Back in 1544, Portuguese explorers reached an island off the eastern coast of China. Struck with the picturesque beauty of its mountains, contrasted coastline and lush vegetation, they called their find Ilha Formosa, which translates into “Beautiful Island.” And rightly so! But nowadays it is better known as Taiwan.
Taiwan’s coast can really prove to be something you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else. The Cape of Yěliǔ (野柳) can be held as evidence supporting this statement. Located a short ride away from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, Yěliǔ is frequently visited by the Taiwanese and many other tourists from China and the West.
The area of the promontory forms Yěliǔ Geopark (野柳地質公園) – one of the jewels in Taiwan’s wide array of tourist attractions. Here one can marvel at sea erosion at its weirdest, or perhaps most creative. It is to here that my Taiwanese hosts Huimin and her cousin Willy took me during my short backpacking tour of their home island.
Back in February 2011, when I considered the image of a geological park I had in my head, I came up with a vast open space peppered with geysers and various other wonders of the Earth and which would take hours to inspect; a landscape one is more likely to encounter in Iceland. Yěliǔ Geopark did not match this image. Sizewise, you could comfortably walk around and see everything you want to see within 1 or 2 hours, which is actually an advantage because it makes for a very attractive day trip out of Taipei City. Now, in terms of geological attractions, it exceeded my expectations.
One of the most striking things you’ll find in Yěliǔ are the hoodoos, also popularly called Mushroom Rocks. A hoodoo is a spire of rock that has been affected by severe erosion. The results of this process are rock formations of diverse, sometimes improbable, shapes. So if you’re passing through Taipei during your backpacking tour of Asia, put on some comfy shoes, leave the capital city for a day and delve in between those curiously shaped stones!
Yěliǔ Geopark is home to one of the most iconic images in Taiwan – the Queen’s Head” or 女王頭 in traditional Mandarin. This particularly oddly shaped hoodoo owes its name to its striking resemblance to a female’s head seen from the side, complete with a rather impressive hairdo.
Most of the hoodoos are quite large and in one area form a cluster. There, you can walk among them feeling small, as if you’ve just entered some bizarre stone forest of yellow mushrooms with brown tops.
As I wrote above, the landscape found at Yěliǔ Geopark exceeded my expectations. The diversity you find here is crazy. One second you’re surrounded by the hoodoo rocks and next thing you know you are walking on top of rocks that appear to look like massive ginger roots that push through the surface. Exactly like the ones in the picture on the right.
Finally, I arrived at the site of the Sea Candles (燭台石). How water is able to shape rock like that is improbable. It’s hard to believe that their creation has nothing to do with humans.
Having had a proper wander around the site, Huimin, Willy and I decide to head for the exit, taking a last look at the promontory and its fascinating greatness that we’re leaving behind.
FOOD: Àiyù (愛玉)
Leaving the geopark wasn’t the end of the attractions of the day! At the car park at Yěliǔ there is a small market where one can find various fruit teas for sale mixed with àiyù jelly (愛玉) – a traditional Taiwanese product made of the gel obtained from the seeds of a certain type of fig tree native to Taiwan. It’s hard to find àiyù outside of Taiwan and, I hear, Singapore. So if you’re passing through this beautiful island, by all means try some melon or lemon tea with bits of àiyù inside for a refreshing and very Taiwanese experience. True, you’ll either hate it or love it, but I believe that the odds are it’s the latter.