Taroko Gorge(ous): Days 4-7 of 137

Hualien was stop two on our Taiwan trip but as we were coming into and leaving from Taipei, we will talk about it later.
Our itinerary was a bit up in the air, as we wanted to go to Alishan where there is one of only two mountain railroads in the world (the other is in Denver), but it was closed (possibly indefinitely) due to typhoon damage. So instead we went to a town called Hualien which is close to a famous gorge called Taroko – it was magnificent!

The gorge is huge and there are five main ways to get around it:
1.   Private taxi costing around $2200 (£49)
2.   Walking and trying to hitchhike with the friendly Taiwanese.
3.   Tour bus or local bus (costing around $700, £16) – this does not give you the freedom of exploring compared with option 1,2,4 or 5.
4.   Renting a car ($2500, £55) or moped ($400, £9)
5.   Hiring a bicycle ($300, £6) and getting driven to the top with it (an additional $400, £9)

On our first day there we decided to hike some of the trails that were at the bottom of the gorge. This was easy for us because the hostel we were at was right at the entrance to the gorge, (an hour away by bus from Hualien train station) making it perfect for exploration! (Hostelworld review here - 4th March 2012)
Lizard in hostel bed
View from hostel window
We walked up to the gorge’s entrance and grabbed a map with hiking trail information from the National Park Headquarters. We were told that due to the recent heavy rain, a few of the trails were closed; the two we wanted to do the most!! We figured that we would just jump the barrier and do the trails anyway – what could go wrong!? We had already smashed a few mirrors and ran under several ladders that morning while drinking Dr Pepper so I figured what the heck.
Needless to say, we decided it wasn't worth the risk!

Anyway the first day we did the trails that were close to us, the first of which was the Shakadong trail. This is an easy, scenic walk with a stunning river and it was well worth it. If you plan on doing this hike, I wouldn’t bother doing the last kilometre because there isn’t much to see. Here are a lot of photos from this hike (I promise, we’ve been selective):
The various dangers that we faced
Katie is such a rebel
No more lingering from this point onwards
Look at the colour of that water!
The first of many hornets' nests
Check out the purple leaf
We then tried hitchhiking to the next trail but there weren’t too many people so we ended up walking the few kilometres to the Eternal Spring Shine trail. This was more of a hike (up stairs) than a stroll because it was very steep and slippery in places.
We stopped to take a photo
We even crossed a....suspension bridge
It reached about 1 o’clock and the heavens looked like they were about to open. We started making our way back to the hostel but it was several kilometres away. Just as it started raining, we jumped in a Taiwanese man’s car and he drove us right to our hostel entrance. It was our first hitchhiking experience and it worked perfectly!

We regrouped and decided to get the bus to Hualien where we would buy train tickets and grab some nicer food than what was available to us near the hostel. When we left it was pouring down and with our raincoats and umbrellas we waited for the bus. And waited. And waited. Then we waited some more and the rain really started to come down. We were about to give up when a car that we had tried to flag down for a hitchhike earlier, had turned all the way round to come pick us up. A young Taiwanese couple who didn’t speak English had taken pity on us – result! They used their phone to translate things for us, the funniest of which were “Are you going to eat you?” and “We get you” – these were both quite intimidating when sitting in a stranger’s / cannibal’s car.

However they were lovely and bought us a coffee and refused to take our money and then they decided to give us a tour around Hualien. They took us to the white sand beach that is also famous in this area. After they dropped us off, we explored a temple in Hualien, which was nothing special.

While we were in town, we were umming and ahhing about what to do the next day – the choice was between renting bikes or a scooter. I’m not a confident cyclist at the best of times, but when combined with my fear of heights, pedalling down the gorge became a terrifying thought. But then again...a scooter?! I’ve never even plucked up the courage to sit o the back of Dad’s motorbike and there’s Dave, who rode a scooter for a few weeks 3 YEARS AGO, asking me to sit there while he navigates tight corners and cliff faces?! How he persuaded me, I don’t know, but by the end of the hour long ride back to the hostel, I was beginning to think it was...maybe...a good idea.

We were 100m away from the hostel (no joke) when it started spitting slightly. Being Brits, we decided it wasn’t worth stopping to put on raincoats. We were 90m away from the hostel when it started shitting down – I drove through a wall of water and within one minute we had gone from dry to drowned. This was a real lesson in Taiwanese weather – when it rains, it fucking pours.

The next day we jumped on the scooter and headed up the gorge, stopping every few minutes to take more photos of this incredible feat of nature.
We did a “hike” called the Meander Core Trail that took all of five minutes and we were shocked by the huge hornets. We also got a decent bird’s eye view of one of the dams.
Finally we drove to the top and did an actual hike (only 2km though!) through the forest and we got an amazing view of a waterfall. The hike was called Lushui’s Trail and we got to see lots of butterflies and lizards – all very exciting.

Taroko was unbelievably beautiful and the highlight of our Taiwanese trip (besides the food!)
Dave is such a butterphile!
Costs (per person)
Taipei to Hualien Train (Special rate) - 2.5 hrs = $NT200 (£4.40, $7)
Hualien to Taroko Bus - 1 hr = $NT82 (£1.90, $3)
Hostel per night = $NT300 (£6.60, $10)
Hualien to Tainan Train - 6 hrs = $NT627 (£14, $21)