Fri, Jun 29, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: A perfect summer retreat

Although they can be reached by trails, Sisters Falls and Cloud Heart Waterfall make a perfect, and relatively easy, summer river trace

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

Sisters Falls, the first waterfall on this river trace in New Taipei City, is a fantastic spot for lunch.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Summer has arrived, and serious hikes at low altitudes are pretty much out of the question, so it’s time to brainstorm ways to keep (relatively) cool in the heat. I’ve long enjoyed going to Sisters Falls (姐妹瀑布), near the tiny settlement of Syongkong Village (熊空), southeast of Sanxia (三峽) at the western edge of New Taipei City.

Since the trail that once led there was washed away by a typhoon many years ago, I’ve river-traced up to it several times. But that’s been in the winter, and the Jhongkeng Creek (中坑溪), on which it and the more famous Cloud Heart Falls (雲心瀑布) above it lies, never struck me as an especially promising summer river tracing trip.

Wrong! It’s not an especially long trace, but it’s a fabulous one this time of year: the plentiful rains top up the stream and fill several small but deep and very scenic pools, and the pair of waterfalls on the trace are both very distinctive.


The only drawback to this great summer river trace is getting there. A bus number 807 from Sanxia goes right to the trailhead, but with an infrequent service (once every two to three hours) it’s not a very convenient way to get there and back again. A better bet is to travel to Yongning MRT Station, leave by exit one, and take a taxi from there to the trailhead, Syongkong Village. The fare is around NT$500, and divided between four passengers it’s pretty reasonable.

Syongkong, where the river trace starts, isn’t so much a village as a scattering of residences and a fish farm, all strung out along the road. Get off at the bus stop (where bus 807 turns round and starts back to Sanxia) at a T junction beside a small general store (although don’t count on it being open — get food and drink before you take the taxi). If you arrive on a weekend morning, you can’t miss the trailhead. There’ll probably plenty of cars parked beside the road and in the informal parking area beside it.

Take the road forking off beside the convenience store, keep right at a second fork in a couple of meters, and the narrow road descends, immediately crossing a tributary of the main stream by a bridge. Scramble down the wooded bank beside the bridge to the edge of the stream, and start tracing it up.

For the first few hundred meters, the stream is closely followed by a narrow road. It’s an attractive and easy trace, spoiled just a little by a few newly-built concrete embankments. After about half an hour the stream runs through a more natural, unspoiled landscape, and 90 minutes or so upstream from the bridge, Sisters Falls appears ahead, plunging into a narrow, slot-like gorge.

A huge boulder, which once balanced on the flat, table-like stream bed above the waterfall, was pushed over the edge by a typhoon a year or two ago, so it’s not so easy to get to the base of the waterfall anymore, but it’s still an extremely exhilarating place to be on a hot day, and you’re more-or-less guaranteed to have the falls to yourself, since they take a bit of effort to reach.


Clamber up the narrow cleft to the left of the falls, and through a mass of old tree trunks and boulders washed down by past typhoons, to reach the head of the falls, a wide, gently sloping bed of flat rock over which the stream spreads as it rushes down towards the brink. There’s a deep pool for cooling off. On weekends there’s a chance you’ll see other people here — a trail now connects this spot with the route to Cloud Heart Waterfall: useful if rain looks possible, or if you’ve already got wet enough.

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