Captain Tony's

Adventure Guide

Taroko’s Spectacular Marble Highway  
Story and pictures by Tony Jones

* Click on pictures to enlarge, then mouse-over bottom right corner for symbol to enlarge further to full size.

 Beware of killer bees and poisonous snakes while hiking in the park!  So read the coffee-stained much read travel brochure spread out on my knees as the fully loaded Mandarin Airlines prop-jet began its final approach over the Pacific Ocean into Hualien, largest city on Taiwan’s rugged north east coast.    

Unprepared to fight off attack from such buzzing or slithering creatures, my decades old Boy Scout “Be Prepared” training mentally scanned the contents of my backpack for possible life-saving devices. 

Security conscious airport personnel had confiscated my multi-tooled, useful in all emergencies Swiss Army knife, leaving me the choice of camera flash to frighten away such creatures, or a President's Choice Energy Bar to temporarily distract and facilitate an escape.  So works my easily distracted ADD-generated brain, especially when captive on a plane!   

“Welcome to Hualien City. We hope you enjoy your stay” said the cheerful flight attendant as we were rather forcefully reunited with terra firma.   Well, that’s what I imagined she’d said. In Chinese, or was it Taiwanese?  

  My day had begun with an early morning wake-up call at one of central Taipei’s finest hotels, the Caesar Park.   “Meet me in the lobby in one hour,” instructed my wide awake guide, Jason Yuan, in near impeccable English colored only by a slight hint of his native Chinese. 

A short drive through the seemingly 24 hours a day rush hour, scooter-dominated traffic to the city airport; quick but thorough pass through ticketing and security; and with an abrupt reminder, “you are not allowed to take pictures while in the plane,” we were on our way... 

On our way to one of Taiwan’s…correction, to one of Asia’s, most remarkable topographical wonders, Taroko Gorge, and it's highway of marble.   

A fast 26 km. drive north along the Pacific coast hugging Su-Hua Highway brought us into the tour bus and car filled visitor reception area of Taroko National Park. 

More than one million people enjoy the park's natural beauty each year, about 10% of whom are visiting from overseas.  The park is easily accessible by road, via the Hualien City airport, or by rail on the round the island rail system to
Sincheng, then 5 km bus ride into the park.   

Following a 20 minute video introduction by one of the park’s more than 100 guides, we were soon heading west along the narrow but strategically important Central Cross-Island Highway.  On a good day, weather and rock falls permitting, it winds through the center of the park, eventually delivering road-weary travelers to Taichung on the island's west coast.   

Carpeted over 92,000 hectares of dramatic natural beauty, Toroko National Park stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Central Mountain Range. Opened Nov. 28, 1986, the park is 36 km long and 42 km wide. It is the second largest of six national parks in Taiwan; five on the island of Taiwan, and Kinmen (Island) located in the Taiwan Strait off the southeastern coast of Fujian Province. 

Taroko Gorge straddles the first 20km. of the highway as it chisels and tunnels its unpredictable snake-like yellow centerline through the marbled mountains from Taroko to Tiansiang.   

   Carved by the relentless erosion of the Liwu River, the gorge is thought by most visitors to be the most spectacular natural feature of the park.  The journey takes visitors through rough-faced, moss and vine covered tunnels, and along roads that seem to hang precariously off the near vertical rock face.   

Other natural features include many high mountains, some peaks towering above 3,000 meters, and numerous crystal-clear waterfalls plunging into deep pools or rock filled ravines. 

Inhabited originally by the Taroko people, one of 12 indigenous tribes in Taiwan, the park is shared with 31 species of mammals, including black bear, and 144 species of bird.  Not surprising that the region is considered by many nature loving tourists as one of Asia’s most unique ecosystems.

Detailed information about the geology of the marbled gorge can be found on the park’s website (listed below) that in part explains:

“…the rock strata now seen in the park were originally layers of sediment that had settled on an ancient sea bed more than 200 million years ago. During the next 100 million years, sediments were subjected to greater and greater pressure, and eventually became rock.

About 80 million years ago, these rock strata were uplifted during an especially active period of plate collision. The massive lateral compression, heat and pressure during this period folded the sedimentary rock layers into the intricate patterns seen today. The great stress of these tectonic forces caused the sedimentary rock to undergo a structural transformation known as metamorphism. The limestone was metamorphosed into the gray and white marble seen locally.”    

  Construction of the highway was inaugurated in July 1956 by the late President of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo and completed almost four years later in May 1960.

It's not hard to imagine how difficult and heroic its construction, during which 212 lives were sacrificed, and more than 780 injured.  Many of these courageous workers were retired servicemen equipped with little more than basic hand-held digging implements.

Today, some of the original construction workers spend their time in the Chinging Veterans Farm adjacent to the western edge of the park.

Maintenance and repair is an ongoing project for park staff responsible for keeping open the winding stone caves, the 38 tunnels, and road surface exposed to landslides.  Frequent heavy rain in the summer typhoon season brings its own challenges.

One side of the road closely edges a dramatic precipice and the U-shaped gorge; the other half of the road is in most places overhung by the disturbingly unsupported vertical cliff face rising hundreds of meters above one's head.  

Most spectacular perhaps is Jiucyudon, (Tunnel of Nine Turns), so called because of its route along the many bends in the river’s course. Jason suggested we walk along this level part of the road, sections of which are now being replaced with the use of modern tunneling technology.  

We stopped occasionally during the next 30 minutes at arched openings in the tunnel wall for exhilarating “Kodak moment” type views into the many shades of grey boulder-strewn gorge cradling far below the Liwu.  Today a swift-flowing murky grey from runoff, the river becomes  much calmer and clear of debris in the winter dry season.

Emerging dust covered and water-spotted from the eastern end of the Jiuyudon tunnels, our mini-bus was waiting to take us back toward the park’s visitor reception area. 

Where the highway appears to reach up through the densely treed mountain peaks to touch the clear blue sky, we absorbed the spectacular view toward one of the park’s most photographed attractions, the Eternal Spring Shrine.   

Its dignified form sitting on a marble table high above a waterfall that sparkles like fingers of molten silver in the late afternoon sun, the Shrine commemorates workers who died while building the Central Cross-Island Highway.

Visitors with time to hike around the valley to the Shrine can see the traditional style bell rung to welcome each morning, and drum towers from which the drumbeat bids farewell to the setting sun… in our case also signaling the end of a breathtaking tour of Taiwan’s spectacular Marble Highway. 

 

Further information:

Taroko National Park Headquarters.  (http://www.taroko.gov.tw/english/index.php) Contains a wealth of information about local animal and plant life, maps, suggested hiking trails, camping facilities, lodging, and useful phone numbers.  Also provides information how to visit the park by car, rail, plane, or train.
Entry to the park is free. The park is open every day, weather permitting.  Check the above website for Visitor's Centre hours.
Language: At least ten of the guides based at the park's HQ speak excellent English.
Map.
 The six National Parks in Taiwan.

Information for foreigners
.   http://iff.npa.gov.tw/enfront/index.php

Average temperatures in the Hualien region: A low of 17.5c in January up to 28.3c in July.  I visited in late October and found the climate sunny, low humidity, and around 24c at midday.
Security
: Very safe, even late at night in downtown Taipei.
Health precautions
: Check with your doctor who may suggest Hep A/B, and/or
website of the Center for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov.tw/en/index.asp).
Currency converter: http://www.xe.com/


Official government website
Official Government of Taiwan website.

Brush up your knowledge about Taiwan (Republic of China)

Located in the Western Pacific about 160 kms off China's southeast coast, midway between Japan and the Philippines. Area: 36,000sq. kms.
After centuries of foreign domination since the Dutch colonized southern Taiwan in 1624, The Republic of China (ROC) was founded in 1912.   In 1996, the people of Taiwan completed  their first direct Presidential election.
Population: 22.72 million (June/2005) About 98% Han Chinese.   Capital - Taipei City
Taiwan's growth competitiveness ranked 4th in the world, and 1st in Asia.

It has the world's largest mobile phone penetration rate of 114.14%, and produces more than half the world's computer-related products.
Literacy rate, (above age 15), 96.97%
One of the largest owners of satellite-based newsgathering vehicles in the world.
Has the largest computer show in Asia, Computex.
Home of 400 butterfly species.
19.5% of land set aside for complex conservation system.
Cross trade between ROC and China, Jan-Nov 2005, US$55.5 billion.
It has the highest rate of female legislators in Asia.
...And what is the world's tallest occupied building?   Taipei 101.

But of course you already knew all that didn't you.  Well done!

The above facts and figures made available by kind permission of Taiwan's Government Information Office, Vancouver.  You are invited to contact their office by email at: infotecovan@telus.net


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