One fine day during our Taiwan travels, we decided to experience Taiwan’s express trains and chose to travel to Taroko Gorge National Park near Hualien. Taroke is one of the nine National Parks in Taiwan located on the east coast of the country. It can be reached in 2 hours from Taipei on express trains or by cars. Taroko was my first National Park visit and I couldn’t be more thankful for all the splendid views. I cherished every moment in the park that made me feel so grateful towards life. I can say this was one of the best times I spent in the vicinity of nature till date and of course the most memorable time in Taiwan.
The name “Taroko” means “Magnificent and beautiful” in Truku, a tribal language of aboriginal people and the name itself describes the beauty of the gorge. Its magnificence and beauty is relentless. One can see its beauty right after alighting at the train station. Taroko can be reached by shuttle buses or taxis that makes stops at different trails and locations, from the train station. There is so much to explore and indulge in the unlimited splendour of the gorges including hiking trails and other outdoor activities. It really depends upon your choice to visit the Park by either embarking on a road trip or hiking or through shuttle buses/taxis.
However, please keep in mind that the Taroko Gorge Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the world because of its mountain routes carved out of cliffs and marbles. It is known as the Central cross Island Highway that connects the East and West coast of Taiwan through the mountains. The roads are very risky and narrow with sharp turns and blind spots all along the park but the drive along the road leaves you speechless through its ample natural lushness. There are also pedestrian paths all along the roads and even in the tunnels. This highway was constructed in 1956 by the Nationalist Army Soldiers in just four years on the orders of Chiang kai shek, former president of the PRC. It is said that 450 soldiers lost lives during the construction of the highway.
Some of the best sites in the National Park are the Eternal Spring Shrine (Changchun shrine), Tunnel of nine turns (Chiouchüe Tung ) and Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou ). We got down the shuttle bus at Shakadang trail and walked towards Eternal spring shrine through the tunnels. The moment I saw the beautiful shrine in the background of the mysterious mountains, those high altitudes along with splendid views of Liwu river and elegant waterfalls took my breath away and left me with a state of absolute gratitude towards life and universe. I felt peaceful, pensive and precious. It was an unique experience of the mind devoid of any thought and of a soul at peace. My senses were in awe with an overwhelming feeling of happiness, regardless of any complaints and judgments. I felt completely humbled and small in front of the universe.
If you truly wish to visit a miraculous place during your travels, Taroko doesn’t disappoint you. Just explore the unexplained and bring back some magical experiences with you. For me the vision of the mountains and those mighty altitudes followed me for the next couple of days with a special feeling towards life to witness the grandeur of the universe.
If you are planning a trip to Taroko Gorge, here are our 15 useful tips to know
1.Consider xincheng Station
One of the ways is to reach Hualien from Taipei, and you may get off at Xincheng station as the shuttle bus to the national park passes through the Xincheng. In most cases, the express train stops at the Xincheng station, a stop before the Hualien while coming from Taipei. Please note this option only if you are considering the shuttle bus to the national park because xincheng will not have taxis to hire.
2.Means of Transport
You can reach the Gorge by various means like the National Park shuttle bus, private cars, Taxis and scooters. You can hire a scooter or a taxi near Hualien train station. There is a ticket counter just outside the train station to buy the shuttle bus tickets and get the information on timings and maps.
3.Negotiate with Taxis
If you are on a day trip and of thinking of choosing between Shuttle bus or Taxis. I recommend Taxis over shuttle buses as they are more comfortable to schedule whenever you want and you can stop at any desired trail. You also have a choice to negotiate with taxis in Hualien. They usually accept to take you on a reasonable price. Don’t hesitate to Negotiate
4.Shuttle bus timings
The shuttle bus schedule timings might vary depending on the number of tourists and weather conditions. Therefore planning your trail tours according to the shuttle bus schedule is not a good idea. In fact you might have to keep an eye on the bus in order to avoid missing the bus. You might not find taxis on the top of the gorge to come back to the station. It is hard to find a taxi in and around the national park. Mostly taxis at the trails and around the gorge would be already hired by visitors. So the taxis at the trails wouldn’t take you down to station.
5. Find the information
Some of the trails might be closed because of rock falling or poor road conditions. Most of them are closed in winters because of the slippery roads, landslides and rock falls. You would get this info mostly by the guides at the entrance of the trials. Otherwise it is always a good idea to find information at the National Park visitor centre before going further. The visitor centre is inside the National park and just before the Shakadang trail.
6. Drive carefully
If you are driving on your own, please drive cautious. Roads of the Gorge are too narrow where only one bus or car can pass through at a time. It is also the same route for all the vehicles (Buses, taxis, cars and scooters) to pass by in a narrow lane. Also, roads might be closed because of road work at some places. Undoubtedly, Taroke Gorge leaves you with an electrifying driving experience but please note that it is also an equally dangerous road to drive.
7. First timers
For first time visitors: Do not get confused with trail tours and national park tours. National park tours include visiting to major attractions of the park whereas trail tours are pathways from the scenic spots to walk along a certain distance. The shuttle bus includes limited trails and spots. Make sure you have a definite plan on where to get down. If you choose to visit the spots, it means you have to walk to reach the trail tour or wait again for the next bus to arrive. It is usually a short distance but you may have to be very careful walking on the highway. It is always better to find information at the National Park visitors centre before starting your tour.
8. Safety and support
There is also a police station near the Taroko archway on the central cross island highway to report for lost or stolen items and for any other support. Besides, You may even find Taiwanese friendly and helpful. So don’t hesitate to ask for assistance if needed.
9. Hotels in National Park
I recommend spending a couple of days or more watching the spectacular views of the Gorges. There are a few hotels at the top, some are even managed by the aboriginal people. If you book the hotels before, they will receive the info on shuttle bus from the train station to the hotel and park.
10. Make a note of Weather
Carry an umbrella, poncho for protection against the unpredictable rains. Helmet is mandatory while hiking, driving due to rock falls. The National park may provide helmets at some points during the trail but it is advisable to carry your own depending on the places you visit.
11.Carry some Food
There are relatively less number of shops and the few restaurants inside the park are expensive.
If you are hiking make sure you have enough food before starting off to the park. There are few convenience stores and shops at Hualien station, you can buy them before you head to National Park.
12. Group tours
If you are not confident of traversing alone in national parks, the hikes are better to explore in groups to avoid feeling isolated. Especially in winters there may not be many people on the hiking trails. You would find many day tours and hike tours with groups. Booking the tours is not a bad choice to assure a hassle free journey.
13.Best places to visit
If you are just on a day trip to visit the Park, I would suggest to visit only a few best spots to leisurely experience nature’s abundant luxury instead of filling your itinerary with too many places and trails. Believe that even a day trip could give you an exceptional experience.Our ideal location recommendations on a day trip in Taroko are the Changchun shrine, Buluowan, Yanzikou and Tianxiang. These are the major tourist attractions to visit in National Park. if you want to spend more time, you may have to start off early in the morning by car or Taxi.
14. Trail tour recommendations
Our ideal trail tour recommendations are Baiyang Trail, Yanzikou Trail and Shakadang trail. If you want to do the small trails along with visiting only the choicest spots, I would recommend Yanzikou trail, Buluowan trail and Changchun shrine trail in a day to watch the impressive views including the strolls.
If you want to do longer trials by vigorously enjoying the views, I would recommend Shakadang trail and Baiyang trail that makes for a 2-3 hour walk. You might add Yanzikou trail if you have some time. There are also one day hike trails for which you will need a permit to hike.