Before leaving for Taipei, I had only one idea in mind: to do as many hikes as possible in Taiwan. Unfortunately, I realized on arrival that the unbearable heat would probably have to force me to change my plans a little. I therefore tried to find places that would allow me to make short hikes, nothing too intense, and Maokong seemed like a good place to do so. And since you can get to Maokong via a gondola (which itself is accessible by metro), there was nothing easier than to get there from Taipei.
Just a small note here: the gondola to Maokong is closed on Mondays (except the first Monday of the month). Do not make the same mistake as me by crossing the entire city early in the morning to finally realize that the gondola is closed for the day. Yes, I did that.
So, after showing up at the closed ticket office on a Monday morning, I returned the next day at nine o’clock exactly (the opening hour). I paid for my ticket with my metro card (the Easycard, very useful if you’re staying in Taipei) and then quickly found myself in a glass-floored cabin going up to the Maokong mountains.
Maokong is a region south of Taipei, famous for its tea plantations. The 4-kilometre gondola that offers stunning views of the mountains and of Taipei has added to the popularity of the place.
My plan for the day was rather simple. I read in the Lonely Planet guide book that there was a waterfall to see in the area (the fall of the Yinhe Cave, 銀河 洞 瀑布). I therefore wanted to find this waterfall, explore the surroundings, perhaps visit the Tea Research and Promotion Centre if I had time and finish the day sipping a good tea while enjoying the scenery.
But when I got off the gondola, I realized that I had no idea where to go. Lonely Planet mentioned the waterfall, but offered no guidance on how to get there. And the map at the exit of the gondola was not very clear and did not really seem to indicate the presence of a waterfall or of a path leading to the waterfall.
And no sign (in English at least), indicating the entrance to a path.
A little distraught and failing to know where to go, I decided to head to the Tea Research and Promotion Centre, a small walk of twenty minutes that allowed me to enjoy the views offered by the mountain.
The center was a little disappointing though. My visit was short, and the outside garden was closed. And I had a hard time getting my head off the hike I wanted to do.
I sat in the shade near the centre to check internet on my phone. There were some sites mentioning the waterfall (one of which describing it as one of the most beautiful hikes in Taipei) but again, the instructions to get there were not very clear. I finally turned to Google Maps which, to my surprise, offered me a route to follow and a trail map. I could finally start my hike!
From the gondola station, Google Maps made me take a path that I had mistaken for a private entrance. The asphalt trail zigzagged between a few houses, passed near a Buddhist cemetery and some tea plantations before entering into the forest, for my greatest happiness.
I eventually arrived near another tea field and Google Maps indicated me that I now had to take a path at my left. Except that there was no path at my left, just this vast field in the mountains. For a few minutes, I had the idea of walking through the field, but then remembered that Taiwan is known for its poisonous snakes, some of which could easily be hiding somewhere under the vegetation.
So, once again clueless because I did not really know how to reach this waterfall and as I did not want to continue my hike alone without knowing in which direction I was going (especially in this heat), I retraced my steps. I went back to a junction that indicated a trail to the top of Mount Erjiaoge (鵝 角 格) a kilometre away. I told myself that rather than returning empty-handed, I could at least reach the top of the mountain. And that’s what I did.
The path, narrower and wilder than the one I had just left, was still quite easy to follow. It offered some nice views of the surrounding mountains and above all, it finally allowed me to escape for the first time in the heart of the Taiwanese jungle. Butterflies fluttered everywhere, lizards ran on the path in front of me, crickets and birds created a joyous cacophony … and most importantly, I was completely alone.
The last metres of the trail were steeper with ropes tied between the trees to help the climb. The intense heat added to the level of difficulty and I arrived at the top in sweat and short of breath. The summit itself was rather disappointing. A boundary mark indicates its location, but the dense vegetation prevents a real view of the surroundings.
The climb down was slower, because I am a little more fearful since my hand fracture last spring. But I eventually returned to the main path, proud to have reached the top, but still a little disappointed with my failure to find the waterfall. Thirsty (I had emptied my water bottle during the hike) and with aching legs, I headed for the gondola station with the intention of going back to Taipei.
Before leaving, I looked again at the map of the area in order to trace the path I had just hiked. And to my dismay, I realized that just a few metres from where Google Maps had wanted me to turn, there was a trail leading to what could possibly be the waterfall … Ahrghh!!
I went to buy food and drink and refresh myself in the air conditioning of a convenience store and eventually, because I’m a little masochist and very stubborn, the idea of going back on the trail took shape in my mind. So I went back, walking down the asphalt path that zigzags between a few houses, greeted the Buddhist cemetery again, and then found myself once again in front of the tea field that had made me turn back the last time.
So I walked along it, a hundred metres beyond where Google Maps had misled me and there, as if by a miracle, appeared another trail and a sign indicating the way to the waterfall.
I think I almost started to cry.
If I had had the energy to run the remaining kilometres to the waterfall, I would have done so much I was excited. The path goes downhill almost all the way: first along the tea field, then into the forest and then along a rocky cliff. Less than 2 kilometres away, I distinctly heard the sound of a waterfall and at the bottom of several stone steps I finally reached my goal.
The fall of Yinhe Cave flows near a temple built on the mountainside. While passing by the temple, it is possible to walk to the back of the fall and to have a breathtaking view of the landscape below. And, even more incredible, I was almost alone, I only met a couple who took some pictures before leaving.
It felt like a magical moment…
I had to go up all the steps I had gone down in order to get back to the infamous tea field and then to the gondola station. I was exhausted, and I felt the first effects of a heat stroke. But I had found Yinhe waterfall, in addition to climbing to the top of a mountain and exploring an incredible place. This felt like an incredibly perfect day.