PERFECT FOR: Rock hounds
WHY: Rare coastal hoodoos (rock spires), wave-cut moonscapes, and Dali-esque rock formations create an otherworldly vibe along Taiwan’s North Coast. Yehliu Geopark is the most popular spot to see how wind, waves, weathering, and differential erosion (rocks eroding at varying rates) continuously remold the coastal landscape. “It’s hard to imagine how natural forces can shape the earth’s crust into such fantastic rock sculptures,” says Phoenix, Arizona, resident Brenda Mangers, who visited Yehliu in February 2016. “The eight-foot-tall sandstone mushrooms were amazing, but the candlesticks were unbelievable because they were a combination of cylindrical shapes topped with attached spherical ‘flames.’”
Yehliu Geopark, which occupies a promontory jutting more than a mile north into the East China Sea, isn’t the only rock star on the North Coast. Climb the stairs up and over the Shimen Stone Arch for spectacular sea and coastal views. And then see the wind-carved rocks at Fugui Cape Park, where you can walk to the lighthouse (closed to the public), located on the northernmost tip of mainland Taiwan.
WHERE: The North Coast primarily runs along Taiwan’s north-central coast. The region is part of New Taipei City, the country’s most populous city, and forms the eastern portion of the wider North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area. Most international flights to northern Taiwan arrive at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport, about 25 miles west of the capital, Taipei.
HOW: It’s easy to get around using public transportation. At the airport, ride the shuttle bus to the Taoyuan THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) station, and take the high-speed train to Taipei (about a 20-minute ride). Transfer to the MRT (metro) and ride north to Tamsui Station, gateway to the North Coast. Outside the station, look for the Crown Northern Coastline tourist shuttle. Buy a one-day pass aboard the bus for unlimited travel between Tamsui Station and Guihou Fishing Harbor. The tourist shuttle stops at multiple attractions and visitors centers on Provincial Highway 2, the scenic route along the North Coast.
STAY: Ask for a sea-view room at Fullon Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf, a 198-room hotel shaped like a cruise ship. Ride the free guest shuttle (reservations required) from the Tamsui metro station to the hotel. From the hotel, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the restaurants and the Tamsui River ferry pier at Fisherman’s Wharf. The hotel property includes an outdoor pool and the 328-foot-high Lovers’ Tower. Ride the elevator up to the tower’s revolving observation deck for 360-degree views of Tamsui, the Taiwan Strait, and Guanyin Mountain.
EAT: Hop off the Crown Northern Coastline shuttle at the Jinshan Old Street (Jinbaoli Old Street) stop to try North Coast specialties such as seaweed jelly, baked sweet potato, and Jinshan duck. For a food field trip, take a bus to Keelung, home of the Keelung Miaokou Night Market. (You also have the option of getting on the high-speed rail back to Taipei and catching a train from there to Keelung.) More mini-city than market, the nightly spectacle includes a dizzying selection of delicacies such as tian-bu-la (Taiwanese-style tempura made with fish paste), fried oysters and oyster omelets, stinky tofu, and pao pao bing (shaved ice).
DON’T MISS: Take a morning hike in the mountains of Yangmingshan National Park, located in the inland portion of the North Coast. From early May to early July, the park is home to about a hundred species of butterflies, such as swallowtails, milkweeds, and chestnut tigers.
FUN FACT: Queen’s Head, Yehliu Geopark’s most famous sandstone formation, is showing her age. The long-necked sculpture (named for bearing a slight resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I) is thought to be at least 4,000 years old. Natural erosion has thinned the neck to the point where it could break, causing the head to fall off. Scientists are monitoring the rock and searching for ways to preserve it.