People say if you’ve not visited Taroko Gorge National Park, you’ve not seen Taiwan. They say she’s the most beautiful place of all Taiwan, and they are quite right. On day 4, I met her. I stared at her, I breathed in her scent, I took in her glorious beauty. She looked back at me shyly and smiled, and with open arms she invited me to explore the curves of her cliffs…
With our hearts filled with excitement, we beckoned the call of the mountains ahead of us. We sped off on to the highway for Taroko Gorge National Park following signs that read ‘Taroko Gorge’ in big bold letters.
We drove on narrow winding roads past cemeteries and wooden shacks for what felt like the longest time. Suddenly, far away in the distance Taroko greeted us in the most typical Chinese style you can imagine – a huge red gate and a giant marble slab proudly declaring the mountain’s name.
It was at this moment that I started noticing marble EVERYWHERE. Marble are expensive, but in Hualien it is as common as cement. Pavements are lined with pure marble while public benches are heavy marble slabs carved to fit a few butts. It might seem crazy that marble are used to decorate the many streets of Hualien, but it starts to make sense when you venture into the marble rich zone of Taroko.
All along the cliffs, marble of every colour hide unabashedly beneath thinly veiled surface of sand and stone. At the bottom of the valley where the river flows, chunks of marble in all sizes guides the path of the water flow.
We drove through the red entrance gates of Taroko and followed a road that brought us to the Tourist Information Centre. This was where we organised ourselves and planned our voyage into Taroko. You can get comprehensive maps of Taroko here that details places to stop, trekking routes, difficulty levels, what to see on the treks and also estimated time of hike. Have a chat with the friendly guides and they’ll be able to recommend the best treks for you. The more dangerous routes might be closed if the weather is bad, so be sure to ask for their advice too.
We listened to the guide’s words to drive till the very end of Taroko, at Bai Sha Luo, and then slowly make our way back to the red gates. The long, curvy road led us to a big valley. Layers and layers of the greenest mountain overlap each other. At every turn, two mountains spilt apart to reveal another one sneakily hiding behind them. At the bottom, river water gush strong and wide, polishing the marbles in its process back to the sea. Up top, the greenery is occasionally interrupted by a small dot of temple or pagoda. The clouds above hang low, masking the tips of the mountains with white flossy silk.
The mountain hypnotised us, fresh cold mountain air filled our lungs as we memorised the beauty of the place. We drove slowly to take in the valley’s majestic view, stopping ever so often to venture into the forest. Most of the suggested trails and hike were fairly short and simple, but it allowed us to explore more of the beauty we see on the surface.
Our first hike to Bai Yang Waterfall led us up and down the hill, and towards a bridge that opens up to a beautiful view of the waterfall. We thought it was the end of the trek but when we ventured further into eerie dark tunnels, we found a small cave with water falling through the creeks in the ceiling. It formed a magical water curtain. Even though we tried our best to avoid the icy cold water in the cave, we emerged soaking wet, cold and pumping with adrenalin.
We hopped back on our motorbike that was waiting for us by the road, and continued to be surprised by more of Taroko’s wonders. At the midpoint of the route, there were little family-run restaurants, souvenir shops, a resort, and much-needed toilets. Further down the path, a temple mountain was perched on the side of the hill. Higher up top, a beautifully serene white Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, smiles as she overlooks the entire park. It was as if she was praying for all her visitors to have a safe journey.
Taroko National Park is very concerned for the safety of its revelers, with ‘falling rocks’ and danger signs posted ever so often. There’s even a free helmet rental service should you wish to protect yourself from any potential head trauma. The locals here also seem to be cautious as all that we’ve talked to said the same thing: If you see small rocks on the road, RUN.
As our shadows grew shorter, the rain grew angrier. We managed to brave the rain to visit a hill top resort that was operated by aborigines, but had to forgo longer treks for the sake of our safety. The raindrops felt like bullets on our skin. Imagine driving for an hour in cold, hard rain down a windy mountain all the way back to our hotel, relying only on our guts for directions.
Despite the clouds raining on our parade, the wonderful beauty of Taroko Gorge National Park thoroughly impressed me. How many times I went “wow” at the sight of the valley, I lost count. Now, I only have to return to Taroko one more time to see the glory of the mountain in sunny blue skies.
TAROKO GORGE NATIONAL PARK TRAVEL TIPS:
1. Motorbike Rental: Most of the motorbike rental shop only accept local Taiwanese driving license. If you are planing to rent a motorbike with an international driving license, look for Mei Gui Zu Che Hang rental. This shop could probably be the only shop in Hualien that will accept your international driving license. They will need to see your driving license and passport.
2. Tour options: There are several options when it comes to exploring Taroko Gorge National Park. Motorbike is the easiest way to see the place on your own rules. Rent a motorbike for the entire day and you can do as many detours for as long as you desire. And believe me, a beautiful place like Taroko Gorge would make you want to do as many unnecessary stops and detours as you can. There are also bus tours and shuttle bus services, but they run on tight schedules and limited routes. You might not be able to explore the place as much. Alternatively, the more adventurous can do a bicycle tour.
3. Trekking Gear: If you’re planning to trek in Taroko, it’s best to equip yourself with trekking gear. Torch lights, food, raincoats, a towel and perhaps a jacket to protect yourself from the chilly mountain winds.
4. Taroko is BIG. Start early to see more.