Little Paradise Off the East Coast of Taiwan
TEXT / FRANCESCA CHANG
PHOTOS / ASKA CHI
Less than an hour by ferry from the Taiwan mainland, Green Island is an extremely popular tourist destination during the warmer months of the year, drawing tourists with an amazing mix of high-hill and ocean vistas, unique shops and guesthouses, and world-class snorkeling and diving sites.
Green Island is a small volcanic island that sits 33km off the east coast of Taiwan’s main island; it is part of Taitung County. This tropical paradise, named after the vivid green foliage that lines its coast and covers its volcanic hills, has an average temperature of 23.5 degrees Celsius, with temperatures rising above 30 degrees during the summer months.
With a circumference of about 20km, this lush, verdant island can be circled in just one hour by scooter, which is the most feasible way to travel around. The 16.3km round-island coastal road passes by small caves, takes you along amazing coastal scenery with deserted beaches, and climbs steep lush hills. Tourists are drawn to the island by its crystal-blue waters and green hills. Green Island provides the perfect escape from Taiwan’s crowded cities, with little traffic and no pollution.
Zhaori Hot Springs
One of the best tourist attractions on Green Island is the Zhaori Hot Springs, one of only three natural saltwater hot springs in the world – the others are located in Kyushu, Japan, and Sicily, Italy. Located on the southeast coast of the island, from the hot-spring pools you can view the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. “Zhao Ri” means “morning sun” in Chinese. There are three open-air circular baths close to the sea, filled with a mixture of seawater and underground sulfuric water heated by the magma deep under the island.
Apart from the pools by the sea, higher up closer to the entrance there are also five open-air hot-spring pools and the hot-spring area’s other facilities (showers and changing rooms). While the water in the pools by the sea has an average temperature of 53 degrees Celsius, the water in these pools is much warmer. The temperature at the hot-spring source is so high (90 degrees) that you can even boil eggs. And indeed, there is a special small non-soaking pool, also close to the sea, in which you can boil eggs. The eggs are put in plastic nets and hung from pegs on metal bars placed across the raised pool. It takes a couple of minutes until the eggs are ready to eat.
There is also an indoor hot-spring area that is equipped with water jets for relaxing massages. The Zhaori Hot Springs are open almost 24 hours, allowing you to watch the sunrise while soaking, listen to the ocean waves, enjoy a sunset massage, or gaze at the stars.
Zhaori Hot Springs (朝日溫泉)
Add: No. 167, Wenquan Rd., Gongguan Village, Ludao Township, Taitung County
Hours: 5am~2am (May~September); 6am~12 midnight (October~April)
Admission: NT$200 (swim caps required)
Little Great Wall
The Little Great Wall Trail is a 300m path with steep steps that takes you to the top of a high promontory on the east coast of the island. Green foliage lines the winding path, which vaguely resembles China’s Great Wall, hence the name. The short and easy 10-minute walk leads to two pavilions sitting at the edge of a cliff that drops to the sea. There you are presented with breathtaking views of the coast and the azure ocean far below.
Looking south from the pavilions, you can see unique rock formations that sit in a bay known as Haishenping. One is the Pekingese Dog Rock, named after its resemblance to the floppy-eared dog. The rock’s left side, seen in profile, faces the pavilions, with the dog looking out to sea like a puppy lying on its belly. Right next to this is the Sleeping Beauty Rock, named because it resembles a beautiful woman lying on her back. The offshore rock seen is in fact just her head, joined to her body (a promontory) by a slender arc of rock – the hole beneath created by erosion – that represents her slender neck.
If you look north from the pavilions you’ll see a bay known as Youzihu, home to an abandoned fishing village and a sea cave. The Little Great Wall Trail is a popular scenic spot during the daytime, and because of the little light pollution here, is also a great location for pondering the star-studded sky after the sun goes down, with the Milky Way clearly visible.
Green Island Lighthouse
The Green Island Lighthouse is a beautiful white tower located in the island’s northwest corner close to Bitou Cape. It was a gift from the United States after the SS President Hoover liner hit a reef off the island and was grounded in 1937. Locals rescued the stranded passengers, and a year later, as an act of gratitude, the U.S. donated the funds to build the original lighthouse. The current lighthouse, built in 1948 after the original was destroyed in WWII, stands at just over 33m in height, and is reached by ascending a 150-step staircase. The lighthouse offers a 360-degree-view of Green Island. From March through May the area in front of the lighthouse transforms into blossoming fields of wild lilies. Close by is Wuyouku, a beach area with a large pool of saltwater that appears at low tide, teeming with sea creatures.
Green Island Human Rights Culture Park and General Rock
In 1949, toward the end of the Chinese Civil War, a period of martial law was declared in Taiwan that was to last until 1987. Under Kuomintang (KMT; a.k.a. Chinese Nationalist Party) rule, many political dissidents were imprisoned in a facility on Green Island. In 2001, the Green Island Human Rights Culture Park was built to commemorate political prisoners oppressed during the martial law period, a time in Taiwan’s history known as the “White Terror.” Part of this 25ha park is the Human Rights Monument, which has a long, descending wall on which former prisoners’ names are inscribed. It leads to a circular structure formed with series of pillars. Built by a Taiwanese architect, this monument symbolizes freedom, democracy, and human rights, and was the first human-rights monument built in Asia.
The General Rock is a nearby coast-side landmark hard to miss from the park. The unique rock formation gets its name from its resemblance to a military officer wearing a steel helmet.
Youzihu and Wangong Cave
Youzihu is an abandoned fishing village on the east coast of the island. The village played an important role in the island’s early development. In fact, relics from the village area have provided archaeologists with rich information about the island’s history stretching back to prehistoric times. Today, you can still see remnants of some of the abandoned stone houses.
The scenery surrounding Youzihu has an out-of-this-world feel. One of the natural attractions is the Wangong Cave (also known as Wangong Arch), accessible via a dirt path. Created by sea erosion, this is a popular spot to take photos. There is also much else to see in the area, including natural pools filled with clear water, interestingly shaped giant rocks, and even a secluded waterfall. You might even spot goats climbing on steep rock faces, a scene more common on Orchid Island (Lanyu) to the southeast of Green Island.
Green Island, with its pristine blue waters and rich untouched marine environment, is an extremely popular place for snorkeling and scuba diving. Visibility is often 30m or more, and water temperatures are above 20 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Well-preserved coral reefs, tropical fish, sea turtles, and sometimes even sharks make Green Island a diver’s paradise. Visitors can choose from numerous quality outlets on the island to rent gear, take diving courses, and even get certified.
Shore diving on Green Island is quite convenient. One popular place is Shilang, notable for its picturesque walkway, which allows you to walk from the white coral-stone beach to the deeper water. Here you can also find the world’s deepest underwater mailbox. This seahorse-shaped mailbox, resembling the rare pygmy seahorse found in Green Island’s waters, is 11m under the surface. Special underwater postcards can be purchased at local dive shops, which after being dropped in the mailbox are collected once a week by a diving postman.
Slow Island Hostel
Green Island is best explored on motor scooter, and is especially attractive to young backpack travelers who travel light and seek adventure. You won’t need much luggage to vacation on this little piece of paradise, and the island has many choices when it comes to backpacker hostels.
One such place is the Slow Island Hostel, located just 650m from Nanliao Fishing Harbor, where most visitors arrive via ferry. As the name implies, this backpacker hostel emits a laid-back, worry-free vibe. It has an outdoor lounge and garden area with hammocks, patio tables, and even fitness equipment, yoga mats, and board games.
The hostel was founded by a well-tanned young man from Keelung, a port city near Taipei. He left the north and headed down to the southeast with a dream of opening a restaurant on Orchid Island, Green Island’s tropical-paradise neighbor, but chose this paradise instead. The hostel is an ideal choice for those on a budget, with small, basic shared bunkbed rooms sleeping four to nine people. Families and couples who want privacy can choose a private room.
Slow Island Hostel (綠島緩島旅宿)
Add: No. 110-1, Neighborhood 9, Nanliao Village, Ludao Township, Taitung County
Mr. Hot Dog
Across the street from the Slow Island Hostel is Mr. Hot Dog, a restaurant run by the same owner as the hostel. This American-themed restaurant serves yummy burgers, quesadillas, brick oven pizza, and island-inspired cocktails made with Taiwanese liquors. Equipped with a full bar, the trained bartenders craft creative handmade concoctions. Colored ice shavings and LED lights give the drinks a dramatic touch. In the restaurant’s hand-built oven, across from the bar, delicious pizzas are made.
The hostel/restaurant owner is very much involved in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, and shares his passion for cooking. He even invented one of the restaurant’s unique spaghetti dishes, topped with flying-fish caviar. Fried bar bites like French fries and chicken wings, as well as salads and vegetarian dishes, are on the restaurant’s extensive menu as well. Customers are treated like family by the friendly Mr. Hot Dog staff. Each employee’s Instagram account is shared on a beautifully decorated chalkboard, and customers are encouraged to befriend each worker and add them on social media as a new friend.
Mr. Hot Dog (哈狗店)
Add: No. 103, Nanliao Village, Ludao Township, Taitung County
Green Island Sika Deer Store
The sika deer is a spotted, fawn-colored deer that closely resembles the animal from the beloved Disney classic Bambi. Although not native to Green Island, this species of deer for a time outnumbered the island’s human residents after some were brought over in the 1970s to be raised for their antlers. Conservation efforts are now in place to protect the deer, including the government-operated Sika Deer Ecological Park, located along a minor road in the hills south of the human rights park.
The sika deer is revered on the island by locals, including the owner of the Green Island Sika Deer Store. Hailing from the Taiwan mainland, he came to Green Island 13 years ago on a working holiday, fell in love with the place, and has been there ever since. His cute Disney-like wood hut souvenir shop – complete with a large sika deer figure mounted on the roof – was originally located in the south of the island. It can now be found close to the island’s airport in the northwest. He sells sika deer-themed items, including hand-painted postcards, magnets, stuffed animals and, most famously, delicious sika deer-shaped egg cakes.
Green Island Sika Deer Store (梅花鹿專賣店)
Add: No. 205-1, Nanliao Village, Ludao Township, Taitung County
Beyond its political prisoners, Green Island’s prison was once known for housing some of Taiwan’s most notorious criminals. As such, it’s not uncommon to find prison-themed establishments that mimic the island’s infamous landmark. One such shop is the Ice Jail, the interior of which is decorated with prison bars and mock-up jail cells. The shop serves traditional Taiwanese shaved-ice treats, with some island-unique toppings. The best-known creation consists of shaved ice topped with seaweed, fresh pineapple, pink and yellow chewy pearls made from cornstarch, seasonal seaweed mochi balls, and condensed milk. All of the ice dishes are served in simple silver bowls to replicate a prisoner’s meal.
Ice Jail (冰獄)
Add: No. 48, Yugang, Nanliao Village, Ludao Township, Taitung County
Getting There, Getting Around
Green Island is accessible via ferry or airplane. There are three flights a day from Taitung Airport (return ticket is NT$2,100). There are several boat services a day from Fugang Harbor, near Taitung City (return ticket is NT$1,100). Scooters are the most convenient way to get around the island; a valid license is required for rentals (rental fee is NT$400 per day). Find more information on the East Coast National Scenic Area website www.eastcoast-nsa.gov.tw and the Taitung Tourism Bureau’s website: tour.taitung.gov.tw/en/traffic/island.