Barbarian Valley (野人谷) was once one of the highlights of a trip along the Pingxi Branch Railway Line (平溪線) in eastern New Taipei City. The upper reaches of the Keelung River (基隆河) valley are a magnet for waterfall lovers like myself, with over 20 of them of widely varying degrees of accessibility to explore, and until a typhoon-triggered deluge swept through the valley in 2003, its five beautiful falls were among the finest in the area.
Following that disastrous storm, Barbarian Valley, a privately-run “scenic area” that charged an admission fee and featured (apart from impressive waterfalls) a dammed boating lake, woodland gardens and a restaurant, shut its gates. For the last 15 years or so the valley has (like many other fascinating “closed” places around the nation) been locked in a decidedly Taiwanese limbo; although it’s not officially open to visitors, neither are there any obvious signs warning people to keep out.
Most of the man-made additions that once compromised the natural beauty of this rugged little glen are now half hidden by the returning jungle, and nowadays it takes a bit of exploring to discover some of the paths and viewing pavilions, as well as the concrete, boat-shaped cafe, which “floats” in the middle of a small lake formed by damming the stream.
Photo: Richard Saunders
Very few people seem to have ventured in to enjoy the scenic wonders of Barbarian Valley since it closed, and it’s become a fantastic place for explorers. The dilapidated buildings, although fast being reclaimed by the thick jungle, are still rich in memories of the valley’s long-gone amusement park days, and the valley has the vague atmosphere of a set from a Jurassic Park movie (although thankfully without fiberglass dinosaurs).
The waterfalls look far finer in a natural setting than they once did surrounded by a park crisscrossed with stone paths, ornamental bridges and pretty gazebos. Getting down to the two main waterfalls at the bottom of the valley isn’t too challenging, but explorers should definitely wear long pants and shirt sleeves, and maybe also bring a machete to hack through a few short but impenetrable areas of undergrowth.
There are three ways into Barbarian Valley, but by far the easiest is to simply walk through the main gate. Sometimes a guard stationed in the old ticket office outside stops the curious from entering, but this seems to be becoming more and more uncommon, so if the entrance is unguarded, simply walk in — the gate is often left unlocked — and walk downhill along the wide concrete track beyond. It’s just a minute or two to the viewing tower on the left that stands at the top of Emerald Gorge Waterfall (翠谷瀑布).
Photo: Richard Saunders
Walk downhill along the road a few meters further, and if you look closely the overgrown remains of paths can be found, leading down to the stream at the foot of the very fine 20-meter-high waterfall. In one spot, the path has been completely eroded away by past storms, so a bit of scrambling is needed, but soon the trail joins the stream below the fall.
Wade or step across the half-submerged rocks in the stream (an old hump-backed bridge that once spanned the stream here is long gone) and hack a way through the jungle on the far side to reach the old “boat” restaurant nearby, right below Guanyin Waterfall (觀音瀑布). This tall and graceful curtain of water, 25 meters high, lies on a tributary of the main stream. There’s a great view of the fall from the “deck” of the abandoned cafe, reached by an outside staircase covered in vines.
A path (very overgrown but still just passable) leads right behind Guanyin Waterfall, and another arched bridge, guarded at each end by a pair of Chinese lions and half covered by undergrowth, spans the point where the tributary below the waterfall joins the main stream. A trail branches off this path, climbing the steep hillside, passing through a natural tunnel-like cleft in the rock to reach the remains of an old adventure playground in the woods. A little further is one end of a long-since fallen zip line that once spanned the gorge.
Photo: Richard Saunders
Another two waterfalls lie on the tributary stream above Guanyin Waterfall, but to reach them, you need to return to the road at the top of Emerald Gorge Waterfall and cross the stream just above it by a white footbridge. About a hundred meters further upstream, Xinliao Waterfall (新寮瀑布), the smallest of the five falls in Barbarian Valley, is half strangled by undergrowth, and impossible to reach without some determined machete work.
Over the footbridge, follow the wide track uphill, past the lip of Guanyin Waterfall and across another footbridge about 50 meters below a fine but unnamed 20-meter-high waterfall, falling into another artificially dammed pool surrounded by dense, tall undergrowth. After crossing the footbridge, the old path up to the fifth and last waterfall has been partially washed away by a landslide, so be careful if you venture that far up. Like the much larger Guanyin Waterfall, the 10-meter-high curtain fall has a ledge behind it on which hikers can stand, and if you get this far, it makes a great place for a natural shower during the hot summer months.
Richard Saunders is a classical pianist and writer who has lived in Taiwan since 1993. He’s the founder of a local hiking group, Taipei Hikers, and is the author of six books about Taiwan, including Taiwan 101 and Taipei Escapes. Visit his Web site at www.taiwanoffthebeatentrack.com.
Photo: Richard Saunders
Catch the regular bus 795 from Muzha MRT station towards Shifen (十分) village. Most services terminate in Shifen, from where Barbarian Valley is a 45-minute uphill walk, but several buses each day continue to the main entrance to Barbarian Valley
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