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 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.
The Rukai Tribe
The Rukai 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 (also 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!
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 50km/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.
Where can you eat?
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 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 Pingtung: There are frequent trains between these two cities all day long. NT$40; 20 minutes.
Pingtung 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 locals 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.
Cycling is another option that makes sense. Road 132 offers panoramic views at every turn, but you should know that this is no flat country.
Some people rent scooters in Pingtung and ride all the way up here.
You might also like…
- Kenting National Park
- Sun Moon Lake – Taiwan’s biggest lake
- Taroko Gorge – Taiwan’s Grand Canyon
- Hehuanshan hiking paradise