If there is one thing in life worth devouring, we believe it is the natural wonders found around this amazing planet of ours. Case in point: Taroko National Park.
Located just north of Hualien along Taiwan’s eastern coast, Taroko is one of Asia’s hidden jewels. Spanning some 350 square miles through the Central Mountain Range, the park contains more than a quarter of the country’s 100 peaks. It also is blessed with incredible biodiversity; comprising nearly every geographic zone, Taroko is home to half of Taiwan’s plant species and three-quarters of its wildlife, including the endemic Formosan black bear, Formosan macaque, and Taiwan shui-lok deer. More than 150 species of birds and 300 types of butterflies have been observed there. A few tribal villages of the aboriginal Truku people (from which Taroko is derived) can still be found in the area, as well.
Yet the park’s true rock star, as it were, is its namesake gorge. Carved over millions of years by the surging Liwu River, the seven-mile-long Taroko Gorge is sided by 300-foot-high cliffs and lined with massive marble boulders. The viewpoint at Swallow Grotto reveals the gorge in all its twisting, towering glory, while the marble cliff walls nearly touch along the magnificent Tunnel of Nine Turns trail (the latter was closed at the time of publication).
Until the 1950s, one could only cross the canyon by footpath; now, the Central Cross-Island Highway serpentines along its wall in a white-knuckled series of switchbacks, overhangs, and hairpin turns. Perched cliffside, the Eternal Spring Shrine commemorates the 226 Taiwanese workers who lost their lives building the highway. The shrine—also known as the Changchun Temple—sits directly above the Changchun Falls, which continuously flow; behind it sits a sacred cave devoted to Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Other popular attractions include the coastal Chingshui Cliffs, Wenshan Hot Springs, and Beiyang Waterfall, accessed through a 1,250-foot-long tunnel.
Taroko is a popular spot for Taiwanese day-trippers, who regularly can be found following twisting trails, crossing precarious bridges, and scaling rope walls to reach the park’s inner treasures. The 2.5-mile Shakadang Trail, which runs along the river, is one of the easier treks; 100 marble lions adorn a bridge at the trail’s entrance. More serious hikers hit the spectacular Zhuilu Old Trail, which leads up 2,500 feet and along the towering cliff’s face with the gorge directly below.
For more information on when you can visit Taroko National park, visit Asia’s Subtropical Isles: Philippines, Taiwan & Japan.