Taiwan - Getting to know Hualien
Located on the east coast of Taiwan where the lush green Central Mountain Range meets the deep blue Pacific Ocean, Hualien County is the largest county in Taiwan. It is best known as being home to Taroko National Park, and the main hub of Hualien City, with its large selection of hotels and restaurants, is a popular base from which to explore Taroko.
Up until the early 20th century, Hualien was called ‘Kiray’, after the indigenous Sakiraya aboriginal tribe and their settlement, and many aboriginal tribes, including the Amis, the Atayal and the Bunun, still inhabit the rugged mountains and valleys of the region. Lively festivals are an important part of life for these indigenous people, and there always seems to be a colourful celebration of life or a rite of passage ceremony taking place, such as the Bunun’s tantalisingly named 'Ear-Shooting Festival', which celebrates great marksmanship with bow.
Hualien is an important international port for the east coast of Taiwan, and its lively harbour can be an interesting place to watch fishermen bring in their catch and sample some of the freshest seafood. On the topic of food, fans of street food should head to the night markets of Zhiqiang and Dongdamen, and the eateries along Zhongshan Road, and try ‘Xiao Long Bao’ (mini steamed dumplings), cold-cut goose and stinky tofu or grilled octopus.
What to do at Hualien
- Travelling from Taipei to Hualien on the Su-Hua Highway is arguably one of the most memorable and breath-taking journeys in the world. The road is winding and precarious, and between Chongde and Heren, the sheer rock face plummets dramatically in to the Pacific Ocean - this is the impressive Qingshui Cliffs.
- Visit Taroko National Park, with its towering mountains and deep gorges. There are numerous hiking trails to explore around Taroko Gorge, which is the world's deepest marble gorge. The Park is characterised by striking rocky scenery and waterfalls.
Hualien has the largest aboriginal population in Taiwan, with approximately 9,000 aboriginal residents.
Religion plays an important role in the lives of Chinese and aboriginals on the east coast of Taiwan. There are many interesting Taoist and Buddhist temples to explore around Hualien, notably Dongjiangchan, Cheng An and Cihui temples. The Tzu Chi Campus, home of the world’s largest Buddhist charitable society and Still Thoughts Hall, offers a free vegetarian lunch to visitors.
Getting off the trail in Hualien
- Hualien’s location on the Pacific coast means it is blessed with many scenic and unusual beaches that are worth visiting. Head to Shihtiping to see the tidal pools and waves crashing into uplifted coral reefs, rugged rock formations and cliffs caused by tectonic activities. At Chishingtan (Seven Star Beach) Scenic Area, you can relax or enjoy a bike ride along the beautiful pebble beach set against the backdrop of the mighty mountains. Jici Beach is a surfer’s paradise but its black sand seashore is also a good place to swim.
- More spectacular scenery can be found in the East Rift Valley, which extends from Hualien to Taitung. Enveloped by the Central Mountain Range and the Coastal Mountain Range, the valley is magnificent in its raw beauty and rich in aboriginal culture. Mukumugi, a settlement of the Taroko tribe which got its name from the clear streams and stunning valleys, provides great opportunities for swimming, cycling and hiking. From July to September, Chikeshan Mountain is a sea of orange as daylilies are in full bloom. In spring, it is pink with cherry blossoms.
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