If someone had told me that one of the most beautiful natural sights we’d see on our whole trip would be in Taiwan I wouldn’t have believed them.
You cannot visit Taiwan without visiting Toroko Gorge. Relatively unknown outside of Taiwan and China, it lies on the east coast near Hualien, where we were based.
Toroko is one of those places that looks good in photos, but no photo can capture the scale and beauty of actually seeing it. I certainly didn’t expect to be as blown away by it as I was.
There are 3 ways to see the gorge – by bus, getting off at sites you choose, by taxi or by scooter. Taxi was never an option for us on a budget, and the bus sounded a bit restricting. And we of course love riding scooters….so you know what we chose.
I was a bit apprehensive about renting one because a lot of information online said that foreigners could only rent a 50cc model, which would have been painfully slow up and down hills with 2 of us on it. But luckily it wasn’t a problem to get a nice fast 125cc model, albeit at a relatively high price compared to Southeast Asia.
Taiwan not only builds some ugly scooters, they are also exceedingly uncomfortable. Our model had no pop out footrests for Katy, only the edge of the drivers footboard, so she was forced to sit with her knees at right angles and I was squished forward with my leg digging into the ignition key. It wasn’t a good start.
Luckily we just about managed to keep comfortable on the very uninspiring 20km ride from Hualien to the start of the gorge. The first essential stop is the information centre, purely to get a decent map. There was also an area to view the gorge where many people including us stopped, but compared to what was to come it was a waste of time.
Our first stop was the Eternal Spring Shrine. The small shrine is attractive but unremarkable, if it wasn’t for the epic surroundings. The sight of the shrine and clifftop temple dwarfed by the scale of the gorge is incredible. It does involve a walk through some caves with unnerving warnings telling you not to stop in case of falling rocks, but luckily we survived.
We carried on into the gorge and came across an actual rock slide – a giant one. A huge chunk of the hill had collapsed onto the road and while they had cleared the road just about, huge boulders lay everywhere. Quite scary.
After a while we reached Swallow Grotto, so named for the masses of swallows nesting in holes in the rock. This area is all about the view, it is where Toroko Gorge is at it’s most stunning. There is supposed to be a trail to follow but this was closed, presumably because of fallen rocks. This was to become a theme of our day. So we scooted on, stopping approximately every 3 seconds as an even more beautiful view was visible.
We stopped for lunch at a picnic with platform with, unsurprisingly, a superb view.
Another few kilometres down the road and we found a nice area with an impressive bridge, 2 pavilions and most importantly a rope bridge! There was one of these over Swallow Grotto but it was unfortunately closed. Even here there was more of a trail which again, was closed. But it was enough to be able to walk across the gorge, such an awesome sight.
At this point we decided that it was probably time to turn around, as progress was slow due to the amount of tour buses and tight corners. We did stop at Bulowan recreation area though and ride up to the visitor centre for a nice view which featured this humorous sign.
Our decision to leave early was vindicated when we reached the landslide area and found an enormous queue of traffic. Either something else had collapsed or they were continuing repair work, whatever it was we had to wait half an hour before the road was cleared. For a while we thought we might be spending the night at the gorge!
We made it back to Hualien eventually, tired but very happy with what we had seen that day. Until we got to our hostel that is, upon telling the owner where we had been she pointed out that we had turned round just short of an incredible waterfall! But that’s just the way it is sometimes, you can’t see everything in a day – we’d have struggled to travel much further.
I’ve lost the card for the place I rented the scooter from, but it’s located straight ahead and then briefly right from the front train station entrance. There are loads of rental shops but ours was about the 3rd one along on the side of the road furthest from the station. Someone came out and called out to us so it shouldn’t be difficult to find, if not just ask around at a few and they’ll point you in the right direction.
Our 125cc Yamaha bike was $500 per day, but a local brand could be had for slightly less and a 50cc bike was only $300 which would be fine for one person. They did keep my passport until we returned the bike and did need to see my driving licence. I don’t have an international one, they were fine with my UK one.
Petrol is quite cheap, about $30 a litre. There are plenty of stations in Hualien and also some on the drive to the gorge, but I don’t think there are any along the gorge itself so make sure you fill up beforehand!
There is no entry fee to the national park. One of the nice things about Taiwan is that most things like this are free.