Kaohsiung City’s Awesome Backyard

Text: Richard Saunders
Photos: Kaohsiung City Government, Richard Saunders, Vision Int’l

Unlike Taipei in the north, a big city surrounded by lush mountains, only one mountain of significance is to be found on a map of the urban core of Kaohsiung City in the south. This mountain, however, provides residents and visitors alike with a wonderful escape from the city’s busy streets, allowing them to follow hiking trails through a green environment of interesting flora and fauna (monkeys!), and a unique landscape with peculiar rock formations and caves.

Shoushan (Mt. Longevity), one of the few limestone landscapes in Taiwan, is a perfect example of the tectonic forces that have shaped Taiwan. The ridge, six kilometers long and about two wide, is formed from ancient coral reefs that, over millennia, have been uplifted above the surface of the sea. The exposed rock has since been cracked by earthquakes and dissolved by rain to form a weird (and for Taiwan almost unique) landscape of gorges, narrow clefts, jagged coral formations, and caves (unfortunately not open to the public) containing some of the finest stalactite formations in Taiwan. Shoushan isn’t the only area of exposed limestone in Taiwan (Kenting National Forest Recreation Area and Little Liuqiu island are also fine examples), but it’s the largest and most impressive.
Established in October 2009, Shoushan National Nature Park (snnp.cpami.gov.tw) is the first such park to be established in Taiwan. It is divided into five distinct areas, the main one being Shoushan, all on the western side of the city of Kaohsiung. Beyond the protected formations of Shoushan itself, three of the other areas encompass hills made of uplifted coral: Banpingshan, Guishan, and Qihoushan (on Qijin Island).
Shoushan is of course the main attraction. The long, wooded ridge is a conspicuous feature that can be seen from many parts of the city. The three main trailheads, however, all tucked away on the eastern (inland) side of the ridge, are slightly tricky to find since they’re not especially well signposted. The easiest to locate is at the southern end of the ridge, near the Shoushan Zoo (zoo.kcg.gov.tw), while the other two are both at about the north/south mid-point of the eastern side, near Qianguang Temple and Longquan Temple, respectively. English-language maps and signs are generously scattered along the trails, so getting around is very straightforward.
The English-language maps depict several color-coded routes around the mountain, linking some of the more interesting sights and landmarks. These make a good basic plan for exploring the mountain, although unfortunately the paths themselves aren’t correspondingly color-coded, so visitors have to rely on the signposts at junctions.

Although the zoo trailhead has the most convenient public transport connections, the best place to start your climb is probably from the middle of the main trailheads just spoken of, which starts by a car park beside Qianguang Temple, where the ridge is at its most rugged and impressive. The trail leaves the car park on a raised wooden walkway, climbing quite steeply past a huge old banyan tree, but after a spell turns into a wide, dusty track winding more gently up the wooded hillside. About 20 minutes after your start you will pass the Four Banyans viewpoint, from whence it’s about another half hour to the more impressive Rocky Banyan, a huge old tree impressively clinging to the side of a sheer rocky crag, and often occupied by the mountain’s resident Formosan macaques.
The Rocky Banyan is a pretty central landmark, and most of the more interesting caves, gorges, and other formations are within easy walking distance of it. To complete a fine, fairly easy, and very scenic loop, follow the path (color-coded brown on the maps) down the steps to the foot of the little cliff to which the Rocky Banyan clings. From here it’s just a few minutes to the Lotus Cave, a dark opening at the foot of a small sinkhole beside the path. From here a path strikes out into the accessible part of the mountain’s northern side (most of the northern part of Shoushan is a military zone, so don’t go beyond any warning signs), to the Monkey View Pavilion (another especially good place to see monkeys) and the Monkey Rock (a fine cliff), and on to Thailand Valley (turn right off the paved path at the wooden Chinese-language sign), which has perhaps the most impressive formations on the entire mountain. From here the brown-coded path descends back to the Longquan Temple trailhead.

  Back at the Rocky Banyan, another scenic loop takes you along a trail that heads southwest to a flat terrace called the Longevity Rest Area, from where you can reach a network of trails on the southwestern half of the mountain. By far the most interesting section in this part of Shoushan is behind the pretty picnic area at the Silent Valley Pavilion. Here a network of dirt trails (mostly not signposted, and rougher than the more popular paths further north) climbs towards the highest point of the Shoushan ridge (349 meters), and passes some of the most interesting clefts and gullies, such as the Tiger Cave (a cleft in a nearly sheer cliff face, scaled with the aid of a long fixed rope), Monkey Cave (a maze-like network of narrow clefts and gullies in the coral), and Mountain Pig Cave (a small sinkhole).
Scarcely less conspicuous than the bizarre coral landscapes of Shoushan is its colony of Formosan macaques, the only species of monkey native to Taiwan. These wonderful creatures are common in the wooded hills of southern Taiwan, and can also be spotted in many parts of the north, such as on Yangmingshan on Taipei’s north, but Shoushan is one of the best places on the island to see them, as up-close-and-personal encounters with these critters (which remain wild, but have no fear of humans) are a guaranteed part of any hike here. Shoushan’s monkeys are generally docile enough, but be sure to hide any food (or anything that looks like food) while walking along the paths. If you want to eat, the safest place to take food out is at popular rest stops like the Rocky Banyan or one of the pavilions near Monkey Rock, where there’s safety in (human) numbers!

Scarcely less conspicuous than the bizarre coral landscapes of Shoushan is its colony of Formosan macaques, the only species of monkey native to Taiwan

Try to leave time for exploration of some of Shoushan National Nature Park’s other districts as well. Banpingshan, to the north of Shoushan, is a distinct ridge about 2 kilometers long near HSR (High Speed Rail) Zuoying Station. The main trail on the ridge climbs up from the south to the viewing platform on the 233-meter-high summit.
Nearby Guishan is an even smaller chunk of coral, rearing above the southern shore of Kaohsiung’s most popular tourist attraction, Lotus Pond. Despite its tiny size, Guishan is a surprisingly scenic spot and well worth a look while checking off the pond’s exuberant Spring and Autumn Pavilions and Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. The rugged little eminence is dotted with atmospheric, long-abandoned army bunkers and fortifications that are rapidly being reclaimed by the aged banyans and other trees that clothe the steep slopes. At the northern foot of the hill is a surviving stretch of the wall that once protected the old city of Zuoying, pierced by the fine North Gate, one of the three gates to the old city that still survive. The old East Gate and another, longer stretch of the old city wall lie a bit further south, bordering Chengfeng Road, while the South Gate now stands isolated in the center of a large traffic circle at the southern end of Chengfeng Road. There are also two prehistoric sites in this district.

Other Places of Interest South of Shoushan is the former British Consulate at Takao. Located on a hill overlooking the city, this is a great place to learn about local history and enjoy a cup of coffee while taking in the grand views of Kaohsiung Harbor. Not far from the consulate, to the northwest, is Xizi Bay, a popular location to view sunsets. Heading east from the consulate, following the roads that take you around Gushan Fishing Port, you’ll reach Gushan Ferry Pier, from where you can take a ferry to Qijin Island. The long and narrow island serves as a natural protective barrier for Kaohsiung Harbor and has a number of tourist attractions, including the Kaohsiung Lighthouse, seafood restaurants, and a long sandy beach that is another good location to view the setting sun.

Getting to Shoushan
For the Quanguang Temple trailhead, take bus 73 or 218 and get off at Gushan Senior High School. Take the road beside the school towards the wooded ridge, then turn right at the end. The trailhead is to the right of the large temple at this location. For the Longquan Temple trailhead, take bus 38 or 219, get off at Longquan Temple stop, then walk five minutes along Lane 51 to the temple. Buses to the city zoo all pass the southern trailhead.

 

English and Chinese

Banpingshan半屏山
British Consulate at Takao打狗英國領事館
Chengfeng Road城峰路
Dragon and Tiger Pagodas龍虎塔
Four Banyans四棵榕
Guishan龜山
Gushan Ferry Pier鼓山渡輪站
Gushan Fishing Port鼓山漁港
Gushan Senior High School鼓山高中
Kaohsiung Harbor高雄港
Kaohsiung Lighthouse高雄燈塔
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area墾丁國家森林遊樂區
Little Liuqiu小琉球
Longevity Rest Area長壽園
Longquan Temple龍泉寺
Lotus Cave蓮花洞
Lotus Pond蓮池潭
Monkey Cave猴洞
Monkey Rock猴岩
Monkey View Pavilion觀猴亭
Mountain Pig Cave山豬洞
North Gate北門
Qihoushan旗後山
Qijin Island旗津島
Qianguang Temple千光宮
Rocky Banyan盤榕
Shoushan壽山
Shoushan Zoo壽山動物園
Silent Valley Pavilion靜谷亭
South Gate南門
Spring and Autumn Pavilions春秋閣
Thailand Valley泰國谷
Tiger Cave虎洞
Xizi Bay西子灣
Yangmingshan陽明山
Zuoying左營