Taroko Gorge is one of the world’s natural wonders
- Taroko Gorge, on the east coast of Taiwan, is Asia’s answer to the Grand Canyon
- The gorge’s beginnings date back 200 million years
Dating back 200 million years, with some peaks soaring as high as 3,400 metres, Taroko Gorge, on the east coast of Taiwan, is Asia’s answer to America’s Grand Canyon. The canyon is a short drive from the city of Hualien.
Taroko was officially designated a national park in 1986, but it has long been a national treasure. What strikes most visitors is its phenomenal topography.
In the space of a few hours, a drive along the gorge leads from rugged coastal cliffs, through a labyrinth of subtropical forested canyons, to lofty subalpine coniferous forests.
In the space of around 60km the landscape rises up from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan.
Just how Taroko Gorge came to be one of the natural wonders of the world is a tale writ in tectonics. The steep valleys and narrow canyons were geologically conjured up by a relatively fast rate of uplift combined with ample water.
Over the past 70 million years, these two forces combined to create one of the world’s deepest marble canyons – not surprisingly, marble ornaments festoon the shelves of Taroko’s souvenir shops.
Taroko’s slot canyons are remarkable, with some sections measuring 30 metres high and only a few metres apart.
But the gorge is by no means uninhabited. More than 144 species of birds – 10 per cent of them indigenous to Taiwan – have been recorded here.
Deer, boars, bears and about 30 other large mammals roam the more remote areas, together with 250 species of butterfly and 32 species of reptile. Anglers reckon there are at least 18 species of fish in Taroko’s rivers, and environmental scientists say these are probably only a fraction of the species that actually exist in the park.
Somewhere so remarkable is, of course, well established on the tourist trail. Coach loads of selfie-stick wielders thunder back and forth along the road that twists and turns the length of the gorge from dawn till dusk almost every day of the year.
Just about everywhere in Taroko ranks as a highlight, but some rank higher than others.
Swallow Grotto is a must-see place with great views of the Liwu River, which has carved out a deep channel in the narrow gorge. Swallows have made nests in the rock on the cliff opposite the viewing point.
The path leading to Swallow Grotto is overhung by dripping rocks – some sort of headgear is advisable. More scary is the Jhuilu Old Trail, which is carved into the edge of a cliff about 700 metres above Swallow Grotto.
Less than a metre wide in places, it lacks a guardrail. Originally used as a hunting path by the Truku tribespeople, the trail is not recommended for anyone with vertigo.
The best way to enjoy Taroko is to set out on one of the well-marked hiking trails, although hikers should remain vigilant as there are significant numbers of venomous snakes. Also, tour companies run river tracing and waterfall rappelling trips.
Wenshan Hot Spring, at the end of a steep trail strewn with rocks, is a popular spot. The spring water bubbles out from a small cave and cascades into the river below, so most visitors build a small rock pool for themselves, and then alternate between hot and cold.
As it is so remote, visitors come here in relatively small numbers, so it’s an ideal place to revel in Taroko’s natural beauty, peace and solitude.
Anyone wanting to pay more than a brief visit to Taroko can stay overnight in one of the hotels which nestle in Xiulin township, about halfway through the gorge.
Pick of the crop is Silks Place Taroko, which was once a favourite bolt-hole of the late president Chiang Kai-shek. Its 160 rooms and public spaces have since been given a five-star revamp, affording panoramas of the river and mountains.