With the summer holidays looming, and schools preparing to let loose a torrent of youngsters, parents are likely searching the Internet frantically for good holiday destinations. Family-friendly leisure farms, of which Taiwan has a number, serve this purpose well, combining entertainment, education, accommodation and catering in one easy package. The east coast is dotted with such farms and Yilan County probably has the highest density of such facilities. One of the biggest is Shin Kong Chao Feng Ranch and Resort (新光兆豐休閒農場), which covers an area of 726 hectares and is located about 45 minutes drive south of Hualien City.
Last month, in the run up to the Hualien International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (花蓮翱翔季), which begins Saturday, the Hualien Visitors Association (花蓮觀光協會) showed members of the press around some of the county’s most vaunted tourism destinations.
Chao Feng Ranch, which has been developed by the Shin Kong financial group (新光集團) over the last three decades from a rock strewn riverbed into one of Hualien’s most popular attractions, may not be everybody’s cup of tea, and it has more than its fair share of the absurd (about which, more later), but is notable for encompassing a wide range of entertainment and educational options.
The ranch was created as part of a government push in the early 1970s to promote tourism on Taiwan’s east coast as a route toward economic development. Ranch manager Chen Tai-ming (陳泰明) emphasized that the land, rocky and infertile, presented huge challenges for the development of the resort, requiring great feats of engineering to transform it into the lush park with birds, animals, formal gardens and exuberant architecture that it is today.
The resort is divided into two sections. The first is a residential complex of huts scattered around parks and gardens where visitors can stay. The other is a park area that features a large menagerie of animals, including a wide selection of exotic birds and reptiles, a cattle ranch with its own small dairy, and formal gardens.
At the entrance of the park area there is a long formal courtyard leading up to the main lobby area. This is lined with statues, two long rows of Soviet-style sculptures of Han Chinese and aboriginal workers — muscles bulging and six-packs bared — and as unlike any Taiwanese work crew as I have ever seen. Chen said this walkway was a testament to the laborious efforts that made Chao Feng Ranch possible, and while one could only nod respectfully at the effort than had gone into the creation of this venue, it was difficult to fully ignore the ridiculousness of such a display in such a place.
The attraction that lay beyond were the menagerie and concrete sculptures of many types of animals that were not included in the live collection including a particularly popular dinosaur area, with many friendly dinosaurs posing around the lush grassland.
Large areas of beautifully maintained lawns are relatively rare in Taiwan, but Chao Feng has these in profusion, and the large stretches of green are a welcome sight after passing along the courtyard of statues and through the entrance hall. One look out from the lobby and you know that long miles will need to be covered to take in all the sights. Fortunately, a free bus-train runs a regular service around the park for those who would rather not walk. Golf carts are also available for hire, which seat four comfortably, though many a cart can be seen carrying an additional load of extended family members. There are also bicycles for hire, and of course walking is a good option, though in the heat of summer, it can be exhausting.
Chao Feng’s collections of animals is quite extensive, but the highlight is without doubt the collection of raccoons, who along with some of the toucans, rabbits and sheep, provide the most interactive aspect of the animal experience. Chao Feng is now rearing its own raccoons in close human proximity, and the furry little creatures are hugely popular with children and shutter bugs. The parkland setting and a large number of open display areas make the menagerie quite a friendly experience for visitors.
In addition, many people visit Chao Feng for its small dairy, where children can see cows being milked and can also feed calves with milk and grass. As a working production area, the dairy is a little less cuddly than the petting zoo, and does not quite offer the same kind of outdoor experience as fully developed ranches such the Flying Cow Ranch (飛牛牧場) in Miaoli.
Chao Feng is large enough, and conveniently located for the Provincial Highway 9 (台九線) that runs the length of the rift valley and is a good option for an overnight stay. It has two residential areas, one called the Rosary and the other The Netherlands (complete with miniature windmill), well-appointed semi-detached wooden cottages with holiday season rates starting at NT$5,950 for a double room.
Information about Chao Feng Ranch can be found at www.skcf.com.tw. It is located at 20 Yungfu Rd,Fenglin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣鳳林鎮永福街20號).
Extensive information about leisure farms around Taiwan can be found in English at www.taiwanfarm.com.tw.
The Hualien International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta runs from June 22 to Sept 1. Detailed information can be found at hibf.com.tw.