Taiwan Road Trip Part 1 – East Rift Valley
August 27, 2020
It can’t be said enough how lucky I am to be in Taiwan. The obvious reason is how the country has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. But there are so many other reasons that may surprise you. The healthcare here is amazing and very affordable. The people care and show compassion toward one another. The leadership is intelligent and innovative. And as you’ll see, it’s freaking beautiful! Sure the country has its problems from the economy to education to traffic accidents. But I couldn’t have asked to be in a better place. Even if there wasn’t a global pandemic, I would be proud to call this place home.
Since we weren’t able to travel outside of the country, we decided to explore a new part of Taiwan and return to some of our favorite spots during my 2-week summer break. If you followed my Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen some of the amazing places we’ve visited. I want to do a quick recap of the trip and highlight some of the things Taiwan has to offer.
East Rift Valley
Taiwan’s East Rift Valley is a long stretch of fertile plains between the Central Mountain Range and the Coastal Mountain Range on the east coast of Taiwan. It runs approximately 180 km from Hualian City in the north to Taitung City in the south. The area is known for its expansive rice paddies, mountain trekking, and highlands covered in daylily flowers. We drove south on Provincial Highway No. 9 over the course of 3 days. We stopped for plenty of hiking, swimming, and eating.
Local watering holes
There are countless waterfalls and swimming locations along the way. They are usually pretty clearly marked on Google Maps. We explored waterfalls (natural and man-made), a not quite so refreshing lake, and rivers. Some of these can be quite popular, especially during weekends and holidays. But usually, you can trek or trace a short bit to find an amazing spot all to yourself.
Emerald Valley follows the Emerald Stream and Mugu River in Northern Hualien County. The area is only about 30 minutes from Hualien City. Along the river, you can find multiple swimming spots. If you hike a bit deeper, you can find waterfalls and even more secluded areas. There are several companies that do river tracing expeditions as well.
We came here for a hike up to Liyu Mountain. Half-way up, we decided it was too hot and humid. We were miserable and delighted that we saw people swimming in the lake. The water wasn’t quite the cool, refreshing temperature we were expecting but we were just happy to stop sweating.
We sort of stumbled upon this place on our way to Rainbow Waterfall. Just above this man-made waterfall is another sandy area where we saw 4×4’s drive and park right up on the banks. We never made it to Rainbow because the road was getting a little rough for our non-4×4. Along this whole creek, we saw smaller groups enjoying these unmarked oases.
This little spot was made for all ages to enjoy. There were plenty of families and kids enjoying the water downstream. Be warned; there’s not much shade especially during midday.
After a morning of hiking the Walami Trail, we were very excited about taking a dip here. There was a group of OG’s chilling in the shade right at the entrance. You can easily hop the fence and jump a few boulders to get to the waterfall. After a refreshing waterfall rinse, get a free fish spa pedicure just by soaking your feet in the super clear water.
The Land of Rice and …
As we drove down Route 9, we couldn’t help but notice the flat, fertile landscape covered with greenery. The rice is undeniably some of the best in Taiwan. But the area also produces beans, fruits, and dairy products.
During the winter, the green rice fields transform as rapeseed (canola) flowers bloom into a sea of yellow.
Can you take me higher?
It’s tempting to want to see the valley from different vantage points. With the Coastal Mountain Range (海岸山脈) to the east the Central Mountain Range (中央山脈) to the west, there are plenty of opportunities to get up into the mountains.
We had to go ‘off-road’ as Google did not inform us of the main road being closed. Although the drive took a bit longer than expected, we made it just in time for sunset. There are some amazing viewpoints and picture-worthy spots once you make the top. In August, daylily flowers bloom and transform the landscape. Our trip was about one month too early for that but did get to try the ice cream made with the flowers.
Another mountain called Chikeshan (赤科山) offers similar sightings of the daylily flowers.
The Walami Trail is part of the much longer Batongguan Trail built during the Qing Dynasty in 1875. Even before that, these paths have been used by the Bunun aboriginal tribe that used to live in the area. It was also used during the Japanese occupation to connect this region to the more developed areas. Hikers have multiple options including hiking the entire 152 km Batongguan Trail or shorter day trips. We only had half a day so we did the shortest hike which in itself provided some amazing views. And we made sure to stop at Nan-an Falls on the way out.
This spot is a large flat area on top of a hill in northern Taitung County. Every year during the months of June-August, it holds the Taiwan International [Hot Air] Balloon Festival. We were lucky that the festival did not get canceled because of COVID. It’s also a popular place to paraglide with great views of the mountains and the ocean. We were there during the late afternoon through sunset. If you stay a bit later until dark, the balloons light up and there are fireworks.