December Waterfall Updates/Trips

Last year I chose to go a slightly different route with my blog. Previously I would write a waterfall guide entry and then combine everything that happened on a weekend into one post. The result was blogs that largely duplicated the guide entries that I had written and jumbled mess of what we did. Instead of doing that I wanted to do more comprehensive regional blogs like the one that I did for Maolin (Explore Taiwan – Maolin and Duona) in April. I also wanted to do some best of lists like the 10 Best Easy Waterfall Hikes and North Sumatra’s Waterfalls. There were also some places or events like Shimenggu or The Wang Ye Boat Burning that needed much larger blogs to do them justice. Along with a few other recurring blog themes (Local Spotlight and Great Bloggers) this was the plan for the year.

Something happened though. I traveled so much and so often that it was impossible to work and to keep up with the waterfall guide entries. I visited 40 NEW waterfalls in Taiwan and 35 waterfalls in Minnesota, the Philippines, East Java and North Sumatra in addition to dozens that I have gone back to because I wanted better photos, better information, better maps or simply because they are great waterfalls. If you do that math I went to almost 100 waterfalls in 2016. Blogging became an afterthought since it was nearly impossible to keep up with all of the basic information in the waterfall guide entries.

The logical solution would be to scale back the number of trips that I go on but I have actually increased the number of trips so far in 2017. Taiwan received a nearly devastating amount of rain from two typhoons and a couple of heavy storms this fall. That combined with the unusually warm temperatures this winter has resulted in perfect waterfall chasing conditions. Not only is the weather perfect for hiking but I have swam at almost a dozen waterfalls in December and January. Maybe it will slow down in February (unlikely with so many holidays). Perhaps March…

So this year I am going to try to make an effort to do a brief rundown of all the waterfalls and places that I have visited each month. We will see how long I can accomplish that.

December’s first trip was a 3 day weekend to Taipei/New Taipei. I stayed at this spaceship themed hostel which was very interesting and was also able to meet many Taipei Hikers (FB group) that I hadn’t seen for awhile for a potluck dinner one night. More importantly though I was able to add 5 new waterfalls to my guide that weekend.

Yunsen Waterfall has been on my to do list for a long time but I chose not to do the whole loop to Manyueyuan so I will be back sometime to do it again.

Xiufeng Waterfall was my favorite of the three waterfalls on Dajianshan.

Silong Waterfall was a nice short hike that was pretty easy to get to.

I have also been leading hikes with the Southern Taiwan Hiking Group. One of benefits of teaching English in Asia is that most classes don’t start until the afternoon or even the evening. I lead 2-3 Tuesday hikes every month to places in Kaohsiung or Pingtung and have made really good progress on my local area to do list.

The Liangshan Waterfall trip was actually at the end of November but close enough. This was my 3rd trip to Liangshan and I finally got the perfect photo. No, I don’t know who that woman is. She showed up and posed for 3 minutes and then left.

Swan Lake is a rarely visited but once very popular recreation area. It isn’t easy to get to either Swan Lake Waterfall or Lover’s Lake Waterfall but it is awesome to be there with only your friends.

One of the bigger trips that I led in December was a Miaoli Research Trip. I had only been to one of the waterfalls before and I wanted a smaller group that could handle poor trail conditions. We visited the Luchang and the Taian Hot Springs areas and made it to 4 out of 5 of the waterfalls that I wanted to visit.

Kuhuatan Waterfall was a difficult to find but perfect swimming hole that our group didn’t fully enjoy in December. It would be great to return here with warmer temperatures.

Shenxian Waterfall is a nice waterfall made very famous by the Seediq Bale movie. It lacks the fun aspect since they ‘discourage’ people from going down to the waterfall. My favorite part was the hike from Shimen Bridge to Shenxian Waterfall. Of course, they strongly discourage this with ‘DANGER’ signs. This waterfall can officially be known as the No Fun Waterfall.

Shuiyun Waterfall was the highlight for the weekend. The waterfall drops into a beautiful side canyon full of interesting rock strata. Josh has always been in the right place at the right time for my photos. I only wish that his wardrobe didn’t consist of shades of gray. I also wish that he hadn’t moved back to the states. He has been an excellent waterfall adventuring companion for the last year.

The final trip of the year was a Christmas Day hike to Maolin and Duona. Guifu Canyon is one of my favorite places but this trip is one that I will think about for a long time. Three people in our group got caught in an eddy and couldn’t swim out. Everything happened so quickly but luckily we were able to get them out.

At least Lesley knows how to wear bright colors for photos.

Wang Ye Boat Burning, Donggang, Taiwan

The Wang Ye were members of the emperor’s royal family that protected the empire.  Over a milennia ago their ship sank and they were transformed into protector spirits.  Over 300 years ago Donggang, Taiwan began holding wangchuan ceremonies.  Every 3 years they call one of the Wang Ye protector spirits on Day 1 of the festival and for 7 days they lure the evil spirits out and finally send them away with the ceremonial boat burning.  I won’t attempt to tell you the complete history but will instead give my impression of the things that I saw.  I encourage you to check out the links below for a much more detailed explanation and history of the festival.

Background information

The best explanation of the Donggang festival is on a new Facebook page (Taiwan Temples) that was started by Robert Kelly (Lonely Planet Taiwan author) and Rich Matheson (The Taiwan Photographer).   This post from their Facebook page explains day one and this post explains the final day.

Another great explanation of Wangchuan ceremonies throughout Taiwan and their history is this article by Steven Crook (Bradt Travel Guide Taiwan author).  Similar but smaller festivals are also held in Xigang (Tainan County), Xiao Liuqiu and more recently Penghu.

Day 1

On day one there is a beach ceremony in the afternoon as described by Taiwan Temples.  This would be interesting to witness but I was very busy that day so I arrived in Donggang around 7pm for the procession and later the fire walking.  There are about 30 temples in Donggang dedicated to the Wang Ye.  The Donglong Temple is the center of the ceremonies but each temple has a part in the ceremony and takes part in the procession.

These students were playing a horn like instrument that collectively sounded like bagpipes.  For a long time I never understand why temples played bagpipes and now I know that it isn’t actually bagpipes.  Regardless it is a rather awful sound.  Okay, this guy playing AC/DC on the bagpipes is pretty awesome.

Each storefront and home along the procession route attempts to create as much noise and chaos bring the evil spirits out of hiding.  This storeowner was particularly proud of the mess that they had made.  Most likely your eyes will burn and your ears will ring from the massive amount of fireworks and the burnt paper money.

Surprisingly they didn’t close off the road to traffic.  They did have a no fireworks or burning zone around the gas station though.  If you don’t like fireworks this might be a good place to stand.

The boat wasn’t the main attraction on Day 1 but it was visible at Donglong Temple.  These temple followers have already removed their shoes and are ready for the fire walking.

Around 9pm they prepared the fire walk.  Initially there was charcoal on the ground and then they splashed an excessive amount of fuel to liven things up.

After the fire dies down they throw large amounts on rice and salt onto the smoldering charcoal.  It appeared to be very large crystals of salt that would really hurt to walk on.  A master of ceremonies (my description) performed many elaborate rituals while waiting for the charcoal to cool at which time the entire procession would cross.  It likely took many hours for the entire procession but I went home after the first several hundred people crossed.  I think they waited long enough for the charcoal to only be warm but you can judge for yourself in the video.

The first two fire walkers had crossed several times before and they finally gave the okay for the procession to cross and the crowd applauded.  The bagpipe-like music is played in the middle of the video.  I have read that people will take a small piece of charcoal (walked over by hundreds) home and make special drinking water or food with it.  I chose not to.

The Final Day

During the day the boat was paraded through the streets of Donggang and finally it was parked in the center of the Donglong Temple for all to see.  We arrived at 10pm in time for the evening ceremonies.

This elaborate ritual was one of the last big performances before the boat exited the temple at 2am.  They ran in choreographed patterns and then would touch banner staffs or whatever other instrument they had.

The boat exits the temple at about 2am and the mob follows in absolute chaos.  The boat comes out of the temple and turns right so that would like be a better place to take a photo from.  After that the mob follows the boat through the streets of Donggang to the beach.  It really doesn’t matter where you are for this part.  Everybody is going the same place.

Once again a ridiculous amount of fireworks are shot off and excessive stacks of paper money are burned.  Don’t worry about leaving the temple early in order to get a good spot for the boat burning.  There is plenty of time to weave through the crowd at the beach especially if you are a small group.  However it is impossible to move quickly while the boat is being moved to the beach.  You are constantly being pushed and pushing and all you can do is shuffle your feet forward.

The boat is pushed down near the water and for over 2 hours the temple followers pile a mountain of paper money (fake obviously) around the boat.  They will even allow foreigners to help with this although a lady wasn’t allowed one time.   This will be the hardest part of the night physically (the waiting).  You will be standing the entire time and you don’t want to move away at this time since you might not get your spot back and the crowd has become very dense by now.   The best place to stand will be near the crowd of 3 meter tall (or taller) tripod photographers that are on ladders.  There are hundreds of them at this event and they take it very seriously.

Your hopes will be raised when they start putting the mast up but it will still be awhile before the fire begins.  The center mast requires a lot of effort to put up and it looks like it is ready to come down at any time.

After the sails are raised the anchors are symbolically loaded onto the ship.  At this time they are also spreading a layer of sand over the paper money to fool the evil spirits into coming towards the ships.  It is now time to get ready for the main event.  At around 5am they will ask for permission to light the fire.

Somebody has a sick sense of humor and starts the fire with a volley of firecrackers.  These don’t actually start the fire but they start a small panic in the sleepy crowd.  Be very careful to not push over the photographers on ladders right behind you when the crowd surges backward.  Surprisingly the fire starts very slow due to the dense paper mountain.  It gradually becomes hotter though and the crowd inches back.

It will take over an hour for the boat to catch on fire and the mountain of paper money will burn until at least noon.  We left the beach area around 7am after the entire boat was in flames.

Overall it was an amazing experience but I really hate staying up all night.  There is a lot more to the festival than just the boat burning and so many things are really cool.  One of the hardest things as a spectator is that things are cool for 15 minutes but they might last 2 hours.  This is of course understandable but it requires a lot of time spent standing and waiting.   I will probably go back in 3 years since there are so many cool things that are happening.  There have only been a few circumstances in Taiwan where I don’t mind excessive pollution created by an event.  It is completely ridiculous how much paper money (and of course the boat) is burned and money spent on this festival but it is really cool.

How to get there:  It is a one hour motorcycle or car ride from Kaohsiung.  It will be very hard to find parking for a car but it isn’t a problem for motorcycles.  I would not recommend riding down there for the final night night since you will be extremely tired on the ride home.  Buses leave from the main train station (several different companies) every 20-30 minutes and they are probably the best bet.  You can also ride the MRT Xiaogang and take a taxi to Donggang (maybe 1000+ each way).  You will have to pre-arrange a taxi on Sunday morning or take the bus (pickup near McDonalds).  Another option would be to book a hotel/homestay in Donggang for the weekend so you can experience all of the events but relax in your room in between the big events.

When to go:  The next festival won’t be until 2018.  The first day can be interesting when they are calling the spirit of the Wang Ye at the beach (I didn’t go) and in the evening they start the festival with a loud procession (starting around 7pm) ending with a fire walking ceremony (about 9pm in 2015) at Donglong Temple.  On the last day they parade the boat through the city streets in the afternoon and do many ceremonies (maybe starting at 10pm) at Donglong Temple.  At around 2am the boat is moved to the beach and it is burned between 5 and 6 am.  During the week there are also many ceremonies (I didn’t go) including dancers with amazing painted faces.

Change is inevitable – beautiful places become discovered

It required a little guesswork but I found the Neishih Waterfall parking lot.  I had seen the large brown Neishih Waterfall sign on Hwy 1 many times on trips south and I finally took the time to look for the waterfall.  The road was mix of rough concrete, gravel and few short asphalt patches only wide enough for one car.  I had been scared out of my mind on that road when an angry, chained up dog charged my motorcycle and stretched its metal chain taut a couple of feet away from my leg.  The parking lot itself is overgrown with grass and looks like very few people ever visit this place.  I hiked up the natural trail and 15 minutes later I was at a huge and virtually unvisited waterfall.  There was a small set of rocks set up as a picnic area but other than that it hadn’t been disturbed.  This was the start of my waterfall guide 4 years ago.  It might have been my 6th waterfall visited (I don’t keep track of that stuff).  I took many photos that day attempting to find the perfect angle (I didn’t really know what I was doing) and was extremely lucky when the perfect waterfall rainbow formed in the late afternoon sun.  After awhile I was joined by 3 late teen boys and their family.  I spent a couple of hours there taking photos and relaxing.  This was 4 years ago.

Directions to Keyoufeng (Neishih) Waterfall from my waterfall guide

Fast forward 4 years and everything has changed.  For a long time I have focused on new places and hadn’t visited Neishih since then.  I was extremely surprised when I visited again last Sunday.  My first clue to the changes was passing and meeting several cars on the narrow road with my motorcycle.  Yet I was shocked that the parking lot was overflowing with cars and a group of 20 was waiting to hike to the waterfall together.  The trail has been completely rebuilt with wide textured concrete steps.  I prefer natural trails but this was nicely done and should stay moss free.  They also built a huge viewing platform and they even renamed the waterfall to Keyoufeng.

I have struggled writing this post for awhile.  I don’t like it as much now but places change and it is inevitable.  There is a natural reaction by travelers that a place is ruined when accessibility is improved and places become crowded.  That is a pretty selfish view in my opinion.  Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.  Every week I ask my students if they did anything interesting and almost all of them stayed home for the entire weekend.  Many of the people that I saw on Sunday were families taking a small trip and if I had gone one day earlier I would have seen 2 of my students there.

How can I be angry if my students follow my advice and visit Taiwan’s beautiful places?  What about all of the other families that are exposing their children to Taiwan’s natural beauty?  Isn’t this a great thing since it can raise environmental awareness?  Of course there are some problems with the impact on these places and some are irresponsible but it is impossible to justify a nobody is allowed but me policy.

How do you adjust to unknown places being discovered by the masses?  Do you think that bloggers and guidebook writers should keep their damn mouths shut and leave these places unpublished?  Do you simply shrug it off and still enjoy the place?

The road to Ali Waterfall

Note #1 – this is nowhere near Alishan.  Ali Waterfall is at the end of Hwy 24 past Wutai in Pingtung County, Taiwan.

Note #2 – this road doesn’t go over the mountains nor will it ever go over the mountains despite what some maps suggest.

Note #3 – the road from Wutai to Ali Waterfall shouldn’t be driven in a car.

The road is in perfect shape before Wutai Village.  Lower Yila Waterfall can be viewed from the roadside and is quite spectacular.  Upper Yila Waterfall is barely in view above the bridge.  I hiked to it a few years ago and randomly met a friend at the waterfall.  The trail is now completely destroyed and the trailhead is closed off.  You can hop over the warning tape but it isn’t the most spectacular waterfall and the hike is now terrible.  My friend said that before Typhoon Morakot Upper Yila Waterfall was twice as high but landslides have significantly filled in the valley.

3 years ago I visited Shenshan Waterfall.  At the time Shenshan Village was a ghost town.  It appeared deserted and it was quite depressing but now there are almost a dozen beautiful restaurants and it looks like a fun place.

I also did not know that there was an upper and lower Shenshan Waterfall.  I wrote about Upper Shenshan Waterfall on my waterfall guide and later found out from guide readers that there was another Shenshan Waterfall.  I finally visited Lower Shenshan Waterfall and it is an amazing swimming hole with crystal clear blue tinted water.  And there is a nice waterfall.  One thing that we could not figure out is why they have fenced off the trailhead.  According to a friend they recently built the large, rock viewing platforms and did a lot of other work in the area.  I am concerned that there was an accident and somebody was hurt or drowned here.

Wutai and Shenshan Villages are located very close to each other and they have been built up very tastefully with many examples of aboriginal art all over both villages.  If we had more time I could have done an entire photo blog just on the two villages.  This is one example of how they have incorporated their aboriginal art into the buildings and walls of the village.

After Wutai the road becomes a mixture of road, pavement and partially washed out two track.  Cars could drive across this and park in Ali Village but they shouldn’t drive all the way back to Ali Waterfall.  It is an easy walk (flat) back to the waterfall though.

Directions to Ali Waterfall

There were 3-4 waterfalls that ran across the road.  My little 150cc Hartford motorcycle has done very well on our many adventures during the last 5 years.

Ali Waterfall is at the very end of the road.  It is probably 200 meters high with at least half of it out of the photo but viewable from other spots.  Originally someone made official plans to extend Hwy 24 across the mountains but that plan has long been abandoned.  The road used to go further (towards Ghost Lake I think) but a huge landslide immediately to the right in the photo has mostly cut off access to the waterfall.  There are some ropes installed that allow you to access the waterfall but the view is nice from the end of the road.  To the left of the photo the road/trail is overgrown and difficult to follow.

It was a little strange running into another foreigner with his family in the middle of nowhere at this waterfall.  I later found out that I had seen him at a local elementary school where a few of my students go.  He was picking up his son and I was passing out flyers to parents.  We had a nice chat about Taiwan while I waited for my friends who believe they are mountain goats and went down the landslide to base of the waterfall.  The waterfall also looked nice down there in their photos but I prefer something that resembles a trail.

Directions to Ali Waterfall

Liangshan Waterfall

My waterfall guide has reached a point where some of the information is dated enough that it isn’t completely accurate any longer.  You will still get to the waterfall but the trail or facilities might be completely changed.  This is especially true in southern Taiwan where many new trails have been rebuilt since Typhoon Morakot in 2009.  In addition to that I have become a much better note taker and have started including a lot more information (including some basic maps) in my guide.  Even if I had the time to update all of the pages I would be guessing on many of the updates.  I am hoping to revisit several waterfalls this summer.  The focus will be on collecting better information and getting better pictures of some of them.

Directions to Liangshan Waterfall

Aboriginal art is becoming increasingly popular throughout Taiwan.  I frequently see so many interesting reliefs, sculptures and paintings in the villages that I regret not spending an extra 10-15 minutes taking photos and exploring.  This is the visitor center at Liangshan Waterfall.

About a year ago they closed the trail for a long time and made extensive improvements.  Prior to this it was a nice singletrack dirt trail but now it is almost entirely wood platforms or concrete blocks with earth in between.  Yes, this is a nice trail but I like a natural dirt trail even if it gets muddy.  This is probably a better trail considering how many people hike it on a weekend.

One area where improvements weren’t made was the final 50 meters to the 3rd tier waterfall.  This is a bottleneck where there is no obvious solution.  Any new construction would be wiped out by the next big typhoon due to the geography.  When I arrived there were about 20 people in each direction trying to pass each other on the slippery rocks.  A minute prior to the umbrella group pushing their way through the crowd a boy slipped and fell into the creek taking his father with him.  Luckily they only suffered scrapes and bruises but it could have been much worse.

My main goal for the day was to get a better photo of 3rd tier waterfall.  It has been three years since I have been here and I never really liked the photo that I took.  It was a little strange and looked unnatural.  Liangshan blog from 3 years ago  Unfortunately by the time that I made it through the bottleneck it was raining and I couldn’t setup properly.  This is a nice photo considering that I was holding a hat over my camera.

The second tier is located just downstream of the larger 3rd tier and it is a popular swimming hole.  This is another bottleneck area since people need to lower themselves 3-4 meters down a rocky face using a rope.  It is kind of strange that the government spent all of the money building a really nice trail (perhaps overbuilt) but two areas where everyone goes are quite hazardous.  Overall though the main trail is extremely well built and safe.  Even if you don’t access the 2nd and 3rd tier waterfalls it is a really nice hike up a lush valley.

Beidawushan

Somehow I live only a couple of hours away from Beidawushan but I have never hiked it yet.  I guess I still officially haven’t but that’s another story for later in this blog.  Beidawushan is the southernmost of Taiwan’s Baiyue (top 100 peaks) and it is spectacular.  Overall there are 358 peaks taller than 3000 meters (9850 feet) but 40-50 years ago a group selected the top 100 mountains (several criteria) from that list and called them the Baiyue.  Some of the Baiyue are easy hikes (like Hehuanshan) and some are grueling 3-5 day treks (possibly even longer).  Beidawushan is a reasonably difficult 3 day (or very difficult 2 day) trip and is only a few hours drive from Kaohsiung.  I have wanted to hike Beidawushan for a long time but I always put it off.  Had I known how spectacular the trail was I wouldn’t have waited so long.

My hiking guide for Beidawushan

Despite Taiwan being in a 7+ month long drought (seasonal but worse this year) and the reservoirs emptying to the point that rolling water outages were happening it was raining on our trip.  This was almost the only place in Taiwan that got any rain that weekend.  It is inconvenient to hike in the rain but it is awesome to take photos in between rain showers.

Beidawushan was another casualty of the much written about Typhoon Morakot.  I moved to Taiwan shortly after one of the worst typhoons in Taiwan history and during the last 5 years I have seen all kinds of damage that in some cases still isn’t repaired.  At Beidawushan the typhoon caused a massive landslide that will never be repaired across the access road.  They have built a new trail to the old trailhead and the hike is now 2.8kms longer.  This really isn’t a bad thing since the new trail is spectacular and the first day was already a short hike to the Kauigu Cabin.  Unfortunately they haven’t built a new parking lot yet and it might not be possible given the geography.  Cars now parallel park along a narrow mountain road at the trailhead and it isn’t rare that a car will have to back down the road 50 meters because there isn’t any room to turn around on a weekend.

The rest of Taiwan might have been bone dry from the drought but Taiwan’s mountains have different micro climates and stay lush year round.  Our trip alternated between light rain, no rain and heavy rain.  It didn’t really affect my trip but it is obvious that I need to upgrade my rain protection system.  I’m currently considering adding a Packa rainponcho that doubles as a packcover and in theory ventilates better while keeping your pack really dry.

5 of us left Kaohsiung early Saturday morning.  Alastair, Wolfgang and Joshua were photobombed by a ghostly Taiwanese hiker coming out of the mist.

Nick walks into the abyss.

The access road might have been destroyed but overall the trail is in really good shape.  It is a natural dirt and rock trail and there are many sections where hikers need to scramble up or down rocks but the provided ropes make it relatively easy.  I say relatively because the overall pace of the hike is between 1 and 1.5 kms/hr.  That is partly due to the 1900 meters of elevation gain over 12 kilometers and partly due to rock obstacles on trail.  It isn’t an easy hike but I love hiking these kind of trails because there is a trend in Taiwan to overbuild trails with boardwalks or concrete.

My hiking guide to Beidawushan

One of the best parts of the trail is a narrow ridgeline that is within a very cool part of the forest.  This area must be prone to some awful winds and weather.  The trees were rather short and crookedly bent.  In some places the ridge is less than a meter wide and sharply drops away on both sides.

Kuaigu Mountain Cabin is a basic bunkhouse that offers all of the amenities (but nothing extra) that a hiker could want.  There is only one room and just outside there is a long counter for cooking.  One unique thing about Taiwanese camping groups is that they like to cook up elaborate meals in the mountains even if they are carrying all of the food and gear for many hours.  On a different hike one group carried an entire chicken and went through the long rotisserie process over an open fire.  It was interesting to watch but it would frustrate me after a long day of hiking.  Most foreigners seem to prefer survival food consisting of packets of noodles.  I’m a little more ambitious with my cooking and volunteered to cook for the group.  We enjoyed pasta (gluten free for me), fresh mini corn, green beans and garlic with canned chicken (Costco), olive oil, basil and seasoned salt.  It’s pretty awesome and not that hard if you know how to boil water.

The cook station in the morning.

There is only room for 40-50 people in the cabin but there about 30 tent platforms that are available on a first come basis.  We arrived around 4pm on a Saturday and got some of the last tent platforms downwind of the bathrooms.  Ironically we were camped next to the other foreigner group that weekend.  A pair of fathers brought their teen/preteen sons on a 3 day trip.

My REI quarterdome tent still performs quite well after 6+ years and dozens of trips.

I ultimately chose not to hike to the summit the second day and instead stayed in camp.  I have described the hike options on my Beidawushan guide but the 2 day option that we did requires a 12-14 hour hiking day.  That might have been possible but I had a lot of work to do that week starting immediately on Monday and I really wanted to also go on the Alanyi/Qufengbi trip the next weekend.  Most likely I would have been completely exhausted and stayed home that weekend if I had hiked to the summit so I will have to return sometime for the rest of the hike.  Overall I loved the shortened version of my hike and don’t regret at all not hiking to the summit.  The trail is absolutely amazing and I missed the best part.

My hiking guide to Beidawushan

This is just the ascent to the camp.  The summit is another 1000 meters up in less than 5 kms of hiking.

An even better map than mine.  I still have a lot to learn about map making.

Alanyi Coastal Trail, Taiwan

The Alanyi Coast is one of two roadless stretches of coast in Taiwan.  The day before we hiked along the Qufengbi Coast and then we traveled 10 kms north to the Alanyi Trail.  The trails are both incredible but they could not be more different.  The Qufengbi Trail is a rugged walk where very little trail still exists.  For almost the entire trail you are walking next to the ocean.  The Alanyi Trail on the other hand has portions of trail through a wooded area, some of it follows the beach and at one point you climb a steep cliff to an amazing viewpoint.  Another big difference is that the Alanyi Trail requires (definitely requires) an expensive permit (3000NT) that includes a guide.  Overall I prefer the Qufengbi Coastal Trail but you should hike both if you can get a permit for the Alanyi Coastal Trail.

Directions to the Alanyi Coastal Trail

Just one of the views along the trail

Our guide was an interesting character but I don’t think he said one word of English during the hike.  We were lucky to have many translators in our group.

 

Someone had a sense of humor while hiking in the heat.

There is a short but rewarding climb (100+ meters of elevation gain) up to a viewpoint.

Directions to the Alanyi Coastal Trail

It wasn’t a particularly hard hike but the heat started to affect us by the time we got to the end.

Qufengbi Coastal Trail revisited

The Aviva Cairo Shipwreck

I chose not to hike the Qufengbi Coastal Trail last December when Mark Roche led a trip with several of my friends.  It’s a great hike but I had already hiked it.  Of course my friends came back with pictures of a new surprise on the hike.  Last September the Aviva Cairo was being towed from Manila to Thailand to be scrapped.  Unfortunately it was lost (?) during Typhoon Fung-Wong and ultimately ran aground along the Qufengbi Trail north of Jialeshui, Taiwan.  There is one old ship wreck on the trail already but this is a huge intact ship.  Some have speculated that the first big typhoon will break up the ship.  Ironically there is a supertyphoon tomorrow that is going to be close to the ship.  And there is a second typhoon coming behind it.  There is a chance that last weekend was the last chance to see the ship intact.  Of course the smashed up ship might be even more more impressive.

Directions to the Qufengbi Coastal Trail

My first blog to the Qufengbi Coastal Trail 3 years ago

The last time we hiked the trail with cloudy skies and a typhoon a few days away.  The turbulent weather produced some dramatic photos.  This time we had blue skies and puffy white clouds.  It was a little hot in early May but overall we had a great hike.  The beached ship is really cool but the rock formations at the Jialeshui Scenic Area are absolutely amazing.  This is easy to get to from Jialeshui and is an easier alternative to hiking the entire trail.

The trail is nothing more than walking on the beach for 11 kilometers.  Most of the time the trail is a mix of stones between the size of baseballs and basketballs.  The constantly shifting rocks is mentally draining.  At times there is some nice sand to walk on and at other times there is actually a trail if you can find it.

Overall our Richard Saunders led Taipei Hikers group had 12 hikers.  We split into two groups with one hiking north and one hiking south.  By doing this each group could see the entire trail but only hike one way instead of a full round trip.  We met in the middle for 10 minutes, swapped keys and continued to the opposite trailheads.

Our group included 4 ladies that were university friends.  I was a little concerned at the beginning when they had 1.5L of water between 3 of them for a 6 hour hike.  They recognized my concern and bought more water at the trailhead before we left and did great hiking.  We took our time on the hike but they not only kept up but had a great time.

We compared the rocks to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.  There are some absolutely fascinating rocks all over the world and the science of these rock formations is very interesting.

Many of the rocks also had these strange golfball size holes in them.  We talked about how they might have been created but we had no idea.

The old shipwreck is now rusting hulks of various ship innards.  This part has become part of the trail.

A photo from my 2012 hike of the abandoned army fort.  We didn’t finish until dusk and didn’t take the time to stop at this interesting site.

Directions to the Qufengbi Coastal Trail

Qufengbi means windy nose and it’s pretty obvious that the windy nose is near the old shipwreck on the map.

Shalawan Waterfall and an aboriginal village

I have known about a big waterfall near Majia for over two years but I never made the trip to find it until last weekend.  I expect most waterfalls to completely dry up in southern Taiwan during the spring.  Every year there are 5-6 months of seasonal drought and almost zero rain in southern Taiwan.  The last hard rain was in August and things are really, really dry down here.  The city has started water rationing strategies but so far they haven’t affected residential use.  Hopefully the May rains come before things get worse.

One of my friends that looks for waterfalls up and down every valley in Kaohsiung and Pingdong Counties was confident that Shalawan Waterfall would flow year round.  I had a free afternoon so I took a chance that it would be located on a perennial stream.  I found much more than I was expecting to find.  Not only did I find a huge waterfall but I also found an amazing slate village near the waterfall.  I loved visiting Jiuhaocha in January but it’s a 10km hike.  For others that wish to see an original slate village this is a great daytrip.  Be courteous though since these are people homes and respect their privacy.

Directions to Shalawan Waterfall link

I am in the midst of compiling a top 20 (or 25) Taiwan waterfalls list.  Before I publish it there are about 30 more that I need to visit since I have seen and read great things about these in particular.  Shalawan Waterfall is known by few but it will almost certainly be on my list.

This side stream (mostly dry in the spring) drops about 500 meters in multiple drops immediately before Shalawan Waterfall.  The map at the bottom shows everything in better detail.  In addition to these two waterfalls there are large waterfalls both upstream and downstream of Shalawan Waterfall although both might be inaccessible unless you have some serious rock climbing gear.

During the spring with lower water levels it is possible to river trace upstream.  It might be possible to see Deer Creek Waterfall (160 meters tall).  Downstream is another big waterfall but you might have to hike in from Xinhaocha to reach it.

There were at least a dozen perfect slate houses in the community and dozens of others in less perfect shape.

The blue is the last part of the drive and the red is the (mostly roadwalk) hike down to the waterfall.  It’s about 1.5 km both ways.

Directions to Shalawan Waterfall link

Yuanyang Waterfall 鴛鴦瀑布 in Laiyi, Taiwan

It’s been three years since I tried to find this waterfall.  At the time the area was still recovering from the devastating Typhoon Morakot 2 years earlier (2009).  Many aboriginal villages throughout Taiwan had been devastated by the storm that killed over 600 people.  The river in one Laiyi aboriginal village rose so much that approximately half of the houses were destroyed by the flowing water.  In addition nearly all of the major bridges were washed away cutting villages off for weeks and months.  It would take years to rebuild all of the bridges.  Some places are still rebuilding five years later.

But this trip was different.  The bridges and roads have been rebuilt and once again we can access the area.  Laiyi is similar to the Wutai area with waterfalls cascading out of the cliffs at nearly every turn.  Our goal however was to hike back to Yuanyang Waterfall and see the two waterfalls converge within a couple of meters from each other.

A photo from 2011 showing the village with half washed away houses that are now buried in a protective dike.  We didn’t have time to visit this time but it would be interesting to see if the houses remain.  I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have a daily reminder of the damage.  For more photos here is a link to my old trip.

Asher leads the way since he visited here this summer.

One of the water crossings and a side valley on the way to the waterfall.  It was shortly after this that we saw 3-4 Formosan Serow but I wasn’t able to get a photo fast enough.

Yuanyang Waterfall.  The waterfall on the right cascades down the cliff several hundred meters while the waterfall on the left is a small drop in the main river valley.

Directions to Yuanyang Waterfall can be found on my waterfall website.

Yilin Waterfall is next to the road and you can quickly stop there on the way to Yuanyang Waterfall.  This is the 4th tier which is a little tricky to reach but gives you access to a private swimming pool.  That’s one of the benefits of the extra work required to reach it.

The second tier shows how the waterfall has shifted over time with a variety of ladders and stairs that are now in the waterfall.

The first tier of Yilin Waterfall

If there’s water then Asher will playing in it.  The locals enjoyed his show.

Directions to Yilin Waterfall can be found on my waterfall website.