Outdoor Activities in Kending
Take Off to the Great White South
Text / Rick Charette
Photos / Vision Int'l, Liao Jun-yan, Howard Beach Resort
Sun-drenched Kenting National Park is a veritable giant organic health and fitness center, serving up surfing and swimming and tanning and diving and boating.
Jet-skiing and coast-tracing and hiking and birdwatching and butterfly-watching. Oh, and international tourist-friendly health treatment. More on that later.
Faithful readers of Travel in Taiwan will no doubt have noticed their favorite writer - that's me - has been on a bit of a sabbatical, home in Canada, the Great White North, over the winter, my first full fall-winter-spring transition in 18 years. Enough recently proved quite enough, and I flew back south, passing many a Canada goose going the other way, for the Taipei summer.
Not south enough, however. Sickly pale-skinned me needed heat and sun in even greater doses than Taipei could offer, so I packed my bags again for the Great White South, the southern tip of Taiwan, Kending. I say Great White South because each day as I peered south over the Bashi Channel the Vitamin D-soaked rays of the sun seemed to bleach the wide, soft-sand beaches white, bleach the twinkling waters white, even bleach the bright sky bluish-white. It struck me that I was in a much-heated-up spa-like version of the great white wintry expanses of the Great White North.
During this, my most recent of many Kending stays, familiar-old-blanket truisms about the ins and outs of pleasant outdoor activities were given even deeper credence. I have been asked to pack a bundle of the key ones for you to take on your own health and fitness-enhancing tropical-Taiwan escape.
The Visitor Center
I cannot stress this enough - the first thing you tackle must be a visit to the park's visitor center, just west of the town of Kending. The spoken English here is excellent. The displays and multimedia presentations (in numerous languages) on flora, fauna, topography, geology, and so on will make you feel like the park is just a walk out your back door into your (pretty big, I tell you) backyard. Though they don't run the park's various commercial outlets, personnel provide invaluable knowledge on where to go to get what, whether for on-land or in/on-water adventure.
And take advantage of the guided tours. There are informative multimedia presentations each day; call (08) 886-1321, ext. 251~259. There is a tourist-bus project whereby outdoor interpretive eco-tours are conducted for groups using buses seating 20 people. An interpreter/guide accompanies the group. For groups under 20 same-day reservations are possible; groups of smaller size may be combined, and insufficient numbers may lead to cancellation. The service is gratis.
The Smartest Go Guided
There is a good deal of flexibility offered in custom-designing your own eco-tour. Note that one of the advantages of using the guide service is that, dependent on your organization, you can gain access to off-limits eco-protected areas such as Nanren Lake and Longkeng; special briefings on these spots are requisite (and surely desired). The former was created by erosion caused by a mountain stream, Taiwan's first site for studying subtropical forest and rainforest; the latter is a marine area with a unique coral habitat.
Kending's waters are clear and blue, and average annual temperatures are in the mid-to-high 20s Celsius, making snorkeling and scuba-diving possible year-round. Kending, on about the same latitude as Hawaii, is south Taiwan's best location for explorations of the undersea world. Between Maobitou and Houbihu and between Nanwan (South Bay) and Tanzih Bay the floor slides away gently. Off Nanwan and Siaowan (Small Bay) are especially good coral environments, with bright, dynamic pastels and deep hues, and myriad types of reef life. This is a novice-friendly locale.
Nanwan is the best and most popular spot for inshore action - swimming, windsurfing, jet-skiing, kayaking, banana-boating, skin-diving, snorkeling, what have you. There are change rooms, showers, an info counter, and many a shop renting all necessary gear. Siaowan, not far to the south directly in front of Howard Beach Resort on the edge of Kending town, comes a close second in terms of facilities and beauty. Both are lovely long, curving beaches, the former's soft, whitewashed sand, the latter's yellow-tinted, rimmed by coruscating blue waters.
Moms do it. Dads do it. Kids do it. And whether you're in one of these categories or not, you'll do it too. A basic three-day open-water PADI training course, meaning international accreditation, can be had for NT$5,000 to $8,000. This is necessary to rent gear. The park's gear-rental shops offer qualified instructors with English ability, but get guidance from the visitor center first.
Prime boat-diving areas are off Siaowan/Frog Rock and from Sail Rock to Eluanbi. The Nanwan/Houbihu area is also popular, and in fact because of strong sea currents only boat-diving is permitted here, according to the Tourism Bureau.
A Diving Advisory
In wintertime Taiwan's very strong monsoon northeasterlies, which blow down hard along China's coast, make for unsure waters. During this period diving is limited to calmer, sheltered waters off the western coast, especially the long patch between Shanhai and one of Kending's other fine beaches, Baisha (White Sand).
Coastal Coral Tracing
In Kending you find coral everywhere. It's in the waters. It's on the long, oft-rugged coast. It's even in the hills, thanks to vigorous tectonic activity over the eons. The out-of-water rock formations, lovingly sculpted by the persistent fingers of Mother Wind, Father Rain, and Uncle Wave, are frequently dazzling. The stretch of coast between the finger-peninsulas of Maobitou and Eluanbi feature alternating beach and exposed-reef terrain, the silky beaches formed largely from eroded coral and seashell. Reef-tracing along this coast is an invigorating enterprise, with discoveries around every corner and in every crevice. I strongly recommend a preparatory visit to the Sand Island (Shadao) Shell Beach Exhibition Hall, east of Kending town, before heading out. The coast at Shadao, an eco-protected area, is of shell and coral.
Taiwan lies along a major migratory route stretching from Siberia to Southeast Asia, and Longluantan (Longluan Lake) is one of the park's and the island's best spots to ogle both endemic and migratory waterfowl. This protected water-body is surrounded by lush wetlands. A fine nature center overlooks the thriving mini-eco-environment. Telescopes allow close-up observation, and a good supply of on-site reference materials (with English) encourages knowledgeable observation. Viewing prime-time is between October and May. Ducks, wild geese, snipes, plover!K. The eagle-eyed might even spot the magisterial, and elusive, gray-faced buzzard.
The opps are just too numerous to mention here, but it must be said that an outing to the top of Dajianshan (Mt. Big Point) is a Kending must, the low peak being perhaps the park's most enduring symbol, and to much-visited Kending Forest Recreation Area . A park guide is strongly recommended for the pointing out of treasures you can't possibly know of, whatever your research.
My favorite jaunt is to Sheding Nature Park. Weighing in at 128.7 hectares, it's adjacent to Kending Forest Recreation Area but sees fewer visitors, being just a bit off the beaten day-tripper track. The park administration seeks to maintain its pristine state, so the only man-made additions you'll find here are the footpaths, mostly fitted out with natural materials, and unobtrusive explanatory plaques and boards. Of special note is the deer sanctuary in the eastern area; deer ran this island in the hundreds of thousands just four hundred years ago, but sightings are now a rare thing, so if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one in the wild you'll be part of a rare breed indeed.
Everywhere are gnome-like trees growing on coral outcroppings that have been patiently designed over the years, ancestral trees passing on shifting DNA to younger generations, stunted into protective stances by the unkind northeast winter winds. Added to the found-here-only photographic melange are the bizarre coral-formation "plant-holders," limestone caves, broad expanses of rolling grass, and attention-riveting flora and fauna.
There are more than a dozen limestone caves here, featuring the complete works: stalactites, stalagmites, stone columns, and other structures. These are rare phenomena, needing just the right geological, topographical, and water mix, with growth of just one centimeter taking anywhere from five to 160 years. So looking is permitted but no touching, for sweat or grime from hands throws off the chemical mix, can end crystallization, and kills the thing you love.
And now for something completely different. Under the watchful eye of Taiwan's health authorities, the island's first health-tourism center "Hengchun Hospital / Victory Biotech Clinic") has been established at the Howard Beach Resort in Kending town. This is Taiwan's first initiative in the growing health-tourism sector; plans are for island-wide facilities if all checks out here. In the initial phase, any person taking one of the center's treatments receives a gratis two-day, one-night stay at the Howard. The first 1,000 travelers to take advantage of this unique health-maintenance/vacation combo are being favored with a special price of NT$5,999 (standard price NT$12,000). So get hopping.
The center is on the first floor of the Howard. Enjoy a variety of treatments: spiritual-response therapy, beauty care, aromatherapy, spa care, and more. There are more than 10 beauty-care and heath-maintenance programs on the health-regime menu, suiting all needs. Healthcare professionals give preliminary personal analysis and guidance on one's condition, to help in deciding which regimen is most suitable. For more information, phone (07) 392-5238 .
That's all for now, folks. Time to get out there, get your gear, and try Kending on for yourself. Your fellow outdoor-fun enthusiasts are awaiting your arrival.