Thu, Dec 23, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Jinguashi provides a welcome retreat from Jioufen's weekend getaway crowd

A former mining town near Jioufen offers an escape from tourist crowds but shars the seaside views and local lore

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Benshan Fifth Tunnel has been reconstructed and is now open for public tours.

Every weekend countless tourists take to the winding lanes of Taiwan's northern hilltop community Jioufen (九份), while its neighbor Jinguashi (金瓜石) remains relatively quiet. The grassy hills of Jinguashi overlook Taiwan's northern coastline and the South China Sea and provide a great place to get away and do nothing at all.

Once a thriving mining town in the 1940s, Jinguashi is now filled with abandoned shafts and architectural reminders of its Japanese colonial past. A newly constructed and recently opened Gold Ecological Park (地質公園) documents the blood, sweat and tears of the town's mining and colonial history.

One of the best things about a trip to Jinguashi is that it is easily accessible on foot. Although it is possible to rent bicycles or scooters and even hire a taxi for the day, most of the trails are in the hillside and so walking gives people the opportunity to get off the beaten track.

Starting at Jinguashi train station is a cluster of Japanese-style dormitories whose unique location in the countryside provides a popular backdrop for several Taiwanese television series. Ascending the mountain, visitors come to several points of interest with accompanying history written in both English and Chinese. To commemorate the opening of the ecological park, the former residence of a Japanese prince (菊部次郎舊宅) is now open to the public. More interesting and better preserved the royal quarters, are the remains of the Japanese Zen temple, with a view of the city.

The highlight of the park is the Gold Museum (金礦博物館) and the reconstructed Benshan Fifth Tunnel (本山五坑). The main floor of the museum displays both photographs and a video presentation (with English subtitles) of the changes to the surrounding area. It is while being guided through the tunnel that visitors gain an appreciation of the working conditions in the mines and the difficulties the miners experienced. Along with recreated scenes from an average workday, there is accompanying information in both English and Chinese. Jinguashi was also the site of Kinkaseki (台灣戰俘營故事), one of the worst World War II prisoner of war camps in Taiwan. There is an area reserved in the museum as a memorial to the men who were held at the prison camp.

Near the park's exit are a series of snack shops selling food and beverages, as well as local specialties such as dried fruits and peanut candy. There is also a traditional lunchbox meal (NT$180) that comes packed in a metal box and cloth bag as a souvenir replica of those used by the miners.

There might not be any gold left in the hills but there are plenty of paths to take for a leisurely stroll with charming views of the sea. One route takes visitors from Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布) up a 15-minute walk to the rooftop of an enormous 13-level abandoned refinery (十三層舊礦場). From there, visitors can walk down toward the town, sea or or another lookout point which is close to a residential area.

With an early start, it is possible to spend the first part of the day at the ecological park and the afternoon wandering around either Keelung (雞籠山) or Wuerchahu Mountains (無耳茶壺山). From there, visitors can retire to a quaint guesthouse or join the crowds in Jioufen for shopping and tea.

A guide service is available at NT$700, however requests for guided tours must be made two weeks in advance. For more information on how to apply and where to send the request contact the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area Administration.

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