Yehliu Geopark – Taiwan
I’ve been in Yehliu a couple of times in the past year or two. Yet, I had never actually gone into the Yehliu Geopark. This is the park that has the Queen’s Head rock formation. I think I never went into the park because I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t even know where it was. I knew it was around Yehliu. There were signs all along the coast road pointing the way to the Yehliu Scenic Area. I followed those signs a couple of times – once on my bicycle and once on my scooter – and I found Yehliu to be a very interesting little town. It’s a fishing town and has a harbor with a variety of funky fishing boats. Driving along the shore, you see interesting cliffs and rock formations all over the place. I was left with the impression that I had seen what Yehliu had to offer. I never did see the Queen’s Head, but I figured it was around there somewhere and I had just missed it.
It turns out, however, that the Queen’s Head is inside a special park known as the Yehliu Geopark. The Geopark consists of a 1,700-meter-long cape of sandstone, rock, and hills. I figured this out when I went inside the Visitor Information Center. Then just outside the Center, I saw a ticket window for the Geopark. I still didn’t know where this Geopark was. From where I was standing, I could see Ocean World (where I assume one can see a dolphin show and other things), some of the harbor, the buildings of the town, the cliffs behind the town, a large parking lot full of tour buses, and a lot of seafood restaurants. But I saw no indication of the Geopark or how one gets to it. In the end, I figured that I might as well just get a ticket and see what happens. Perhaps when one gets the ticket, it all becomes clear.
The ticket window was one of those bullet-proof glass affairs with the tiny holes drilled in them for communication. I got my ticket for NT$50 (a bargain!), but could not really ask any questions through those little holes and be understood. The woman seemed to read my mind, however, and after she slid my ticket through the opening at the bottom, she gestured with a lazy wave off to my left. I had no idea what that meant, especially since to my left was just the Visitor Information Center, but it was all I had to go on and I walked in that direction. I thought perhaps one had to go into the Center and out the other side. Perhaps there was a shuttle bus? However, as I got close, I saw that there was a wide trail doubling back to the right and heading toward the ocean. I followed that trail and soon enough, I saw a little booth where a woman was taking tickets. I had found the entrance to the Geopark. I had to laugh because it was all so obvious once you know – the Geopark is just right there in Yehliu. But if you don’t know, it’s almost impossible to find. (Well, for me anyway.)
I didn’t have very high expectations of the Geopark to begin with. And after I got my NT$50 ticket and realized the park was right there, my expectations sank even lower. Lots of people were streaming along this wide trail (hugging the sides to stay in the shade) and I felt rather like I was in a typical city park. I thought the Queen’s Head would be at the end of the trail, and I’d take a picture of it along with everyone else, and that would be it. Then we’d all turn around and walk back out. In the end, I was quite wrong and I enjoyed the park immensely.
The Queen’s Head along with a bunch of other formations with names like Elephant Rock, Candle Rock, Pot Cave, Ginger Rock, and, of course, Mushroom rock, were clustered together on the left just a short distance into the park. Ninety percent of the people in the park headed in that direction (and went no farther), leaving the remaining 1.5 kilometers of park to the rest of us. I quickly got off the trail and walked down to the edge of the water to take a picture. There were some beautiful low cliffs off to the right with Turtle Island in the distance. Then I began walking along the cape. It was the kind of place that brought me back to my childhood. I grew up going on summer camping trips with my family, and we always went up into Northern Ontario to places like Tobermory and Flowerpot Island. As a kid, I was never happier than when I could clamber around on rocks. The Geopark was just like that, and I had a wonderful time exploring the place, climbing over the rocks, jumping over narrow fissures, and taking pictures.
There was no beach to speak of. The whole cape was made of sandstone (I know nothing about the unique geology of the place, so I can’t really say much about it) that had been carved by the wind and the sea into all kinds of interesting shapes. The sandstone was a golden yellow in color and all along the southern shore where I was walking it was rounded and smooth, carved into stone dunes by the sea. Throughout this sandstone, there were deep round holes that had filled with water and marine life when the tide was up. The tide was out when I was there, and I spent a long time hovering over these holes to see what fish and other creatures had been stranded there. One hole contained three boxfish and what I believe was a baby lionfish. I had become quite fond of boxfish on a recent trip to Palawan in the Philippines. The reefs where I snorkeled contained lots of boxfish and I liked the way they seemed to hover. They were also so ugly that they came out the other side of ugly and were actually quite beautiful. The holes were also home to many crabs, and they scuttled away whenever I got near.
There were some displays at the entrance to the park about these holes in the sandstone, but they were in Chinese, and so I have no idea how the holes formed. There must be an interesting story here, because they aren’t random holes. They are almost perfectly round. They look very much like someone carved them. From looking around, I got the impression that there were two types of stone and rock at Yehliu. There was the soft sandstone that most of the cape was made of. But there were also round rocks that were made of much harder stuff – typical stone. These round stones seemed to rest on the sandstone and over time, the sea would carve a depression around them and the stones would gradually sink into the sandstone. Some of these rocks were still resting on the sandstone with only the smallest of depressions around them. Others had sunk in farther leaving only the tops of them still emerging like islands out of the water that filled the depressions. Others, I assume, had sunk all the way down into the sandstone leaving behind a perfectly round hole, like a well or tunnel. I imagined that they were still down there burrowing deeper and deeper into the sandstone.
At one point early in my explorations of these holes and the other rock formations near the water, I looked up and saw that I was literally the only person there. There was a wide trail higher up and everyone else was walking along that trail. Not one person had left the trail and gone out onto the sandstone to check out these holes and other things. I had a bad moment thinking that I must be breaking the rules. Perhaps there were signs everywhere telling people not to leave the trail. Perhaps they didn’t want people walking on the sandstone and eroding it further. I didn’t know, but I really didn’t want to stay on the trail. The whole point of rocks and cliffs is to climb around on them and jump from one to the other and jump over fissures and chasms. I went up onto the trail to sort of look around and see if there were any signs or barriers up there, but I couldn’t see any. And from the trail, you really couldn’t see anything of the tidal pools and all the creatures living in them. So I left the trail and went back to walking along the water’s edge. I figured that if I was breaking the rules, someone would yell at me eventually.
I was pretty sure I had seen signs saying that fishing wasn’t allowed in the park, but that seemed to be just a formality. Men were out in force with their long fishing poles and complicated bits of tackle. In fact, once I got a bit further along the cape, the fishermen and I had practically the whole place to ourselves. Also, once I got further along the cape, the trail ceased to be very defined. It pretty much disappeared altogether, and that told me that it was okay to be walking on the sandstone along the water’s edge. You were obviously allowed to be out at the far end of the cape, and there was no way to walk except along the sandstone, so I concluded that one was allowed to roam pretty much anywhere you wanted. That people largely stayed on the trail close to the Queen’s Head was simply a choice, not a rule.
I walked to the very end of the cape and then found my way blocked. Well, not entirely blocked. It would be possible to climb along the cliff and rocks there and go all the way around the end of the cape, but it would be challenging and I think you’d have to be willing to get wet. I had a spectacular view from this end of the cape, and I didn’t see any advantage to getting right down there. Besides, I was reaching the limits of my endurance for the sun. It was a sunny day, and the heat was getting almost unbearable. I tended to laugh when I saw the bizarre headgear that people were wearing, but looked at logically, wandering around out there for hours without any headgear at all was a lot more bizarre. I could feel the skin on my neck and shoulders starting to burn (despite sunscreen), and my clothing was soaked with sweat once again. I’m not sure what the rules were about swimming, but it would have been nice to go in for a dip. I had seen one sign at the entrance to the park saying that swimming was prohibited, but I wasn’t sure if that applied only to a little bit of beach that was there or if it applied to the whole cape. One thing I saw at the end of the cape gave me pause though. Water was flowing south along the coast of Taiwan and then it hit this cape sticking out into the ocean. The water then flowed along the cape and created what looked to be a pretty strong current bouncing off the cape and heading out to sea. It looked exactly like a river flowing out into the ocean. There were even little bits of rapids where it went over some rocks. I think you could easily avoid that current, but I sure wouldn’t want to get caught in it and swept out to sea. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the ocean, but I’ve spent enough time to have a healthy respect for ocean currents. You don’t want to mess with them. You could be sucked out to sea pretty quickly if you’re not careful.
At the very end of the cape, I saw a set of stairs going up to a lookout point. I didn’t fancy climbing any more in that hot sun, but I can never resist a lookout point, and up I went. At the top, there wasn’t much of a view that I didn’t have from the bottom, but there was a nice breeze and I stayed for a while to cool down. There was a wide and easy trail going from that lookout point all the way back along the top of the cape’s hills to the entrance. I debated whether to follow that trail or go back the way I had come. I know now that it would have been much better to go back along the shore, but at the time I thought there might be things along the trail worth seeing. It turned out that there was nothing much on the trail to see. For the Geopark, you’re much better off to stick close to the water’s edge. Most things of interest are there.
When I had come into the park, I had skipped the area that held the Queen’s Head and the Mushroom Rock and the other formations. There were too many people there, and I was eager to get to the water. But going back, I followed the trail and this trail brought me right to the Queen’s Head. There was a kind of boardwalk going through this area, and you could walk along it and it would give you all the best views of the Queen’s Head and other things. You could also step off the boardwalk and walk around on your own. Here, though, there was definitely a barrier. They didn’t want you getting too close to the edge, and they had painted a garish red line along the sandstone. A sign indicated that you weren’t allowed to cross that line.
I walked around this area for a bit and snapped a couple of pictures of the Queen’s Head. I never got close enough to get a really good picture, but you should be able to tell what it is. I was surprised that there were no barriers around the Queen’s Head. The neck of the formation is very thin. It’s probably stronger than you’d think, but it looks like one good push could topple the whole thing over. And of course everyone had to pose for a picture with it. Many of these people leaned against the Queen’s Head or put their hands on it to steady themselves. I imagine that the thousands of people who do this every year are causing much faster erosion than the sea ever did. I think it’s just a matter of time before the authorities at the park put a barrier around the Queen’s Head to keep people from touching it. For now, it’s still possible to go right up to. So if you want a picture with the Queen’s Head, you’d better head to the Yehliu Geopark soon!
My original plan, such as it was, was to spend the night in the area. I had ridden my scooter out of Taipei and through and over Yangmingshan to get there. I’ve taken that road many times and always enjoy it. This time, though, I somehow took a wrong turn and ended up heading into Yangmingshan by a completely different route. It was a beautiful road, though, and took me through all kinds of interesting areas, including some small towns. Looking at my map, I could see that there were many more roads like that one all over Yangmingshan, and if you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere in particular, it would be great to simply ride around and see where these roads go.
The road out of Yangmingshan leads you to the coastal town of Jinshan. I turned left at Jinshan and headed north along the coast to a tiny little place known to have a good surfing beach. I’m not sure if the town itself has a special name, but I think the beach is just called Jinshan beach. I’m rather fond of coffee trucks, and I knew that there were a couple of them along the shore there. I stopped at the first one and ordered a cappuccino. I was the only customer and the people running the coffee truck greeted me warmly. They had Jack Johnson playing softly over some speakers, and breathing in a powerful smell of rotting fish, I settled in to drink my coffee and enjoy the setting. The surfing beach was just a short distance away and with my binoculars I could watch all the action. Unfortunately, it was a calm day and there was no surfing going on. Three or four people were out paddling around on their surfboards, but there weren’t even any tiny waves to tempt them. There were some people on the beach, but they were all clustered underneath some large shade umbrellas set back from the water. The other times I’ve been to Jinshan, it was a very busy place. The beach was crowded, and the streets of the town were jammed with cars and scooters desperately trying to find a place to park. Today it was quite empty. I imagine that the surfing community has good sources of up-to-date information and they know when there are waves and when there aren’t. The beach itself isn’t that attractive, so if there is no possibility of surfing, I guess people don’t come.
When my coffee was done, I hopped back on my scooter and headed south to Yehliu. To get there, I had to go through the outskirts of Jinshan again. Then you start to see signs for the Yehliu Scenic Area. Eventually, you reach a turnoff to the left. It’s clearly marked, though I’m never sure if one is allowed to turn left on a scooter. There didn’t seem any reasonable way to make one of those cumbersome two-stage left turns, so I hit the rarely-used left turn signal and turned. The road has cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, and soon you are in the town of Yehliu.
Yehliu is a pleasant jumbled sort of place. There are a couple sections to the harbor and the town wraps itself around them with the high cliffs behind. I was very disappointed, then, to discover that there were no places to stay in Yehliu. It seems like such an obvious and perfect place for some basic accommodation. It’s a quaint and interesting town with lots of little places to explore and lots of boats to take pictures of. It has a dramatic setting with the cliffs behind it. There are two big tourist attractions – Ocean World and the Geopark – right inside the town. And just a short distance in either direction up the coast there is surfing, paragliding, beaches, fishing, and other things. Inside the town, there are lots of seafood restaurants with fresh catch from the ocean. When you arrive in the town, you might think you’re being held up. These women with their faces completely covered in masks rush the cars. They look for all the world like bandits, but in fact they are simply trying to drum up business for various seafood restaurants. Yet, there are no hotels at all, at least none I could find. I asked at various places and everyone told me the same thing – there are no hotels in Yehliu. Even the people at the Visitor Information Center told me that. (Though they also told me that there was no place to park a scooter in Yehliu. They said it was too small.) I found this so hard to believe that I looked for a long time and asked a lot of people. I even asked one of the seafood bandit ladies. She told me that there was accommodation at the local junior high school, but no hotels. I went to the school, but of course the place was locked up tight. I thought perhaps that there was a misunderstanding. Perhaps people thought I wanted a big fancy hotel and not just simple accommodation. So I didn’t take people at their word, and I drove up and down all the streets I could find, peering into every doorway and window and building. Still, no hotels of any kind. If I wanted to stay in the area, I’d have to go to Jinshan.
On the one hand, that seems like no big deal. There are hotels in Jinshan. I’ve stayed in one before. I even found a little bed and breakfast place up the coast and stayed there twice. But on the other hand, I wanted to have a base in Yehliu itself. Jinshan is not that attractive a place. It looks largely like a chunk of Taipei that has been cut away and placed there. And the hotels tend to be hot spring hotels and spas – expensive and not really worth the price. I thought if I could stay in Yehliu, I could take pictures around the harbors and visit the Geopark a couple of times. It would be a nice place to stay. If I stayed in Jinshan, I’d just be in an ordinary place, and I’d have to drive several kilometers to come back to Yehliu and then have no base there. I wouldn’t be able to hang out in the town as easily. In any event, I gave up the search and left. I thought I might still pop into a hotel in Jinshan if one caught my eye, but none did, and I found myself back on the Yangminshan road heading to Taipei. An hour later, after some wild and crazy moments on those blind corners, I was back home.
All-in-all, it had been a pretty good day. Now I just have to get some business partners together and open up a chain of basic hotel/hostels around Taiwan.