Sunday, 2 April 2017

#shuutravels Trekking Taroko Gorge - A Guide

The highlight of my trip to Taiwan last December was, unsurprisingly, Taroko Gorge. #Natureloverforever :) No photos will ever do justice to how spectacular this scenic region is. We hired a private driver from our Hualien B&B, who drove us into the Taroko National Park so we could do some hiking. (P.S. we stayed at HL53 B&B 花漾村聲民宿, which was, by the way, fantastic and highly recommended.)

The national park is huge, but if you only have a day's worth of time, like we did, I'd recommend going for these 3 trails/look-out points:

1. Qixing Tan Beach 七星潭 & Qingshui Cliffs 清水断崖


On the road from Hualien into the Taroko region are two scenic spots where our driver took us for brief photo stops. Qixing Tan Beach is a tranquil pebble filled beach facing an endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, while a spectacular 5km stretch of cliffs called the Qingshui Cliffs can be viewed from a purpose built observatory. 

 

2. Taroko Gorge - Shakadang Trail 砂卡噹步道


Also known as the “Mysterious Valley Trail”, this was the first hike we embarked on that day. The whole time it was threatening to pour, but thankfully the rain held up and we managed to enjoy our scenic walk.

This is one of the few trails in Taroko that are right by the river, offering a unique perspective to marvel at the towering marble cliffs of the region. The trail follows the Shakadang Stream, famous for its crystal clear turquoise waters. On a warmer day I heard you could take a dip in the calmer pools, but unfortunately the weather was not fantastic that day. This trail takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete, and is an easy walk with well paved paths.


3. Taroko Gorge - Baiyang Waterfall Trail 白楊步道


Featuring rivers, waterfalls, valleys, cliffs and tunnels, this trail deep into the Taroko Gorge has it all. The stars of this trail are the magnificent Baiyang Waterfall and the Water Curtain tunnel, but unfortunately the latter was closed off to public when we were there due to rockfall.

This easy 2 hour hike brought us through pitch black tunnels, hair raising cliff edges and a suspension bridge before leading us to the Baiyang Waterfall observatory deck. The views from this trail are insanely beautiful, and so humbling. The Taroko Gorge started off merely as sediment at the bottom of the ocean, and these towering cliffs we see today are the result of over hundred million years of geologic forces. Now this is the real #taleasoldastime.


We managed to complete all this, plus a few more photo stops along the way at Swallow Grotto and the Cimu Bridge in about 10 hours - we left Hualien at 8am and reached back at 6pm.

If there was more time I would have loved to hike the Zhuliu Old Trail but that 4-5 hour hike would have left us with little time left to see anything else! Next time then, see you again Taroko, you were amazing!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

#shuutravels 9 Beautiful Summer Landscapes Worth Seeing in Hokkaido


Hokkaido in Summer is hands down the most picturesque destination I've been to yet. Here, pristine lakes set against virgin forests and rolling hills lit aflame with summer flowers promise a breathtaking holiday unlike any other.

We spent 9 days travelling across Japan's northern-most island and were rewarded with so many picture perfect moments. If you're like me and love travelling in search of beautiful spaces, Hokkaido is surely the perfect destination for you. Here are my top 9 places to visit to capture that tumblr perfect backdrop or even the next Mac OS wallpaper:

1. MOERENUMA PARK, SAPPORO

 

Hokkaido is famously known as Japan's breathing space, and Sapporo, its capital is no exception. Little pockets of garden and green dot the city, providing ample hiking and strolling opportunity to the weary urbanite. Moerenuma Park, on the Northeast fringe of the city though, is worth a special visit. The sprawling park is designed by renowned sculptor and landscape artist Isamu Noguchi and features several themed zones, including Hokkaido's kind-of version of the Louvre. Walking through the park's clean lines and harmonious landscape, the park felt like a showroom of Japanese design.


2. THE BIEI COUNTRYSIDE


A bike is your best bet to exploring the picturesque countryside that is Biei. If you can just persevere through the steep inclines, the rush downhill through acres of blue-sky-meets-golden-farmland is the best reward ever.

This little town has the cutest monuments too - there is a specially curated cycling route bringing you to renowned trees around the countryside. E.g. the 2 poplar trees below have a name and a special inscribed plaque next to them - they have been christened the 'Ken and Mary Tree', after a famous car commercial that was filmed there. How cute hehe.

3. FURANO'S FAMOUS FLOWER FIELDS


Summer is Hokkaido's flower season! We visited in early July, which was just before the peak blooming season, but we were still treated to a magical purple carpet of lavender when we reached. Tip: while Nakafurano Lavender Farm is ticketed, it is much less crowded than the free to enter Farm Tomita - so crucial for your perfect Instagram Moment.

Don't fret if you miss the infrequent Norokko Train to the Lavender Farm station either, the walk from Nakafurano station is pleasant and you'll get to see some super cute countryside houses too.


4. OTARU CANAL


Otaru, a town less than an hour North of Sapporo, is kinda touristy and crowded but still worth a visit. With its quaint canals flanked by old industrial warehouses and cobbled sidewalks, it is indeed a very photogenic town.


5. LAKE KUSSHARO & LAKE MASHU


We drove into the centre of Hokkaido to an area called Akan National Park, where there is a famous cluster of 3 beautiful crater lakes. Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu are nearer to each other though, and as we had a tight schedule to follow we gave the third lake, Lake Akan, a miss.

If you're driving, don't miss the Bihoro Pass, a stop by the highway that offers a seriously splendid vista of Lake Kussharo and its islands. As you head downhill towards the shore, many ryokans dotted along Lake Kussharo offer you the opportunity to stay overnight and enjoy the peace of a quiet onsen town.


Lake Mashu is somewhat different. Dubbed the 'clearest lake in the world', it is heavily protected and nobody is allowed near the lake except for research purposes. So the only way to admire its beauty is to go to 3 purpose built look out points around the lake. That kinda made it a less magical experience for us but the views are undoubtedly still breathtaking.


6. KAWAYU ONSEN


After the 2 hour drive into Akan National Park (yeah I'm a noob driver...), the outdoor onsens were a sheer delight to relax in. Plus, bonus points because these onsens are SO BEAUTIFUL. The Kotan Onsen, especially, is worth a special visit. This hot spring is nestled in a rock pool right by the shores of Lake Kussharo. A comforting 40 degree bath with a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains is literally bliss.

There are a few other onsens along Lake Kussharo as well, and a rest stop nearby allows you to drink some hot spring goodness (too much of a sulfur smell for me to stomach... but reportedly it may be good for you...)


7. SHIRETOKO NATIONAL PARK


More lakes! I've never seen more lakes, nor more beautiful lakes in my life. Lake District in the UK unfortunately does not even come close (blame British weather...) Shiretoko Five Lakes is a section of the national park open to the amateur hiker and it is so beautiful. It was nearing the peak of summer and all the trees were resplendent in their crowning glory, creating a very vibrant and lively landscape. I need to come back in autumn or winter one day, I can only imagine how different a landscape it will be.

PS > Tip: Cover up! The mozzies and flies are relentless in summer! Tip 2: Check out the Shiretoko Nature Centre - it is a brilliant museum that will give you some background info of the park and explain its ecological significance. #geoggeekalert


8. UTORO'S SUNSET


How better to end a trip than a spectacular sunset to remind you of nature's glory. Utoro, the town closest to the Shiretoko Peninsular, offers multiple viewpoints to admire a brilliant sunset over the Okhotsk Sea. We checked out both the Yuuhidai Point as well as the Utoro Pier.


9. SHH IT'S MY SECRET


Don't plan your whole holiday itinerary, make some wrong turns and take the longer routes. Hokkaido is such an effortlessly scenic place that there's beauty to be discovered in every corner.


And there you go! Top 9 scenery-on-fleek attractions in Hokkaido as recommended by yours truly. I really enjoyed my trip to Hokkaido this summer, I really hope that I'll get the chance to visit again in another season - it's such a beautiful island (lol officially over-used the word beautiful in this blogpost...)

Hope this little Hokkaido travel guide helped for any of you planning an upcoming trip up North. The food in Hokkaido was also really noteworthy so I'll probably write a food guide soon; keep a look out for that! :)