Taking on Taiwan

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Towards the end of our nine months spent road tripping around South Africa, Bevan and I were haunted by the approaching end of our dream trip. How were we going to come up with our next chapter – something that would be a fitting continuation of the incredible adventure we were already on? We were both open to the idea of something overseas, and a chance dinner conversation with an old friend first planted the seed of Taiwan.

The more we read up on Taiwan, the Ilha Formosa or “Beautiful Island” as so named by early Portuguese explorers, the more we loved the idea. This island just off the coast of China had just the right amounts of drama and intrigue to get us excited.


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Hualien Coastline
Who knew Taiwan had idyllic coastlines like this?

Taiwan lies on a fiery and volatile section of the Earth’s crust that is home to the Mariana Trench, the deepest known area of the ocean at close on 11 km deep, and above-water is battered annually by typhoons in the summer months. The dramatic ocean bathymetry gives rise to equally spectacular land masses and with five rugged mountain ranges, Taiwan has plenty to explore. Its highest peak, Jade Mountain, reaches close to 4000 m making Taiwan the world’s fourth highest island, while the neighbouring island nations of the Philippines and Japan have peaks close on 3000 m themselves.

Bevan Sanzhan Gorge Hiking
Taiwan’s mountainous interior has plenty of hiking opportunities.

Heading to Taiwan: East coast or bust

With the general destination decided on it was time to narrow it down a little. For us there was only one side of Taiwan that we would consider and that is its spectacular east coast. Being the world’s 16th most densely populated nation, it is not unusual to find cities on Taiwan’s developed west coast with populations over 2.7 million people! None of that for us thank you. After nine months largely spent in the bush in South Africa the shock would have been too much to take!

Inflight plane image Taiwan
The sight we had waited 20 hours for – Emirates’ inflight system announces our approach to Taipei.

In contrast, Taiwan’s east coast is sparsely populated with only two cities, Hualien in the northeast and Taitung to the south, with 2014 population estimates of just over 100 000 people each. What is more, as well as forested mountain peaks where wildlife can still be found, steep river gorges and a number of wide cool rivers that wind down towards the sea, this stretch of coastline offers the best surfing options in Taiwan. That got Bevan’s attention!

Bevan Sanzhan Gorge Hualien
A quiet pool in the Sanzhan gorge is the best answer to the summer’s heat.
Bevan Jill Hualien Taiwan
Happy to find ourselves on the east coast.

Making our home in Hualien

And so it is now seven months after that inspired dinner conversation that we find ourselves wrapped up by the mountains and cool Pacific Ocean in Hualien City. It has only been a week but this colourful, delicious and fascinating city has sucked us in. In between finding our feet in a new country and unpacking the bags for a while, we have spent as much time exploring the surrounds as the tropical summer heat will allow. Hold on Hualien – we have big plans for you!

Hualien Taiwan Skyline
The sun sets over the Hualien skyline

 

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