Don’t you just love a good gorge?
We have tramped along many a gorges and canyons around the world and whilst Taroko Gorge is is by no means the deepest, longest or largest, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Taroko is Taiwan’s most diverse and most visited national park. Framed, on the one side by sheer ocean cliffs and on the other by majestic, soaring, mountain peaks, it is easy to see why it is so popular.
Picking up our rental car bright and early, we drove 30 mins north and arrived at Taroko visitors centre. A helpful staff member provides us with a map and points out the places we should visit. He also told us the palces to avoid, namely those that were off limits due to rockfalls – of which there were quite a few!
Taroko Gorge stretches for 20kms into the park, its marble walls soaring dramatically, several hundred metres above the Liwu river. The scenery is truly awe-inspiring!
We chose a few easy hikes, all on well marked trails. Signs at some of the trails warned of the need to use of hard hats. Rockfalls are common here, how common we would soon find out.
There are many other, longer hiking options here. With a little more time and a little less savage heat, we would have checked out some of them. The views from the road are impressive and it is a pleasant drive but to truly appreciate the majesty of this gorge it is necessary to get out and walk at least a few of the trails.
Shakadang Trail was our first stop. Climbing down some stairs by the bridge, we step onto to the trail and follow the path carved into the side of the gorge, high above the beautiful blue-green river.
We stop frequently along the way just to stare down and admire the translucent pools and the water-worn boulders in the river below.
A couple of kilometres in, by the remnants of an old aboriginal village, the trail is closed. Here as few aboriginal ladies had set up stalls selling their famous aboriginal sausages. Not quite ready for lunch, we decline the kind offer and head back to the start of the trail.
Swallow Grotto Trail was our next stop. In our keenness to get there, we drove straight past the kiosk offering the free hard hats! As we walked this trail, stepping around the chunks of rock that had fallen from above, we realise that missing the hats may have been a mistake!
Again, more stunning views to drink in, but here, it is the man-made engineering feats that inspire awe as much as the natural beauty of this gorge; how do they dig and build these tunnels and bridges and keep them open, in such a wild and unstable environment?
Huge numbers of swallows nest here in burrows in the tunnel walls and the cliffs. When not at home they seem to take pleasure in dive-bombing tourists walking along the road!
One of the bridges, Jinheng Bridge was named as a tribute to Chief Engineer Jin Jeng who died when he was on his way to inspect the damage caused by an earthquake in 1957. Maybe we should have picked up those hats..
As we stare in wonder at our surroundings, a Taiwanese guy points out to us the face of an Indian Chief in the rocks of the gorge.
Our plan had been continue on into the gorge to hike along the Lüshui and Baiyan Waterfall trails However, the road ahead is completely blocked by a landslide. Our day in the gorge appears at an end! We take a U turn and head back to the start of the gorge and on up the coast to visit Quingshui Cliffs.
You can get around the gorge by public transport or taxi. A shuttle bus runs from Hualien station to and from various points in the park on a hop on and off basis. Although some reports describe the service as unreliable.
Taxis can be hired either for the entire day or half day or, as and when needed in the gorge itself. There always seemed to be plenty around when we were there. Taxi costs did seem expensive – more than the cost of a self drive rentals or the day.
As we were only in the area for a couple of days we rented a car to maximise our time and see as much as we could. This proved an ideal solution for us, particulars as we also wanted to spend a day driving down the East Coast Scenic Area.
Drivers are courteous, road signs are in English and traffic is pretty light. It is a pleasure to drive here.
NB. An International Driving license and your home country driving license is essential to rent a car.