We met Matt, our guide, at 7am and set out for Taroko Gorge. The Gorge is a deep cut that runs through the mountains surrounding Hualien. When I say ‘deep’ I mean deep, it is 1000m deep in some spots and the regular typhoon flooding means that its base is scoured smooth and full of boulders.
Access to the Gorge is via small winding roads. Some were cut by the Japanese during their colonial period when they fought the fierce aboriginal tribes. Some were built post-WW2 by the National army. Chang Kai Shek ended up with a traumatised army that had no one to fight, so he put it to building roads.
Our day consisted of a series of hikes to various spots around the gorge. It really is a stunning place and its scale is hard to convey. Several times we stood on spots looking down from dizzying heights, only to realise when we looked up that we were only about a quarter of the way up the cliff face that towered above us.
Butterflies flit everywhere on the paths and there’s an ever-present rushing sound of water providing a background to bird calls. The reasons we started out early was to avoid the tourist buses that arrive later on the day, but they don’t venture on the hiking trails anyway to we were alone most of the time.
We walked to waterfalls; climbed to a lonely bell tower and rang the bell over the valley below; pulled ourselves up on chains to an aboriginal village site; walked across scary swinging suspension bridges over the river far below.
We had local tea in tiny cups at a monastery.We had local fruit for lunch overlooking the gorge. We walked through dark tunnels with bats. We visited a shrine with a waterfall running through it.
All in all it was an absolutely fabulous day.