Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wulai: The wilderness on Taipei's doorstep (En Voyage)

Wulai has superb natural scenery, hot springs and fabulous birdwatching. It’s also just one hour from central Taipei, so it would be very surprising if this mountainous district hadn’t emerged as a tourist favorite.

Few visitors know the district is actually larger than Taiwan’s capital. Yet as soon as you see the steep forested hillsides and turquoise creeks that characterize Wulai, the massive disparity in population makes sense. Some 2.7 million people are crammed into Taipei’s 272 square kilometers, while a mere 6,100 people are spread across Wulai’s 321 square kilometers.

A third of Wulai’s residents are members of the Atayal tribe, one of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous Austronesian ethnic groups. They’ve lived in these parts for well over 1,000 years, and gave the area its name. Wulai is derived from kilux ulay, an Atayal phrase meaning “hot and noxious” which describes the spa here. But the slightly alkaline, sodium bicarbonate-rich waters aren’t in the slightest bit unpleasant, as a quick dip in the free riverside hot-springs pools confirms.

Those with good legs will have no problems hiking from the main village as far as Neidong National Forest Recreation Area and its waterfalls, but an even more alluring destination is Fushan and its environs up Road 107. Hundreds of cherry trees have been planted along this route, and when they blossom around February, sakura fans from throughout Taiwan pour in to Wulai.

Fushan can be translated as “fortunate mountain,” and those who can visit this part of Wulai are indeed lucky. From the final cluster of houses, a 950m-long path heads up the gorgeous Daluolan Creek to Wulai Butterfly Park. If you prefer avians to lepidopterans, get yourself onto the forestry road that climbs hillside on the other side of the river. Especially during the cooler months, when several spots in Wulai throng with birds usually seen at higher altitudes, you’ll find yourself sharing this road with binocular- and camera-wielding birders.

Hard-core hikers will be delighted to know that Fushan is the starting point of three serious walks. The Kalamoji Trail [pictured here] is 2.4 km long and the trailhead is a stone’s throw from the village, but at the time of writing the middle third of the path was in poor condition and not recommended. That said, do consider exploring the first 500m so you can get into some of the region’s most attractive bamboo groves...

Click on this link to go to the first page of the article in the electronic version of the magazine, which is EVA Air's inflight monthly.