Hike in unspoiled mountain landscapes, meet
friendly Rukai and bath in hidden hot springs.
Maolin? Never heard of it. Where is it? That's the usual answer I get from Taiwanese people and expats when I talk about this most incredible scenic area in Kaohsiung County...
What's ironic with this answer is that I often hear Taiwanese say: "you're lucky to be from Canada, you have gorgeous mountains." And many foreigners - not all of them of course - will complain: "all the hiking trails in Taiwan are packed with loud Taiwanese tourists." If only they knew this splendid area...
It will be hard to find a place better suited to indulge your passion than Maolin. In this natural playground you can...
hike to three of the islands most beautiful waterfalls,
swim in natural pools and rivers,
cycle the scenic County Rd 132 (15km one-way),
take a dip in hot springs with the locals.
The waterfall you see on this picture is Maolin Gorge Waterfall. It's a pleasant 2km hike to get there. It's also a cool place to have a swim. The turnoff to the waterfall is about 1km past the first village, on your right.
These guys are so hospitable! They also have a great sense of humor. When I was there, they made sure I had a good time in the valley. They took me to unknown natural hot springs (they made me promise not to reveal them), brought me to visit cousins, uncles, friends, neighbors... and of course, showed me some special, local wine.
How do you meet them? Just smile and don't be shy to start conversations when you get curious looks...
Don't miss Purple Butterfly Valley like I did
I was too busy making new Rukai friends during my stay there - I didn't even have the time to visit this world famous (yes, world famous!!) butterfly sanctuary. At least a million butterflies take shelter in the area during winter.
Time to get high... reeeaal hiiiigh!
If you're not comfortable with heights, it's time to face your fear. Walking across the impressive Dona High Suspension Bridge will give you unparalleled views over the surrounding peaks and the river below. I saw a Rukai kid crossing it on a dirt bike at about 60km/hr with no helmet. It was quite a sight!
Dona Hot Springs is free and... busy!
You might look at this picture and think: "way too crowded for me!" Let me assure you, it's not always that packed. This was on a Saturday afternoon, when crowds drive here from Kaohsiung. Mornings and evenings are usually quieter. There's also a river right by the pools - for those of you who don't mind very cold water.
The best advice I can give you to meet locals and enjoy the area to the fullest is "Go to De En Gorge Guesthouse". Even if you don't plan to spend the night there, you have to check it out!
The owners are the friendliest people I've met on this island. Mr. Chen is a Rukai professor who can talk about aboriginal culture and Taiwanese History for hours. His wife is the one who can take you to secret hot springs.
If you do stay there, ask them to take you to Maolin Gorge Waterfall in the morning... they'll be more than happy to go with you. Tel: 0955055132; NT$300/dorm, NT$2000/cabin.
The question should actually be "When can you eat?" The options are few and most places close very early - around 7pm.
This valley is not the kind of place where you'll find big Chinese restaurants with extensive menus. Instead, look for small street stalls in the villages. I highly recommend the stands by Dona Hot Springs (picture below).
Getting to Maolin
Kaohsiung to Pingdong: There are frequent trains between these two cities all day long. NT$35; 20 minutes.
Pingdong to Maolin: Pingdong Bus Station (100m to the left of the train station) has regular buses to the valley. NT$105; 1 hour. The bus will only take you to the first village.
Hitchhiking is the way to go! It will push you to walk more, you'll meet the natives and won't have to worry about sampling too much of the local wine and driving. I hitchhiked a few times and never had to wait for more than 5 minutes. I actually refused a ride once! Remember the maniac from the bridge...
Cycling is another option that makes sense. Road 132 offers panoramic vistas at every turn, but you should know that this is no flat country!
Some people rent scooters in Pingdong or Tainan and ride all the way up here. Make sure you get a good map if you do it this way.