Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wufengqi Waterfalls 五峰旗瀑布

These are the most impressive waterfalls in Yilan county. They are also easy to reach - not too far from the middle of Jiaoxi. The amount of water coming down the falls varies a lot, depending on the season. In summer if it hasn't rained much, the falls can be pretty puny. But in the winter or spring rainy season, or after a summer or autumn typhoon, enormous quantities of water explode down the falls.

This site is incredibly popular on weekends. On weekdays there will probably only be a few people around, but on summer weekends you should expect tour buses and a steady stream of cars. Despite the threat of crowds, the falls are so beautiful that they're still well worth a visit.

To get here, drive south on Road 9 through the middle of Jiaoxi. Turn left on Dazhong Road 大忠路. Keep going straight. This road turns into Wufeng Road 五峰路 and takes you all the way to the falls. There are some signs pointing the way to the falls, and also signs to the Royal Jiaoxi Hotel, which is near the falls.

On Dazhong Road you will pass the entrance to the road which goes up to the Old Paoma Trail 跑馬古道 on your right. This is a popular mountain forest walk. You can do this walk on your way back down if you're in the mood for some exercise. See my post on this trail.

Eventually the road will dead end in front of two rows of vendors selling food and souvenirs. Park wherever you can and walk past the vendors and up the trail.

There are three waterfalls. The first two are very close - you can walk up the trail in just a few minutes. But the highest waterfall can only be reached after a strenuous hike.

The third waterfall is the lowest. This isn't very impressive, but you can walk down to the water and splash around in front of the falls.

Keep walking up the trail and soon you will get to the second falls. These are very impressive when there has been rain recently. They are quite high and surrounded by subtropical vegetation.

Unfortunately, the first falls at the top have been closed since the summer of 2009 because of a landslide that occurred during a typoon. To reach the first falls, intead of heading back to the entrance, on your way down you should turn right onto the other trail. If you reach a gate on your right which is closed, this means that the first waterfall hasn't been reopened yet.

If you can go up to the first falls, be prepared for a strenous climb. You have to walk up steep stone steps for about half a kilometer to reach the first waterfall. This is a very strenuous climb, akin to walking up a skyscraper (only inside a steam bath), so don't do it unless you're ready for the climb. Half way up, you'll be wondering if this could possibly be worth it. Don't despair - keep going! The scene at the top is well worth the climb. The first waterfall is huge and gorgeous - a beautiful reward for the steep hike.

If the gate is closed and you can't go up to the first waterfall, keep going down the trail. At the end you will come to a little paved road. Take the steps to the side leading uphill. These lead to a little Catholic church which has a pretty view of the first falls far above in the distance. The road in back of the church leads to the Marian trail (see my post).

On your way back down, as you pass the vendors you might consider buying some wild honey. In addition to maintaining his own hives, the bee guy here also raids hives in the forest and sells honey he's stolen from angry wild bees. This is the best honey you'll ever taste.

If you feel like a swim and brought along a swimsuit, you should walk down from the vendors area to the riverbed. Follow
the river downstream for a few minutes and you will come to a large swimming area - it's like a big swimming pool. This little reservoir holds the river water temporarily to create a swimming area. The cement is a bit slimy with algea, but the water is pleasantly cool. This swimming place is popular on weekends, but during the week there won't be too many people here. The cold fresh water is a good alternative to a hot sandy beach.

A bit further downstream is a riverside park which is very popular with families. Kids love wading in the shallow water.

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