Beautiful red maple leaves against a blue sky ~ now how’s that for a perfect picture of autumn?!
And the best place in Taiwan to see maples in autumn is at the high elevations, up in the central mountain range. So off we all went, all 60 or so of us, in a total of 9 (yes, nine!) minibuses, all in a long line. Almost processional – well, after all, churches like ours are good at processions! Large coaches cannot travel so far in the high mountains, so minibuses are ideal. The trip was 3 days and 2 nights, Tuesday – Thursday, and all were invited ~ and here we all are!
The Taiwan Episcopal Church has organized many trips over the years, usually in the spring or autumn, to interesting places ~ like in November 2015, when we went to the Matsu Islands. That was my first church trip. And now this is my second. I had managed to rearrange some classes, and most of the members of my Thursday afternoon class at St. John’s Cathedral actually came on this trip too ~ so I signed up – thanks to Bishop Lai and all my students!
Church members, their relatives and friends came from a wide range of the churches that make up the Taiwan Episcopal Church ~ we had 3 clergy, 3 clergy spouses, many energetic seniors, some couples, some younger working people and one lovely 3-year-old boy, who came along with his grandmother and her sister, and he only fell asleep once!
We all met on Tuesday morning in Taichung, gathered from all corners of the country – and set off eastwards, up into the mountains.
The Central Cross-Island Highway from Taichung to Hualien was constructed in the late 1950’s, about the same time as President Chiang Kai-Shek and his government were establishing farms up in the mountains to provide employment for retired servicemen. These days, the farms are still managed by the Veterans Affairs Council – together with the Tourism Bureau and some private companies – mainly for the benefit of visitors. Visitors like us ~ and thousands of others who travel there every year. We visited two of the famous farms, Wuling Farm 武陵農場 and Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場, both places packed out with people enjoying the scenery.
When I left Sanzhi on Tuesday morning, it was, as always, raining. It had already rained for 4 days, and so it continued, for all the 3 days we were away. Cold too. Miserable, in fact! It is still drizzling today. And cold. But up in the mountains, there was blue sky every morning, all morning ~ and the clouds came rolling in beneath us in a sea of clouds every afternoon. It did rain a little at night, but we never saw it. Ah, it was wonderful!
The highest point on the Central Cross-Island Highway is just below the very famous mountain, Hehuanshan 合歡山 (3,416 m). Just nearby is Mt. Shimen 石門山 (3,237 m), well-known as supposedly being the easiest of the ‘100 Peaks of Taiwan‘ 百岳 to climb. So up we went! There was a biting wind, and it was 6ºC at the top – that’s very cold for us subtropical coastal dwellers! Maybe a third of us managed to get to the top, where breaks in the clouds gave us great views down below.
The road has been badly damaged due to typhoons and landslides and earthquakes and everything else, and is still under repair in many places. But our minibus procession got us through and down the other side to Lishan and then Wuling….
We stayed the night at a hotel in the Wuling Farm area 武陵農場, about 2,000 m above sea-level….
And we woke up the next day to beautiful blue skies and autumn colours…
The nearby river is famous for its Formosan Landlocked Salmon (yes, we saw some, but they’re impossible to photograph!) and further upstream is the Taoshan Waterfall 桃山瀑布, known as the ‘Sound of the Mist’ Waterfall. The walk there is 4.3 km each way – through the forest, and takes about 3 hours in total there and back. It was my first visit ~ and we had a wonderful morning. It is really beautiful!
Nearby is Taiwan’s second highest peak, Xueshan / Syueshan 雪山 (Snow Mountain), which I went up in 2011 ~ this time we went up to the trail entrance to look at the view. The view is spectacular. And so are all the lovely people in our group!
And then down to visit some of the Wuling Farm tea-growing area, and a small museum dedicated to what the farm was like in the old days….
We left Wuling and headed back to Lishan 梨山, where we’d passed through only the day before. Lishan (literally means Pear Mountain) is home to the Atayal People 泰雅族, many of whom are Christians. The area is also about 2,000 m above sea level, so lots of fruit and vegetables can be grown here that normally only grow in cold countries – like dear old England. The steep mountainsides in Lishan are no longer covered in big forests of beautiful trees but instead are covered in fruit trees, and at this time of year there’s no leaves, and the fruits in season are covered in paper bags to protect them – so the mountains look bare – but covered in white flowers, which turn out to be paper bags. They’re mostly apples, pears and peaches. It’s amazing – and yet devastating – all at once, to think what amazing things man has done to produce all that fruit, and yet at what cost to the environment. Reminds me a bit of the UK Lake District really – but just replace fruit with sheep!
Anyway, we went to buy some of the apples – oh, and cabbages….
Incredible clouds nearby….
And no, it didn’t rain, eventually the blue sky came through!
Oh yes, and a very regal line of trees….
Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場 is one of the Veterans’ Farms, very high up in altitude, and before it got dark, we just had time to visit Tianchi ‘Heavenly Lake’ 天池, where President Chiang Kai-Shek liked to visit when he was at the farm. Check out his green house….
We stayed at the most amazing Lishan Guest House, just down the mountainside from the farm, and designed in the same style (and by the same architect, Yang Cho-cheng 楊卓成) as the Grand Hotel, Taipei. This was where President Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife stayed when they were in the area – but the building was badly damaged in the 1999 earthquake, and reopened in 2012 – as a hotel. It is very very popular, and certainly scores 100% for atmosphere ~ all that red colour, and all those lanterns! There are no lifts / elevators, and we were assigned the top floor – 3rd floor. So me and Ah-Guan, good friend from St. James’ Church, Taichung, struggled up to the third floor – to find that we had been assigned the room next to the Presidential Suite. It was a ‘hit the jackpot, won the lottery, gob-smacking moment’ lol!
We were clearly in the room that originally would have been used by the presidential bodyguard, and the most amazing thing was that we had access to the presidential balcony. This was the balcony with THE VIEW! And so we spent a happy hour or two welcoming all our friends to come and have a look! The presidential suite, as far as we could see (from peering in the windows!) has been left much as it was when President Chiang and his wife stayed there – we could see into a tea room, and into the mahjong room at the end….
That evening, after dinner, and after the Atayal Concert, we had a short service in the hotel dining room for our group. Ah, what a happy evening, and what a wonderful group of people!
Next morning, Thursday, yesterday in fact, and I was up bright and early (well not very bright, but certainly very early!) to see THE view across the mountains…..
See the Taiwan flag? From directly outside the presidential suite, it’s positioned exactly right in the centre of the ‘V’ in the mountains…. how’s this for a view?!
The hotel and the whole area is very atmospheric. Ambiance, man, it’s all about ambiance!
And so after breakfast, and more tours of our presidential balcony, we packed up, checked out and spent the morning at the Fushoushan Farm. What a place, and what a history! It is famous for a huge pine tree with an interesting story…
And even more famous for its Apple King Tree, with over 40 different kinds of apple grafted into one tree…
We had a tour of the farm….
And finished with the maple trees area near the main entrance, where a zillion people were taking a zillion photos, ah, it was photo-heaven!
And so it was reluctantly time to say goodbye to the farm and head back over the big mountains, westwards… but first a photo-stop near Hehuanshan, at the Central Cross-Island Highway summit (3,275m) – the highest point on the highest main road that crosses northern Taiwan, and a major destination for cyclists!
Follow my finger and in that direction is Nanhu Big Mountain, (the one on the left of the pointed one!) which we climbed in 2012…
This is a gathering of all from Advent Church, plus Mr. Di, our tour leader (third left)….
And finally to lunch, and back to Taichung High-Speed Rail Station to return to our separate destinations…. and I got home at 7:30 pm. And guess what, it was still raining in Sanzhi, in fact it hadn’t stopped all the time I’d been away!
A big thank you to our leader, Mr. Di Yun-Hung (狄運亨) for planning and managing the whole trip, along with a tour company team who drove us in their minibuses, and organized all the routes and meals and everything. It was a wonderful trip – the highlights being the waterfall, the maple leaves and of course the presidential balcony views…..
But it was also wonderful to be together with such a lovely group of people, renewing old friendships, making new ones, enjoying time together, taking lots of photos of everyone in different groups, and having a lot of fun!
And finally, thanks be to God for His amazingly stunning creation ~ and the colours (and miracle) that is the season of autumn ~ YES!