Fri, Mar 16, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: A Ramble to Wulai Waterfall

While most visitors take the road to visit Wulai’s famous waterfall, another much more interesting approach to it is from above, along an old Aboriginal trail

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

The hike starts from the Laka Trail and ends at Wulai’s famous waterfall.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Outside of the Alps, I can’t think of many places where you can end a hike with a cable car ride, and although Taiwan presently only has two tourist cable cars, one of them is in a position to offer just that.

The hot-springs-and-waterfalls resort of Wulai (烏來), in the mountains south of Taipei, is one of those places that just about every visitor to Taiwan gets to at some point in their stay. Milking its tempting attractions (clear, odorless hot springs, colorful Atayal Aboriginal inhabitants and magnificent scenery) to the full, Wulai is definitely not the direction to head in search of seclusion, unspoilt beauty and exploration.

Or is it?

Wulai may be overrun with day trippers on fine weekends (it’s not exactly quiet during the week either), but the multitudes stick to a very well-defined and limited area, leaving most of the surrounding wild scenery to a slowly growing yet still small minority of hikers. The area suffered hugely from flooding and mudslides bought on by Typhoon Soudelor, which struck in early August 2015, dumping 72 centimeters of rain on the area in just 24 hours. Two-and-a-half years later, things are virtually back to normal, and although the center of the village still looks a bit unsightly as repairs continue, Wulai’s trails are definitely once again open for hikers.

As I said, there’s plenty of magnificent countryside to explore in the Wulai area. Get off the road and there’s some wild and remote terrain out there which shouldn’t be tackled without a good map and experience. One hike, however, that manages to be relatively wild and exhilarating while not straying too far from civilization is the Laka Trail (啦卡步道), a short, steep ramble from Wulai village to the top of the famous Wulai Waterfall (烏來瀑布).

Starting at the car park and bus terminus in Wulai, follow the crowds along the road through town beside the river for a couple hundred meters, then branch left along a tributary stream immediately after crossing the first bridge. Shortly, opposite Wulai elementary school, the pure, emerald-green water of the stream cuts its way through a glen called Mini Gorge (迷你谷). Its beauty was destroyed temporarily by the vast amounts of mud and stone swept down by Soudelor, but time is healing the scars and returning the place to its former loveliness. Moving on, the way to the start of the Laka Trail is a little further down the road on the right, at a flight of concrete steps. Climb these and turn left at the top onto another road. A few meters down it, turn right again up another flight of wide steps that cut off a zigzag in the road.

At the top of the steps turn left once more, and at a sharp bend, turn right, beside a house, onto a wide dirt trail (marked by a board map) which zigzags up the steep, wooded hillside for about half an hour to the start of the Laka Trail itself, marked by an electricity pylon. The trail almost immediately starts climbing steeply, with ropes to help on the tougher bits. An especially lovely section climbs through an old plantation of conifers: an eerily atmospheric place during the frequent mists that descend on these hills, when the trees’ tall, straight trunks disappear into the clammy white haze above.

The trail finally joins a wider path of rather ugly stone steps just before the ridge. Here is the finest view of the whole hike, looking out over Wulai village, hundreds of meters below, and a meandering, green-blue stretch of the Beishi River (北勢溪).

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