Lulu was original called Lakulaku by the nearby aborigines, after the sound the water makes as it bubbles out of the rocks. Whatever it’s called, it’s magnificent, and out of the nearly thirty wild hot springs that I’ve been to to date, it’s the finest and m0st memorable. Lulu’s special brand of awesome isn’t going to appeal to everyone. It’s not as sheerly beautiful as Hayouxi or Lisong, not exciting to reach as Huisun, and the colors of the rock-staining bacteria and minerals aren’t nearly as bright here as they are at Shikeng. However it’s one of Taiwan’s largest hot springs in scope, has a mind-boggling array of boiling pools, fumaroles and mini geysers, mud pools and a hot spring stream and waterfall or two. Most remarkably of all, it remains little visited, even though it’s been marked on maps and widely known for many years. In short it’s special. Visitors looking for beautiful colors and big hot spring pools to bathe in will be disappointed, but if you’re looking for something more pristine and elemental, Lulu is unbeatable among the relatively accessible hot springs on the island.
Getting to Lulu Hot Springs (轆轆溫泉) is quite tough, starting with a climb up the Wulu Forest Road, with some incredible views on the way. The first couple of kilometers are quite easy, but after the last farmhouse, the way is rough, unsurfaced and steep in places. Sturdy cars and minivans seem to be able to get up the road, but it’s best tackled by scooter. The correct route isn’t clearly marked, and you’ll need a bit of trial and error to find the right way, as not even GPS or Google Maps shows the right way at each junction. At the top the road ends at a ruined farmer’s hut, commanding a magnificent view over the great valley below and up to the great central mountain buttress of Guanshan (3, 668 meters, Taiwan’s twelfth highest peak).
The narrow but generally clear dirt trail is signposted from here, climbing for about 400 meters through the forest to a small kink in the high ridge. Here it bends right for a very short level stretch along a section of the Japanese-era Guanshan Old Trail (關山越嶺古道), forerunner of the present South Cross-island Highway, and Taiwan’s longest at 170 kilometers long. It once connected the village of Guanshan, in the East Rift Valley on route 9, with Liugui, across the central mountains in today’s Kaohsiung City.
The way to Lulu Hot Springs follows this old route for just a couple of hundred meters, then dives straight down the very steep mountainside on the left. It’s a tough, sometimes rather precarious and very long hike – allow 2-3 hours for the descent and 3-4 on the way back take care as in some spots a slip could be disastrous. This trail is probably the main reason that Lulu is little visited.
Once finally at the riverbank, there’s a great rough camping spot on the far bank, on an area of smooth sands just above a small hot spring source. Pools have been made by previous hikers by piling stones into small walls to separate the cold river water from the hot spring water as it seeps out of the sand. The sands themselves are hot, as you’ll discover if you pitch your tent here. It’s a hot night with all the heat rising up from below; on our visit one of our members over-inflated his air mattress a little bit, and it exploded in the middle of the night as the heated air inside expanded!
The hot spring wonders are now all around you, so take time to explore the whole area. There’s a real excitement in discovering this place as you go, so I won’t spoil the surprise by mentioning where you’ll find what!
Obtain a permit from a nearby police station before hiking to Lulu Hot Spring. As with many wild hot springs, Lulu can only be visited in the dry season (January to April). Here especially, keep a careful eye on the rainfall in the Taitung area in the approach to the planned hike. It’s a very long and hard way to hike only to find the river is inpassable once you reach it! You’ll need to be quite fit to hike the trail down and back again. Lulu is only realistically feasible as a two-day trip, so you’ll have to carry a heavy backpack, which makes for a testingly difficult climb both in and back out again.