4:45 am alarms can make for a harsh awakening. On this particular morning, Magalie and I were actually palpably ecstatic to greet the day at this ungodly hour. With a single day to explore Taroko Gorge, we wanted to take full advantage of every single second of daylight.
Only beginning to show the faintest signs of predawn light, the sky was still pitch black as I strapped on my pack and hopped on the motorbike behind Magalie. We cautiously pulled out of our hostel parking lot and onto winding mountain road. The bike jerked a bit as Magalie got comfortable with her first ever motorbike drive. Before we knew it, we were cruising down Su-hua Highway #9, on our way to viewpoint #1 of the day.
We had seen this incredible photo of Qingshi Cliff, but there really wasn’t a lot of information out there on the viewpoint. What better time to check it out than 5:30 am? The drive from Taroko to Qingshi Cliff is painless and super quick, especially at 5:00 am. We weren’t going quickly and didn’t get above 40 km/hr on that inaugural motorbike ride. As an added bonus, there is only one tunnel on the commute to the cliff.
We popped through our first tunnel and directly to our right was a small parking lot.
“Pull over, Magalie! I need a break!” I wasn’t used to riding behind her and found myself gripping my legs around her as tightly as I could, leaving my joints on fire. Magalie slowly pulled into the small parking lot and we hopped off.
“So cool!” we both shouted in unison. Yeah, we were pumped to be on the motorbike.
To our surprise and delight, not only had we actually reached our desired location, we were directly set up to watch the sun rise out of the Pacific Ocean. The “cliff” is a viewing area situated perfectly so you an see the coastline, the highway winding through the mountains and the cliffs above. Our timing was perfect. Just as we got situated and started snapping away with our cameras, the sun’s rays just beginning to show above the thick wall of clouds sitting along the horizon line far in the distance.
With only one small group of young Taiwanese to share the space with, it was an incredible experience. Watching the sunrise from Qingshi Cliff is an absolute must-do!
Having watched a perfect sunrise, we hopped back on the bike and cruised back down south towards Taroko. A mere 15 minutes later and we were at the entrance to the park. Our strategy was to drive the 20 kilometers or so to the opposite end of the park, avoiding having to share the road with hundreds of tourists buses, pedestrians and bicycles, and begin our exploring from the back of the park to the front.
We crossed into the park around 7am, just as the first morning rays were reaching down into the gorge. There was no one else around as the wind whipped through our hair and we marveled at the walls of rock towering above the road. As we drove deeper into the gorge, any trace of sunlight disappeared and the temperature dropped. Before long, we were ice, ice cold. This was something we had not anticipated nor prepared for.
“I can’t feel my fingers. I have to pull over!” Magalie tried to communicate through the scarf she had fastened over her mouth. We hastily pulled to the side, we had made it 16 kilometers to Cimu Bridge. We had less than 3 kilometers to go before we would park the bike at Tianxiang.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Magalie hopped of the bike and yelled, as she ran away, “I’m too cold! Need to sprint to warm up!” leaving me dying laughing as she ran back and forth over the bright red bridge. Our only true hope for warming up lay in there being a 7-eleven or some sort of convenience store at the end where we could grab a cup of hot chocolate and sit for a moment to allow our extremities to feel some warmth.
After snapping a few photos of the sun pouring through the seemingly abandoned gorge, we were off to Tianxiang. Tianxiang provided not only a cup of warm tea, but a hot sausage as well! It was no sooner than we arrived in Tianxiang that tour buses began to finally filter into the park. We explored the temple, which was beautiful, especially with the backdrop of a perfectly blue sky.
From here, we made our way back through the park, exploring various trails and temples along the way.
Here’s how I would break it down:
Absolutely start as early as possible during the day! Not only will you avoid the large crowds, but you will take advantage of the daylight. Especially because it was winter, we were limited in our hours of daylight. We knew we only had one day and we wanted to make the most of it.
Motorbike is an absolute must! It was incredible experience to wind our way through the gorge. The road was extremely well-made and didn’t feel nearly as perilous or dangerous as we had anticipated.
While the Shakadang Trail was totally overcrowded and felt like a zoo, we didn’t pass a single person on the Eternal Spring Shrine Trail, which was totally surprising. From the top of the trail, you have some of the best views the gorge has to offer. Additionally, at the end of the trail, you reach Changchun Temple, which is also worth a visit. When we were there, we didn’t see a singe other person. From the Changchun Temple, it’s an easy 5 minute walk back to the Eternal Spring Shrine parking lot, where you presumably would have started.
Our hostel was a total, unbelievable bargain. You can’t beat it’s location, a stone’s throw away from the East Entrance Arch Gate of the Park. Check out LiWu Hostel on Lonely Planet here.
The motorbike rental in the parking lot of Xincheng (Taroko) railway station does not require an International Driver’s license. On top of their lax requirements, the people running the shop are incredibly kind, patient and friendly. At NT$400 a day, you can’t beat a motorbike as your only choice for transportation.
All in all, Taroko Gorge totally lived up to it’s reputation. If you start early enough and have your own mode of transportation, one day is enough. That being said, I think we would have been happy exploring for another day or two.
Monday, December 2nd was our final day of Magalie’s winter vacation. It was also my birthday. We rented the motorbike for another day and headed to Chihsingtan Beach. Close to both Taroko and Hualien Station, it is absolutely phenomenal. A pebble peach that backs up into the mountains, it totally blew our minds. Whereas Kenting was underwhelming, Chihsingtan Beach was overwhelming in its sheer beauty.
The water was an unbelievable shade of blue, even the crashing waves were a bright blue, the color of mouthwash. Chihsingtan Beach is by far my favorite of the beaches I had the opportunity to visit in Taiwan. It may even trump any beach I’ve ever visited. Granted, never having visited a pebble beach before, it was a bit of a novelty.
This is the true Hawaii of Taiwan, not Kenting.