Hidden gems

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


Taiwan's Taroko National Park has soaring peaks, roaring rapids, craggy cliffs, a complex ecosystem and a stunning coastline.

Located at the heart of the park is Taroko Gorge, which is like the Grand Canyon except that it is sculpted of marble. A road bisecting the island, linking Taichung to the west with Hualien to the east, runs along a key segment of the gorge, affording breathtaking views.

Interestingly, few people outside the island seem to have heard of Taroko Gorge.

Most overseas visitors to the park are on tours, spending the night in the seaside town of Hualien, making only a brief foray by bus into what has to be Taiwan's most spectacular scenic spot. It really does deserve a longer stay.

Within the park's confines are Mount Nantou, rising 3,742 metres above sea level, and a beautiful coastline fronting the Pacific Ocean.

The park has six distinct ecosystems housing an array of animal and plant life. There are bamboo and various types of ferns, trees, and bushes. You will even find tundra in the park's highest reaches.

Excellent hiking trails criss-cross the park. There is mountain biking and pedalling along canyon roads at night can be especially exhilarating because of the cooler temperatures and lack of traffic. Treks along the rivers that bisect the park can also be arranged.

The marble and gneiss formation of Cingshui Cliff stretches for more than 21 kilometres along the Pacific Ocean, rising vertically to an average height of more than 800 metres. At times the drive along the coast can be a bit hair raising, but the views of overhanging rock formations above and the crashing surf below are magnificent.

If you are an early riser, head straight for Chongde Shingle Beach, which lies to the south of Cingshui Cliff and north of the mouth of the Liwu River, to watch the spectacular sunrises over the Pacific Ocean. Taroko National Park Headquarters and Visitors' Centre is located at Taroko Terrace. It is the launch pad for most excursions through Taroko Gorge, which follows the eandering path of the Liwu River.

Most visitors to the park stay at one of Hualien's many hotels, and it is a shame. A better idea is to stay in the park itself, spending at least two or three nights there.

Options run from a campsite to nondescript hostels catering to backpackers to the upscale Silks Place Taroko, a five-star hotel next to the Taroko National Park Headquarters and Visitors' Centre.

Overlooking the raging Liwu River, the hotel has spacious rooms with large balconies, Western and Chinese fine dining restaurants, a sumptuous spa, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, a fitness centre, recreational facilities, and activities.

Flights and railways connect Taipei with Hualien, the closest major city.

From there it takes about one hour or less to reach the Taroko National Park Headquarters and Visitors' Centre. You can travel by bus or taxi.

Those with nerves of steel can consider renting a scooter at the train station in Hualien. This will halve the trip to about 30 minutes.