Although the weather was crummy on the previous day, the beautiful sunrise greeted us in the morning as we embarked on our journey to the most anticipated attraction of our Taiwan trip: Taroko National Park. Originally known as Tsugitaka-Taroko National Park during Japanese Colonial Period, it is the home of the world’s deepest and largest marble gorge.
Typically we would spend several days exploring a national park. Due to various factors (limited time, logistics issue, whether the little ones would be bored or not) and the need to drive through Taroko National Park to reach our final destination in Nantou, we allocated just a little more than half a day there. The ruggedness and the untouched beauty of the landscape here was simply astounding. We chose several simpler popular hikes and timeboxed each hike to ensure we had enough daylight to safely traverse the mountains.
From Taroko National Park, we headed deeper into the rugged mountains and made a pit stop at a small beverage shop near the 3200 years old and 160 feet tall Bilu Divine Tree — the largest old tree along the Central Cross-Island Highway. Upon arrival, we were informed by the shop owner about the road closure ahead in half hour time due to road construction. So, after getting our honey coffee and honey tea, we hastily departed to reduce the possibility of getting stuck there. By 3 PM, we arrived at the Hehuanshan National Forest Recreation Area. This is the highest automobile pass in Taiwan. Given the limited time, we did a short hike to the summit of Hehuanshan Point — one of the 6 summit hikes in Hehuanshan, all above 10,000 feet in elevation. The beautiful blue sunny sky in the afternoon was deceiving as it was very windy and cold. After driving for another hour, we arrived safely at our accommodation in Nantou at 5 PM just as the daylight began to run out. We ended our day by having the fantastic local specialty urn roasted chicken and various interesting dishes for dinner with our driver.
Driving in these mountains warrant a topic of its own. Taiwan is very unique in the sense that there are lots of tall and steep mountains on a tiny island. Throughout the whole day, we drove along the Central Cross-Island Highway that cuts through the Central Mountain Range. The word “highway” is misleading because it is actually a narrow single lane road that wraps and curves around the mountains. Dubbed as one of the most dangerous roads in the world, there are several sections where the road is so narrow that both sides of traffic share the same lane without any humans or traffic lights monitoring the traffic. On top of that, motorists have to deal with low hanging clouds, blinding curves, rockfalls and landslides from heavy rains and seismic activities. For once, I was very thankful that car rentals were so outrageously expensive in Taiwan that we ended up hiring an experienced driver to bring us around because I could not handle this treacherous driving condition.