Tuesday, April 12, 2011


At Taiwan’s northernmost reaches is a stretch of land known locally as Tiaoshih Haian – The Thrown Rock Coast. It got its name from the boulders and rocks strewn on its beaches. There are several of them, and they’re all well worth spending a few hours on. The beaches are gorgeous, but they’re not the area’s only attractions.

The beauty of this and indeed any coastline is always based on the interaction of land and sea. Waves are forced to break and crash as they reach the shore, and, in turn, this continual action deposits sand on beaches and pounds away at rocky promontories and cliffs. As you travel along Taiwan’s northern coast, you’ll be met with incredible views of lush, green headlands seemingly forcing their way out into the ocean, and of waters intruding into quiet bays. Nowhere is this interplay more evident than in Yehliu – the north coast’s crowning glory.

It’s amazing what a few thousand years of erosion can do, and in Yehliu, you get to see almost everything that it’s capable of. In the town’s geopark (admission: adults – NT50, students and children – NT25) there are rocks shaped like honeycomb, others like tofu, and one that looks like an angel’s slipper. Most spectacular, though, are the mushroom stones with their tall narrow pillars and large, wide heads. They were formed by the sea, wind, and rain cutting away the softer underlying sandstone, leaving a greater mass of harder stone resting on top. The most famous of these mushroom stones is the Queen’s Head Rock, which, when looked at from the right angle, looks amazingly like a silhouette of Queen Nefertiti.

It is a fantastic sight, but it’s now become so popular that on busy days, you’ll have to wait in line for anything up to an hour to see and photograph the thing. For me, it’s not really worth it, especially as the best parts of Yehliu lie elsewhere. The path inside the geopark leads you among the mushroom rocks and then further out along the promontory. After crossing a bridge, it’ll take you up a hill towards a lighthouse. A lot of people don’t bother to climb all the way up, but you really should. Not only will you get some great views of the area, but it’ll also help you escape the crowds.

For me, though, to find the best scenery, you’ll have to walk about half a kilometer east along the coast. The rocks there may not look like people or animals or forms of footwear, but they actually display the beauty of nature all the better for that. Some of the rocks here are fascinating, as they’re made up of layers of differently colored sand. Reds, whites, yellows, and oranges dip and rise, and swirl in elaborate patterns across the rock face.

There are also huge towers of stone where layers of yellow sandstone are sandwiched between thin sheets of darker rock. The latter has eroded much more slowly and is left jutting out into the air. And finally, there are softly undulating sections of rock that flow out towards to the sea. They’re great to clamber over, the slightly abrasive nature of sandstone giving your feet excellent grip. However, you should still be careful if you go near the water’s edge. Some of the rocks are very steep, and you can never really be sure that a big wave isn’t going to suddenly come and wash over the stone. Stay away from the sides, though, and you won’t have any problems. As the rock rises upwards away from the sea, it leads to what must have been an old army lookout post. It’s a wonderful piece of history, and it’s great to be able to crawl around the tunneled out cavern and look out towards the sea from the carved out windows.

If and when you get tired of geology, there’s still a lot more to see and do. Outside the geological park is Yehliu Ocean Park, where, for three hundred dollars, you can be entertained by dolphin shows. And what Taiwanese tourist spot would be complete without a row of stalls selling souvenirs and food? The specialty here is dried fish snacks.

A few miles down the coast is the Green Bay resort area. There are a few nice hotels here, but unfortunately, they control access to the beach. I’m told that anyone willing to pay the entrance fee will find a wild and wonderful world of water sports awaiting them. So, a banana boat and a couple of jet skis, then.

If you’ve still got some energy left, and if you’ve got a head for heights, there’s a place nearby where you can try your hand at paragliding. If you’re interested, just look out for the bright yellow parachutes and let them guide your way up the winding hillside road. Even if you don’t want to jump, the views from the launch site are incredible.

Yehliu has so much to offer, and it’s just one of many fantastic destinations on Taiwan’s wonderful northern coast.

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