Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 18 News List

A Turtle Island fantasycomes true for tourists

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Getting to Turtle Island can be a bit of a hassle. But that makes the number of visitors there very few.

PHOTO: MAX WOODWORTH, TAIPEI TIMES

Looming off the coast of Ilan County, shrouded in an almost perpetual haze, Turtle Island draws one's eyes and tempts anyone who has harbored desert-island fantasies.

And who doesn't fantasize about stealing away to a place like Turtle Island just to unwind? That's possible now, but there are some hoops to leap through and the dream can only be partially realized.

The island was first opened to tourism in 2000 after decades as an off-limits military zone, but a lack of planning and information made taking the trip a huge hassle.

The Northeast Coast Scenic Area tourism administration is trying to address this problem with the establishment last month of an online application system for permits that potential visitors to Turtle Island must first go through to travel to the island.

The new system has the benefits of keeping strict controls on the number of visitors to the island and ensuring that accepted applicants are channeled to registered boat operators, who run safe and comfortable boats and even offer single-day insurance plans.

If there is a drawback to the on-line application system, it would be that it's only available in Chinese -- the Northeast Coast Scenic Area's English and Japanese Web sites contain only a welcome letter from its director.

Nevertheless, the application process is mostly pro forma and it does keep the number of visitors to the island at around 350 per day. No one is permitted to stay on the island more than two hours.

One boat operator running out of Toucheng said two hours is plenty to complete the roped-off hiking trails in the tiny corner of the island currently open to

visitors.

Whether that will satisfy people's curiosity in the island is questionable, but it will have to suffice because the military has no plans to open more space to visitors, according to a spokeswoman at the Northeast Coast Scenic Area

administration.

Round-trip boat rides cost about NT$1,000 per person. Group rates can be negotiated.

For a list of boat operators, go to http://www.e-land.gov.tw/tour/ksisland/page-002.asp

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