Open the Door to the Great Outdoors of Taiwan
Text / Kurt Weidner
Photos / FreshTreks, East Coast National Scenic Area
There is a wide range of outdoor activities to choose from in Taiwan. If you look at a map of Taiwan it is not difficult to figure out what kind of activities might be in store for you. As an island in the ocean consisting mainly of coastal plains and mountains, Taiwan¡¦s most popular outdoor activities are centered either on fun at the coast or on explorations of the mountainous interior.
At the coast you can choose from watersports such as surfing, boating, canoeing/kayaking, snorkeling/diving, or just playing at the beach. Inland activities include hiking, trekking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, river tracing, cycling, and much more. And if that is still not enough, there is one other dimension. you can take to the skies, since paragliding has become a very popular sport in Taiwan in recent times.
The weather is warm to hot throughout the year. Except for a few chilly days in winter, when temperatures may drop below 10 degrees Celsius, it's never really cold in Taiwan's low-lying areas. In the mountains, of course, the higher you climb the cooler it gets, which is actually not a bad thing if you intend to climb steep grades with a heavy pack on your back.
During the summer it can get really hot with temperatures often topping 35 degrees Celsius. This is the best time to play in the water, and there is no lack of opportunity for this in Taiwan, with the ocean or an ice-cold mountain stream never far away. One thing visitors should be aware of, however, is that the weather can change rather quickly, especially in the mountains. Before any trip make sure to check the weather forecast.
While Taiwan's small size may at first sight appear to be a negative, it can actually be quite a good thing, considering that most places you may want to visit for having fun are within close proximity to each other. That means you can combine activities of very different natures in one go; for example, you can hike in the mountains in the morning and go surfing at the beach in the afternoon. Or you can go rock-climbing, kayaking, and snorkeling on the same day in the same area. In many places the short distances between locations allow you to engage in a variety of fun outdoor activities within one day and return to the same hotel you left in the morning.
Ideal for Beginners
If you haven't done any exciting outdoor stuff before, now is the time to start! And Taiwan is the right place to do it! The natural resources and the friendly people of Taiwan allow first-timers to experience the joy of learning something new and exciting without worry. Learn to surf at one of the beginner-friendly beaches around the island, or get into a wetsuit and explore the fascinating underwater coral world with the help of professional and friendly divers. Fly for the first time strapped to a paraglider together with an experienced flight instructor. Learn all about ropes and climbing techniques while climbing rocks or tracing a mountain stream. Go on your maiden whitewater-rafting tour on one of Taiwan's two major rivers particularly suited to this sport.
Hiking/TrekkingThere are over 200 peaks reaching heights of more than 3,000 meters on this small island, which is two-thirds covered with mountains. Hiking in Taiwan is a marvelous way to explore the island, for a number of reasons. First of all, there are routes suited for any hiker, from those looking for a half-day leisure walk close to the city to professional mountaineers in search of new alpine challenges. What most routes have in common is truly spectacular scenery, which can include the cityscape of Taipei, the Pacific Ocean, forests with ancient trees, breathtaking gorges, and snow-capped peaks. Taiwan's warm climate allows for hiking at almost any time of the year, with the exception of those times when typhoons sweep across the island. Hiking is also the best way to get up close with Taiwan's stunningly diverse natural environment. Though possessing a predominantly subtropical climate, due to the large differences in altitude all climatic zones from tropical to frigid can be found here, and in each climatic zone you can explore a multitude of unique habitats with rare animal and plant species.
The most famous hike in Taiwan is that to the main summit of Yushan (Mt. Jade), not only because this is the highest peak in Northeast Asia but also because it is comparatively accessible and the views are just awesome.
In order to best enjoy hiking in Taiwan, it is strongly recommended that you join tours organized by local mountaineering associations and gather detailed information on weather and terrain conditions before going on a trip.
Rock-ClimbingThere is no lack of beckoning mountains in Taiwan. When it comes to cliff faces suitable for rock-climbing, however, there are only a few spots where safe scaling is possible. Fortunately one of these places, Longdong (Dragon Hole) on the northeast coast, offers ideal conditions. Climbing routes of all degrees of difficulty, friendly and professional instructors giving you all the basics, and nice, fresh breezes from the ocean laid out before you make Longdong the premier rock-climbing spot on the island. This is also a popular place for snorkeling and kayaking.
CyclingIn recent years cycling has become quite popular in Taiwan; this is especially evident in the many dedicated bicycle paths in major cities, often along riverbanks and in park areas. While bicycling on most major highways is not recommended due to heavy traffic, there are many roadways in the countryside that allow for great bicycle trips. The rural area of the East Rift Valley in eastern Taiwan has become an especially popular cycling destination. Since Taiwan is a major producer of high-quality bicycles, you won't have problems finding a bike that meets your needs.
Rafting/Kayaking/CanoeingThere are two major waterways in Taiwan where whitewater-rafting tours are organized regularly - one is the Siouguluan River in Hualien County, the other the Laonong River in Kaohsiung County. Both are no Grand Canyon watercourses in terms of length and difficulty of rapids, but if you're looking for a nice safe ride over somewhat turbulent waters with the occasional "man-overboard experience" both places are highly recommended.
The final stretch of the Siouguluan where the river is broad and meets the ocean is also a popular place for canoeists. Here, in smoothly flowing water, you can learn the basics of steering a canoe/kayak. Kayaking can also be done at the popular beaches around Taiwan, like those on the north coast and those at kending in the farthest south.
River-TracingRafting without a raft in the opposite direction - that's how you might describe river-tracing. It is a rather simple activity. Put on a pair of slip-proof shoes, some protection for your legs against ice-cold water, a lifejacket and a helmet for your safety, and you are ready to walk in one of Taiwan's innumerable mountain streams. This has become an extremely popular way, especially during the hot summer months, to explore nature's scenic majesty while trying to overcome tricky obstacles such as huge boulders and water-superabundant falls. The good thing about this way of moving about is that you won't suffer from the heat, because the water is usually very cold and smaller streams are often in the shadows of forest foliage.
Surfing and SailingThe waves at Taiwan's beaches might not be as high as those in Hawaii or on Australia's Gold Coast, but surfing in Taiwan can be fun too, especially if you are a beginner. Rental of boards is easy and most of the coastal areas suitable for surfing have ideal conditions in terms of sand, waves, and wind to learn the basics of riding the waves. What Taiwan lacks in size of waves it makes up for in strong winds. In fact, Taiwan - in particular the Penghu Islands off the main island of Taiwan - has become one of the most popular places for windsurfing in the world. With international competitions regularly held in Penghu, windsurfers and sailors from around the world have taken notice of the superlative conditions found in the archipelago.
Diving/SnorkelingDiving and snorkeling are best where the water is clear and the fish are colorful. Visibility at Taiwan's major diving spots is usually excellent, and due to the existence of coral reefs there is a lot of diversity in marine life. Learning snorkeling and scuba-diving is very convenient here. Recommended places include the Northeast Coast, Green Island, and kending.
ParaglidingWant to fly like Icarus, without getting your feathers burned by the sun? Sign up for a tandem flight with a professional flight instructor and all you have to do is enjoy the awesome views of mountains and ocean. Paragliding is a safe and environment-friendly way to fly and feel like an eagle. Some of the recommended places for paragliding in Taiwan are right at the coast. You start on an elevated point on a coastal mountain and end up safely on a sandy beach.
For most of the above activities, taking part in organized tours or beginners classes is highly recommended. There are many associations and organizations in Taiwan that regularly organize tours and offer classes for beginners.
Among companies specializing in adventure tourism, FreshTreks ( www.freshtreks.com ) is one of the best names should you be seeking outdoor fun in the sun in Taiwan.