The magnificent scenery of Taiwan’s northeast coast was one of the first places I visited on arriving in Taiwan, way back in 1993, simply because it was one of the few Taipei area places listed in the Lonely Planet back in those days that actually sounded worth visiting. My copy of that old edition (with a beautiful, coyly smiling aboriginal girl on the front, I remember) has long been lost, but I remember the author seemed to have a fetish for temples, introducing loads of them throughout the book while leaving out many major attractions.
The Northeast Coast Scenic Area, as it became known in 1995 (the protected area was extended south to beyond Suao in Ilan County a couple of years ago), has always been one of the great attractions of the Taipei area, and while I usually give such touristy places a very wide berth (Yehliu, anyone?), There’s so much open countryside and such staggering views along the stretch of coast between Keelung and Longdong Bay that I just can’t resist returning often. It’s also an obvious choice, with its fairly gentle climbs and cool sea breezes, for the lingering summer heat of early September.
It’s only a small cape, but Bitoujiao amazes with its variety. The little harbor at the start of the walk was especially lovely in the morning sun, and utterly peaceful, since the crowds that would descend on the place in the afternoon were nowhere to be seen.
We chose today to enter from the ‘inland’ route, through an extremely lush valley. The sea could easily have been miles away.
At the top, the Pacific Ocean suddenly and dramatically comes into sight. It’s one of my favorite views, and today under a clear blue sky it was quite simply stunning.
Now the sea (and a cool breeze) are welcome company all the way, as we followed the path over the high, grassy headland, down to the right and along the cliffs to the strange rocky ‘nose’ from which Bitoujiao (which literally means ‘nose-head-cape’) takes its name.
Beyond the ‘nose’ is a stumpy white lighthouse, where a tiny, yappy little dog took a great friendship to me, constantly trying to jump up at me. Its owners had taken the only tiny patch of shade hereabouts, in the lee of the tower, so there was nothing to do but brave the by now beating heat of the sun, follow the path a few meters further to the viewing point at the end, and gawp at the magnificent cliffs plunging into the sea from the headland on which we’d we’d stood earlier in the walk.
Heading down onto the foreshore on the eastern side of the cape we marched back towards the road in search of an ice-cold drink, some shaved ice and some much-needed shade, but not before admiring the extraordinary eroded coastline here that makes this place one of northern Taiwan’s outstanding sites of geological interest.
The tiny village in Longdong Bay had a rash of diving shops (and loads of divers streaming around), plus a small lunchbox place, but not a single place selling ice. However several places sold a local specialty, known as shihuadong (石花凍, ‘stone flower jelly’), which is made from this stuff (a kind of seaweed, seen here laying out to dry):
Suitably refreshed (it’s quite good), but minus three members of the group, who headed back at this point, we walked around the bay to the little village of Longdong, passed through the settlement (more shihuadong, but still no cold, refreshing shaved ice, which by now I was craving !) and picked our way over boulders on the foreshore to the famous rock climbing cliffs of Longdong. The sun reflecting off the white rock however was too much for us and we beat a quick retreat before venturing far around, climbing instead onto the headland above Longdong village, enjoying the temporary shade offered by a couple of small patches of stunted woodland, and marvelling at the great viewpoint atop the highest cliffs hereabouts, giving views down to the mysterious Dragon Cave itself (the sun made taking a good photo impossible, so here’s an old image I took some years ago):
The original idea from here was to head quickly back to the bus, ride back towards Keelung and stop off en route to hike out to the wonderful and little-known Elephant’s Trunk Rock on a small headland just to the east of the city, but walking round we found a map posted up showing details of routes for rock climbers, which indicted two tempting trails down through the cliffs to the foreshore and decided to investigate. We plumped for the so-called Golden Valley Trail, which dropped steeply but easily enough to the foreshore, and made our way along the beach westwards, clambering over the huge boulders strewn at the foot of the cliffs, to the gaping mouth of the Dragon Cave itself.
Surprisingly the cave has a second mouth at the back, half blocked by boulders. Following the foreshore further west, we soon climbed onto a large flat ledge of wave-carved rock, from where the cliffs rise high and sheer. This is one of the main rock climbing areas at Longdong, and sure enough we saw plenty of climbers (including a friendly Westerner called Louis who gave me a few interesting ideas for future trips here) scaling the heights.
The sea has carved a deep ravine through the rock here, and going any further alone the foreshore would have meant negotiating a scary sheer cliff face, with the aid of hand and footholds, so we wnet no further. In any event by now the sun (and dehydration) were really making themselves felt, and after a breathless and heart-pounding clamber over the boulder-strewn shoreline and back up the Golden Valley Trail, we made a beeline for the way out and the bus stop, pausing for a moment to grab a couple of cold drinks from the machine at the car park, and take a quick look at the backdoor trail, which meanders down the gentler rocky slopes at the far western side of the headland.
Once on the bus we headed straight back to Keelung without even stopping at the Elephant’s Trunk.
Wonderful as that place is, it can wait for the next trip. I’ll be back again soon.
Practicalities: Bitoujiao and Longdong are both firmly part of the tourist trail, and getting there by car or bus is straightforward. For details of the trip see Taipei Day Trips One which covers the whole area (including the Elephant’s Trunk Rock). A new edition of the book will be out after Chinese New Year, 2011.
For more about Longdong, and some vastly better photos than mine, check out Matt Robinson’s rock climbing website devoted to this wonderous place: http://www.climbstone.com/
More photos (previous trips):