Two of Taiwan’s finest wild hot springs (Lulu Hot Spring, described HERE, and this one, Hayouxi) perfectly illustrate just how this amazing island is capable of constantly rewarding (and surprising) the explorer who gets off the beaten track and searches beyond the well-established attractions. Neither hot spring is on the radar of most local explorers, and Hayouxi doesn’t even appear on many maps which mark many far less magnificent hot springs.
Although I’m still far away from seeing all of Taiwan’s remaining wild hot springs, I’m sure Hayouxi Hot Spring (哈尤溪溫泉) can stake a fair claim to being the most stunningly beautiful of all. The rocks of the kilometer-long gorge of accessible hot spring activity are clothed in a variety of beautiful mineral-and-bacteria-painted colors in many shades of red, orange, yellow, green, grey and brown. Hot spring bathers will be a bit disappointed – the only hot springs are a couple of small showers and tiny pools at the very top end of the easily accessible length of the gorge, but it’s those incredible colors, the beauty and ruggedness of the gorge, and the impressive remoteness of the place, that really repay a visit.
The jumping-off spot for Hayouxi Hot Spring is the small Rukai aboriginal settlement of Dawu (大武), reached by a bendy but OK road (for cars at least) down from Wutai (霧台). Now that the gorge downstream from Wutai has been spanned by a tall new bridge (Taiwan’s highest) and repairs to the road up there (half destroyed by Morakot) are finally finished, Wutai has become a popular weekend tourist magnet, so don’t spend too long there, but after a quick look at the traditional Rukai slate homes and perhaps a look at Shenshan Waterfall, a three-tiered fall below the village, head straight down to Dawu.
Park the car next to or under the long but intimidatingly narrow suspension bridge across the Yiliaobei River (cars of all sizes can get across, but it’s quite tight for bigger ones!). Now walk down to the very broad riverbed and start walking upstream. There was once a slightly shorter route that started near the end of the road that leads upstream after crossing the suspension bridge. However the rope ladder that once led down the cliff to the riverbed from the road had been cut down when we passed. That road leads down to the riverbank, but is obstructed by a locked gate, so start the walk at the suspension bridge.
Hayouxi Hot Spring is stunning, but the walk up to it is nothing more than pleasant for the most part. The mountain walls rise high and sheer in several places, and the river itself is fast-flowing and crystal-clear, but despite some amazing stretches it becomes a slightly monotonous ten-kilometer trudge along a track worn through the rock-choked riverbed by the jeeps. Apart from a convoy or two of noisy vehicles, you’ll also encounter large numbers of mountain bikes as well as a few hikers on the journey upstream, on weekends at least.
One section of the route, close to the halfway point, is, however, rather impressive as the gorge briefly and impressively tightens when the river squeezes through a cleft between the cliffs. Nearby the devastation wrought by Morakot is especially stunning, as the gorge becomes a stark, bare rock ‘valley of desolation’ completely devoid of greenery.
Just after this is Dawu Hot Spring (大武溫泉), which bubbles up into a large-ish pool below the cliffs. The water is stained a slightly unappealing bright orange-ochre color by bacteria and/or minerals, but it’s pleasantly hot and fairly natural looking (no hideous tarpaulins are evident). It’s a popular camping spot, since this is the only batheable hot spring on the route, so expect plenty of 4WDs, tents, and families at weekends.
Above Dawu Hot Spring, it’s more of the same, following the track upstream beneath the towering sides of the wide gorge, with plenty more river crossings. At the very obvious confluence, take the river on the right. It remains fairly wide and open for a spell, then on the right bank there’s a large, flat area of land where 4WDs park and some hikers camp. This marks the farthest point that vehicles (thankfully) can reach, and everyone continues from here on foot.
The gorge narrows here, and heading upstream, there’s soon a very attractive waterfall plunging down the side of the gorge on the right. At its foot and nearby are several excellent places to camp – the last good camping spots on the way to the approaching hot springs gorge.
At the next corner the first signs of hot spring activity appear in the shape of a brightly orange-colored rock face on the right. From here it’s another 15-20 minutes’ walk to the small waterfall that makes further access up the gorge tricky without ropes. The solitary hot spring water in the gorge forms a lovely waterfall just before this cascade, on the right, but it’s just one of a mass of frankly amazing sights. I won’t even to try to describe them here. Half the wonder of visiting this place is slowly uncovering the beauties of the gorge as you work your way upstream. It’s an astonishing place, and demands several visits at different times of the day. Try to spend the night, and visit once in the late afternoon (after the 4WD crowd have left) and again early the following morning, when the golden hour (before the sun starts shining directly into the gorge) makes all those natural colors seem to almost glow.
Hayouxi is only accessible during the dry season, which generally means January or February to April. The river has to be crossed many times during the walk up, and while it’s generally only thigh-deep in most places, and poses no special difficulty during the winter, it becomes far too high to cross after the plum rains start in May, and probably also after heavy rain at any time of the year. Whatever time you visit, you’ll need your own wheels, as there’s no public transport anywhere nearby. Wear a pair of old shoes or sandals with heel straps for the walk up, and plan to have wet feet for the four or five hours it takes to walk from Dawu Bridge to the hot spring gorge.
Try, if at all possible, to budget two days for the trip, walk up there on the first day, and spend the night there before returning on day two. Visit late in the afternoon, just before dusk, and again early the following morning, and you’ll not only probably have the hot spring gorge to yourself, but the colors are also at their most stunning. There are several quiet places to camp near the waterfall just below the start of the hot spring gorge, and the water in the stream is sweet and pure for drinking (after filtering or boiling).