Hemei Mountain has no business being so-named, being only 152 meters high, but it commands a fine view (far nicer than many far higher summits) and is a landmark on a very attractive short loop walk that I discovered on a free morning today, before work.
Hemei Mountain rises above the Xindian River at Bitan, that famous place that was once regarded as one of Taiwan’s great beauty spots but is now dreadfully spoilt, with a couple of freeway bridges across the river nearby and lots of tall hotel and apartment developments crushing any remants of natural beauty that remain. Night time, when the fairy lights come on and the night market shifts into gear is the best time to come here, when it’s actually very enjoyable.
Leaving the dog walkers and cyclists at the suspension bridge, it’s a short walk up a narrow road on the east bank of the river lined with attractive old trees to the trailhead, on the site of an old fairground. Well over a decade ago, when I first discovered this wonderful place, the rides were still there, moldering but still largely intact, and we even climbed up inside one of the huge tubular supports of the fairground’s Ferris wheel to enjoy the view from the top. Now almost everything has been leveled, the Ferris wheel is long gone, and the authorities are busy turning the hillside site into a park; they’re even re-opening the old, completely overgrown path that once led up here direct from the suspension bridge.
The trailhead for Hemei Mountain begins beside the remains of the theme park’s old ghost house, climbs past the platform that once supported the vanished Ferris wheel, and climbs to the summit in less than ten minutes. The view from the summit is splendid, including much of Taipei, while the broad bend of the river at Bitan below is striking. The path meanders along the small, wooded plateau, then a narrow dirt trail branching off on the left descends steeply to a road, from where it’s a short walk down to the river at one of Xindian’s most unexpected delights: the Xindian Ferry.
There were once nine man-powered ferry crossings on this part of the Xindian River. Most disappeared as transport connections improved, but this particular crossing continues to this day, a unique throwback to an almost vanished past. The boat, which looks like a large canoe, crosses the river constantly between 6 am and 8 pm, rowing a steady stream of locals and (at weekends) tourists across with a single large oar, for NT$20 a time.
On the far (east) bank stands the large Kaitian Temple. The view from its large, covered front terrace over the wide, lake-like sweep of the Xindian River is far less spoilt and a lot more beautiful than that at Bitan these days, but the temple’s main claim to notoriety lies underneath it. The historic Liugongqun Water Tunnel (瑠公圳引水石硿), carved into the bedrock beneath the temple (the tunnel was finished in 17 53) is a well-kept secret. It looks pretty interesting in photos [http://tonyhuang39.com/tony0805/tony0805.html], but getting to see the tunnel involves the hassle of applying in advance to Xindian District office for a visit (you must form your own group of at least ten), which is probably more hassle than it’s worth. All my entreaties with temple staff to be given a quick look came to nothing, but scouting around below the temple, I did find an old lady that agreed to show me another, lower entrance into the tunnel, although, not having the key to the entrace, I could only look in from outside. “Come back on a weekend”, she advised, when, apparently, the door is sometimes unlocked. Maybe I will.
From the temple it’s a pleasant ten-minute walk back to Bitan suspension bridge, the MRT station, and modern-day Taiwan: the tourists with their toy dogs, cyclists, old people enjoying the fresh air, and groups of giggling students off early from school. The entire loop walk has taken only 90 minutes, but in its small way, it’s been quite fascinating.
Getting there: The Xindian Ferry crosses the Xindian River about 400 meters south (upstream) of the Bitan suspension bridge. It runs daily from 6 am to 8 pm, and crossings seem pretty much constant. The fare is NT$20 per person (kids and 65s half , as usual). Pay the rower when you get on.
The path up Hemei Mountain from the western side of the suspension bridge at Bitan should be accessible quite soon. Until then cross the bridge, follow the road ahead for a hundred meters, turn left at the signposted junction and follow the lane uphill to the fairground and trailhead.