WALAMI TRAIL – WATERFALLS AND SUSPENSION BRIDGES IN YUSHAN NATIONAL PARK


Mid-September 2017, I finally took leave from the World Inn hostel to get some adventures around Taiwan. My first goal was to spend at least one night in the mountains on the Walami Trail. It was still the typhoon season though and my plan fell (again) in the water. I spent one week on Lanyu Island instead (I really do have to tell you all about this amazing experience) and as I sailed back to Taiwan, the weather was finally sunny enough to go hiking. I didn’t have that much time and couldn’t spend the night in the woods, but I could still try to hike the Walami Trail in one day.

And really, between the waterfalls and suspension bridges, the Walami Trail totally won a special spot in my heart.

(Lis cet article en Français, bébé!)


The Walami Trail is the first section on the East Side of one famous hike in Taiwan: the Battongguan Crossing Trail. This trail is crossing Yushan National Park from East to West (or the other way around). It used to be an old path built on the XVIIIth century then restored under Japanese rule to connect both coasts but also grant a better control over the indigenous tribes around. Police stations from this time are to be found along the trail, even in the most remote areas. The whole 90 km hike from Yuli on the East Coast to Dongpu on the West would take approximately from 7 to 10 days, crossing the Central Mountain Range.

As for the Walami section, commonly called ‘Walami Trail’, it’s 14 km long and starts a few kilometres after the famous Nanan Waterfalls, in the Yuli surroundings. The duration of the entire hike and coming back may vary from one website to another, but it’s completely possible to hike the trail to the Walami Cabin and come back in one day. I’d say it would take approximately 8 hours to finish it. The first section of the Walami Trail, until Shanfeng or Jiaxin, is a popular hike amongst the Taiwanese who are used to go there on hot afternoons to enjoy the cool breeze of the waterfalls. I met nobody on the trail after Jiaxin, though.

If you’re thinking of hiking the entire Battongguan Crossing Trail, Robert Scott Kelly’s blog is full of useful information.

You’ll also find useful notes on the Offical Website of Yushan National Park.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION TO THE WALAMI (Who said Salami?) TRAIL

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  • WHEN TO GO?

Well, as usual in Taiwan, it’s always better to hike when the weather is not too wet, but the Walami Trail is easy enough to be hiked all-year-round. However, from May to September, there could be heavy rainfalls, as well as typhoons, causing landslides and the closure of some trails. Some trails could also be closed in February for annual recovery, so make sure the trail is open for hikes.

You can check the current status of the trail on the official website right here:

CHECK THE TRAIL STATUS


  • HOW TO GET THERE?

Walami Trail’s trailhead starts about 25 km away from Yuli, about 6km after the Nanan Visitor Center and 4 km after the waterfalls of the same name. As I recall there is no public transportation that can help you get there from Yuli, so it’s better to rent a bicycle or a scooter, book a taxi or even have a go with hitchhiking. The perks of renting a scooter or a bicycle are that you can stop on the way to the trail to the Nanan Waterfalls.

I tried my chance and hitchhiked on my way back from the trail, and I didn’t wait 3 minutes until someone stopped. An old Taiwanese man picked me up, he was hiking on the trail with me on the last section and he recognized me on the side of the road and brought me back to Yuli.


  • WHAT TO BRING IN YOUR BACKPACK?

As usual in Taiwan, the weather is unpredictable. Especially on the East Coast, and especially in the mountains. You should get ready for anything and bring your raincoat as well as your sunscreen. Don’t forget your cap, your sunglasses, a hot jumper and some mosquito repellent if, like me, those bloodsuckers seem to have a crush on you.

There’s no place to get food past the Nanan Visitor Center, so better pack a big bottle of water (it’s only possible to get water in Jiaxin and Huangma, 5 and 10 km after the trailhead) and some snacks to eat on the way.


  • ABOUT THE HIKING PERMITS

From Jiaxin, the Walami Trail requires a hiking permit. I hiked the whole trail without one and didn’t get checked, but in the case you would like to spend the night in the Walami Cabin or hike further up (staying overnight at the Cabin is free of charge but you have to book in advance), I strongly recommend you to apply for a permit. It’s better to apply at least 7 days before the hike, and the thrill is that you can apply online via the Yushan National Park website. All you need is your passport, a local phone number and an emergency contact who’s not going to hike with you (someone being Taiwanese would be better). Once your precious hiking permit printed out, you need to get it checked at the Nanan Visitor Center.

APPLY FOR YOUR PARK PERMIT

You’ll also be required to get a ‘Mountain Entry Permit’ delivered by the Police -which is located right after Nanan Visitor Center. It’s also possible to apply online, although I haven’t found any English version:

APPLY FOR YOUR (POLICE) MOUNTAIN PERMIT


LET’S HIKE THE WALAMI BABY!

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  • NANAN WATERFALLS

On the way to the Walami Trail’s trailhead, my Couchsurfing host, Damien, make a stop at the Nanan Waterfalls. It’s early in the morning and Damien is driving me up there before starting his workday at Yuli’s Church. For him, there’s nothing like a morning bath in the waterfalls to start the day!

We climb the railing, for it’s forbidden to go swimming there, but Damien tells me there’s no one around at that time of the day. We only meet one American guy who also came here to enjoy the quiet morning time for a swim. I put on my swimming suit this morning before heading off, all so ready to put my sweaty face underwater, but hell the water is so damn cold! I have water high up my waist, and I’m shivering. But Damien is right, he who’s jumping head first in the icy cold water: I’m now more than ready and all energized by this dip in the waterfalls to start my hiking journey in the Yushan mountains.


  • FINALLY HIKING THE WALAMI

The path is quite easy at the beginning, a bit like a stroll in the forest. I come across the old Shanfeng Police Station (‘山風’ meaning ‘mountain wind’ in Chinese). This police station was built in the 1920’s and abandoned in 1944 when the Japanese were defeated in WWII. There are many abandoned police stations like this one to be found in the mountains of Taiwan, they used to help the Japanese keep an eye on the indigenous tribes who were constantly resisting and defying the Japanese occupation.

After those ruins hidden under the green vegetation, I’m walking across my first suspension bridge, the Shanfeng Suspension Bridge N°1, which is offering me incredible vistas over the mountains (and some heart palpitations as well – even though I dearly love suspension bridges, I can’t ever silence my unstable shitty balance whispering me that I’m going to swing down in the river) and the gorgeous waterfalls I’m about to discover further up the way.


  • SHANFENG WATERFALLS

The trail is now leading me to a secondary path, as well as a great deal of stairs going down towards the Shanfeng Waterfalls. I allow myself a little break there, the place is well too charming not to stop to enjoy the view.

I’m soon crossing through my second suspension bridge, the well-named Shanfeng Suspension Bridge N°2, which is supposed to look exactly the same as it was in the 1930’s. Yes, my dear, even those huge steel cables haven’t changed ever since. On the entrance gate are engraved the Chinese characters -in a Japanese style- designating Shanfeng Bridge. From the bridge, I get another angle of view of the waterfalls, which are sneaking away to join the Lakulaku River.


  • JIAXIN

I keep on going on my merry way, crossing little bridges and little streams. I’m meandering under the cliffs, with the Yushan mountains on my side, and the valley of the Lakulaku River down below. The trail is a bit narrow on this section, but it’s thrilling, I almost want to jump around with excitement.

Reaching Jiaxin, the Chinese transcription of ‘Kashin’ which means ‘gorgeous scenery’ in Bunun language, the first and only rest stop/picnic and camping area on this section of the Batugguan Trail, I finally find toilets, drinkable water and a charming rest area where I lay down for a while and eat my spring onions biscuits. The Bunun tribe is one indigenous tribe of Taiwan living in the mountains. Jiaxin used to be a police station as well under the Japanese rule, for Jiaxin was located at the intersection with the Asanglaiga Trail, a trail going down to the Lakulaku River’s north bank where the village of Asanglaiga, a school for indigenous people as well as a health care centre were to be found.

I look at my map on Maps.Me with rising anxiety: I need to be back at the trailhead around 16:00 if I wanna make up back to Yuli for the drink (‘apéro’ in French) at the Church. If you’re curious about the details of this unlikely sentence, I’m inviting you to carry on reading and find the answer at the end of this post.


  • STROLLING IN THE FOREST

From now on, the trail is restricted to the only holder of permits. I don’t have any, though, but I try my luck anyway, I’m eager to see what’s next. I’m meandering through the forest for a while, then walking on a path made out of rocks and pebbles crossing a bloody impressive landslide. Is it still the path? Am I wondering from time to time, but yeah that’s the way, the little brown signs are here and there are those yellow bands preventing me from falling on the landslide.

There are several warning signs along the way about the Black Bears of Taiwan (as well as snakes, wasps, leeches and rock slides) and it’s starting to get on my nerves all those stories about deadly animals, to the point where I completely overreact and jump with fear at the sight of… a bird flying away. So long for my cold sweat followed by my laughter.

I truth, I also found some pretty nice new little friends on my way. Let me introduce you to them:


  • HUANGMA SUSPENSION BRIDGE

Then I come along Huangma, another former police station but there’s nothing left on the grounds. The place has since become a heaven for ferns, flowers and bees. From that clearing, I get a glimpse of those fluffy clouds decorating the mountains in front of me.

I cross some other little bridges, some other little streams, and I’m still enchanted. There’s this awesome stele in the middle of the forest, most probably some Japanese souvenir left when this trail was actually crowded. I’m then getting to the Huangma Suspension Bridge, of which carmine red is an elegant contrast to the surrounding greenery. The bridge is crossing the Huangma River, which is also twirling down towards the Lakulaku River.

After the bridge, I realize that I won’t have time to finish the hike, I have to go back to the trailhead if I wanna make it back to Yuli. I’m so close. Only 3,6 km left before the Walami Cabin. Even if I run (but why on earth would I do that?), I might miss my drinks with the priests. I have to go back now. I’m still proud of myself, I’ve been hiking 10 km (even if it was mainly flat in the end) in an enchanted forest, and I promised my Couchsurfing host, Damien, that I’ll be on time to share their Monday’s drinks at the Church. Even if I haven’t finished the hike, there’s still an unexpected night to come.

And it will surely give me a reason to come back and spend the night in the Walami Cabin someday.


SOME EXPERIENCES WORTH THE TRY IN YULI

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  • A STROLL ALONG THE LAKULAKU RIVER

We can see the Lakulaku River from the trail, this one meandering through the Yushan mountains. Several routes and trails are following its way, and when the weather’s good, that’s an awesome spot to get a dip or to swim in one of those pools.


  • ANTONG HOT SPRINGS

Yuli is quite famous for its numerous hot springs, the water there can reach up until 66°C. In Antong Hot Springs, you can choose either to get a bath in the outdoor hot springs with an enchanting surrounding, either to get a Japanese style indoor bath – which means you’ll be fully naked like in onsen. The water there is supposed to heal superficial wounds as well as soothing your digestive issues. Well, that’s what I’ll call a perfect post-Walami Trail escapade!


  • A BICYCLE RIDE TO DONGLI

You can easily explore Yuli and its surrounding with a bicycle. There are some bicycle paths, and one is leading to the neighbouring village, Dongli. You’ll pass by Antong as well, riding on former rail tracks. On the way, you’ll cross the intersection of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the Philippines Sea ones. At the end of the trail, a former train station has been turned into a nice bicycle stop.


  • DONGLI’S ANCIENT HAKKA HOUSE

This old Hakka house is almost 100 years old! That’s one of the oldest houses in Taiwan. This one belongs to the Qiu family, and there are some really nice carvings on the outside and even an old traditional Chinese medicine cabinet. Visiting the house is free although the woman giving the tour doesn’t speak English.


  • THE BEST STINKY TOFU OF TAIWAN

 

If you’re thinking of spending one or two nights in Yuli before strolling on the Walami Trail, I strongly recommend you trying this awesome stinky tofu. That’s definitely the best I’ve eaten in Taiwan, I swear. There’s a huge queue in front of the place every night, and beware if you’re planning to eat inside: you’re going to sweat the stinky tofu from every pore of your clothes, skin and hair afterwards.

玉里橋頭臭豆腐 – Yuli Bridge Stinky Tofu – No. 15, Minquan Street, Yuli Township, Hualien County, 981


  • DISCOVER YULI’S CATHOLIC CHURCH

I’m nowhere near to be someone religious, even though every religion is somehow piquing my interest, if only from a cultural or historical perspective. As for the Catholic religion, I’ve been there, done that, so I’m familiar with the thing, thank you but no thank you.

So, how did I end up drinking beers with Father Yves and Father Maurice after my journey on the Walami Trail? Let’s say I just had another unlikely Couchsurfing experience. Damien, a French guy, hosted me in his place in Yuli, where he works at the Catholic Church. He introduces me to his job, but also to this famous church, famous because since I started to make my own researches about the place, it well seems like Father Yves Moal’s doings are crossing the seven seas.

Two French missionaries are now working for Yuli’s Catholic Church, Father Maurice Poinsot (who arrived in Taiwan in 1959) and Father Yves Moal (who arrived in 1966). Father Maurice got really passionate about the languages spoken by his parishioners (Chinese, Taiwanese, Hakka, Amis – in which he’s a fluent speaker) and even wrote a French/Amis dictionary which has now become a work of reference and helped improve some other dictionaries. As for Father Yves, he’s been nicknamed ‘the garbage priest’, for he’s helping people facing all kind of problems (former prisoners, homeless people, disabled people, unemployed people, etc.) to get socially rehabilitate through sorting and recycling garbage. He’s welcoming anyone in need in his church, even the travellers. Damien told me that he recently helped his previous Couchsurfer by paying him a train ticket and hosting him for a few days.

So, if you have some time to support the numerous projects of Father Yves, you’ll find in Yuli’s Catholic Church an energetic man with infinite generosity. You might even be lucky enough to sleep in the Church and share some drinks with the priests and the Church’s team. The Church is actually open to anyone, to relax, to study, to pray, to eat, to read -there’s a quite nice library in there, and Damien’s other Couchsurfer, Sylvia, was actually staying at the Church while I was there.

So long for a Couchsurfing experience in a Church.

MORE ABOUT FATHER YVES MOAL (Article of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan “Fifty Years of Caring for Hualien’s Disadvantaged—Father Yves Moal”)

MORE ABOUT FATHER MAURICE POINSOT (Article of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan “The Angel East of the River—Father Maurice Poinsot”)


  • SPENDING THE NIGHT IN YULI: THE BLISS INN 1719

The day I met Joan, I was on the train to Taitung. She was telling me that this day was a big day for her: that was the opening of her hostel in Yuli, the Bliss Inn 1719. I was sincerely encouraging her, disclosing her my own fantasies of welcoming guests under my roof, turning a house into a hostel one day. She said I was her first symbolic guest. But it took me a few months before I went back to Yuli… And there I found a really charming, comfortable and friendly hostel. Joan was all but smiles and telling us all about the places we had to visit while in Yuli. She also has a little collection of board games at the hostel, and as board games lover, this little detail definitely made my heart sing – as well as the huge terrace on the rooftop which offers a 360° view over the city.


When I head back to Hualien, I have plenty of panoramic vistas floating in my mind. Once I got over my deception of not being able to spend the night in the Walami Cabin (thanks typhoons, thanks maintenance works, thanks my shitty timing), I couldn’t have imagined living such an interesting Couchsurfing experience thanks to Damien, Sylvia and Father Yves and Maurice.

Even though I couldn’t get to the end of the trail on that sunny day of mid-September – because you can’t say no to an apéro at the presbytery – I still walked back my way hopping around, very much proud of myself and all those kilometres I’ve hiked, and so very much enthusiastic about the scenery around me.

I think I’m in love with Taiwan more than ever at that moment. I’m thankful for its forests, its waterfalls, its suspensions bridges. And moreover, for its unusual life experiences.


WALAMI TRAIL – WATERFALLS AND SUSPENSION BRIDGES IN YUSHAN NATIONAL PARK
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