It’s still early (not even 9 am) when we arrive, yet the car park at the entrance to Wufengchi Waterfalls (五峰旗瀑布) is packed with cars this fine Saturday morning in June, and we’re forced to find an empty roadside place to leave the car. It’s not surprising that so many people are here already. The hot spring town of Jiaosi (礁溪) has been an extremely popular destination for weekend breaks for many years, even before the new freeway bought this area of northeast Taiwan within an hour’s ride of Taipei.
Aside from the hot spring resorts, spectacular Wufengchi Waterfall is Jiaosi’s most famous attraction, and the uppermost of the three waterfalls, one of the tallest waterfalls in northern Taiwan (plummeting free of the cliff for fifty meters) is a truly breathtaking sight:
Moving on from Wufengchi after a brief visit, our main objective is the very little-visited yet quite spectacular Yuemeikang Waterfall. It’s thanks to a solitary source that we’ve found that the waterfall even exists, as there’s next to nothing about it online, even in Chinese. Certainly upon asking local people on our first visit to the waterfall, we’re constantly directed to either Wufengchi Waterfalls, the pretty but small Shipan Waterfall (石盤瀑布), or a couple of other better-known waterfalls in this part of Ilan County.
Walking upstream past a large weir beloved of fishermen, the wide stream stream that had to be forded on our first visit had been bridged by a (probably temporary!) structure made of concrete pipes and compacted earth. Just wait till the next big typhoon sweeps through! Thanks to this ugly new addition to the landscape, our feet get to stay dry for a little longer, but not for long, as we’ll be wading upstream on the final approach to the waterfall.
Picking up a trail on the far side, it’s an enchanted landscape as thick, green foliage, ferns hanging in curtains down the steep dirt cliff that looms above the track. Passing a small Land God shrine, the way is downhill a little, and at a fork, we keep right.
The trail now climbs a steep hillside, and in a couple of hundred meters, an inconspicuous trail branches off the main path on the left, and we’re heading downhill once more. Before long, the unmistakable sound of rushing water is heard in the gorge below, and the path has soon dropped to the stream’s edge, where spying some deep, clear pools, we give into temptation and have a quick dip in the icy, refreshing waters.
The way to go is obviously up from here, but a landslide, which has brought several trees and a mass of dead wood down across the stream, makes the going tricky at first, but once through the obstruction, the trail, although narrow, is clear, crossing the stream before lying along its steep opposite bank, with fixed ropes to hold onto during the crumbliest bits.
Presently, the gorge ahead closes in like pincers,and a small cascade issues from the dark cleft above and falls into a deep, round pool of inviting, crystal-clear water. Squeezed between the sheer rock face which now rises on the left, and the drop into the stream below, the roped trail climbs over the rock beside the little waterfall, and enters the narrow, dark cleft beyond. It’s a thrilling moment as the atmosphere changes instantly, becoming wilder and more rugged as the walls of the narrow gorge blot out the sun.
The water in the stream is quite high today and the only way further is to wade. A minute further and the waterfall appears ahead, although half hidden behind a rocky bluff that sticks out in front. Ropes scale several steep banks to the left of the stream as the water plunges over small falls, and then, suddenly we’re around the rocky bluff that so effectively hides the waterfall, and it’s finally revealed in all its glory. Plunging clear of the cliff in a wide curtain of snow-white water, maybe fifty meters high, the waterfall is a fantastic sight, especially as the late morning sun shines into the canyon, turning the falling water into a snow-white curtain.
Bowled over by the beauty of the scene, we finally begin to understand why the waterfall is so little-known, and why no one seems willing to describe the route. The crowds at Wufengchi Waterfall, not so far away from this spot, is warning enough of the harm that can befall magical places when ‘discovered’ by the masses. Thank goodness that fate hasn’t befallen this marvelous, secret place, and long may it remain one of Taiwan’s hidden wonders!
Getting There: Private transport is the easiest way, but if taking one of the regular trains or buses from Taipei to Jiaosi, it’s not an expensive taxi journey, or less than an hour’s walk to the trailhead.
Difficulty: Moderate. Trails at first are wide dirt tracks, later narrow, rough trails. Last section of route involves wading upstream, including several easy climbs up fixed ropes to the base of the waterfall. Don’t, for goodness sake, attempt this walk after heavy rain! Perhaps the main difficulty is finding the final trail to the base of the fall, which is unmarked and difficult to find.
Date of Trip: June and November 2009