When Portuguese explorers first laid eyes on Taiwan some 400 years ago, they were so moved by its gorgeous natural landscapes that they enthusiastically exclaimed "Ilha Formosa!" which means beautiful island.
Due to a disparity in the speed of development between Taiwan's western and eastern coasts, Hualien and Taitung on the east coast have retained much of their natural beauty.
Any discussion of the East Coast's scenic sites must begin with the magnificent Taroko Gorge, located within the boundaries of the Taroko National Park in Hualien County. Along the stretch of Provincial Highway 8 from Taroko National Park Headquarters Visitor Center to Tiansiang are a number of attractions and trails to explore including the Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shrine, which commemorates workers who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway, and Buluowan, originally a Truku tribal village, and now a resort area with museum, indigenous handicrafts gift shop and trails.
At Swallow's Grottos, a 1.9-kilometer trail leads to the Tunnel of Nine Turns, and was once part of a narrow winding highway built in the 1950s. Along this trail are waterfalls, sheer rock faces and the aquamarine-colored Liwu River.
To see another example of Hualien's mountain beauty, head to Lioushihdan Mountain on the eastern side of Fuli Township. If you haven't heard of this mountain, don't worry you are in good company, as this area began to be promoted as a tourist destination only a few years ago. Its attractions include terraced tea plantations and daylily farms. Summertime is the best time to view fields of these bright orange blossoms, and a number of area restaurants use the daylily to create unique and tasty dishes. Pavilions have been built in strategic locations to provide fabulous views of the undulating scenery by day and of the concentration of lights below by night.
Going from mountain to sand, the spectacular Cisingtan Beach is situated in Sincheng Township near Hualien City. In addition to beach activities, enjoy views of Cingshuei Cliffs by day and the lights of Sincheng and Chengde areas by night. Bike riding is the favored way of getting around, with 21 kilometers of bike path between Hualien City and Cisingtan.
The nearby Cisingtan Katsuo Museum is an excellent place to learn about the local fishing culture. This museum opened about two years ago and was created from an old fish processing plant. Katsuo is a type of fish that is only found in Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Japan. Exhibits include traditional smoking techniques for the Katsuo fish, as well as information about local fish populations and ecological fishing techniques that are currently in use. Outside in the snack bar area, enjoy local fish specialties and live performances by local musicians.
Getting there is half the fun
The trip between Hualien and Taitung is the essence of beauty itself, whether you choose to travel via the valley route (Provincial Highway 9) or the coastal route (Provincial Highway 11). Either highway will bring you to a Tropic of Cancer marker, a favorite place for taking souvenir photographs.
Taking Highway 11 along Hualien's coast, you will also pass Shihtiping and the Shihti Fishing Port, excellent places for diving and for joining whale-watching expeditions, respectively. The most visited scenic coastal spots in Taitung are Stone Umbrella, the Sansiantai Scenic Area and Siaoyeliou.
Taitung's rocky coast
Stone Umbrella is situated about 10 kilometers northeast of Chenggong Town. It is easy to miss because it is viewed from a platform accessed from a small rest area along the highway. As its name suggests, it appears as a limestone sculpture of one large boulder on top of the other in the shape of a mushroom or open umbrella. This shape came about due to a long period of wave erosion.
The Sansiantai Scenic Area is located about three kilometers from Chenggong Town. It is comprised of a rocky beach and small island connected by a multi-arched bridge. Those that make the trip across the bridge will be rewarded with a hiking trail through rare coastal vegetation. This island possesses three large boulders said to contain the spirits of three celestial beings. But, no matter if there is truth to this legend or not, they are definitely beautiful to look at.
Siaoyeliou is located near Taitung City's Fugang Harbor, from where ships sail to and from the offshore Green and Orchid islands. It is an area of uniquely shaped rock formations, created by the forces of the wind and the waves, and is an excellent place to relax and admire the beauty of Taitung's rocky coast.
Taitung County's coast is also dotted with rest areas decorated with driftwood sculptures made by local indigenous artists. For example, at Jinzun, in addition to excellent examples of driftwood art, a covered cafe serves up tea, coffee and views of the rocky shores below. A very long and steep set of stairs leads from next to this cafe to the beach, where you can see people participating in the local favorite pastime of collecting driftwood and colorful rocks.
Nearby, an old sugar refinery has been transformed into the Dulan Artist Village. It is easy to recognize from a distance by its tall smokestack and closer up by its series of driftwood arches. At the entrance is a coffee shop/gift shop/exhibition center. In the adjacent courtyard is a stage where concerts and other performances are held, along with another exhibition center for large woodcarvings. A road next to this artist village leads to the indigenous Amis Dulan Village, framed by the towering Dulan Mountain-the sacred mountain of the Amis tribe.
This is just a small sampling of all the beauty and fun waiting to be enjoyed in Hualien and Taitung.
For more information check out the Hualien County and Taitung County Tourism Websites at http://tour-hualien.hl.gov.tw and http://tour.taitung. gov.tw, respectively.