Today was planned around a guided tour of Taroko National Park, home of, and named after the famous Taroko Gorge. We started off the morning with a hearty Taiwanese breakfast of hot noodles with beef and pan fried turnip cakes covered in hoisin sauce. The noodles were good, but I wished the turnip cakes had been fried a little crispier.
After eating, we met our tour guide and other tour mates at Hualien station, then began the day’s trip. Before entering the park, we first drove to Qingshi Cliff, the highest coastal cliff in Taiwan, and one of the Eight Wonders of the country. From this lookout spot, you could see the steep mountainside touch the Pacific Ocean. The water shone in three distinct shades of vibrant blue; but as beautiful as it was, rules prohibited swimming due to the dangerous currents.
Once we were done taking in the view, we drove to the entrance of the park and shortly embarked on the Shakadang River trail hike. Here we walked along a narrow wooden railway path where the low hanging rock ceiling required tall visitors to mind their heads. One side of the path was lined with rocks and greenery, while the other side dropped off to the river below.
The water glistened a bright cyan because of the minerals it contained, and the massive chunks of marble that lined the river bed featured beautiful swirled textures. We walked for about 25 minutes before reaching the end of the publicly accessible trail; our guide pointing out massive spiders, cool rock formations, ,and different vegetation along the way. At this point, we were led towards the riverbed (past signs that warned of trespassing), until we were able to touch the water ourselves. I loved the bright blue color of the water coupled with the sea of granite rocks around.
Before beginning the walk back along the trail, we first stopped for refreshments at a few small stalls run by the local aboriginal people. We sipped mulberry and roselle tea (they weren’t as fruity as I expected), and I ate a wonderfully juicy mountain boar sausage. The sausage was so good, not cooked in any oil, but still it dripped with flavor. The vendors also sold jewelry and other handcrafted goods. Once we were finished with the tea and sausage, we retraced our steps and headed for the Eternal Spring Shrine.
The Eternal Spring (Changchung) Shrine and waterfall next to it were our last stops before lunch. Located at the base of lush, towering mountains, this picturesque spot commemorates the 212 veterans who died while building a nearby cross-island highway. Landslides have damaged and nearly destroyed this shrine multiple times, but it has been rebuilt every time. The water here didn’t shine the same beautiful, deep, cyan as the Shakadang River before, instead it was gray and murky from the silt it carried.
After taking in the shrine, we grabbed a simple lunch at the park’s visitor center. The best part about the meal was a peach tea that was made by mixing peach honey with hot water. The honey was so flavorful and delicious that my mom bought a souvenir bottle to bring home. By the time lunch was over, I was so tired. We watched a short video on Taiwan at the center, but I had a hard time paying attention since I was falling asleep. I was able to rest a little in the car however during our ride to the next destination, Swallow’s Grotto.
Swallow’s Grotto is one of the park’s most famous landmarks. Receiving its name from the many swallows that live in the naturally-made cliffside potholes and flitter about above the rushing water, this place allows visitors to walk along a narrow one-way path and take in the scenery above and below. While frequent landslides and rockfalls encourage most visitors to wear protective helmets, our group was told not to worry and to just continue moving (slightly scary). We followed the stream of people along the cliffside, this time much further away from the water than during our first hike.
Once we finished walking through Swallow’s Grotto (thankfully no rocks fell on us), there was one more trail to complete in order to finish the tour of the park. Lushui Tail was pretty small, and we walked it at a leisurely pace- through a small cave, across a short swing bridge, past more massive spiders in the trees, and above the water once more.
We left the park soon after finishing the Lushui trail, and drove to the beach for sunset. The sand was full of small pieces of granite, and other colorful stones. There was a cool sandstone sculpture that reminded of a design project I completed in one of my college courses.
The tour had finally come to an end, our guide had been exceptional, and we had seen a great part of the Taroko National Park. We headed back to Hualien station to catch the train and bus back to Taipei- once more, exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.