Fri, Jul 21, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Monkeying around on Monkey Mountain

Kaohsiung City’s awesome backyard adventure playground includes Shoushan, a limestone outcrop that has been cracked by earthquakes and dissolved by rain to form a weird landscape of narrow clefts, jagged coral formations and caves

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

One of the resident Formosan macaques (Taiwan’s only monkey species).

Photo: Richard Saunders

Despite the not unreasonable claims among us northerners that Taipei is (and always will be) Taiwan’s greatest city, Kaohsiung is a pretty awesome place too, once you start exploring it. Taipei may have the larger number of historic buildings, the best public transport system and by far the finer range of day hikes and excursions. But look below the surface glitz and color of modern Kaohsiung, and it’s a surprisingly varied and interesting place, with a lot to see and explore.

Shoushan (壽山) is one of several outcrops of limestone (or rather ancient coral) that occur in southern Taiwan. The ridge, about six kilometers long and two kilometers wide, was lifted above the surface of the ocean eons ago, and the exposed rock has since been cracked by earthquakes and dissolved by rain to form a weird landscape of narrow clefts, jagged coral formations and caves. Sadly, those last features aren’t open to the public, and neither is the mysterious northern half of the ridge, which is still a controlled military area. The accessible area is still a great place for exploring, though, especially off the well-trodden main trails.

GEOLOGICAL RICHES

Shoushan, which is rich in geological, ecological and (pre)historic interest, became Taiwan’s first National Nature Park (established in October 2009). It’s divided into five distinct areas, all on the western side of Kaohsiung City. Shoushan ridge itself is the largest protected area, but two other smaller uplifted coral hills — Guishan (龜山) and Mount Banping (半屏山) — and even several historic relics, including part of the old walled city of Zuoying (左營) and a couple of minor prehistoric sites, also lie within the park’s multiple boundaries.

Getting There

Find your way to Kushan Senior High School stop (鼓山高中站) in Kushan District (鼓山) and take Mingde Road (明德路) beside the school towards the wooded ridge. Turn right at the end and the trailhead is to the right of Qianguang Temple (千光宮), beside the car park.


The long, wooded ridge of Shoushan is a conspicuous feature from many areas of Kaohsiung, but the three main trailheads all take a little effort to seek out, since they’re not especially well signposted. The easiest entry point to locate starts near the city zoo, at the southern end of the ridge, while the other two are close to each other, about half-way up the eastern side of the ridge. Once you’ve finally found a way onto the mountain, signage improves considerably: English language maps and signs are generously scattered along paths all over the mountain, so getting around is straightforward.

The best place to start exploring Shoushan is probably from the middle trailhead of the three, which starts at a large car park beside Qianguang Temple (千光宮). Walk past the unmanned visitor center, which has a map of the National Nature Park, and a small display explaining some of the geology, flora and fauna of the ridge, and take a raised wooden walkway that climbs quite steeply above the car park, past a huge old banyan tree. Shortly the boardwalk turns into an unattractive, dusty track winding up the wooded hillside. Hang in there; it does get more interesting later on.

FORMOSAN MACAQUES

In about 20 minutes the track passes the Four Banyans (四棵榕), a row of old trees that provide the first good view over the city, from where several routes climb the hillside for about another half hour to the more impressive Rocky Banyan (盤榕), clinging to the side of a limestone crag and usually busy with Shoushan’s famous Formosan macaques (the only species of monkey native to Taiwan).

These critters might look cute, but treat them with respect. Years of sharing the ridge with the countless hikers that come up there each day has taught them not only to have no fear of humans, but also to see them as a source of food, so keep all edibles well hidden, even away from busy monkey stations such as here.

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