Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cycling Taiwan 2017 Days 17 & 18: Hualien To Taroko - Cycling In Taroko Gorge

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Cycling Taiwan 2017 Days 17 & 18: Cycling In Taroko Gorge
Taiwan Days 17 & 18 : Monday-Tuesday, 30th-31st October - Around Taroko Gorge
This is part of cycling tour around Taiwan, From Hualien (花蓮市) to and around the Taroko (太魯閣國家公園). The following route is for Day 17 only:
Hualien (中山市場)>by TRA train>Xincheng Station (新城車站)>Hung Ying Hotel (太魯閣紅瑛民宿)>Arch of Taroko (太魯閣牌樓)>Zhongheng Tunnel (橫開工紀念碑)>Jiuqudong Tunnels (九匝隧道>Taroko Visitor Center (太魯閣遊客中心)>Hung Ying Hotel.
Cycling Distance: 13.94 km.     Train Ride Distance: 16.40 km.     Total Distance: 30.34 km.
Level: Easy
Time : 9:15am to 3:40pm
Time Taken : 6 hrs. 25 mins. (including waiting for train, train ride, visiting parks, stops for, lunch & tea breaks, and many photo opps).

This is page 16 of a 19-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D16 Hualien 2           |          Go to Other Days        |           Go to D19 Taipei >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
     The Taiwan (台湾) is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
- The route is around the vicinity of the Taroko Visitor Center and is a short introductory route to Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園): (also well known as the Taroko Gorge (太魯閣)); it's has just gentle slopes.
- The 34km round trip route from Arch of Taroko up to Tianxang Village has many meandering undulating slopes, some of which are quite steep. It goes through some grottos, so do wear your helmet. Click here to download a PDF guide on Cycling Around Taiwan.

3. Weather
    At Hualien County (花蓮縣), the daytime weather was fairly warm, averaging at 27°C and a high of 30°Cwith clear, blue skies. Evening temperatures averaged at 23°C. Wind speed was averaged 18kph with gusts up to 27kph.
    It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites for the Taiwan are the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau and AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

4. Places of Interest
Arch of Taroko (太魯閣牌樓(GPS: 24.15541, 121.62161), the entrance arch to Taroko Gorge, also known as the East Gate.
- Taroko National Park Visitor Center (太魯閣遊客中心) (GPS: 24.15807, 121.62223).
Zhongheng Tunnel (橫開工紀念碑) (GPS: 24.15568, 121.62142), start of Jiuqudong (九匝隧道, Tunnel of Nine Turns) numerous tunnels carved out of rock along the Zhongheng Highway.
- Changchun Tunnel (春隧道) (GPS: 24.16045, 121.60992), a long concrete tunnel along the Zhongheng Highway.
- Changchun Bridge (春大桥, Zhangchun Bridge) (GPS: 24.16001, 121.6103).
Changuang Temple (禪光寺) (GPS: 24.15925, 121.6058).
Changuang Temple Bell Tower (禪光寺鐘樓) (GPS: 24.15983, 121.60462).
- Changchun Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠) (GPS: 24.16016, 121.60183).
Shakadang Bridge (砂卡礑大橋) (GPS: 24.16195, 121.61346).
Shakadang Trail (砂卡礑步道) (GPS: 24.16213, 121.61377), a hiking trail along a stream with crystal blue water.
Zhuilu Suspension Bridge (錐麓吊橋) (GPS: 24.17358, 121.56715), a cable walk-way across the Li-Wu River next to the Swallows' Grotto.
Swallows' Grotto Yanzikou Trail (燕子口步道) (GPS: 24.17261, 121.56697), an area where that cuts through many grottos passing by cliffs with holes where swallows nest.
Lushui Trail (綠水步道) (GPS: 24.17918, 121.50807).
- Jinheng Park (靳珩公園) (GPS: 24.17224, 121.56128).
Lushui Visitor Centre (綠水合流遊憩服務站) (GPS: 24.17892, 121.50849).
- Tianxang Village (天祥镇) (GPS: 24.18303, 121.49452).

5. Food
Day 17:
 - Breakfast: Local Taiwan burgers from a shop near our hotel in Hualien.
- Lunch: Set meals at the cafe within the Taroko National Park Visitor Center.
- Dinner: Set rice meals at Li-Wu Hotel (丽武酒店) (GPS: 24.15319, 121.62408). Do note that often food shops and hotel restaurants at Taroko closes at seven unless bookings had been made earlier, do make your bookings otherwise one may have to get meals from the Taroko 7-Eleven (GPS: 24.15128, 121.62567).
Day 18:
 - Breakfast: Inclusive western breakfast at hotel.
- Lunch: Take-away sandwiches from Taroko 7-Eleven.
- Dinner: Set rice meals at our hotel, which we had pre-ordered earlier in the day.

6. Accommodations
Two nights in Hualien (花蓮市) at Hung Ying Hotel Tarako (太魯閣紅瑛民宿) (GPS: 24.15307, 121.62414) which we had pre-booked a 2-pax rooms & a 4-pax rooms at NTD625 per pax per night which included breakfast.
Address: 972, Taiwan, 花蓮縣秀林鄉秀林.
Tel: +886-3861-0577

7. Travelling By Trains And Bringing Bikes Onto Trains In Taiwan
    Folding bicycle are allowed onto most trains (express, local and metro trains) but must be bagged before entering the platform, and only unbagged after leaving the platform. Unbagged folding bikes (and full-sized bikes) will usually face a charge equivalent to 50% of the fare. Do note that at smaller stations there are not lifts or escalators for getting to the platforms, so do expect some carrying across bridges or underpasses. A few stations do provide bike-way for pushing across the tracks, do look for signages indicating these; but use of them is subject to the station master's discretion on safety.
    For more details on charges on bringing bikes onto the different trains (local or express trains) click here for the Taiwan Railway Administration Guide On Carriage of Bicycles.
   Click here for a link to the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) website for booking train routes and fares; and also to see which railway line totally does not allow bicycles on board.
    Click here for guidelines on bring folidng bikes onto the Taipei Metro.
    Train services are quite regular between larger towns, but at smaller towns services may not be that regular (perhaps like every two or three hours). Do check at the respective stations for the train schedules or at this TRA booking site link.
    The train fare from Hualiien Station to Xincheng Taroko Station was NTD36.
    On the second day we took the Taroko shuttle bus to tour further into the Taroko Gorge. This bus starts from the Xincheng Taroko Railway Station to Tianxang Village, fare each way is about NTD70; one can board or stop at any of the bus stops along the route. Buses serving this route are no. 302 & 1133. For those staying in Hualien, it stops at the Hualiien Train Station too.

8. Communicating with Each Other
   When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost from the rest.
    At Taipei Taoyuan Airport Terminal One, just after exiting the into the arrival hall, there are several booths on the left selling pre-paid phone SIM cards. We got pre-paid 4G prepaid SIM cards from Chung Hwa as they had good coverage even in remote areas. These cost NTD1,000 for a 30-day plan that includes unlimited data and NTD$430 credit for texts or calls. These can also be booked on line.
    Those without sim card could try using free Wifi that are sometimes available at the airport, some bigger train stations or hotels; do note that these free wifi may not be stable and registration could be required.

9. Communicating with Locals
    Most Taiwanese (台湾人) speaks Mandarin (官话) and Hokkien (福建話), and very few speak English. So it would be good to have a person in the team who can converse in Mandarin or Hokkien.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedules.

10. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.

_________________________________________________________________________
PRELUDE

The previous day we had had a good ride at the river and coastal bike paths of Hualien. Along the way we stopped frequently at the many beautiful paths, and as such took a almost half the day complete the short thirty over kilometers route. It's just to nice a place to ride at a hurried pace!
Today and tomorrow we will explore the Taroko Gorge and to be enchanted again.

THE RIDE

Day 17 RouteHualien (中山市場)>by TRA train>Xincheng Station (新城車站)>Hung Ying Hotel (太魯閣紅瑛民宿)>Arch of Taroko (太魯閣牌樓)>Zhongheng Tunnel (橫開工紀念碑)>Jiuqudong Tunnels (九匝隧道>Taroko Visitor Center (太魯閣遊客中心)>Hung Ying Hotel.
Cycling Distance: 13.94 km.     Train Ride Distance: 16.40 km.     Total Distance: 30.34 km.
Level: Easy
The route is one of a train ride from Hualien to Xincheng (新城鄉) and from there cycle to the Taroko National Park Visitor Center and at the roads around the centre. The next day we took the HopOn/HopOff Taroko shuttle bus to go further into the Taroko National Park and visit the Shakadang Trail, the Swallows' Grotto Yanzikou Trail, the Lushui Trailthe Lushui Visitor Centre, and Tianxang Village. The round trip bus journey is about thirty-four kilometers, it's doable on bicycles; one just need to have strong legs and be alert at the many meandering turns.

This is the elevation of the round-trip route that starts from near the Arch of Taroko up to Lushui Trail. The total distance of forty-five kilometres includes hiking/walking within the Shakadang Trail, the Swallows' Grotto Yanzikou Trail, and the Lushui Trail,
Those with strong legs, Go For It!

We started off with a train ride from Hualien to Xincheng; we had thought that the route would be a steep one, but actually it was a relatively flat road of about 17 kilometres. Nevertheless we did save sometime by taking the train. We spent some time there to admire the architecture of the Xincheng Station and also the huge fabric patchwork sculpture hanging from the roof of the station.
A short distance out from the train station, we had to make an emergency stop to wear our face mask! Why....?

.... the area was very dusty!
We had thought that the dust was from the nearby Asian Cement Plant (亞洲水泥), but the fog was not man-made. As we neared the Entrance Arch of Taroko, we saw that at that point the Li-wu River was rather dry and the dust were from the fine sand of the river bed itself. We were quite worried that this dustiness would affect our views of Taroko, but the hotel staff abated our fears, stating that this only happens during the dry season and it should clear off later in the day; which it did.

It was too early to check in; so off we went to do a bit of exploratory cycling; here we are at the famed Entrance Arch of Taroko, which is also known as the East Gate as it is the eastern entrance into Taroko.

Immediately after the entrance arch was the Zhongheng Tunnel, it's the start of the Jiuqudong (九匝隧道, Tunnel of Nine Turns); a route that meanders along the cliff side up to the Changchun Bridge.

The Tunnel of Nine Turns are a series of tunnels cut into the cliffs of the mountains here. In a series of curves it weaves in and out of the rocky cliffs. Tunnel of Nine Turns is a wonder on Zhongheng Highway, constructed in 1914, was the first road that linked the eastern and western area of Taiwan. Then Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), the eldest son of Chiang Kai-shek, (蔣中正), mobilized more than ten thousands returning soldiers and led them to launch an almost impossible project. Tunnel of Nine Turns doesn't mean only nine curves. In fact, there are numerous caves which were chiseled out with axes and hammers laboriously by the workers. The highway runs through these caves, surrounded by vagarious rock and quaint stone formation rising steeply and deep gullies with rushing water.

Do be alert here and look out for approaching trucks (they are building a new adjacent highway) and stop for them to cross the tunnels first...

... there are also road signs indicating falling rocks, so do listen out for these too, especially during rainy weather. But we gathered that rockfalls are not a frequent occurrence.

We did not let this mar our ride through this beautiful area. It was in a tunnel and the suddenly just outside, sheer cliffs rising tall above us ...

... and interesting rocky outcrops overhang the road on one side, while on the other side was a beautiful valley through which the Li-Wu river flowed.

Partway in was the contrasting red Changchun Bridge which leads into the Changchun Tunnel. Here we made a stop to walk down to a viewing platform below.

The red bridge led to a longer concrete bridge, ahead is the Changchun Tunnel; here we stopped again.... it was just to scenic not to!

This was what we saw from the bridge: misty green mountains that seemed to have leapt out from a Chinese painting!

Another wonderful view of tall sheer cliffs; it's so beautiful here with so many scenic spots of cliffs, tunnels and valleys, my words just fail to describe them well enough.

Within this park area are several temples situated high on the hill side. This one is the Changchun Eternal Spring Shrine which was built to commemorate the memory of those who lost their lifes when building the highway cutting through park. This picturesque shrine sits on top of a natural spring gushing out of the rocks into a waterfall.

The Changuang Temple Bell Tower sitting high on a cliff over the Changchun Bridge.

The Changuang Bell Tower with the Changuang Temple below; it's quite a climb from the temple to the bell tower.

We rode through the long Zhongheng Tunnel and were back to the famed Arch of Taroko viewed through the Zhongheng Tunnel. A note here; when riding through the Zhongheng Tunnel, do turn on your front and rear blinker lights as there is a fork inside and traffic can be heavy there.

Before we returned to our hotel, a quick spin of the Taroko National Park Visitor Center. Here the girls stopped to pose in front of a statue of an old Taroko (太魯閣族, Truku) aborigine woman, her face marked with some facial tribal tattoo.

The park had lots of large green spaces, rock gardens and stone statues dotting the place. There's even a tourist information centre, a souvenir shop and theTaroko National Park Cafe (太鲁阁国家公园咖啡厅); that's where we had our lunch.

Back at our hotel, the girls took it easy - all cheerful after a wonderful, scenic ride.
Our hotel had not prepared any dinner for us as we did not know that one has to pre-book lunch or dinner in advance; also do note that nearby restaurants are closed by seven. Fortunately the kitchen at Li-Wu Hotel next door was still opened and had enough spare ingredients to cook us some fried rice and noodles.... Phew!
_________________________________________________________________________

We woke up to a beautiful day of clear blue skies with long clouds lacing the tall green mountains; it's going to be a good day to explore further into the Taroko National Park.
The Taroko Gorge is composed mainly of metamorphic rocks, such as marble, gneiss, "schist",etc. The name, Taroko, means the "magnificent and splendid" in the language of Truku, the aboriginal tribe who migrated from the Jingguan Terrace in Nantau about 300 years ago and established ninety-seven villages along the Liwu River here. The most phenomenal aspect of the park is the amazing relief. In a single afternoon you can travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of subtropical forested canyons to high elevation sub-alpine coniferous forests. In about 60 kilometers the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan, such as Mount Tarokoda, Mount Patuolo adn Mount Liwujhu.

After a hearty breakfast at our hotel, we hopped onto the Taroko shuttle bus  from a bus stop close by to the hotel. This bus is like a local stage bus with many stops along the way; there is no seed to pre-book tickets, just bring along adequate change and pay the fare on the bus.
Our first stop was the Shakadang Trail, just after the Shakadang Bridge. An archway leads downward from here to the trail. But first things first - go take a pee at the toilets here; there are no toilets within the trail and it is not encouraged to do nature's business within the natural surrounding!

Even before walking off, take a look up at the magnificent structure of the ; its red girders contrasting brightly against the green surrounding.

Within the trail most of the pathways are wide and concrete paved; at many stretches rocky ceiling overhangs the pathway.
"The trail is famous for its crystal-clear turquoise water strewn with imposing marble boulders. In contrast with the wild and violent Liwu River, the Shakadang Stream flows much more gently. Along the path, you may notice local tourists dipping their feet in the water. In these areas, water slows to a crawl and forms small pools shallow enough to wade through. Be ready for a tickle though! If you're lucky, small fish traveling the length of the stream will stop at your bare feet for a nibble. Not to worry, this is more like a free foot exfoliation, as the fish look for dead skin to enjoy. Back on the path, head further upstream and you'll be treated to something unique: the Shakadang Trail passes through a Truku tribal village. Though entry into their reservation is prohibited, a small market is open to visitors and features local artisans and food vendors welcoming you to sample some indigenous delights.
Though an easy walk (roughly 2 hours round trip, little elevation change), make sure to watch your head when passing under overhanging rock faces. Keep in mind that there are no lifeguards on duty in Taroko National Park. Rocks can be slippery when wet and playing in water is at your own risk."

While admiring the green surrounding, do look down at some of the fantastic view along the way, one of a bright blue stream with crystal clear water meandering its way among the rocks.
The trail runs along the Shakadang River, a sixteen kilometer river that starts from the 2,600 metre high Mount Xiaoxing and connects to the Liwu River.

It's a total sensory experience, the smell of the forest, the sight of the blue streams with layered coloured rocks and the gushing and bubbling sound of the water gushing and bubbling along the way...

It's so beautiful here that one is tempted to step of the trail and jump in! But please don't do that; I was just putting a foot out for this photo.

We hopped onto the shuttle bus and continued along our way, much further ahead we saw more caverns along the narrow road, those must be the Swallow's Grotto.

To one side construction was going on, new bridges were being built for an adjacent highway which will cater for fast moving inter-city traffic and clear the way for slower moving local traffic along the present road. This is great news, people will be able to explore the park without having to worry about fast cars zooming by.

The stop for the Swallows' Grotto is just before the Yanzikou Tunnel. There are toilets nearby to this stop. A couple of food stalls were there too but they sold mostly light snacks.
"Swallow Grotto is near the middle of the Taroko National Park and located just after Buluowan (布洛灣). The walls on each side of the river contain caves which form natural nesting places for spring swallow birds, bringing life to the area nearby the roaring river, with locals naming it Swallow Grotto. Sights along the trail include the Indian Chieftain’s Profile Rock (印第安酋長石), potholes (壺穴) along the cliff face, swallows darting in, out, and around the caves. Due to frequent landslides and falling rocks, it is advised to wear a safety helmet, available for free from the park."

To another side is the Zhuilu Suspension Bridge, it's an old cable bridge spanning over the Liwu River and connects to narrow trails on the other side. The bridge and trails were use to facilitate logging and bringing out the logs.

The Grotto runs along the Yanzikou Trail which is shared between pedestrians and automobiles (one-way traffic), and a tunnel is located south of the primary trail running parallel for main traffic. Inside, it's gloomy with the mossy green walls setting up the mood for a cool walk. Along the way are natural windows overlooking the river, from this windows are views of the cliffs where the swallows nest.

The trail runs in and out of caverns and along most of the stretch greenish, jagged rock ceiling hangs over the road. New pedestrian walkways were being constructed.

Look out the windows and one will see many sights of stratified rocks with beautiful lined patterns. Withing those rocks are many potholes some with water gushing out while others are nest for the swallows. We did not see many swallows flying around; I guess the best time for that would either be early in the morning or in the late afternoon when the birds goes out to feed.

The trail continued onwards through some covered sections leading the Jinheng Park, a memorial park with a small restaurant.

Our next stop was the Lushui Visitor Centre, where there is a geological museum, a small souvenir shop and a cafe. Sipping coffee and having a light bite there, we viewed the surrounding greenery.

Opposite the visitors' centre, the Lushui Trail starts. It runs through a sub-tropical forest. Coming from the tropics and being well exposed to similar forests and jungles we went just a short way into the trail; our attention were riveted more to the fauna like this nasty looking giant spider.

For those who want to explore the whole trail, here's a map of of the trail. It leads pass Tianxang all the way to Wenshan and along the way goes through several aboriginal villages. The Lushui Trail was original built in the early twentieth century to govern the hill tribe people.

After Lushui, I headed back while my buddies continued onwards to Tianxang. Here's a map that shows interesting places in Tianxang.

Our dinner at H which we had pre-ordered in the morning. Nice rice sets with pan-fried fish coming in pretty bowls, a beef rice set and noodles with Jiaozi) (餃子, Gyoza).

Embiyax Su Hug
(That's "Welcome" in the Truku/Tarako aborigine language)

(For more photos of the Day 17, Click Here)
(For more photos of the Day 18, Click Here)
This is page 16 of a 19-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D16 Hualien 2           |          Go to Other Days        |           Go to D19 Taipei >

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