Away from its densely populated west coast, Taiwan is replete with dramatic mountains, surf-pounded shorelines, and outdoor pursuits for every sort of adventurer
Walk on the Wild Side
Arguably the most spectacular of Taiwanâ€™s eight national parks, Tarokoâ€”a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Taipei via Hualien on the east coastâ€”offers marble-walled canyons, cascading waterfalls, and alpine forests. Comfort-seeking hikers will want to base themselves at the riverside Silks Place (886-3/869- 1155; taroko.silksplace.com.tw; doubles from US$295), the parkâ€™s only five-star accommodation, and make their way around Taroko from there. Routes range in degree of difficulty from the vertigo-inducing Zhuilu Trail to the easy but unmissable Tunnel of Nine Turns, a scenic two-kilometer section of abandoned highway through Taroko Gorge. For something more ambitious, contact Taiwan Adventures (taiwan-adventures.com), which arranges guided overnight hikes here and in other parts of Taiwan, including treks up the 3,952-meter Jade Mountain (Yushan), Taiwanâ€™s tallest peak.
Take a Ride
Whether road cycling or mountain biking, Taiwanâ€™s varied terrain is ideal for pedal pushers. Veteran outfitter In Motion Asia (inmotionasia.com) can create customized itineraries along the islandâ€™s 1,600-odd kilometers of coastline or inland to attractions such as Sun Moon Lake and the East Rift Valley. Standard tours last three to four days, with longer excursionsâ€”such as the eight-day Tour de Taiwanâ€”available for serious riders.
Catch a Wave
Although Taiwan doesnâ€™t have the fast, barreling waves that are a dime a dozen in neighboring Indonesia and the Philippines, it does benefit from year-round swell, warm water, and uncrowded peaks suitable for all abilities. Between November and April, waves fetch up on the sparsely populated east coast courtesy of low-pressure systems formed south of Japan, but summer brings an altogether different animal. May to October is typhoon season, when almost 20 a year will roar in from the Pacific, thumping the south coast with waves. The latter half of the storm season is a more reliable bet for surfers with experience. The coastguard will probably have more pressing concerns, but bear in mind that it is against the law to enter the water when a major system is overhead. Whatever the time of year, Surf Taiwan (886-9/8951-8940; surftaiwan.com) has the inside track on the best rivermouths and reef breaks.
Climb a Rock
From downtown Taipei, it takes less than an hour to reach the two-kilometer-long stretch of compact-sandstone crags of Long Dong. Almost certainly the best area in Taiwan, here youâ€™ll find hundreds of routes on east-facing cliffs with a grade to suit every level of climber. Outdoor Taiwan (outdoor-taiwan.com) has a firm grasp of the area.
Raft the Rivers
Cutting through the Coastal Mountain Range on its way to the Pacific, Xiuguluan River offers some of Taiwanâ€™s most exhilarating whitewater rafting. Over a 22-kilometer stretch, the river drops 65 meters and runs around 20 different rapidsâ€”the course takes around four hours. Another popular option is southern Taiwanâ€™s Laonong River, which offers a challenging descent along a 19-kilometer route that takes in sights such as the Hulu Valley waterfall. The busiest months for rafting are May to October. There are plenty of outfits in and around the town of Hualien; call the Ruisui Rafting Center (886-3/887-5400; erv-nsa.gov.tw) for some expert advice.
Have a Flutter
Taiwan has one of the largest concentrations of butterflies in the world and one of only two mass-nesting sites. Head to the foothills east of Daolin between November and March to witness clouds of more than a million purple crow butterflies and tiger butterflies migrate for the winter. The government has even been known to close the freeway in order to protect the delicate insects as they fly north. Barking Deer has been offering personal tours here for more than a decade (886-9/3833-7710; barking-deer.com).
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of DestinAsian.