When we landed in Taiwan, we didn’t have any idea of what we would be doing in the country, not yet. In fact we don’t usually go to places simply for the sake of ticking something off on our bucket list.
Whenever you ask a Taiwanese person suggestions on where to go, you can be sure that one of them – if not probably the highest on the list – will be the Taroko Gorge. This is why during our trip around Taiwan we ended up in Hualien which is very close to the Gorge and a convenient place to stop to explore the surrounding area.
Following a few more suggestions and tips from our Couchsurfing host (including taking with us an umbrella and a flashlight without adding why) and off we go for our day of hiking through the Taroko Gorge.
With map in hand and a loose idea of which trails to follow we got on our ‘Jump On/Jump Off shuttle (NT$250, $8.30/£5.40/€6.30 for a 1-day unlimited use pass) the drive of which gave us a good taste of what was in store for us.
I usually read whilst on a bus or a train, this particular time though I couldn’t even finish a paragraph without getting captured by the landscape we were driving through. My nose was almost glued to the glass window for all the short journey, I kept wowing and pointing out things to Dale who in the end gave up reading too.
We decided to get off at the last stop of the ride at Tianxiang from where we could make our way down. It was a pleasant sunny day, not too hot neither too humid, simply perfect weather for hiking.
Straight away we wandered around the area that to our surprise wasn’t crowded with people, not at all.
Apart from the surrounding mountains, the river floating noisily underneath the bridge and a temple, there was a 7 storey Pagoda on top of a hill and it was open to the public.
Even though I’m scared of heights I went all the way up the Pagoda with Dale and I’m so glad I did, the view was worth the slightly more accelerated heartbeat and the shaky legs I had.
Everything was simply beautiful but we still couldn’t understand the need of a flashlight considering everything was out in the open and very bright.
As soon as we took our chosen trail everything became clear. There were tunnels to pass through and get to the next point, dark tunnels where water was coming down the ceiling hence the need of the umbrella.
It was like being in a video-game in a way, I’ve never before needed to walk through such dark tunnels with dripping water, spooky!
The Best Was Yet To Come
The hike to reach the Swallow Grotto took us probably more than the estimated time. It was difficult not to stop to admire the river making its way through rocks and little natural islands to eventually end in impetuous waterfalls. It was impossible to ignore the natural marble formations that the water had moulded during the past years and the many holes that, depending on which angle we were looking at them, created different shapes.
Our peak was when we reached the Swallow Grotto and we ventured inside it with a plastic poncho that thankfully somebody gave us. Walking barefoot into the cold clear water, with water also raining down from the ceiling infiltration, felt so good and alike to walking through a waterfall. There was something to do with being able to be at direct contact with the rocks that made the whole experience nicer, more natural and enjoyable.
We concluded our hike with what is defined the most magnificent part of the Taroko Gorge, the Tunnel of 9 turns where the sheer cliffs face each other.
Whilst the tunnel was interesting, we still enjoyed most of all the Swallow Grotto and I’m sure that the direct contact with the water and the rocks has something to do with it 🙂
Unfortunately some trails were closed due to typhoon damage so we didn’t get to see them all, but this gave us some extra time to stop on our way back for our second time on the Qixintan Beach that we loved so much.
We definitely recommend spending a day around the steep valleys and narrow canyons of the Taroko Gorge and if you fancy being more flexible and not wanting to wait for the next shuttle, simply rent a bike (be ready for the steep road challenge though) or a scooter to move freely as most people do.
You mustn’t forget to wear trainers, to bring with you plenty of water, some snacks or perhaps even lunch (there aren’t many places to eat if not in certain areas), an umbrella (or raincoat) of course and ultimately – but not less important – a flashlight!
Have fun! 🙂