Mon, Jun 26, 2017 - Page 8 News List

The Sad Fate of Taiwan’s Beautiful Wild Hot Springs

Some of Taiwan’s most beautiful natural hot springs are losing the battle against gratuitous development

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

Relatively little-known Xiaqigu Hot Spring in Yangmingshan has already been given a tarpaulin makeover.

photo: Richard Saunders

Taiwan is stunningly beautiful, and as the nation’s natural bounty becomes increasingly known to foreign visitors, more are learning about its more publicized natural attractions. However, as any canyoneering guide here will affirm, some of the country’s most mesmerizing sights are to be found in the countless beautiful mountain streams, gorges and waterfalls hidden in the island’s impossibly steep and rugged central highlands. During the warmer months, they provide magnificent opportunities for canyoning, while in winter, the attention of many local explorers turns to the 20 or so remaining undeveloped hot spring sources that can be found hiding in the depths of some of these enchanted ravines.

However, all is not well.

Typhoon-triggered damage such as rock falls and landslides (which in a few moments can disfigure a once stunning landscape for decades) are a fact of life, considering the fragile, crumbly nature of much of the island’s rock. Human action is also spoiling many beautiful, once pristine mountain gorges and waterfalls. As Taiwanese discover the incredible beauty of their homeland, an increasing number of once difficult-to-reach places are being developed as tourist attractions. Thankfully, the days when this often meant installing wide concrete paths and ugly faux bamboo handrails are largely long gone, and recent development is generally more discreet. In any event, despite an inevitable sacrifice of pristine natural beauty, allowing everyone to appreciate and admire it is an excellent way to get people to care about its future, while any opportunity for parents to get their kids away from their computer games or exam prep for the day can only be a good thing.

THREATS: CEMENT AND ‘MOUNTAIN RATS’

The most serious threats to Taiwan’s countryside, however, generally go on in places where the damage can’t be so easily observed. Asia Cement Corporation’s (亞洲水泥公司) mining activities on the fringe of Taroko National Park is a case in point, as is the releasing of pollutants by various sources into the nation’s air and water.

On a smaller scale, the continuing activities of illegal tree cutters (known locally as “mountain rats,” 山老鼠) are depleting Taiwan’s magnificent ancient trees (especially red cypress), many of which have stood for a millennium or two, all to supply hardwood for the luxury furniture trade.

Returning to Taiwan’s mountain streams, one very widespread misuse of the natural environment is generally only seen by canyoning teams and hikers: the (often unregulated) tapping of the island’s pristine water sources and hot springs.

TAPPING PRISTINE WATER SOURCES

Formerly unspoiled water sources in mountain areas across the country are tapped for a variety of reasons, among the most common being to irrigate rice paddies, replenish fish farms or ensure a steady supply of mineral water to hot spring resorts. In many places, the practice is having a negative effect on the landscape. For example, the rarely visited hot spring sources within Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園), just a stone’s throw from one of Yangmingshan’s most famous sights, the Flower Clock.

The first, Xiaoyintan Hot Spring (小隱潭溫泉), sits at the head of a wild little gorge, just below a majestic waterfall. The second, known as Yangmingshan Hot Spring (陽明山溫泉), is a babbling brook of bath-hot water, splashing through a sea of giant silver grass, the razor-sharp leaves of which are a bane to hikers and explorers who venture off the main routes all over Yangmingshan. These are two remarkable little spots, and both are very rarely visited, mostly because they’re quite difficult to reach, despite being so close to one of the National Park’s main tourist draws. Sadly, both have been despoiled by a mass of plastic piping that channels hot spring water to several resorts and bath houses a little lower down the mountainside. At least one of the three sources at Yangmingshan Hot Springs is completely dry these days, as the water is piped straight out the underground source down the mountainside.

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