Day 254: Mountain High, River Deep

Wed. 24th April 2013

Road through the mountainsLooking at a map of Taiwan, today we just have to cross the middle of the Island from east to west, which is the least distance of our three drives. The problem is that the road goes over the top of the mountain range, even though there was a slightly lower route along a gorge which it could have been built through. As it is likely to take us about ten hours, including stops and we are due at Sian’s parents for dinner so we set off earlyish at 8:30am.

Morning exercisesOur hotel overlooked the main car park in Hualien which was also a coach park. There were a row of coaches getting ready to leave and whilst waiting the passengers were exercising and practicing their martial arts moves. This seems a very popular activity here.

Bridge, river, road and coachesOnce we leave Hualien, we head up Taroko Gorge along with a million coaches (well it seemed that many!) This is obviously a very popular tourist place in Taiwan, and rightly so as the scenery is stunning. The road weaves its way through the gorge, cut out of the mountainside and the original road which used fewer, shorter, tunnels and stuck more to the outside of the cliffs would have been even more amazing. To cope with all the traffic much of the single track sections have been superseded with modern tunnels and wider roads.

Eternal Spring ShrineSome of the original road remains but has been made into one way offshoots from the new road. The first such detour took us to see the Eternal Spring Shrine up on the mountainside, where water flows beneath it whatever the season. It was impossible to photograph without the coachloads of Chinese tourists in shot. We admired from afar and hit the road again.

Chinese Tourists on old roadAfter a short distance we pass a place/booth called “Borrowing Helmet” which we thought an odd name for a tourist attraction so move on. Just along the road we detour onto another section of the old road to investigate a rope bridge. The bridge was shut off but it was possible to walk along the old road through the crudely cut tunnel and under the overhanging rock. The previous place name now makes sense as we see masses of Chinese tourists all in blue helmets! These helmets may save you from a small rock falling, but any big boulders and you would be history.

Family relaxingRob remembers previously visiting a hot spring which was not well signposted from the road. He stops at an unmarked path with a barrier across the route. A short way along there is a sign to say that the path is open so we continue down the steps towards a river stopping at a building with changing rooms and toilets part way down. Once changed we head down to the river and spot Wunshan Hot Spring behind a barrier. The locals still use it and there is a makeshift rope ladder to the river and the rock pool where hot water is piped in. The Taiwanese Hornseys had a great time relaxing in the warm water, while I tried to photograph some large and very pretty butterflies which refused to stay still.

Height at the topThis point was almost at the end of Taroko Gorge and the number of coaches drastically reduced as we continued to climb to the summit. At times we had the road to ourselves but it was not easy driving, as cars or coaches could appear round the blind bends quite unexpectedly. Unfortunately, the sunny day turned grey as we headed into the clouds and it was decidedly colder with limited views at the top.

Our car at the misty topAs we started descending down other side it had an alpine feel. There is a ski resort close to the top as they do get snow here in the winter. On the road down there was even a tourist town, with a Starbucks where we stopped for a late lunch. The descent was much quicker than the ascent and it was certainly more built up as we headed back into the urban sprawl on the east of the island.

Lone flowersAfter another twenty minutes we reached Sun Moon Lake and from there it was freeway all the way back to Rob’s place. For entertainment after the long journey we had a quick game of Uno but some of the rules got lost in translation! Funnily enough, I lost the first game which Ceilin won and Dave lost the second with Jamie winning.

Family groupWe made it to the Hu’s (Sian’s parents)  house on time and they laid on a huge feast of food for us. It was good to see them again as the last time we saw them was when we were previously in Taiwan for Rob and Sian’s wedding nearly thirteen years ago. After all the driving poor Rob then had to spend the evening translating as we do not have any language in common with our hosts except hello, thank you and goodbye! Sian managed to escape from work and arrived at about 8pm and so helped with the translating. We soon headed home as we were all tired from our long day on the road.

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