Ask anyone what is the top must-visit attraction in Taiwan’s largest county – Hualien, & almost 100% of the time, the answer is “Taroko National Park“. Even for someone like me who loves to take the less touristy route whenever I travel, the first destination I put on the list of things to do in Hualien was to visit Taroko National Park. Famous for its marble gorge, the national park is listed as one of the Eight Wonders of Taiwan as at 2005. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Taroko Gorge has withstood the test of time, being consistently ranked on the list since the Qing Dynasty. So how can I miss it?
The 92,000-hectare (about 227,336-acre) Taroko National Park was established on 28 Nov 1986, as part of the environmental protection movement in Taiwan. Located in the northwestern part of Hualien, Taroko National Park Visitor Centre is about a 40-min drive from Hualien City. Since the national park spans over such a wide area (click here for official Taroko map), it was impossible for us to cover everything in half a day. Our route for the afternoon was to take the Suhua Highway up to Qingshui Cliff – Xiaozhuilu Trail – Shakadang Trail – Swallow Grotto Trail – Eternal Spring Shrine, before returning to minsu in the late afternoon.
坐落于花莲、台中及南投三县，总面积9万2千公顷的太鲁阁国家公园成立于1986年11月28日。园区位于花莲市的西北部，访客中心离市中心大约40分钟的车程。既然国家公园面积这么大（太鲁阁旅游全图点击这里），要在半日游里走完整个景区是不可能的任务。车子从民宿出发，沿着风景优美的苏华公路北上前往清水斷崖 —— 小錐麓步道 —— 砂卡礑步道 —— 燕子口 —— 長春祠。
Qingshui Cliff 清水斷崖
It was around 12.45 pm when we first arrived. But because it was yet another rainy day, Qingshui Cliff was covered by a thick layer of mist. Nonetheless it was still a mesmerising sight to behold. The 21-km long stretch of coastal cliffs stood majestically facing the amazing Pacific Ocean. After taking some photos, we proceeded to the viewing platform near Chongde Tunnel, southwest of the awe-inspiring cliffs.
Although the viewing platform is further from the breathtaking sight, the scenery is unforgettable. It felt surreal to see the towering Qingshui Mountain rising directly from the azure blue Pacific Ocean. If not for time constraint & the rain, I could have just stood there marvelling at the picturesque sight forever. 🙂
Thereafter, we drove to the Visitor Centre where we watched a short video introducing the park before proceeding to Shakadang Tunnel. This was the place where we would begin our 1.5-hour gentle hike.
Xiaozhuilu Trail 小錐麓步道
There is a 650-metre long Xiaozhuilu Trail before we could get to Shakadang Trail. Easy as it might sound, the “challenge” of this short trail was we need to climb many flights of steps, roughly an elevation of 60m in all.
According to the official website, it takes 20 min to complete the trail, but we took about half an hour before we reached the next spot – Shakadang Bridge. This is also the start point where visitors could enter or exit Shakadang Trail.
国家公园的官网说，大概需要20分钟走完步道，但我们用了约30分钟才抵达下一个地标 —— 砂卡礑桥。这儿也是砂卡礑步道的起点和终点。
Shakadang Trail 砂卡礑步道
Built along the river cliff, visitors can admire the beauty of the river valley & observe works of Mother Nature such as fascinating rock folds. The 4.1km trail used to be known as the Mysterious Valley Trail until it was renamed to Shakadang Trail in 2001. It also used to be home to a number of indigenous tribes, with the Taroko tribe as the main residents back then. Therefore the national park got its name from the biggest tribe that lived here in the old days.
According to the park’s official website, a return trip on this trail takes about 4 to 6 hours. See below for a pictorial journey of our hike here…
Given we only started hiking just before 2 pm & only had about 1.5 hours here, it was natural we couldn’t complete the whole trail. We had to turn back to the bridge after the 5th station where we saw beautifully layered rocks that looked like coloured kueh lapis. I’m not sure why our driver was puzzled why we couldn’t make it to the “5 Houses” when he finally received us on the bridge, a bit later than the original time he had proposed. -_- Anyway, we walked briskly to his car parked along the kerb near the Shakadang Tunnel, like many other tour buses, so that we could get to the next spot quickly.
Swallow Grotto Trail 燕子口
To walk along Swallow Grotto (Yanzi) Trail, visitors have to borrow the safety helmet from the security office at the entrance, & put it on at all times inside the 274m long trail. This is a precautionary measure in case any rocks fall from the narrow gorge walls here. Due to time constraint, we didn’t alight to enjoy the scenic walk. Instead, we only alighted at the Jinheng Bridge viewing platform where the famous Chieftain’s profile rock could be found.
Although we only spent a short time here, I was amazed by how the waters from Liwu River managed to carve out such a fascinating piece of sculpture. Totally natural, not manmade. I felt as if my old geography textbook personified & came alive. 😛
Eternal Spring Shrine 長春祠
On the way out of Taroko National Park, we made a final stop at Eternal Spring (Changchun) Shrine not too far from Shakadang Bridge. The shrine was built along the old Central Cross-Island Highway next to Liwu River, to commemorate the 226 military personnel who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway (1956~1960). As the path to the Tang Dynasty style shrine was closed due to typhoon destruction & fallen rocks, we could only admired it from a distance opposite. In front of the shrine is the Changchun Falls with water flowing all year round, & together with the steep gorge wall covered with wild vegetation in the background, the scenery around Eternal Spring Shrine felt so atmospheric.
It was a packed 3.5 hours spent in Taroko National Park, not only because of the activities, but also because the park is really quite crowded. The rain didn’t seem to deter curious travellers from flocking to the top-rated attraction in Hualien, & it’s not difficult to understand why. I just hope the next time I visit, it would be a bright & clear day!