Hualien is the gateway to eastern shore attractions
Cisingtan Scenic Bike Trail
Midway down the eastern shoreline of Taiwan is the city of Hualien. It’s just a short, under-an-hour flight from Taipei and you’ll find yourself next to lush green hills that parallel the seashore. This makes a perfect setting for the Cisingtan Scenic Bike Trail.
The trail isn’t very long. It can be ridden one-way in about an hour. To the north is a fishing operation where people come to watch large fishing boats transfer their catch to smaller Zodiacs who then rush their loads to the beach. A waiting construction road grader catches their ropes and pulls them up onto the beach. From here, the fish are loaded on trucks and whisked off to market.
In the center of the trail, just off the tour bus parking lot, you’ll find a bike rental shop with bikes for hire and accessories to make your ride more fun. As you leave the rental center, head south for 100 yards and you’ll discover one of the most expensive bike paths I’ve ever seen.
For maybe a quarter mile, the bike path is paved with marble bricks of yellow, blue, greys and greens. Be careful however if there is any moisture in the air, as these can be rather slick when wet.
Heading further south on the trail, you’ll pass the Hualien Airport which is also the base for Taiwan’s Air Force. With a little luck you’ll see their F-16’s taking off for maneuvers. Look quick or they’ll be in the clouds before you know it.
As you reach the southern end of the trail, you’ll encounter a couple switchbacks, winding your way up to the top of a cliff overlooking a crescent shaped bay and the Pacific. When the path gets too steep, there are stairs set in the middle of two ramps, such that you walk up the steps and roll your bike up the ramps.
At the top, Taiwan’s military forces had a great view of the horizon during the war. Now, in peace time, the bike path takes you to the lighthouse and a parking lot overlooking the ocean.
Moving north along Highway 9, keep your eyes out for the entrance to the left into Taroko Gorge, entry point for Taroko National Park. Taroko Gorge is an amazing valley with mountains of marble on either side of the roadway. Eroded through millions of years, the marble is pocked and polished in some of the strangest configurations.
In the 60’s, the government decided a road should be built through the gorge for a tourist attraction and hundreds of men rappelled from the cliffs with hand drills and dynamite to cut a path large enough to drive through. 226 men lost their lives during the construction and a memorial shrine was built in their honor just inside the park entrance. With a waterfall emanating from its base, the shrine is one of the most photographed locations in the park.
When the Japanese occupied the island, they built numerous tunnels through the mountains. Today, these tunnels along with some suspension bridges allow hikers to reach remote areas of the parks with some beautiful waterfalls. With a stroke of luck maybe you’ll see the local monkeys, black bear or bobcat-sized cats.
The Swallow Grove Trail is doable by anyone and takes you through the tunnels on a paved road. Stop and look into the gorge to see the giant pock marks in the marble walls that are now home to fleet-winged swallows.
The Water Curtain trail is also doable by most everyone. If you can keep your balance, crossing some water splashed rocks, you’ll use your flashlights to illuminate the inside of a cave where water is pouring from the ceiling. Oh yes, you’ll want a poncho for this part of the hike because you will get wet.
Both hostels and high end accommodations are available in the park for a great weekend stay. When you leave, if you take Route 8 to the east, you’ll climb to the highest drivable point in Taiwan – 3,275 meters. It’s here in Wuling that the annual King of the Mountain bike race ends. Starting at Cisingtan and ending here, it’s a 100 kilometer race that ends with a 30 degree climb for the last 10 kilometers or more. Gruelling.
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