Travel in Taiwan Scenery

Taiwan's National Scenic Areas
Balancing Preservation and Recreation

By Earl Wieman, Photos by Sung chih-hsiung

Taiwan's tourism industry is highly unbalanced between inbound (foreigners visiting the island) and outbound (local residents traveling abroad). While just over two million foreign visitors arrive in Taiwan annually, almost five million residents make overseas trips. Purely domestic tourism (local people making trips within the island) far outstrips both, with annual totals that long ago surpassed the 50 million mark.


Superb vistas characterize the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area.

This situation poses somewhat of a dilemma for the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. The bureau's primary focus is on international tourism, both outbound and inbound, while the demand within Taiwan is heavily weighted toward domestic travel. With rising incomes bringing about a corresponding change in lifestyles and a growing amount of leisure time, the island's densely packed population has a rapidly expanding need for places to relax, engage in favored forms of recreation, and have fun.

Part of the Tourism Bureau's solution is to subsidize and provide technical assistance for local tourism agencies, which concentrate almost exclusively on domestic tourism. The other part of the solution is to develop national scenic areas, which are aimed mainly at filling the domestic tourism need but which are designed also to meet international standards and thus appeal to foreign vacationers as well.

The first of the national scenic areas was established in 1979 at Kenting on the southern tip of the island. After several years of development, however, the Kenting National Scenic Area was removed from the Tourism Bureau's jurisdiction and converted into the Republic of China's first national park.


Fishermen try their luck at dusk on the northeast coast.

The philosophies that govern the development of the two types of areas differ. For a national park the emphasis is on the preservation of natural and cultural resources, and development for human utilization is definitely a secondary priority. For a national scenic area, the priorities are more balanced between preservation and tourism utilization.

There are currently three national scenic areas in Taiwan. The Northeast Coast National Scenic Area was established in 1984, the East Coast National Scenic Area was set up in 1988, and the Penghu National Scenic Area was formally established in mid-1995--after having been in business for several years, however, as a preparatory administration. Each of the three areas has its own unique character, and each is being developed and managed to make the optimum use of its special attractions while protecting those attractions from the ravages of excessive exploitation.


Hiking lush Tsaoling Historic Trail in the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area.

The objective of the Tourism Bureau in its national scenic area planning and development is to provide a good infrastructure of roads, parking lots, sanitary facilities, and the like, and to build up certain other public-use attractions such as swimming beaches and marinas. Commercial operations such as hotels, restaurants, and boat rental are left to the private sector.


A beautiful day at the beach in the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area.

Northeast Coast National Scenic Area

Like the other two national scenic areas, the first one, on the northeast coast, is centered on coastal activities. It covers a total area of 13,725 hectares of land and water stretching along the coast from Nanyali in Taipei county to Peikang-kou in Ilan county. Because of its proximity to Taipei (about an hour and a half by highway) and other densely populated areas of northern Taiwan, this is by far the most intensively used of the three national scenic areas.

Located midway along the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, adjacent to its administration headquarters, is Taiwan's most popular swimming beach at Fulung. Far more than swimming goes on here: there is also boating, surfing and wind-surfing, snorkeling, and a host of other activities. Just up the road is a seaside park at Yenliao; the beach here is not so perfect as that at Fulung, but the shore facilities are even more extensive.

Between the two beaches is Lungmen Campground, Taiwan's finest camping area and site of a fine riverside park. A couple of kilometers inland is the Tsaoling Historic Trail, a restored section of an ancient pathway that, over a century ago, provided the only land connection between the northern and eastern parts of the island. This is perhaps the most enchanting hiking trail in Taiwan today.

The Northeast Coast National Scenic Area offers a lot more than can be described here. There are fascinating coastal rock formations, lighthouses, fishing villages, pastoral farmlands, quaint temples, and Taiwan's first marina, all against a background of forested mountains.


The East Coast national Scenic Area has some of the finest coastal scnery in Taiwan.

East Coast National

Scenic Area

In terms of mountain scenery, however, the northeast coast does not compare well with the higher and more spectacular mountains of the East Coast National Scenic Area. Here, the precipitous slopes of the Coastal Mountain Range drop steeply into the sea or onto narrow coastal plains that provide acreage for rice paddies and coconut plantations.

This national scenic area encompasses most of the coastline between the cities of Hualien, in the center of the east coast, and Taitung, in the south. It stretches for 170 kilometers and covers a total of 41,483 hectares of land and sea. This is the home of the Ami, the largest of Taiwan's nine aborigine tribes. Much earlier it was home to prehistoric cultures, now disappeared, that existed as long as 10,000 years ago.

In addition to the beaches, fishing harbors, Ami culture, prehistoric sites, fantastic rock formations, and other features, the East Coast National Scenic Area has two more unique attractions: the Hsiukuluan River and Green Island. The Hsiukuluan cuts through the Central Mountain Range--the only river to do so--about midway along the scenic area. This 21-kilometer stretch of river is Taiwan's most popular spot for white-water rafting; 60,000 or so rafters make their way over the rapids (about one set per kilometer, but for the most part quite benign) every year, and the International White-Water Rafting Race brings contestants from all over the world each June.

Green Island is a 16-square-kilometer emerald set in the blue Pacific, 33 kilometers (about 15 minutes by small aircraft) from the city of Taitung. This unspoiled bit of land, with its striking coastal scenery, colorful coral reefs, green mountains, and rare salt-water hot spring, is being developed as an ecotourist destination.


Penghu National Scenic Area

This newest of all national scenic areas encompasses almost all of the 64 islands of the Penghu archipelago--a total of 85,603 hectares of land and sea. These low islands are short on vegetation, since strong seasonal winds prevent the growth of most trees, but are rich in sea life, culture, and historical significance.


Explore the Penghu National Scenic Area to experience a very different world.(above and below.)

Being located in the middle of the Taiwan Straits, between Taiwan and mainland China, the Penghu Islands had contact with the mainland earlier than did Taiwan. Thus Taiwan's oldest temple to Matsu, Goddess of the Sea, is located here, as are a number of other ancient temples and traditional dwellings in the style of Southern Fuchien. Old forts give a glimpse into the strategic history of the archipelago.

The Penghus preserve not only the old buildings and temples of China, but much of the old lifestyle as well. Men fish, the women farm. The Penghu Islands are less crowded, and life here is much less hectic, than on Taiwan proper.

The scenery too is rich in interest. Many of the islands feature walls and cliffs of strange-looking basalt columns, a legacy of their volcanic origin. The shallow surrounding seas offer an abundance of coral and reef fish; and, of course, there are plenty of good beaches for swimming. Boating and fishing are popular pastimes here as well. The goal of the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration is to build the islands into an "ocean park" of international standard, with five-star resort hotels, marinas, beach parks, and other facilities to satisfy the leisure needs of local residents and foreign visitors alike.

More to Come

Work on Taiwan's national scenic areas is an ongoing, never-ending effort. Development work has not been completed in any of the three areas--nor, strictly speaking, can it ever be. There are always improvements to be made, and once development has been completed the result must be preserved by regular maintenance.

And there are new national scenic areas to be established. Several additional spots have been considered: the Greater Alishan Area, the mountain resort high in the Central Mountain Range; Sun Moon Lake, the romantic vacation spot nestled amidst the central mountains that is a favorite of honeymooners; and the longitudinal Hualien-Taitung Valley, which separates the Central Mountain Range from the eastern Coastal Range.

If the Tourism Bureau is to take over any of these areas, however, it must first overcome formidable obstacles. Two of them are already operated as scenic areas, Alishan by the Forestry Bureau and Sun Moon Lake by the Nantou county government, and these agencies are stubbornly reluctant to relinquish control. The Hualien-Taitung Valley is not currently an integrated scenic area of any kind, and thus avoids this problem.

None of these three areas, therefore, is likely to come under the jurisdiction of the Tourism Bureau anytime soon. Fortunately, there is a fourth site that, if all goes well, will be established as a national scenic area within the next few years. This is Tapeng Bay in Pingtung county, on the island's southwest coast.


Crystal-clear water enhances Green Island and invites the serious scuba diver as well as the casual beachcomber.

Tapeng Bay is an inland bay, unique in Taiwan. The bay itself covers 532 hectares of relatively shallow sea water, with a maximum depth of 5.5 meters; it is protected from the Taiwan Straits by a narrow band of land (deposited there as silt from the Linpien River) and connected to it by a single narrow channel. The national scenic area will also include 649 hectares of land and 257 hectares of sea.

At present, most of the land involved is owned by the government (the biggest part of it by the military), but a substantial portion is under private ownership. The private owners could present a land acquisition problem, but probably not an insurmountable one.

The proposal to establish the Tapeng Bay National Scenic Area will be submitted to the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) for approval before the end of 1996. If approval is granted, as expected, work will begin on converting the area into a first-class tourist site that will attract both domestic and foreign tourists and take some of the pressure off the other over-utilized facilities in the area, especially Kenting National Park farther south.

The emphasis here will be on water activities such as yachting, swimming, water skiing, and skin diving. A marina will be provided for local boats as well as for foreign yachts to dock. A substantial shore area will also be available for land-based leisure activities. The project will require many years to develop into an integrated resort; but the new national scenic area is much needed and eagerly awaited, and the effort will be well worthwhile. The sooner the work begins, the better.


Travel in Taiwan Scenery
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.