Impossible to travel to Taiwan without visiting Taroko Gorge. This 19-kilometre-long canyon, composed mostly of marble, is impressive and magnificent and undoubtedly the most famous natural wonder of Taiwan.
I explored the possibility of visiting the gorge by myself. It is possible to take the train early from Taipei to Hualien and then hop on a bus that stops at various places in the gorge. But I was a little scared that by going there on my own, I would not be able to see everything I wanted to see. At the last minute, I decided to book a guided tour offered by Edison Tours. The guided tour would allow me to see the main attractions of the gorge without any hassle, and the only day of my solo trip in Taiwan where I would have nothing to organize on my own.
I therefore took the train very early from Taipei to Hualien where our guide for the day was waiting for us (the trip to Hualien takes about three hours and offers beautiful views of the Pacific and the mountains of Taiwan east coast). Hualien is in a way the gateway to Taroko National Park, which is located a few kilometres further north. As soon as we arrived, we headed for the entrance of Taroko Gorge.
It is the mighty Liwu River that has dug Taroko Gorge, but the tranquil Shakadang River has also made its way into the rock before joining the Liwu River. A trail follows its course and allows to appreciate its pools of turquoise water. The trail is 4.4 km long and relatively easy.
The Shakadang Trail was our first stop, which pleased me, as I really like hiking. Of course, we did not hike all four kilometres, but we spent about forty minutes on the trail, enough to allow us to admire the beautiful gorge.
And we had not yet fully entered Taroko Gorge.
Swallow Grotto is located in the middle of the Taroko National Park and is without doubt one of the best places to enjoy its splendor. The long-term erosion caused by the Liwu River has deepened the gorge deeply. The high marble walls are dotted with small caves (where the rock was more friable) that are used as nesting places by swallows, hence the name of the place.
The trail follows a road that passes through a series of tunnels from which it is possible to observe the gorge, the Liwu river and the impressive white cliffs. Taroko is, it seems, the deepest marble canyon in the world. At this point, the canyon is particularly narrow (at its narrowest point, its width is less than five meters), and it is hard to believe that it is the small river at its bottom that is responsible for its creation.
Wearing a helmet is recommended here because of the risk of falling rocks (and the park lends them for free, just go to one of the visitor centres).
After following the road that winds along the gorge and passes through countless bridges and tunnels, we finally arrive in Tianxiang (天祥). Tianxiang is a small village located in the heart of Taroko National Park and the place where two rivers converge to create the Liwu River. There are a few hotels and a few restaurants, and this is where we stopped for our lunch break.
We had two hours to ourselves and so as soon as I had eaten, I took the opportunity to explore the area. At the end of a suspension bridge, there is a hill on which are built a temple and a pagoda. There are some stairs to climb, but nothing too difficult.
Near the temple, there is also a statue of Ksitigarbha, a revered Buddhist monk in Asia. With the mountains in the background, the picture was rather impressive. And, oddly enough, even though Taroko National Park is a must-see tourist attraction in Taiwan, there was hardly anyone at the top of the hill. I took a moment to enjoy the view and the silence before the departure of our bus.
Eternal Spring Shrine
As Tianxiang is the last stop on the road of Taroko National Park, our bus made its way to the entrance of the park to bring us to our last stop of the guided tour. The Eternal Spring Shrine is without a doubt one of the most famous images of Taroko. Built on the side of a mountain and at the top of a waterfall, the shrine commemorates the 200 workers who died during the construction of the central highway that goes through the park.
Popular spot means a lot of tourists battling to try to take the best selfie possible. I was already missing the tranquility of Tianxiang. I also regretted that our too short stop did not allow us to follow the trail to the shrine. I would have liked to see it more closely.
But we had to jump back on the bus to return to Hualien, from where I took the train back to Taipei.
I was glad I had a glimpse of Taroko National Park, although I know I could have spent a lot more time there. And I really want to go back, this time to explore more the hiking trails!