Yilan County is rich in hot springs, and while several, such as the famous hot springs at Jiaoxi (礁溪) and Renze (仁澤/鳩之澤) near Taipingshan, and the spring at Yuanshan (圓山溫泉; near Yilan City), have long since been ruined, and are now tapped for use in bland commercial resorts, several remain natural, untouched and beautiful.
Fanfan and Paiguxi Hot Springs (both along highway 7) are described in an earlier blog (LINK). Elsewhere apart from the amazing undersea hot springs off the coast of Turtle Island (PHOTO), the main cluster lies around the town of Nanao (南澳), one of the main settlements along the magnificent Suhua Highway (no. 9). A trio of exceedingly remote examples, Hakabalisi (哈卡巴里斯溫泉) , Buxiuwan (布蕭丸溫泉) and Mohen Hot Springs (莫很溫泉), lie deep in the mountains on tributaries of Hoping Creek, about midway between Nanao and Taipingshan, and while the last looks especially worth seeing (photos online show powerful jets of hot steam bursting out of the rock face), getting there and back is now a three-day trip. During Japanese colonial times, a trail called the Biyahao or Nanao Old Trail (比亞毫古道, 南澳古道) complete with police substations at intervals, connected Nanao and Taipingshan, passing within striking distance to all three, but today only the first three kilometers of the route has been restored and is easy to follow.
None of these hot springs (except perhaps Fanfan, which is relatively large and can comfortably fit a number of people at one time) is going to quicken the pulse of hot spring enthusiasts wanting to plunge in for a hot soak. The point in visiting any of them lies in the journey there, since all lie in magnificent surroundings.
The same applies to the several hot spring sources along the Nanao Creek, flows out of the mountains to the northwest of Nanao town, and passes right through it before reaching the ocean just north of the rather beautiful stretch of cliff-bound coastline known as the Mystery Coast (神秘海岸). No less than four hot springs sources lie along this river alone, and the first three are all relatively easily accessible, thanks to a road (now surfaced and fine for cars or scooters) that follows the first six or seven kilometers of the river gorge. The first two springs, Bihou (碧候) and Area Four (四區) lie beside the road and have both been tampered with, and are now piped into unsightly artificial pools. The second does, however have the added attraction of the photogenic Fan-shaped Waterfall ( 扇子瀑布) nearby, up a tributary stream to the northeast.
Laka Hot Spring (拉卡溫泉,五區溫泉)
Together with the two classic river tracing routes of Bidan Stream and Jinyue Waterfall nearby (both described in another entry: here), the easy-ish but very scenic trace up to Laka Hot Springs is the main reason to stop at Nanao.
If driving in by car, park at the District Four Hot Spring sign, where there’s plenty of space for cars. Beyond the road immediately narrows, and it’s tricky to turn around. Walk ahead along the road through the woods parallel to the broad riverbed, and the road ends abruptly in less than five hundred meters where it’s been swept into the river by past floods. Clamber down to the riverbed, and start walking upstream towards the wide and impressive gorge opening up ahead.
Presently the gorge narrows and the going becomes rougher, as the only way is to clamber up, over, and occasionally huge boulders (some nearly as big as a house) washed down by past typhoons. In a few places the sides of the gorge squeeze the river between low cliffs of grey marble, and these stretches are probably only passable when the river is fairly low.
About 90 minutes to 2 hours (about three kilometers) from the end of the road, the hot spring source is obvious, in rocks on the right bank of the river. The hot spring water seeps out of a series of cracks in the low sill of rock over a length of 20 meters or so. If the river is fairly low, the water at the based of the rock is bath-hot temperature (it’s quite a powerful hot spring source). At the far end a small stream of scalding hot water flows through the gravel river bed gravel and into the river, leaving a strip of brightly colored minerals as it flows.
Upstream from Laka lies Yading Hot Spring (芽丁溫泉), the last of the series, also sometimes known as Wumao (‘black hat’) Hot Spring (烏帽溫泉). On maps it appears only 3 or 4 kilometers further upstream, but it seems that deep pools and a few obstacles make it difficult to reach from Lka Hot Springs. Instead, the few people that visit it usually get there from a completely direction, starting at Dongshan (冬山), near Luodong, and following route 35 (力霸產業道路) for just over 20 kilometers, at the end of which it’s a short walk down to the river and the hot springs, which look beautiful in photos. See here for the best description of this route – one I’m hoping to do some time in the near future! It is, however, worth walking upstream for about 20 minutes beyond the hot spring. Just after the river makes a sharp left-hand bend, a tributary stream empties into it just after falling over a lovely small waterfall, a double fall plunging into a deep a lovely pool of bright blue-green water.
Here are links to the first two parts of this series on Taiwan’s wild hot springs: