Wandering in Wufengqi
A Trip to Yilan’s Best-Known Scenic Area
Text: Richard Saunders
Photos: Maggie Song
Yilan County, in Taiwan’s northeast corner, is easily and quickly reached from Taipei by bus or train, but it’s a world apart from the big city. Visit the area to take in enchanting vistas of verdant mountains and azure ocean, and go for a hike to the scenic Wufengqi Waterfalls and mountain-embraced inland points beyond.
One of the most beautiful roads in north Taiwan, Provincial Highway 9, takes you past a succession of stunning landscapes as it strikes southeast from Taipei City to Yilan County. Leaving the metropolis at Xindian, the southernmost suburb of greater Taipei, the road loses no time climbing high into the hills and to commanding views, such as the grand vista over the beautiful blue-green waters of Feicui Reservoir, the largest reservoir in northern Taiwan.
When the road descends to the mountain-surrounded town of Pinglin, terraced fields with snaking rows of tea bushes come into view, lending a distinctive appearance to the steep hillsides. Farmers here produce Baozhong tea (also spelled Pouchong), for which the area is famous. East of the town, which is also home to the fine Pinglin Tea Museum (www.tea.ntpc.gov.tw), the scenery becomes wilder as the road slowly regains altitude and strikes across the sparsely inhabited uplands of southeast New Taipei City, topping out at an obelisk that marks the point where Yilan County begins. Here the highway commences a long descent to the Lanyang Plain and the Pacific Ocean, about 600 meters below, both of which abruptly and memorably come into view as the snaking road twists its way down the steep escarpment marking the northern extremity of the Xueshan (Snow Mountain) Range.
A leisurely trip along Route 9 makes a great prelude to the scenic beauties of Yilan County for those with a little extra time, but these days visitors from Taipei can also reach the Lanyang Plain via the much quicker National Freeway 5 and its 12.9-kilometer-long Xueshan Tunnel. While traveling either road, the first glimpse of the Lanyang Plain is breathtaking. This, the northern part of Yilan County, is one of the wettest corners of Taiwan, and the copious rainfall ensures a stunning landscape of emerald-green, jungle-covered mountainsides dropping to a pancake-flat coastal plain of flooded paddy fields. Offshore, the conspicuous, shapely crag that is Turtle Island rises out of the gleaming blue ocean. Secreted in deep, wooded gorges cut into the steep mountain walls looming above the plain are another notable feature of the area: a series of fine waterfalls, the best of which are just a short drive south from the point where Freeway 5 and Route 9 cross, at the hot-spring spa town of Jiaoxi.
The northern part of Yilan County is one of the wettest corners of Taiwan, and the copious rainfall ensures a stunning landscape of emerald-green, jungle-covered mountainsides dropping to a pancake-flat coastal plain of flooded paddy fields
Jiaoxi, easily reachable from Taipei by express bus (about 60 min.) or express train (about 90 min.), features a fine range of hot-spring hotels and resorts, many of which are quite luxurious. These, plus the town’s proximity to the big city and a plethora of interesting and scenic sights to explore nearby, make it an extremely popular place for a short getaway.
Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to sightseeing. About 10 kilometers north, Wushi Harbor has a great fresh-seafood market, and in summer boat trips are offered to the mysterious Turtle Island, 10 km offshore. Next to the harbor, the astonishing work of modern architecture that commands every visitor’s attention is the fine Lanyang Museum (www.lym.gov.tw), which introduces the culture, geology, and natural history of the area. Its unique sloping walls of stone and glass, which seem to grow out of the ground, were inspired by the iconic coastal rock formations at such nearby places as Beiguan, 2 kilometers north. Heading south from Jiaoxi, the famous night market and National Center for Traditional Arts (www.ncfta.gov.tw) at Luodong are especially deserving of a visit, while nearby Dongshan River Water Park is a refreshing place to go in fine – and especially hot -- weather.
Of all the attractions in the Jiaoxi area, however, perhaps none are more popular than the three-tier Wufengqi Waterfalls a couple of kilometers west of the town, which are not only spectacular but also very easy to visit. Visitors without their own transport are in luck, thanks to the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus service (www.taiwantrip.com.tw), the Jiaoxi Route of which connects the waterfall area with Jiaoxi Railway Station. There are services every 30 minutes on weekends (once an hour on weekdays). Take note, on the way, of Tangweigou Hot Spring Park, the first stop on the route, before the bus heads out of town. The small, pleasantly landscaped park has shallow hot-spring pools for soaking tired feet, and simple indoor hot-spring pools (which are segregated) for a full dip, making it a tempting stopover after exploring the Wufengqi area on foot.
From Jiaoxi Railway Station it’s about 10 minutes on a Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus to the Wufengqi Scenic Area stop, in a large car park beside a wide stream. Follow the waterside path upstream for a few minutes to a set of steps that takes you up to a rest area with a cluster of snack vendors and washroom facilities. Just beyond this point a wide stone path leads, in just a couple of minutes, to the first of the three beautiful waterfalls. Climb the steps through the gorge past the small but pretty cascade, and just above it is the second fall, a higher and more impressive leap. From here it’s another 10-minute climb up steps to the third and last fall, along a path cut into the rocky, sheer-sided gorge. It’s a steep push in parts, but the reward is a view of the highest and most impressive of the three waterfalls. Unfortunately, the path to this waterfall is sometimes closed due to the risk of falling rocks; but if open, it’s well worth the climb to see the spectacular 40-meter-high plunge.
Turning left at the junction just below the second waterfall, a short path leads out of the gorge to join an unsurfaced track. Turn right to head uphill along this track, and in a few minutes you’ll see a large and striking Catholic church at the top of steps on the right. The gleaming white, circular structure was built after a Marian apparition (one of about 300 that were recorded worldwide during the 20th Century) witnessed by a group of Taiwanese hikers at this spot after they had become lost in bad weather in November 1980. A grotto and statue of the Virgin Mary stands nearby, on the site where the apparition occurred.
Follow the track uphill past the church, and in about 2 hours the summit of Shengmu Peak is reached. This is a great hike through beautiful countryside, and quite a good workout, with 700-plus meters of vertical ascent. On the summit is another huge memorial to the Catholic faith: a flight of steep concrete steps which climb past metal plaques representing the fourteen Stations of the Cross, taking you to a large concrete platform with a statue of Christ on the cross in the center. The view from this site is magnificent, with the Lanyang Plain and a wide sweep of the Pacific Ocean laid out below.
English and Chinese
|Dongshan River Water Park||冬山河親水公園|
|Linmei Shipan Trail||林美石磐步|
|National Center for Traditional Arts||國立傳統藝術中心|
|Pinglin Tea Museum||坪林茶業博物館|
|Taiwan Tourist Shuttle||台灣好行|
|Tangweigou Hot Spring Park||湯圍溝礁溪溫泉公園|
|Xueshan (Snow Mountain) Range||雪山山脈|
|Wufengqi Scenic Area||五峰旗風景區|