Here’s what we did on Day 2 of Eastern Taiwan tour – we explored Taroko Gorge! The whole day was dedicated to this immensely-popular gorge in Taiwan. In fact, that was the reason why we were here in Hualien in the first place.
I’m not sure why some would dedicate just a few hours to Taroko Gorge. Honestly, a few hours could only touch the surface, i.e. the “touristy” portion. If you have a choice, get your own transport (or chauffeured driver) and enjoy the gorge at your own pace.
Just don’t go during rainy season or you may suffer like us. Read on to see our adventurous moments when Taroko Gorge turned into a cold, dark and eerie place.
TIPS: Avoid typhoon season from June to October. We thought we were safe going in the last week of October. Yes, we did avoid typhoon in Taiwan, but suffered the side effects of Typhoon that hit Taiwan’s neighbour, Philippines.
Climate has been erratic of late, everywhere. So just avoid typhoon season plus give one to two months’ buffer to play safe.
Don’t miss this Breakfast in Hualien!
Remember the rain that welcomed us on Day 1? Well, the tap was still on at 5am and it was a heavy downpour. Guess we had no choice but to delay our journey to Taroko Gorge. Hopefully, the rain would stop in time for our hike at Zhuilu Old Trail, which only opened to hikers till 10am.
The rain eventually stopped at 7am and we quickly set off for our first breakfast in Hualien. Based on our airbnb host’s recommendation, we walked to 山東豆漿大王 (pronounced as Shandong Doujiang Dawang). This place opened early, at 6am.
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If you want to know where we stayed in Hualien, drop me a comment.
We enjoyed our simple Taiwanese breakfast at Shandong DJDW (山東豆漿大王). Food we ordered included fried eggs, chives dumplings, hot biscuit with squid filling and meat biscuit. Of course, you have to order soya milk here because the name of this shop is loosely translated as “Shandong Soy Milk King”.
We also pack yam biscuit for takeaway in case we couldn’t find decent food in Taroko Gorge. The price came up to just NT169 for all that we’d ordered.
Location of 山東豆漿大王
Shandong Doujiang Dawang was within walking distance from our airbnb unit. In fact, our airbnb unit was centrally located and close to good food and shopping belts. Highly-recommended if you are okay to climb stairs (3 storeys).
What a Scooter Ride to Taroko Gorge!
That was not how I envisioned the journey to be.
15 minutes into our ride, someone turned on the tap again and the pounding rain actually felt like tiny pins striking my skin. Although I had my raincoat on, it didn’t prevent us from getting wet. All thanks to poor quality of disposable raincoats!
The ride under harsh element lasted one hour and was mainly travelled on the highway. This, being my first scooter experience was pretty unnerving. At that moment, I didn’t know there was more to come.
Riding a scooter made us realize its limitation as compared to a car. It was impossible to take photos on the road, unless we stopped our scooter, take out our phone, unlock it, tap on camera and click ‘shoot’. It was equally inconvenient to check for navigation (google map) or confirm our GPS location unless we parked at the shoulder of the highway.
The above photo was snapped very quickly when we stopped by the road to put on our raincoats. You can see part of my orange raincoat. ;)
Getting Hiking Permits to Taroko National Park
Most of the hiking trails in Taroko National Park do not require hiking permits. Zhuilu Old Trail happened to be one of the few requiring one because it was considerably more challenging and risky.
Taunting Task Applying for Hiking Permit
We had to apply for hiking permit a week in advance when we were in Singapore and it really wasn’t an easy process.
First of all, the online form required so much information there were five tabs to complete. What’s more, some of those fields weren’t intuitively-easy to understand. For instance, we had to select the schedule/route to be taken in exact sequence.
TIPS: You can visit this application portal if you like to attempt applying hiking permit on your own. Remember to switch to “English” version.
If you find this too much of a hassle and don’t mind paying, there are online agencies who can provide such a service. Similarly, all application would be taken care of if you join a tour specifically to hike Zhuilu Old Trail.
To make things even more difficult for tourists, the application required a local Taiwanese’s ID, phone number and private details such as birth date and passport number. We might have slightly annoyed our airbnb host when we requested him for these sensitive information although he had earlier agreed to help. Guess he didn’t expect the extent of information/assistance to be rendered.
And last but not least, there was a daily limit to the number of people who were allowed to hike Zhuilu Old Trail. I remember how we failed to get a timely approval from Taroko National Park despite having applied it way in advance. We were later told that the administrators were reluctant to approve further permits due to the developing situation of Haima Typhoon in Philippines.
Step 2: Get Permit from Local Police Station
If the above application steps weren’t difficult enough, we had to visit Police Station on actual day to get another permit from them. Considering that entry of Zhuilu Old Trail was allowed only till 10am, we started to panic and made a dash to Taroko Gorge police station, which was located near Taroko Information Centre.
The police officer was quite fierce and unfriendly. It was like we’d just disturbed his peace and made him work on a lazy morning. He started asking us a lot of questions and warned us against proceeding given the weather condition.
For some unknown reasons, this police officer started treating us a little better after seeing our passport and knowing where we were from. “Where did he initially think we were from?”, I could only wonder.
Location of Police Station
Taroko Gorge Not Supposed to be this Dangerous!
It was an eye opener for us. Riding a scooter in Taroko National Park made us feel so tiny and vulnerable especially on a rainy day. It involved risks that we weren’t prepared for.
There were waterfalls EVERYWHERE – down the cliff and down the road “ceiling”. I recalled a dangerous moment when a wide and powerful waterfall on the left side of the road overflowed such that water actually swept across the road we were on and flowed down the other side of the road, into the deep gorge. This means that we could have been swept down the gorge and into the muddy rapids hundreds of meters beneath the road.
No photos taken of course as we were fearing for our lives. Everything felt so dangerous like we were not supposed to be there.
On other parts of the road, curtains of rain came down on us to make sure we were 100% drenched. Was that our punishment for entering Taroko Gorge on her angry day?
Along the road, we saw fallen boulders and rocks in our path. There were many “What-if” in our minds. Like would we end up like a squashed ant?
Before reaching our first destination, we were already thoroughly soaked and feeling rather miserable. It didn’t help that Taroko Gorge was cold and shrouded by mist.
Most Trails at Taroko Gorge were closed!
After all the hard work and research, we realized to our dismay that most of the trails were closed, including the more dangerous one at Zhuilu Old Trail and touristy ones such as Swallow Grotto. This morning before we set off, they were still indicated on their website as being opened.
TIPS: Visit this page to find out the status of hiking trails in Taroko National Park, i.e. whether they are opened or closed.
Okay. We really ran out of places to go now. Riding our little scooter, we passed by Cimu Bridge and Yue Wong Pavilion, places we had earlier crossed out from our itinerary. Seems like we would have to make do?
I took a quick photo of Cimu Bridge before continuing our journey. Now, the priority was to find shelter in big big Taroko Gorge.
By the way, all photos taken today were ugly. I either looked like a hunched-back camel or a stout and figure-less woman. Other times, I looked like a mushroom head or chin-less girl.
Location of Cimu Bridge
Hooray! A shelter at Taroko Gorge!
The joy of seeing a proper shelter was indescribable! After being pounded by heavy rain and soaked to the bones, seeing Heliu Campground was like seeing water in a desert.
Finally, we could take a break from the danger of riding on roads peppered with boulders and rocks and avoid the curtains of water that came down on us like we were their enemies.
I was cold and wet even though I had a layer of waterproof raincoat over another layer of water-resistant jacket. Both didn’t work under this weather condition. Waters were seeping in through collar, sleeves or other unknown places through osmosis.
My wet pony tail could be one culprit, serving as conduit for water to travel to places.
We took off our jackets and tried to air ourselves dry. The temperature at Taroko Gorge was 23 degree celsius when it was supposed to be 28 during this time of the year. Being wet and riding a scooter through the wind made us super duper cold!
My pinkie felt numb and whenever that happens, it means the coldness experienced was overwhelming. The last time I experienced this was during my hike up Tongariro National Park in New Zealand. It was also raining that day! Guess that’s my life? LOL.
Location of Heliu Campground
Wandering Around Heliu Campground
When the rain subsided a little, we decided to explore the areas around Heliu Campground. Theoretically, Heliu Campground was not a tourist attraction. On a rainy day, this place turned out to be quite a sight!
Massive Waterfalls in Taroko Gorge
Unmarked waterfalls that came down the cliffs were full of energy to the extent they were noisy. Turn down the volume if you want to view the video below.
These falls flowed into muddy rivers that now seemed more like a rapid.
Suspension Bridge at Taroko Gorge
There was a suspension bridge around Heliu Campground. You can get a perfect 360 degrees view of the river because you are standing above it.
This bridge leads to the start of a hiking trail to Nantou, Taiwan, and requires a hiking permit.
Yue Wang Pavilion at Taroko Gorge (岳王亭)
We were so desperate finding places to explore we even took photos of a pavilion – Yuewangting (岳王亭).
Location of Yuewangting
Let’s Conquor Lushui Trail
Another hiking trail that was indicated as being opened this morning was Lushui Trail. So, we made our way there when the rain had stopped.
Soon, we realized that it was closed. Not another one!
Guess we would have to accept our fate? That we were not fated to hike Taroko Gorge today. :(
Let’s take a break from this rain. I’ll be back with Part 2 of Day 2 where we’ll cover Shakatang Trail, Chishing Tan Beach and test out food at Gongzheng Baozi. Stay tuned! If you like to get notified of my new posts, you can choose to connect with me through the icons below. (Psst. I give up-to-date sneak previews in Instagram. Now featuring Langkawi!):
- Eastern Taiwan Tour (Day 1 / pt 1): Getting from Taipei to Hualien (花蓮)!
- Eastern Taiwan Tour (Day 1 / pt 2): Rent a Scooter in Hualien
- Eastern Taiwan Tour (Day 1 / pt 3): Hualien Dongdamen Night Market
- Taipei and Northern Taiwan 8-Days Trip!
- Travelling Solo in Taiwan…my first solo trip!