Taiwan - Getting to know Taroko National Park
Taroko NP is one of nine National Parks in Taiwan, and is named for Taroko Gorge, the landmark at its centre. Carved by the Liwu River, Taroko Gorge is perhaps the single most impressive natural wonder of Taiwan, and boasts the title of world’s deepest marble gorge. Surrounded by lush vegetation and majestic mountains, the National Park delivers spectacular views of the canyon, hewn by water and geological activity out of the marble of the central mountain range. After a hair-raising ascent up narrow roads, the reward of stunning natural beauty awaits you on many walking trails: visit early in the morning and you’ll beat the crowds and have the sights to yourself.
The National Park is home to the Taroko (Truku) people who originated from the Atayal tribe’s East Sedeq Group; a head-hunting tribe, skilled in foraging, farming and fishing. The Taroko crossed the Central Mountain Range and settled on the banks of the Liwu River and its tributaries, where the sites of 79 old Taroko villages have already been found. Today the majority of Taroko people have moved away from the area, but a handful still live their traditional way of life in the National Park (minus the head-hunting!) and you may well encounter them along the trekking trails.
What to do in Taroko National Park
- Much of the park is best explored on foot. The easy 4.4km Shakadang Trail, just a short walk from the Visitor’s Centre at the bottom of the gorge, follows a picturesque route alongside the Shakadang River. Other short trails, ranging from three to eight kilometres, branch off as you proceed up the gorge, including the beautiful Lushui Trail and Swallow Grotto Trail, but the most impressive walk is the Zhuiliu Old Trail, which includes a high suspension bridge crossing of the river. Permits are required to visit some parts of the park, and the unstable geology of the area means there is always a chance that the particular trail you want to walk is closed due to a landslide.
- Besides the 18 kilometre, marble-walled Taroko Gorge, the park’s other not-to-be-missed natural attractions include the Tunnel of Nine Turns, Swallow Grotto, and the Eternal Spring Shrine which is dedicated to the 450 workers who lost their lives building the Central Cross-Island highway. Equally impressive is the Xiangde Temple, a Buddhist retreat that clings to the mountainside alongside a gushing waterfall, accessed by steps cut into the rock.
Getting off the trail in Taroko National Park
- Travel from Taroko National Park to Sun Moon Lake across the Central Mountain Range, following Taiwan’s highest road, which reaches a lofty 3,200 metres on its way across the spine of the island. Banana palms and bamboo make way for pines, and then towards the summit, above the treeline, steep sided pastures and views are reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.
- Taiwan’s eastern coastline is dominated by towering cliffs, and the most breath-taking example, the Qingshui Cliffs, are a short drive to the north east, still within the boundaries of Taroko National Park. Stretching for 21km from Chongde, the sheer cliffs rise up to 1,000 metres above sea level in places, and drop almost vertically into the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.
90% of Taroko NP is mountainous, with 27 peaks over 3,000 metres
The steep mountains around the gorge are a wildlife-spotter’s dream, although the terrain can be treacherous. Tread carefully, and silently, and you may well spot wild boar, bear, deer and the wide array of birds that make this spectacular National Park their home. Bird lovers take note that Taiwan has a large number of exotic endemic species that can be relatively easily spotted.
Feats of endurance
Taiwan is a cycle-obsessed nation and the country’s premier professional cycling event, the Tour de Taiwan, includes a stages in Taroko Gorge, while the King of the Mountains challenge, held twice a year, involves a total of 6,680 metres of climbing over 103 kilometres. Conditions can range from 35°C and 90% humidity at the start to a biting 5°C in freezing rain at the finish.
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