bright red.
Spot the frog? Hint: It's not a small one. 
HAHA yeah, it is this huge rock itself. The pavilion built on this frog rock looks like a crown on the frog. 

Again, stunning marble walled cliff is a common sight. 

Before reaching Tianxiang 天祥風景區, you'll come across this bridge that connects to the Xiangde Temple entrance, the 7 storey Tian Feng Pagoda at the top of the mountain, and the giant statute of the Bodhisattva. We gave it a pass as well and headed to Tianxiang instead which was not far away, reachable by foot. 

Close up of the 7-story high Tian Feng Pagoda and Giant Statute of the Bodhisattva on the terrace. 
You can stop by to have your meal here as they have local food vendors or take a toilet break after the long journey. Some tourists would stay overnight here as well.

Last but not least, the foot bridge at Lushui Trail. I was so excited cause this suspension bridge was not close and I literally raced my way up to this bridge. This bridge can only take a maximum load of 8 persons and visitors are advised not to rock the bridge. Dad even jokingly said that we should take a jumpshot on the bridge HAHA

View from the bridge. It's really high up compared to the photo above. 
Me, on top of the suspension bridge. 
So that concludes our mini adventure exploring Taroko Gorge which takes us around 3 hours in total. If you're a nature lover, I would totally recommend Taroko Gorge in your itinerary or else this trip will totally bore you. It's a really great experience being surrounded by green nature, high sky mountain and enjoying the tranquil atmosphere. The name “Taroko” is based on the tribe language refers to the phrase “magnificent and beautiful” and I felt that it really lives up to its name. I'm really impressed with the effort of the government in conserving this national park and great length they have taken to ensure the safety of the visitors. Mind you, there is no entrance fee charged. I seriously wouldn't mind coming back here again, hiking through the different trails that I didn't get to try this time round. 

P/S: We just realised that the driver didn't bring us to Qingshui Cliff after we got back.

How to get to Taroko Gorge: 
1.) Take a cab from Hualien Train Station which will take around 40 minutes. 
2.) Take a cab or bus from Xincheng Station, which is a station before Hualien Train Station and it's definitely nearer to Taroko. 

Hope you enjoy reading my lengthy post. Next one will be a shorter post on QixingTan, promise! (;  



SuFang (Careen) said...

Love your thorough travelogue. I have always wanted to write an in-depth travelogue but give up due to time constraint :) btw Megan is so cute in her bear outfit!!

Merryn said...

So cute that yellow duck bag and lovely, lovely pictures!

VH said...

I am planning a trip to Taroko this Dec. What is the minsu you stayed at? Do you recommend it? Thanks.

Hilda Milda™ said...

Hi, VH.

Was trying to find your email through your profile but to no avail, so I hope you read this. I stayed at Stone Minsu, was meant to blog about it actually but it's still in my draft. You can find more about the minsu details on FB anyway, search for Stone House (: Hope this helps!