Almost everywhere in Taiwan you will find breath-taking scenery, but perhaps the views that leave the deepest impression on visitors are those of the majestic, dramatic coastline. And what better way to take in all the splendour of these picturesque cliffs and bluffs than from the (somewhat) comfortable seat of a kayak!
There are a multitude of places to kayak in Taiwan, from relaxing trips around calm lakes and rivers to the more adventurous white-water trips through the islands fast-flowing mountain streams and of course sea kayaking in vast ocean that surrounds this island. Being a bit of an adrenaline junkie I decided to choose the latter for my kayak trip and I knew exactly where I wanted to go to make the most of this opportunity – the enchanting North-East Coast Scenic Area.
The island of Taiwan itself lies in a complex tectonic area and that is the reason for the very unique geology to be found here. The North-East Coast Scenic Area is just one example of this. The area is made of up of a set of terranes that were pushed up when tectonic plates below collided, thus pushing the land up to create the mountains and vast, sheer cliffs that are a feature of the coastline today. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this area of Taiwan is the incredible diversity of landforms that exist in such a small area. Golden, sandy beaches, spectacular reefs, rocks and caves artfully shaped by sea-erosion as well as steep cliffs and undercut bluffs are just a few of the plethora of spectacles to be witnessed here.
This was to be my first kayak trip in the ocean for about ten years so I was feeling pretty nervous when I met up with my guide, Lorry Chen of the Taiwan Kayak Association. But he soon put me at ease and was a fantastic help, both in preparing the trip and during the actual trip itself. My previous kayaking experience was back in the UK, when working as a lifeguard we often took the kayaks out into the North Sea for training. Memories flooded back of 6 foot waves crashing around me as me boat overturned in the surf and I panicked as the icy cold waters of the North Sea took my breath away. Lorry laughed when I told the story and then insisted that safety was his number one priority and we wouldn’t be going out unless it was safe (and he promised that the Pacific Ocean would be a lot warmer if I did fall in!)
On the day of the trip, I woke up at 6am to bright sunshine combined with a pleasant, refreshing breeze and set off on my motorbike to get to the coast. In fact, it is much quicker to drive by car or take a train out to the coast but for me, driving over Yangming mountain on a beautiful Sunday morning is about as close to heaven as it gets. It is about an hours ride from Taipei City to Wanli and it is truly an awe-inspiring ride. The road winds through lush green mountains and deep valleys peppered with crystal clear streams oozing through them. As I arrived in Wanli, there was just enough time to refuel (gas for my bike, black coffee for me) before going to meet Lorry and the rest of the group at the beach.
There was about twenty-five kayaks in our group today, a mixture of single and tandem sea kayaks and we split up into groups of five to make it easier to keep track of everyone. I was to ride in a tandem kayak with my partner for the day, Steve, a very experienced kayaker who introduced his boat and gave me a safety briefing. I put on my life jacket, diving boats and covered any exposed areas in layers after layer of sun cream before getting into the boat. At only 50 cm wide, it is hard to believe how steady the boat is in the water, but it is incredibly well-balanced and not once during the trip did I feel like we would overturn.
The trip started at a nice relaxed pace as Steve and I waited for the rest of our team to catch up with us and join together. We then discussed the route we were about to undertake, in total about 15km of paddling broken up into two sections. First we planned to paddle to Yeliu Geopark and after resting for a while, get back into the boats and head to Jinshan beach further up the coast. When kayaking in the ocean it is important to pay attention to the tides, if you try paddling against the tide you are not only increasing the amount of work you need to do, but could be doubling the length of time your trip will take. As the tide comes in around the NECSA the ocean will drain into the Danshui River, which is North of Wanli, so on this trip we took advantage of the incoming tide to carry us the the 15km North to Jinshan.
Steve and I were chatting away as we paddled over the calm ocean and I was just starting to relax and enjoy the suns rays beating down on my arms while photographing the enchanting rock formations around Yeliu. Then Steve’s radio crackled into life and I heard Lorry’s voice excitedly telling everyone to be careful as we navigated around the cape as the swell was a lot bigger there. Adrenaline started to flow through my veins and within a minute our kayak was been thrown up and down as we rode over each wave towards the other side of the cape. Despite the pummelling we were taking the kayak remained remarkably stable and I was able to really enjoy the challenge of fighting through the swell. The boat cut through the waves with ease, the bow slicing through them and sending the warm, salty water gushing into my face and body. As we got to the other side, everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but I was beaming with enjoyment, my initial apprehension being washed away as the waves were breaking over me. I couldn’t wait for the next cape!
We paddled the boats safely to shore at Yeliu Geopark and joined the eager crowds of photographers and tourists already exploring this bizarre and intriguing place. All 1700 metres of Yeliu cape stretches out into the ocean like a giant turtle about to submerge itself. The cape is a fascinating area for geological research but is also just a wonderful place for a layman, like myself, to look around. Created as the Datun mountain was pushed out of the sea, the rock contains substantial amounts of limestone which makes it particularly susceptible to erosion and weathering. As a result the cape is brimming with remarkable features such as pot holes, rocks shaped tofu and most famously the eye-catching mushroom-shaped rocks. Of particular interest to me was being able to spot the honeycomb rocks that I have seen many times when hiking around the island. These formations are most commonly seen near the ocean, but in Taiwan one can often find them far inland, evidence that the island was once entirely under the Pacific Ocean. Even though I have visited Yeliu on many occasions, I still found myself hopping eagerly around the rocks, eyes wide with my camera clicking incessantly.
Our time at Yeliu ended all too soon, but we still had a fair few kilometres to paddle to reach our destination in Jinshan. The final section was a long straight paddle and the gentle bobbing of the ocean was beginning to take it’s toll on my stomach and I finally began to feel some of the seasickness I was warned about. Fortunately it didn’t last long and we soon reached the shore in good spirits at Jinshan. Physically fatigued and mentally exhausted, I landed on the beach with every intention of collapsing for a rest, until I realized that we still had to haul the boats 500 meters up the beach to the cars! Summoning what little energy I had, I picked up the kayak and virtually crawled through the warm, soft sand to the top of the beach. Then, Lorry being fantastic as ever, brought over a cool beer and we celebrated a successful and most entertaining trip!