I occasionally think if Hualien wasn’t so far away, I’d be there almost every weekend. Well that’s not true, Hualien is only a 2hr train trip on the fastest train from Songshan Station. It’s just every time I’ve been we’ve driven, technically I’ve been driven, and the road is not an easy one. It reminds me of the Desert Road in New Zealand, but next to a seaside cliff with idiots trying to overtake you on blind corners. The views are stunningly beautiful but you feel like you might die. Saying that, to really do justice to Hualien I’d recommend having a car. I’ve had friends that have trained to Hualien and then rented scooters, or hired a local driver for the day. Next time. I’d also recommend buying train tickets well in advance. Due to the popularity of Hualien and Taroko Gorge, tickets on weekends are often booked out well in advance.
Regardless of the 麻煩 logistics wise, Hualien is worth a visit.
The first time (October 2015) we went we stayed at an awesome BnB up on a hill in Shoufeng just outside Hualien called 梯田山民宿 －aka Terrace Resort . This place is idyllic with English style houses and a view, but it’s a little out of Hualien proper. Even getting up their windy driveway took us about 10mins the first time. Plus – they had a hot-tub; con- got woken up for the sunrise by their goose XiaoHei.
The second time we stayed at Taroko Aluwa Homestay, which is technically in Taroko, not Hualien, but is well worth staying at. The rooms are spacious and comfy, the buildings themselves are striking. The interior decoration in the rooms are very.. uh interesting. Bathmats in the shape of feet on the walls, lots of contrasting colours. Very Taiwanese. I think the winning factor for me was the sense of space. Living in Taipei it’s unusual to ever be alone. But looking out the window to a spacious field and mountains and knowing out the other side only a couple hundred metres away there’s a beautiful beach is soul cleansing to this Kiwi. The neighbours are a reasonable distance away and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
The real motive for us coming to Hualien is the proximity to great hikes. If you want an easy walk along with great natural pools to swim in I would recommend Mukumugi for a half day trip. It’s about 20km drive from Hualien, don’t forget you need to register at the local police station, walk an easy 5km by foot (no scooters allowed), but then you’re in paradise. I haven’t seen water this clear since I left New Zealand, and even then this spot rivals New Zealand in terms of natural beauty. We arrived and rudely interrupted a Taiwanese couple’s glamorous and peaceful Instagram photo shoot. We spent an afternoon sunbathing on the rocks, swimming and picnicing. To get there you have to walk through a number of tunnels, an iPhone light is sufficient but it’s probably a good idea to have a flashlight. To get there we used the Google maps tag – 慕谷慕魚生態廊道. Check out the local tourist website for more information (Chinese only).
The second day we went “river tracing”. That is, we tried. For those, like me before I came to Taiwan, who don’t know what river tracing is it’s basically hiking up a river. It can involve some swimming, bouldering, climbing and clambering. It’s a great way to stay cool in the brutal Taiwanese summer while getting to explore more remote spots. Somewhere on the internet we read that you could hire river tracing boots from the community centre. But the community centre was closed. So in our infinite wisdom we tried to river trace without river tracing shoes. We didn’t get far. We still had a good time wandering along the river, but wet shoes make for squelchy walking and are dangerous on slippery rocks.
The second time we had marginally more success. We struggled to rent shoes without actually going on an organised tour group. We’d seen organised tours before and it’s not really our style. The tour groups were jumping off small rocks like it was a massive cliff, wearing wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets. We like the independence of not having a guide and having to comply with a tour schedule. However, guides do come with useful tips on finding the track and the appropriate gear. Like the previous time we started at the Sanzhan Community centre, if you walk through the school there’s a path or you can just go straight to the river from the parking lot at the community centre. We ended up buying river tracing shoes before we left Taipei, because of the hassle we had regarding not going on a tour. River tracing shoes are an absolute necessity, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Because I’m paranoid about safety, I ended up hiring helmets for the group for all of $100NT a piece from the community centre. I simply rang them up and organised a time to meet at the parking lot. Arguably you don’t need them, but one of our group has had multiple concussions and I’m suitably paranoid. Some blogs say they are a necessity, some are a bit more casual about it all. I’d rather be safe than sorry. The rocks aren’t that slippery with river tracing shoes, but there is a fair degree of clambering.
Our end goal both times was the Golden Grotto, but we’ve never quite made it. We spent too much time playing in the river and relaxing. I’ve made it a mission to finally get there before I leave Taiwan.