Explore Taiwan – Maolin and Duona

Maolin was the first area that I explored on motorcycle when I moved to Taiwan 6 years ago. I knew about Typhoon Morakot but I had no idea just how severe it was or how much things had changed. I moved to Taiwan months after Typhoon Morakot but I didn’t know just how devastating it was for many of the aboriginal villages in southern Taiwan. Almost every bridge was taken out in Namasia, the entire Southern Cross Island Highway (parts still closed), Maolin and Wutai (among other places). In addition to that villages were washed away (mostly evacuated) and one village was completely buried (Xiaolin – not evacuated).  Altogether over 600 people likely died and the rebuilding continues today.

Duona was just a dreary ghost town with a couple of basic convenience stores selling snacks on my first visit. Fast forward a couple of years and Duona’s main street is packed with busloads of tourists on weekends and a dozen of stylish restaurants and businesses lining the main street. I have seen the reconstruction of numerous bridges on my various trips. Many of the trails to the sights below have been built in the last 3-4 years and they are so much easier to access.  Things have changed so much for the area and I love going back every time.

My goal is to explore every hidden corner of Taiwan and there will no doubt be even more spectacular places but Maolin will always be a special place because it is where the exploration started. It is also a pretty awesome place with many things to do.

Are there any places that I have left out?  What are your favorite places in Maolin and Duona?  

  1. Maolin is best known for its purple butterflies. There are many places in the world where butterfly migrations pass through yearly but there are only two (known) overwintering valleys in the world. One is in Mexico and the other is in Maolin, Taiwan. The numbers of butterflies have declined but with a little luck you can find swarms of butterflies along the Zishalishi Butterfly Trail in Maolin Village. Before hiking the trail there is a visitor center which explains the significance of the butterfly migration.

Click for directions to Maolin’s Purple Butterfly Valley

2. Lover’s Gorge Waterfall is the most popular of the waterfalls near Maolin and it is one of the best swimming spots in Taiwan. Two bridges (pedestrian and vehicular) to the waterfall have been built since Typhoon Morakot devastated the area in 2009. The rebuilt trail (2014 or 2015) starts at a parking lot waterfall and it is now an easy walk to the 2nd tier (and best tier) of the waterfall.

Click for directions to Lover’s Gorge Waterfall

3. After Typhoon Morakot, Douna Suspension Bridge was the only bridge that wasn’t destroyed. For awhile it provided the only permanent connection to Duona Village at the end of road 132. Today most traffic goes over a new bridge but tourists can still visit the 103 meter tall bridge (tallest in Taiwan) and hike out to nearby Longtoushan (Dragon Head Mountain).

Click for directions to Duona Suspension Bridge

4. Longtoushan and Shetoushan are pair of interesting case studies into Taiwan’s fascination of naming rocks and hills after animals that they vaguely resemble. In this case these are actually pretty cool.

Longtoushan (Dragon Head Mountain)

Shetoushan (Snake Head Mountain)

View the full blog post from one of my first trips to Maolin

5. I was originally told that Meiya Waterfall was broken up by several different sources but broken up seemed like a strange description and I was determined to investigate as far as I could. I was initially turned away by an impending rainstorm but the following year I walked up the creek to find Meiya Waterfall. The trail is completely destroyed though and visitors will have to pick their way through a rock field in the creek. There are rumors about a new trail being built but so far the project hasn’t started. Hopefully they don’t remove the best Chinglish sign ever.

6. I found Deengorge Guesthouse completely by accident 5 years ago. I was exploring Maolin a year or two after Typhoon Morakot and went down a random road ending up at the guesthouse on a Sunday evening. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them since very few tourists came to Maolin after the big typhoon and even fewer ventured as far as Deengorge. We chatted for awhile and this has become my favorite campground in Taiwan. One of my favorite memories is the guesthouse owner looking at all of the frogs in the middle of the night because he heard an unusual croak that sounded different than the 12 species that are usually present.

Click for directions to Deengorge Guesthouse

7.  On my first or second trip to Deengorge I asked about the name of the waterfall near the guesthouse and they said it doesn’t have a name and it is only used for drinking water. I might have been the first person that was ever interested in that little waterfall but it is a nice two tier waterfall right next to the road and I have thus named it Deengorge Waterfall.

Click for directions to Deengorge Waterfall

8. I first attempted to go to Maolin Waterfall in 2012 and was told that it was an easy hike. Instead I found bridges lying in the creek and no trail so I improvised and walked up the creek (a lot of fun). Ultimately I was blocked by a small waterfall and wasn’t able to get to Maolin Waterfall. I still put it up on the guide but later I started getting comments about not having to walk in the creek and pictures of a completely different waterfall from confused hikers. In 2014 the government built a beautiful trail (27M TWD) back to Maolin Waterfall. This has become one of my favorite waterfalls in Taiwan.

Click for directions to Maolin Waterfall

9. On one of my trips to Deengorge I was told about the Tapakadrawane Festival happening that night in Duona. Tapakadrawane is a harvest festival that ironically is held at almost the same time as American Thanksgiving. Many groups participated in a talent show but the highlight of the evening was a ceremony similar to homecoming king and queen. About a dozen young men and a dozen young women performed and gave speeches in hopes of winning.

View the full blog post

10. Guifu Canyon is one of the rarest places that I have visited in Taiwan. Downstream and upstream the creek is a fairly typical green valley filled with river rock but for a short stretch it becomes a narrow slot canyon with steep walls and a waterfall drops into it from a sidestream. The end is blocked by a 2nd shorter waterfall. Trips need a little luck to be successful. If it has rained heavily recently then you won’t be able to enter the canyon and the waterfall dries up during the winter.

Click for directions to Guifu Waterfall

11. Weiliaoshan is at the entrance of Maolin Valley and it is a challenging but excellent dayhike. The trail follows the ridgeline on the Kaohsiung and Pingtung county line rising 1275 meters in 8.5 km.  The last 3 km are particularly steep and rocky.

Click here for directions to Weiliaoshan

12. I haven’t hiked the Liugui Special Garrison Trail yet but Tyler has provided excellent details on a lost and overgrown section of the trail in his new blog. The Liugui Special Garrison Trail is a 50 kilometer route along a ridgeline all the way from Dajin to Baolai. The trail was built by the Japanese and had a police station every kilometer. Now the police stations are just piles of rocks and only sections of the trail are walkable. Tyler plans on blogging about these sections next on his blog.  You can follow his blog at tylercottenie.wordpress.com.

Note – I wouldn’t recommend walking the section that Tyler did in his blog but the other sections look very interesting.

Click to view the full blog post

13.  There are three waterfalls located just outside Maolin Valley that can be a fun side trip. Dajin Waterfall is very popular on weekends and goes up (and then down) over 800 stairs. Dazhi Waterfall is a decent waterfall but it goes dry early in the season (read between the lines here – it is one of my least favorites). My recommendation would be Hulugu (Calabash or Gourd Valley) Waterfall for a cool little area to explore or relax.

14.  One area that I would like to explore further is an overgrown trail at Meiya Waterfall. The sign is now obscured and unreadable but it mentioned an old aboriginal village somewhere up the hill. It is also possible that this trail leads up to an overlook for Meiya Waterfall.

15. I don’t know anything about Wanshan Petroglyphs but I have been told that it is strictly off limits unless you arrange a local guide (no idea how to arrange a guide though). This is on my secondary (or tertiary) to do list. I have so many other trips planned in Taiwan before I figure out how to go back there.

16. There is a small waterfall and hot spring up one of the river valleys but I lost the blog link to it. Based on memory this required an overnight camping trip (maybe 15 km each way).

17. I definitely need to add more info on things to do in Duona and Maolin Villages. There are numerous cool spots (including UBAKE art space) and we have eaten some amazing food. We enjoyed the meal below from the Diplomatic (?) Restaurant near the main intersection in Maolin. We also ate roasted chicken in Duona and the food at Deengorge (a large set meal) was delicious. One local specialty is xiaomijiu (millet wine). On two separate occasions this led to disasters though so be prepared for the bottles to explode (when opening). I don’t even want to write about the other disaster.  It was awful.

18. And just so people are clear – Duona Hot Springs are completely buried by 10+ meters of rock (Typhoon Morakot). Perhaps they will excavate this in the future but I have not heard of any plans to do so.  There might be plans to setup a hot spring at a different location but I don’t know any details about it.

Are there any places that I have left out?  What are your favorite places in Maolin and Duona?  

Jiuhaocha Aboriginal Village 舊好茶

Usually hikes are just hikes but sometimes there is much more to a hike than that.  Despite Taiwan’s west coast being densely populated Taiwan’s mountains hold many secrets that take some effort to find.  Jiuhaocha is one of those secrets.  Jiuhaocha is a Rukai aboriginal village located deep within the mountains of Pingtung County in southern Taiwan.  The Rukai are one of Taiwan’s 14 recognized tribes (more unrecognized).  Despite being located close to China, Taiwan was originally settled 1000’s of years ago by an Austronesian people.  The Chinese (now the dominant ancestry) didn’t start settling Taiwan until the 1600’s.

Directions to Jiuhaocha Village

Jiuhaocha offers one of the most authentic aboriginal experiences in Taiwan.  In 1979 the village chose to move five kilometers from the mountains into the river valley below.  Life was good in Xinhaocha (Jiu = old and Xin = new) for many years but in the 2000’s the village began to suffer from flooding caused by Taiwan’s many typhoons.  119 houses were damaged by Typhoon Sepat in 2007 (Taipei Times).  In January 2009 plans were made to relocate to Rinari near Sandimen (China Post).  Unfortunately the infamous Typhoon Morakot occurred that summer before they were able to move the villlage.  Unlike Xaiolin in Namasia everyone in Xinhaocha was evacuated before the disaster but their homes were either washed away or buried under silt and rock.

Today the only part of the village that remains is the top of the two story church.  Aside from one electrical pole you wouldn’t even know there was ever a village there.  Unfortunately more silt and rocks wash down from upstream every year and the church will soon become completely buried.  This video (in Chinese) shows the rising levels silt in the 5 years since Typhoon Morakot (video link).  Originally the river was located far below the village and 15 meters of silt and rock have since been deposited.

Here is a good blog link that shows original pictures of Xinhaocha in 1979 and also a 2007 photo.  It also shows another trail out of Jiuhaocha back to the river.  Blog link

We were more interested in visiting Jiuhaocha that weekend though.  Our aboriginal guide and Daniel wait for us to upstream of the buried village.

It seems a little silly but we went to extraordinary lengths to keep our feet dry.  We were lucky since we only had to cross the small river 5-6 times but trips earlier in the season need to cross it at least twice as many times.  During the summer there is likely too much water to even make the trip to the village.

Our guide is a true mountain man.  He only needed a chainsaw, a bottle of water and some betelnut for the hike.

Shortly after this dry waterfall we encountered the most impressive and slightly terrifying part of the trail.  The trail is cut into and steeply switchbacks up a cliff face.  For some this will be the highlight of the hike.  For others it will be a good chance to face their fears.  There are ropes to guide you and it isn’t actually that dangerous but it is very impressive.

Eventually you reach the top and hike through a beautiful forest the rest of the way to the village.

An impressive waterfall across the canyon that requires future exploration.

Dennis takes a break five minutes away from the village.

Jiuhaocha once had 300 families living in the area.  The houses aren’t setup right next to each other like a modern village but they are spread out across the mountain.  We visited about 10 houses that remain in good condition.  There are probably many more all over the mountain.  Today a handful of aborigines still live in the area at least part time.

The first house in the village is setup as a bunkhouse for guests although it also serves as living quarters when tourists aren’t there.  Nearly everything except the roof, wall and door supports is made out slate.  This is a typical building method for the Rukai tribe and you can find similar slate houses in southern Taiwan.  These are probably the best examples though.

A couple of houses had a throne outside.  We didn’t ask what the story behind them were.

The team hard at work on an excellent dinner.

Mark Roche from Blue Skies Adventures guided the trip and arranged our aboriginal guide, Jiuhaocha accommodation, transportation, meals and every other detail of the trip.  Mark prepared a massive feast that evening and those pork chops were just the beginning.  Note the game meat hanging and drying above the fire.  We didn’t have any of that.  That is the aborigines continuing to live as they always have.

This was obviously a great hike but it is set apart from other hikes as offering a unique experience that is difficult to find.  This is the type of thing that everyone spending a few years in Taiwan should do to really understand the country.  Aboriginal recognition and festivals are becoming more popular but they have been focuses on mass tourism and entertainment.  This little hidden (still hidden) village offers a truly authentic experience into aboriginal life.

Directions to Jiuhaocha Village