Taiwan Stories – White Water Rafting in Hualian

14 Apr
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Published in Travel in Taiwan magazine (May/June 2010)

The summers in Taipei can be overwhelming, even for long-term residents the combination of high temperatures and humidity are uncomfortable.  Fortunately, Taiwan has a plethora of different water-based activities to help you cool off and still get outside and make the most of the summer.

Taiwan, being an island nation, has no shortage of sandy, scenic beaches, that during the summer draw in tourists and locals alike looking for a cooling swim in the Pacific Ocean.  Fulong beach in the North and Kending in South are two of my personal favorites.  However, taking a dip in the ocean isn’t the only way to cool off here and those looking for a bit more excitement could be enticed by the fantastic surfing spots at Wushi Port and Jialeshui.  These are Taiwan’s top surf spots and during the summer, particularly at weekends, become a magnet attracting the island’s growing surf community.  Kayaking is another great way to get wet and enjoy the amazing coastal scenery at the same time.

The beaches are wonderful, yet they are still number two on my list of ideal summer destinations.  The rivers and streams that wind and jut through Taiwan’s mountainous body are the real highlight for me and any summer visit to Taiwan simply must include sampling one of these idyllic locations.  The steep mountains that cover about 70% of the island are interspersed with literally hundreds of incredible, streams of crystal-clear water that flows through the imposing mountains that surround them.  The gradients of these mountains means that the rivers flow fast and often pass through numerous towering waterfalls and rapids sections on their way to the Pacific Ocean.

The East coast of Taiwan possesses some of the most stunning scenery in all of Asia and the rivers that run through the high mountains and the rift valley that separates the mountain ranges provides the ideal way to see it.  White-water rafting trips are available on the Xiuguluan River in Hualien County between the months of April and November of each year.  There are several companies that organize trips and most will arrange transport for you from Hualien City, which makes the trip convenient to do as part of a short weekend break.  These companies also run several other activities including whale-watching (Winter/Spring is the best time) and night fishing trips.  However, the most interesting activity they offer is river-tracing in the majestic Taroko Gorge National Park and is unquestionably a must-do!

My latest trip to the Xiuguluan River was in June of last year.  Three friends and I took the train down to the small town of Ruishui early one Saturday morning amidst cloudless, perfect blue skies.  The town of Ruishui is located in the centre of the East Coast Rift Valley and although it is generally only revered for being the start point for many a rafting trip, it is also a very pretty area.  Set amidst huge rice fields with the towering mountain ranges overlooking the valley to the East and West, it is a really great, flat area to cycle or stroll around.  The valley is especially attractive in the winter when the rice fields are filled with golden yellow rapeseed flowers that are often as full with flowers as they are with people taking photographs!  But, on this day, it was over 35 degrees and we only had one thing on our minds – getting wet!

Before any rafting trip in Taiwan you have to attend a safety demonstration and watch a video explaining what to do in an emergency.  This was a pleasant surprise for me, in other places that I have rafted in Asia the safety briefings have often been of the “put on your life jacket and get in the boat” variety.  The rafting companies also provide helmets, life jackets and all the other safety equipment that is required.  It is also possible to buy/rent rafting shoes and other items of clothing that you may have forgot to pack.  After about half an hour standing around with all the equipment on in the blazing sun, we were finally given the go-ahead to go down to the river and get in the boats.  There was a temptation to just bypass the boats altogether and jump straight into the cool, refreshing water, but somehow we managed to resist.  Generally, the boats can seat about eight people so we shared ours with a group of young students from Zhanghua.  Another pleasing difference about rafting in Taiwan is that you are in the boats on your own, there is no instructor with you.  The lifeguards drive around the river in small motorized boats to keep an eye on things and make sure everyone is safe, it makes it a lot more fun being in total control of the boat yourselves.

When we went the water level was quite low and in general the rapids are class 2 to 3, although after a typhoon has just passed the rapids can get up to class 4 and this is the best time to go if you are looking for excitement.  I know that might sound a little crazy, but the organizers ensured me that it is safe!  The first half of the trip, which lasts from 4-6 hours depending on the water levels, wasn’t as intense as previous trips I have been on, but what the Xiuguluan river lacks in speed, it makes up for in natural beauty.  At times, we were quite happy to enjoy slowly drifting down the river taking in the expansive views of surrounding valley.  This also means that rafting trips here are suitable for all ages/abilities, which would make it a really fun family day out.  However, bear in mind that no matter what level the water is at, you will get very,very wet during the trip so it is a good idea to invest in a waterproof camera to capture the memories of the trip!

Even though the rapids weren’t as exciting as we hoped, we still managed to make our own fun.  From the minute we jumped into the boat, we began splashing all the other boats in the river with our paddles and soon all of the twenty boats in the river became involved in a no-holds-barred water fight!  We splashed indiscriminately at anyone who came near us, then when no-one was near us we splashed one another.  At one point, we were so involved in splashing each other that we didn’t see the rapids ahead.  When we hit the rapids, I was flung out the side of the boat and into the water but not before I grabbed onto my friend and ended up pulling him in too!  I always thought that it would be an incredibly scary experience being thrown out of a boat in the middle of the rapids, but it really wasn’t at all.  We just lay on backs, as we had been instructed to do so, and soon caught up with the boat and were pulled back on-board.  The biggest problem was that all of us were laughing so much that we couldn’t compose ourselves long enough to climb back into the boat!

We stopped at the halfway point for lunch that was provided by the rafting company and a well-earned rest.  The second half of the trip was a lot more exciting and this is where the rapids sections become a lot faster and more concentrated.  It turned out that our crew-mates preferred the relaxing first half and I often turned my head round, as we bounced up and over the waves in the rapids, to find them cowering on the floor of the boat in the tuck-position!  The boats are pretty easy to control, except when half the crew stop paddling and hide!  As a result we found ourselves spinning through the fast-flowing water and bouncing sideways of protruding rocks.

After a quick shower and lots of photos with out new friends we were driven up to the main road to catch a bus south to Taidong, however the rafting company can also provide transport back to the start point or Hualien City for a small fee if required.  The sun was just setting as we boarded the near-empty bus that would drive us down the coast to our next destination and we were all in good spirits after a superb day out and began planning our next rafting trip – the next time a typhoon comes!

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5 Responses to “Taiwan Stories – White Water Rafting in Hualian”

  1. Raechal September 13, 2010 at 4:03 am #

    Hi there! I am living in Korea and a friend and I are planning a trip to Taiwon next week. We were hoping to raft in Hualien, but I am having a hard time finding a company to book with. can you recommend a company that speaks English, or do you think it won’t be a problem to try and book the day before?

    • Phil September 13, 2010 at 5:16 am #

      Hi, I dont know if any of the companies down there speak English and I’m sure they don’t have English websites.

      However, you could try contacting Amigo’s hostel. They can arrange the trip for you. If you need somewhere to stay then I would recommend the hostel for that, too.

      http://amigos-68.myweb.hinet.net/

      One other thing, I don’t think the water levels are going to be very high (been a pretty dry summer) so maybe you might want to consider river tracing instead?

      If you need any more help, just let me know.

  2. Wendy March 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Hi there
    thanks for the very detailed account if your experience! Could you share with me the contact details of the rafting company that you went with, and your genuine comments on their services?
    I’m thinking of doing water rafting in hualien this April 🙂

    cheers!
    Wendy

    • Phil March 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

      Hi Wendy,

      The company was called 向上 and they were perfectly fine. However, I really don’t think there will be enough water in April to make it worthwhile. Perhaps river tracing would be better at that time of the year, if you need any more help just let me know.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top Five – East Coast « Taiwan Stories - September 2, 2010

    […] White Water Rafting – Not the fastest rapids, but some of the most beautiful scenery […]

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