If you have time to visit only one nature reserve, then head on to the Taroko National Park. Located in the township of Hualien, approximately 2 hours by train from Taipei, Taroko is considered to be Taiwan’s 8th most beautiful sight to behold. The main attractions in the park are easily accessible by car and can be covered in a day. However, to fully appreciate the magnificence and beauty of Taroko and the surroundings, do try a home stay or splurge at the Grand Farmosa Hotel.
The area boasts limestone formations between the late Paleozoic era to the Mesozoic era, florid marble gorges curved by the Liwu River and a wide variety of flora and fauna. We stayed 2 nights at the Taroko Grand Farmosa to explore the area at leisure and yet, we barely scratched the surface of the park.
There are several walking trails in the park and most are fairly easy to negotiate. Be sure to dress comfortably for hiking. If you intend to hike the Baiyang trail and the Lyushui-Houliu trail, do bring along a good torchlight as these trails include dark tunnels. We bought the hop on and off service offered by the hotel and loan torches from them (grab the big ones, the smaller ones were useless in the tunnels).
Tunnel of Nine turns (Jiucyudong)
The tunnel of nine turns is a 2km trail next to the central cross island highway and can be easily completed within 30 minutes. This was once a road from the old central highway. It is a must see for all visitors to the Taroko gorge. Visitors are treated to the magnificent sight of steep marble gorges created over time by the Liwu River, such is its beauty that it has inspired poems, 2 of which are inscribed along the trail. The highlight of this trail is the famous sight of "Fish leaping over dragon gate", a marble resembling the shape of a fish leaping upwards against a waterfall. We were in awe of the sheer majesty and felt as if we were walking in the middle of the gorge with the steep cliffs overhanging above and the flowing Liwu River rushing below us. A dizzy experience not to be missed.
Lyushui-Holiu (Where the river meets)
This trail is approximately 2 km and can be completed easily within 45 minutes. We tracked this trail in the opposite direction, beginning at the Lyushui camping site and ending behind the Lyushui exhibit hall. This trail is part of an old Aboriginal route and offers hikers views of 2 rivers meeting to form the Liwu river from terraces overlooking Lyushui (hence the name of the trail). Look out for the indigenous Taiwanese bamboo, the fragrant camphor trees planted by the Japanese colonists (take deep breaths) and if you are lucky, local monkeys and squirrels. The trail crosses a suspension bridge, a mini-waterfall, a very dark tunnel (flashlights on!) and a wooden bridge. There are clear signages along the trail highlighting the flora and fauna.
The most beautiful of the trails, the Baiyang Trail is, not surprisingly, also the most popular. Within 15 minutes walk from the Grand Formosa Hotel or 800m from Tiansheng, the trail starts from a tunnel located to the left of the highway.
Emerging from the 1st of the 8 tunnels, we were immediately transported into another world. From indigenous bamboo, paper mulberry trees to cottonrose hibiscus, bee hives and colorful spiders weaving huge webs that spread across the trail, we were charmed by the beauty of the flora and fauna. The sounds of rushing water and the elusive bird calls seemed to calm our souls. The highlight of the trail is the Baiyang falls. This is a majestic waterfall that thunders down into jade-coloured pools that eventually join the Liwu River. A suspension bridge brought us closer to the waterfalls and gave us another vista of the beautiful marbled gorges carved by Mother Nature.
Walking further, we came to the end of the trail with the water-curtain tunnel. We were warned by fellow trekkers making their way back, still, we did not know what to expect as we entered this tunnel (so take notes here!). With our pants rolled up, shoes and socks removed, umbrellas opened, we bravely entered into the dark water curtain tunnel and were almost drenched by the cold water cascading down from the ceiling of the tunnel. Later, we learnt that this is a favorite place to be among youths during summer. So bring your bathing suits, there are toilet facilities for changing before the tunnel. This tunnel is supposedly close to public so enter at your own risk, and only if you are prepared for a drenching.
The trail is approximately 2km and follows the Liwu River. It took us approximately 1-1/2 hr to complete the whole circuit at a leisurely pace. We were enthralled and fascinated by the sights and sounds of this trail. Certainly, this trail is not for the faint hearted although it is the easiest as much of the path is flat.
For a brief introduction of all trails, go Here