Yilan County, in Taiwan’s northeast corner, is easily and quickly reached from Taipei by bus or train, but it’s a world apart from the big city. Visit the Jiaoxi area to take in enchanting vistas of verdant mountains and azure ocean, and go for a hike to the scenic Wufengqi Waterfalls and mountain-embraced inland points beyond.
Text: Richard Saunders; Photos: Twelli
Jiaoxi, easily reachable from Taipei by express bus (about 60 min.) or express train (about 90 min.), features a fine range of hot-spring hotels and resorts, many of which are quite luxurious. These, plus the town’s proximity to the big city and a plethora of interesting and scenic sights to explore nearby, make it an extremely popular place for a short getaway.
Of the attractions in the Jiaoxi area, perhaps none are more popular than the three-tier Wufengqi Waterfalls a couple of kilometers west of the town, which are not only spectacular but also very easy to visit. Visitors without their own transport are in luck, thanks to the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus service (www.taiwantrip.com.tw), the Jiaoxi Route of which connects the waterfall area with Jiaoxi Railway Station and Jiaoxi’s bus terminal.
Check out the route and the schedule of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Jiaoxi Route A here:
Take note, on the way, of Tangweigou Hot Spring Park, the first stop on the route, before the bus heads out of town. The small, pleasantly landscaped park has shallow hot-spring pools for soaking tired feet, and simple indoor hot-spring pools (which are segregated) for a full dip, making it a tempting stopover after exploring the Wufengqi area on foot.
From Jiaoxi Railway Station it’s about 10 minutes on a Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus to the Wufengqi Scenic Area stop, in a large car park beside a wide stream. Follow the waterside path upstream for a few minutes to a set of steps that takes you up to a rest area with a cluster of snack vendors and washroom facilities. Just beyond this point a wide stone path leads, in just a couple of minutes, to the first of the three beautiful waterfalls.
Climb the steps through the gorge past the small but pretty cascade, and just above it is the second fall, a higher and more impressive leap.
From here it’s another 10-minute climb up steps to the third and last fall, along a path cut into the rocky, sheer-sided gorge. It’s a steep push in parts, but the reward is a view of the highest and most impressive of the three waterfalls. Unfortunately, the path to this waterfall is sometimes closed due to the risk of falling rocks; but if open, it’s well worth the climb to see the spectacular 40-meter-high plunge.
Turning left at the junction just below the second waterfall, a short path leads out of the gorge to join an unsurfaced track. Turn right to head uphill along this track, and in a few minutes you’ll see a large and striking Catholic church at the top of steps on the right. The gleaming white, circular structure was built after a Marian apparition (one of about 300 that were recorded worldwide during the 20th Century) witnessed by a group of Taiwanese hikers at this spot after they had become lost in bad weather in November 1980. A grotto and statue of the Virgin Mary stands nearby, on the site where the apparition occurred.
Follow the track uphill past the church, and in about 2 hours the Shengmu Peak is reached. This is a great hike through beautiful countryside, and quite a good workout, with 700-plus meters of vertical ascent. On the summit is another huge memorial to the Catholic faith: a flight of steep concrete steps which climb past metal plaques representing the fourteen Stations of the Cross, taking you to a large concrete platform with a statue of Christ on the cross in the center. The view from this site is magnificent, with the Lanyang Plain and a wide sweep of the Pacific Ocean laid out below.
Back at the Wufengqi Scenic Area bus stop, take the next shuttle bus to the enchanting Linmei Shipan Trail. It takes only an hour or so to walk this loop trail at a leisurely pace; the scenery is wonderful, especially during the first half of the outing, with the path traversing a sylvan gorge beside a tumbling stream of limped blue water. After passing a small waterfall, the trail loops back to the trailhead through an attractive expanse of dense forest. It’s a wonderfully relaxing walk, and a great way to round off a day exploring the beautiful Wufengqi area. However, before heading back to the city, be sure to treat those legs to a leisurely soak in one of Jiaoxi’s wonderful hot-spring facilities. After all, it’s less than an hour back to Taipei, so you’re sure to have the time!