of killer bees and poisonous snakes while hiking in the
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.
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
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!
Hualien City. We hope you enjoy your stay” said the cheerful flight attendant as we were
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.
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
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,
through the center of the park, eventually delivering
road-weary travelers to
Taichung on the
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)
the Taiwan Strait off the southeastern coast of Fujian
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
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
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
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:
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Taroko National Park Headquarters.
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.
least ten of the guides based at the park's HQ speak
six National Parks in Taiwan.
Information for foreigners.
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
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).
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
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.
has the world's largest mobile phone penetration rate of
114.14%, and produces more than half the world's
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?
But of course
you already knew all that didn't you. Well done!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org