Hualien and Taroko National Park: The Big Adventure
Taiwan has a myriad of renowned natural landscapes. While Sun Moon Lake is seen as one of the most striking and Alishan one of the more majestic, nothing compares to the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Taroko National Park.
The jaw-dropping scenery of this natural wonder is by far Taiwan’s biggest attraction and was the last big site I had to tick off my Taiwanese list. So after 2 long years of living in Taiwan, it was finally time to head to Hualien and experience the best the country had to offer!
A New Flavour
This trip had a different edge to it as it would be the first time Jess and I travelled as part of a group, something I usually try to avoid. For this adventure, we’d be joined by Billy and Brandon, two of Jess’s friends with whom I’d become close to since being in Taiwan and following countless nights of majiang and chewing binlang.
As such, there were far more hurdles to be overcome as part of a team. Weeks of back and forth messages were needed to formulate a plan that fitted to everyone’s required tastes. Fortunately being quite laid back individuals, it wasn’t hard planning a trip that would become one of the best I’ve ever had!
First, Jess and I had to travel from Taipei to Billy and Brandon’s home in Jiaoxi, the hot spring town which has become our monthly getaway. The next day we were up early and on our train headed for Hualien where we would be renting a car, something I had been waiting to do forever!
Finally, we’d have our own transport! Having your own car always adds such a great amount of freedom and comfort to your travels. So many possibilities open up! However, as I didn’t have an international licence (which has been the bane of my existence for the last few years), Brandon had to be the designated driver. Devastating.
Stepping Off on the Right Foot
Though I was disappointed not being able to drive, there was one advantage, I had free reign to drink as much as I could, and that I did! Despite that, I still had the vital role of Navigator / DJ, an assignment I took with great pride.
Our first stop of the day was met with disapproving grumbles when I first suggested it weeks ago, though it soon gained its much-deserved respect. It was just the simple banks of a river beside an indigenous village, but it made for the perfect spot to beat the heat and a tipsy-headed dip!
Having been teased by the sight of the crystal blue waters of Hualien for hours, I couldn’t wait to dive in!
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Where Shall We Stay?
We had decided to spend a night camping on the outskirts of the city, as Hualien is one of the best places to do it. Originally I had hoped for a more rugged “in the middle of nowhere” experience, though my calls went unanswered.
Instead, the others preferred an actual campsite with all the nearby facilities and everything provided. For weeks I had nightmares of staying in one of those run-down British campsites like Butlins with a group of screaming monsters, sunburnt pot-bellied thugs and cheesy entertainment on an endless loop. Basically an all-around fucking nightmare. Thankfully, it was nothing of the sort.
To the Campsite
We arrived at a row of tents that had already been set up literally a few inches from each other; not the best of starts. Fortunately, any doubts I had instantly disappeared upon meeting a chubby cat called Da Ju (大橘), or Big Orange, who was waiting for our arrival. The owner was quick to tell us that he was incredibly clingy and would try to climb into our tents at the first opportunity. We’d find that out the next day…
Those same owners turned out to be so incredibly friendly and accomodating that they really took our trip to the next level! They seemed to go above and beyond what was necessary of them at every opportunity! But more on that later… Check out the campsite right here!
The Farm I Always Wanted
Unless it was painfully clear by now, I absolutely love animals! Being around a bunch of cute cuddly creatures is when I’m at my happiest. Fortunately for me, the campsite had plenty to satisfy my animal fix!
The most memorable of all were the adorable baby goats! In my experience, farm animals are usually quite skittish, especially around strangers. Yet to my amazement, once I walked up to their little pen, one brave little goat confidently made his way up to me for an investigation.
The goat, who would later become known as Benji (yes, I named him), after a brief little inquiry quickly became comfortable enough to have a little cuddle which then moved into play fighting. With his little tail wagging furiously, he put his head down, bore his tiny little horns forward and lightly began to nudge me as best he could! Each and every time he came over, every little cuddle would devolve into furious nudging!
Not to mention the teenie tiny little babies who must have only been a few weeks old! They took much longer to get acquainted and would only do so when mama goat was nearby. Needless to say, they were easily the biggest highlight of the trip!
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I Caught Crabs in Hualien
As part of the package we had arranged at the camp, the owners took us down to the nearby beach so we could catch some local delicacies. What we thought would be crabs turned out to be “sea cockroaches” as our guide appetizingly called them. To catch them, we had to dig a hole just on the edge of the incoming waves and bury a rotting fish beneath the sand. Turns out it wasn’t as easy as it sounds…
After we had buried them all, we waited around for 20 minutes while the guides quite awkwardly took pictures of us at every opportunity. In one way I was grateful as it’s always great to capture the memories and have someone else take the photos for you. Despite that, it’s hard to lose yourself in the beauty of the moment when you’re in the middle of an impromptu photoshoot. That being said, they did get some awesome photos in the end!
After pulling out our baskets and rummaging through the sand, we managed to find ourselves 3 of the little sand roaches, who would later be our meal for the night! As we didn’t have many, our guides kindly offered to find more for us by the end of the evening.
Bringing You The Flavour at the Backyard Barbecue
Weeks prior, I had one simple request, we must have a fire. We’re camping, we have to have a fire!! For the longest time, it looked like this wasn’t possible as a typical family-style campsite isn’t really the place for it. Thankfully though, my prayers were answered.
Another part of our package included a barbecue which provided everything we needed. Chicken, pork, steaks, quail, squid, shrimp, and entire fish and a myriad of vegetables only covered half of it! To top it off we also had our catch of the day in the form of the little crabby roaches. Fair to say we were fed well!
The night ended in a series of bamboo vodka shots to help ease the pain of my sunburnt shoulders and lack of pillow in our tents.
Good Morning World
As a man who struggles to wake up any earlier than noon, I was surprised to be wide awake at 5:30 am when the sun had already risen to hear the local rooster screeching. Even more surprising was waking up to a little visitor.
As Billy and Brandon woke up earlier, they had already stepped out of the tent and left the flap wide open for none other than cuddly little Da Ju to make his way inside and make himself comfortable amongst the cosy sleeping bags. Having noticed his arrival, I ditched Jess as a spooning partner and started my day with some kitty cuddles.
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Visiting Taiwan’s Biggest Highlight
Today was the big day, and the entire reason we had come to Hualien in the first place! It was finally time to visit what many consider to be the very best attraction the country has to offer, Taroko National Park.
Of the 4 of us, I was the only one who hadn’t visited the park, so this would be my day. I had free reign to pick and choose the sites we’d stop off at, not that it really mattered. The entire park was one long winding road which led along and over the natural gorges of the park, we just had to choose where to stop.
Within an instant, I was wide-eyed with childlike wonder at the incredible power and majestic scenery that kept getting more beautiful by the inch. The pale white gorges and the scattering of foliage throughout them opened up to valleys of turquoise rivers cascading their way down towards the coast. One day was nowhere near enough time to appreciate the beauty of the place.
Time for a Dip
After a few stops and a myriad of gaping stares, we were running out of time. We had somewhere to be so time was of the essence. As such, Brandon suggested a site that we just had to visit. A risky decision; do I want to put my once in a lifetime opportunity in the hands of someone else’s very selective opinion? Though typically I’d say no, turns out it was the best decision ever.
We began making our way through a series of incredibly long tunnels that bore their way through the gorges. They were so vast that they resembled those images of death where you’re chasing a far distant light. Each tunnel opened up into another stunning section of the gorge and the light blue waters running through them.
We reached yet another tunnel, though this one had an ankle-deep river running through it and a torrent further down. A cascade of water blasted from the roof of the caves in a powerful stream which battered your body with freezing cold mountain water! Thankfully all my hours of watching Bear Grylls taught me that the water running through the cave is some of the cleanest you’ll ever hope to find, and it really was delicious.
Our time in Taroko was sadly cut short because of a booking we’d made as part of our camping experience. We would be trying our hand at paddleboarding, or SUP as everyone in Taiwan insists on calling it. We should have tried it the day before though because of poor weather, we had to postpone.
The postponement also came with a change of setting. Originally we were planning to paddleboard in the ocean during sunrise (which would have been amazing), but now we were relegated to a nearby lake.
I had never tried it before, though it seems to be the latest trend back in the UK since a cut-price supermarket began selling them! So it was time to jump on the bandwagon and try it myself.
Wobbling like a baby giraffe, I quickly got used to the sensation of floating on the water, and found out why it really was so popular! It was pretty easy getting used to, and such a wonderful way of experiencing the nearby landscapes. Like Jesus simply gliding along the water.
Since we had finally gotten used to standing, now it was a matter of knocking each other off. Needless to say, nobody survived.
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