The Central Mountain Range is one of Taiwan’s scenic treasures, and in autumn and winter it provides vistas of natural beauty that amaze and delight residents of a country that for the most part might be described as subtropical. Droves of tourists travel to the mountains to revel in the beautiful autumnal colors of various species of maple and cypress.
This year has been difficult for visitors heading out to enjoy the “appreciating maple leaf season” (賞楓季). The erratic weather and long spells of rain have made advanced bookings a gamble. Finding good rooms at prime locations when the maples are just so is no easy task, but the second half of this month looks promising. Despite the rain, I headed out last week to Wuling Farm (武陵農場), one of Taiwan’s most popular destinations for scenic wonderment. I was hoping the wet weather would put people off, but the place was almost booked out, with the car park overflowing (and this was midweek) and the accessible stands of maple and cypress thick with tourists.
Taking photos of maples and cypresses in their autumn cloak of reds, yellows, dappled browns and burgundy is a popular annual activity with tourists flocking to resorts such as Mt Malabang (馬拉邦山) in Miaoli, Auwanda (奧萬大) in Nantou, Alishan (阿里山) in Chiayi, Mt Taiping (太平山) in Yilan and in a pinch, even Yangmingshan (陽明山) in Taipei. Each has its own appeal.
Wuling Farm, located at between about 1,740m and 2,500m above sea level in Greater Taichung has a wide variety of accommodation and a mix of landscaped gardens and wilderness. Its ecological credentials and historical associations make it popular all year round, but at no time more so than in autumn.
If driving from Taipei, take the National Freeway No. 5 (國道五號) through the Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道) to Yilan, transfer to Provincial Highway No. 7 (台七線) , then take the No. 7 Jia branch route (台七甲線) from Cilan (棲蘭). Total travel time from Taipei is about four hours. Check road conditions before departure, as partial road closures can lead to significant delays, especially during rainy weather. A comprehensive rundown of road conditions can be found at 188.8.131.52/realtime/RoadAll.php (in Chinese only), which is based on information provided by the Police Radio Station (警察廣播電台).
Originally established in 1963 to provide work and a livelihood for soldiers of the Chinese Nationalist army, Wuling Farm has now morphed into the premier mountain resort for tourists looking for a flavor of more temperate climes. The farm’s reputation has been assisted by a sense of history that comes from its close association with former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and the rustic grandeur of the main building, with its hardwood fittings. As a conservation area, Wuling is mercifully free of fanciful development projects, and many old-style farmhouses built of river stones have survived, despite their lack of luxury.
The farm (something of a misnomer, for though there are many fruit orchids, the overall appearance is more of gardens and parkland rather than a working agricultural establishment) covers an area of 772 hectares, and is located within a wider conservation area that centers on the Cijiawan River (七家灣溪), home of the Formosan salmon (櫻花鉤吻鮭), which is a survivor of the last ice age and the only salmon that has adapted to a totally landlocked environment. The fish is routinely described as a “national treasure,” and while it is more than likely that visitors will not have the opportunity to see one in its natural habitat, the salmon’s presence and endangered status are responsible for the relatively low-key and “natural” environment that is such an important part of Wuling Farm’s charm. For studious souls, the Taiwan Salmon Eco-Center (櫻花鉤吻鮭生態中心) provides information and video of the elusive fish.
One of the peculiarities of Wuling’s role as a conservation area for the Formosan salmon is that although the farm runs along a mountain valley containing the Cijiawan River, the river itself is only peripheral in the area’s scenic appeal. Apart from a number of carefully selected observation points, the river is hidden away behind thick foliage or fences to discourage visitors from having an impact on the delicate habitat of the salmon.