The Best of Taiwan’s North Coast

April 13, 2011 by

Places to Go

After a few days pounding the often indistinguishable streets of Taipei, trying but failing to get a proper feel for the place, I was secretly quite relieved to be able to head out of the city and experience a smidgeon of the beautiful country I’d been hearing about. Though very densely packed, Taiwan is something of a geological marvel. Most of the Tropic Of Cancer-straddling island is mountainous, and Mother nature has had plenty of fun playing with it.

The Coastline

The Coastline

Keelung and ZhongZheng Park

Our half day tour kicks off from Taipei, heading along the freeway to the harbour city of Keelung. It’s the second biggest port in Taiwan, and the city has a population of around 400,000. It’s clear to see just how much rain Keelung gets – damp stains on the concrete of many buildings indicate a sodden place where drought is never going to be an issue. We slowly climb up the hill to ZhongZheng Park and the beautifully OTT altar complex within it.

We’re met with a gate flanked by two great white elephants. Anywhere else, the ellies would be monsters, but here they’re dwarfed by the other statues. A big white Buddha faces us, grinning away, while behind him is a 22.5m high statue of the Goddess of Mercy. Like the Buddha, she is alabaster white, but she also has a stairwell to the back of her allowing visitors to climb up inside and take a peek over the harbour.

It would be tempting to say that these statues – and the ones of monks and gods surrounding the Goddess of Mercy – are rather tacky, but they’ve not got a patch on the two giant golden lion-dragon things clambering over a white ball.
They’re so cartoonish and huge that you just stop caring about how tacky they look. And while you’re letting the child in you out, you may as well go and ring the colourfully-decorated big bell by shunting a log into the side of it.

TheZhongZheng Park

ZhongZheng Park

The Coastline

The views out over the harbour give an indication of what’s to come. This is no flat coastline – most traces of human existence in Taiwan are built into often narrow valleys and gorges. The hillsides are regularly green and unkempt, looking as though nobody has bothered to climb them for centuries. Bridges and roads are built around using mechanical ingenuity as much as the natural contours.

The coastline itself has a mean and moody look – possibly due to the overcast weather on the day of our trip. Bizarrely, it reminds me of the Antrim Coast on the way up to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and watching the tempestuous sea clatter into the rocks is mesmerising. It’s probably less enthralling for the hardy fishermen sat on said rocks, trying to catch something whilst avoiding being swept away. One of them has the right idea – he’s brought a chair and parked it in the hard shoulder of the elevated road. He dangles his line over the wall, completely safe from the swells of the South China Sea, if less so from the traffic.

Yehliu Geopark

As we curve our way along the coastal road, we pass a couple of fishing villages and outdoor seafood markets on our way to the main attraction in this part of the world.
The Yehliu Geopark is the most popular spot on Taiwan’s North Coast (in fact, there’s an argument to say it’s too popular at weekends). This thin peninsula would be a pretty birdwatching spot under any circumstances, but it’s the bizarre rock formations that drive people in.

Yehliu Geopark

Yehliu Geopark

The rocks were formed between 25 and 10 million years ago, and the major chunk of them is sandstone. However, all have mushroom-style blackened heads, caused by rich calcium and silt deposits. Over time, wind and water have ravaged the cape, leaving these odd formations jutting out.

The joy comes in walking through them rather than any particular formation on its own. The Queen’s Head – so named because it supposedly looks like the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti – is the best known, but it’s not worth battling the crowds for a picture of. Honestly, most of the other rocks are just as impressive.


Part of the fun comes in working out what each rock looks like. Some are like candle wicks, one is like a gorilla, and a pair together look like the backs of a male and female head. The site is keenly policed to stop people venturing over the painted red line and into potential sea-based peril, while guards stop anyone touching the rocks and eroding them any further than necessary.

The tourist potential is clearly milked as well – the powers that be have got seriously inventive, deciding that just about every rock looks like something in particular. So you get a fairy shoe, bean curd, piece of ginger and chicken leg thrown into the bargain, and all are handily marked on the map.

Despite the crowds, a stroll through the Geopark is rewarding. It reminds me of the Pinnacles in Western Australia somewhat – an odd landscape that you don’t actually want to know the geological explanations for. It’s better to just assume they got there by magic.

David Whitley

Accommodations: David stayed at the Landis Hotel in Taipei – a good luxury choice for those who enjoy excellent service and a classic art deco vibe combined with modern facilities. The staff are exceptionally helpful, the rooms well appointed, and the rooftop Whirlpool baths a nice decadent option. Bookings can be made through Preferred Hotels .

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