Keelung Island is an old friend, and we’ve made many visits there over the past decade or so since it was fully opened to visitors, so it’s sad to see it’s recently become a bit harder to reach than before. The company which once ran regular yachts out to the island every weekend from Bisha Harbour is no more, and now boats make the interesting but longer voyage there from a company operating out of Keelung Harbour (directly opposite the train station).
Nothing wrong with that, but for some reason trips (for the moment at least) appear to far less popular than in the past, and getting on a boat to the island means either getting lucky and arriving on a day when a group has already chartered a boat for the trip (there was nothing going the Sunday I tried three weeks ago), or getting a group together and chartering your own trip.
On our trip out there one roasting hot Sunday in early September we chose the second option. Even though several locals told me that demand for visiting the island has collapsed recently, there was certainly no lack of interest in our trip, and once the info was posted on my Taipei Hikers group site, and on Ed Roquette’s Hiking and Riding in Taipei Facebook group, the available places went like hotcakes. We could easily have run a second trip to the island, such was the interest (and I just might do that…).
Getting forty people (but especially 40 Westerners, many of whom had been out partying the night before) to arrive in one place at 7:30 in the morning on a Sunday is no easy task, but somehow all but one turned up and just after 9 am we were signed in and boarded the yacht for our short voyage.
Sailing out to Keelung Island from the center of Keelung city is longer (30 minutes) and bit more expensive than the sadly missed trips that once left from Bisha Harbour, but as a consolation prize we did get to see Keelung Harbour. The cruise past the cranes and huge ocean-going liners isn’t nearly as memorable on this short trip as it was at the end of the -voyage back to Keelung from Dongyin Island (the northernmost island in the Matsu group), especially since boats from that far-flung corner of the Taiwanese empire pull into the port around sunset) but it was an attractive start to the trip. Unfortunately, I was a minute too late in claiming my place onboard and twenty savvy hikers had already packed onto the front of the boat, enjoying the wind and spray; happily upstairs the roof of the boat was a good compromise.
Once the boat landed at the island’s little harbour, we immediately put some distance between ourselves and the megaphone-wielding guide, who was left to explain the finer points of the island’s history, flora and geology to a small group of middle-aged Taiwanese ladies who’d tagged along. The sun was already getting perilously close to unbearably hot, so we made straight for the summit path, passing through the small tunnel through the cliffs, connecting the harbour area with the rest of the island. Five minutes after leaving the harbour bay, we were on the wooden steps, climbing towards the summit.
It’s a fairly gentle climb at first, zigzagging up the side of the heavily overgrown slopes of the island, but there’s virtually no shade, and it’s a sweltering hot ascent. At least the view over the island, the blue sea, and a distant mainland coast is incredible almost all the way.
We passed an unusually large number of those giant spiders that are a familiar sight on many hikes in Taiwan. As usual a few had been spun between bushes right across the path. I was thankfully to be far from the first one on the path today; getting a face full of spider’s web (and occasionally a spider as well) is one of the less attractive aspects of walking the less often trodden paths out here! After fifteen minutes the steps gain the rocky ridge running the length of the island, and the climb becomes steeper. After a short rest out of the beating sun in a covered shelter built just after the path joins the spine of the island, it was another ten or fifteen minutes’ climb to the summit.
The highest point of Keelung Island is crowned with a black-and-white lighthouse. Up close it’s actually quite a small, stubby little thing. It’s unmanned of course, and not nearly as romantic as those wonderful, historic old lighthouses on Dongjyu and Dongyin Islands in Matsu, or the fine one on Lanyu. This is, however the end of the path. The lighthouse casts a broad band of welcome shade, and we rested there awhile, taking a photo of part of the group before starting down again.
It’s hard to imagine we’re little more than an hour from Taipei. The rugged, green island and deep blue sea give the area a tropical look that makes it feel far, far away from the big city.
Back at the bottom, about twenty minutes remained of our two-hour stay on the island, so there’ was time for a walk along the shoreline path which follows the eastern shore of the island beneath the steep slopes, ending directly below the lighthouse. Tall, sheer cliffs on the southern side of the island make it impossible to complete a circle of the island; instead a few of us headed down to the edge of the big blue and dipped hot feet into the water, or partook of that uniquely Taiwanese activity, shrimp hunting.
By midday we were on the boat heading back to the mainland for lunch at Keelung’s famous miaokou street. It’s just as well we didn’t eat a pack lunch on the island: the sea was particularly choppy on the return, and the adrenaline junkies enjoying the wind and sea out the front must have got soaked, judging by the number of waves breaking on the boat’s hull.
A visit to Keelung Island (even if you climb to the summit) takes just a morning, leaving plenty of time to explore a few of Keelung’s many curiosities. To escape the sun for a few minutes, we chose to head out to the Fairy and Buddha’s Hand Caves near Keelung’s west port.
So that’s the trip. It’s possible visitor numbers will pick up when more people know about the new arrangement and when the worst of the summer heat has subsided. In the meantime, however, if planning a visit to Keelung Island, be sure to get a Chinese speaker to phone the company that runs trips to the island first (友財企業股份有限公司: 0931 392 767) and see if any boats are going out on the day you’re planning to go. Better still, get a group together and charter a boat. Most visits to the island last only one hour, which isn’t enough to climb to the summit, and chartering the boat (NT$700 per person for a group of at least 15, giving you 2 hours on the island) is probably the only way to go, if you want to climb to the lighthouse. Many more photos from this trip are on my Flickr site at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29712358@N04/sets/72157627480750991/