Thursday, July 20, 2017

Where plantations are becoming forests: Cycling around Guangfu

King Liu, the founder of Taiwan's best-known bicycle manufacturer - and an enthusiastic cyclist despite being in his early eighties - often says: "Driving is too fast, walking is too slow. By riding a bike, you can deeply immerse in Taiwan and appreciate the land." If he was thinking about one particular region when he first said that, it may well have been the East Rift Valley, and perhaps Guangfu Township in particular.

Guangfu used to be the sugar capital of the east, and the smokestack of the shuttered sugar factory is the town's most impressive man-made landmark. Far more interesting for many visitors are the surrounding natural attractions, principally Mataian Wetland and the expanse of greenery now designated Danong Dafu Forest Park (大農大富平地森林園區). Most of the tens of thousands of trees planted throughout the park - land formerly used to grow sugarcane - aren't yet mature, but wherever you turn, there are wild flowers!
As is true throughout Taiwan's (with the exception of Taroko Gorge during peak season), the roads around Guangfu are never crowded with cars. Cyclists eager to explore shouldn't be afraid to venture onto the main north-south road, Highway 9 (pictured below).
Guangfu Bikeway (光復自行車道) is 15.9km long and can be completed in under two hours, but allocating more time and going further afield is highly recommended. To plan your bike trip, this webpage is a good place to start. It has the addresses and contact information for two bike-rental businesses in Guangfu, as well as a useful map of the bikeway and the surrounding area.
Thanks to the arrival in Taiwan of oBike, a Singaporean company that has placed hundreds of its distinctive yellow two-wheelers around the island. These can be rented via a smartphone app, which can be downloaded from this website.  You'll likely see a row or two of them across the road from Guangfu Railway Station. 
Cyclists should be prepared for some gentle gradients near Mataian Wetland (image below), where the bikeway approaches Maxishan (馬鍚山). Google Maps implies it's possible to get very near the top of this mountain, the height of which I haven't been able to confirm. However, I know from hiking expeditions over the years that what appears on a map may not exist in reality; typhoons and earthquakes quickly destroy roads that aren't maintained.
If pedaling makes you hungry, stop at Shin-Liu Farm (a tourism business, not a farm in the traditional sense) for its signature watercress waffles.
Mataian and nearby Dabalong (太巴塱are both Amis strongholds, but you're only likely to see tribesmen and women wearing traditional finery if you come on a Sunday (when many people dress up for church) or during a festival such as the summertime harvest celebrations.
The photo below of Danong Dafu Forest Park comes from the website of Hualien County Government's Tourist Service Network, where you'll find quite a bit of useful information.  
From Guangfu Railway Station to Lintianshan is just 9.4 km one way, well within the abilities of enthusiastic cyclists. Once a bustling settlement of loggers, their families and hangers-on, Lintianshan had its own railway line, to bring in supplies and carry out timber.
However slowly you move, you're sure to meet someone going at even more leisurely pace!
For another recent article on Guangfu Bikeway, go here.

This visit and blog post were sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.

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