Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yeliu: a Good Stop on a North Coast Tour

Yeliu 野柳 is a small town located north of Keelung 基隆 which is home to the Yeliu Geopark, a narrow strip of rock which juts out into the ocean. In addition to the park there is a Sea-World-like dolphin show and a string of restaurants which seem hell bent of having tourists eat there. The parking lot which spans the area between the docks, the park, and the marine spectacle is perhaps one of Taiwan's most obnoxious tourist traps. There is even a flea market which reportedly never has good prices unless you're a local, a criticism which has been leveled at the restaurants as well.

Despite what I feel is well-earned criticism, Yeliu is worth a stop if you're interested in seeing the geopark. Plan to spend time walking the entire park area if you come inside because there are many quirky little areas to explore. The geopark is a great spot to add to any north coast itinerary assuming you see the park and get out of the surrounding area ASAP.

When you come here you should get directly through the parking lot ignoring everyone in your path because the touts are absolutely shameless. The park is a draw for busload after busload of tourists who are willing to pay twice the regular price just so they don't look cheap to their tour mates. Don't bother trying to get a good deal on the stuff in the parking lot.

You should avoid the marked up food in the restaurants which line the road adjacent to the parking lot. The quality is comparable to what you'd get in the cities nearby and the price is usually worse. Eat before you start your day, and bring some snacks. If you're on a full day trip hit up the convenience stores in town for something light to hold you over. When you're done go find food someplace where your money goes farther.

Arguably the only real attractions in Yeliu are the geopark, and taking photos by the small fishing harbor. The park is famous for the area known as the queen's head. It's a rock. Specifically it is a rock which has been worn away by the sea and from a very select set of angles looks like someones face with huge flowing hair out the back. Cue pandemonium as the lines get longer while everyone tries to get exactly the right angle.

The queen's head, from not the perfect angle.


The area was once open to the public free of charge, but the entrance fee is now 80NT for a regular visit. The fee likely came about because the sandstone pathways were in dire need of repairs - read concrete sidewalk - to prevent complete destruction. After a few reports of people being swept into the breakwaters a red line also got spray painted onto the rock face to tell people where they shouldn't go because they might fall in. Considering the force that the ocean breaks against the rock, it's best that you pay attention to that line.

Pretty rough if you fell in there.

My last visit to Yeliu was on a spectacularly stormy winter day which required a full winter coat, a fleece jacket, and the obligatory yellow rain poncho. The winds were blasting so hard there were times we had trouble walking, there was a driving rain, and the sea water was splashing wildly up onto what is normally dry rock. Come prepared with shoes that have quality traction and some protection from the wind if it's winter. Taiwan's coasts are always super windy. Don't worry about slipping unless you're somewhere you shouldn't be: the rocks are incredibly reliable in terms of traction while you make your way around the less visited areas.

Once you've gotten over how you were treated on your approach to the park, the inside is actually quite nice. You're welcome to explore the entire peninsula at your leisure, and the formations are divided into three rough segments. Expect some amazingly cool rock formations throughout the park where the water wore away its base and left fun shaped tops. The more you explore, the more cool shapes you'll discover to take silly pictures with.

Golf ball rock.

I just loved how this looks.

As you head farther out towards the sea there is a large rocky hill which you can ascend using a stairs. It only takes a minute to climb and provides birds eye views of the sections below. There are also some nice picnic areas here if you heeded the warnings above and brought your own food. If you're inclined to adventure before settling in to enjoy the sea breeze, stay on the lower level.

Taking the long way around on the lower level can be done as part of a circuit by eventually making your way to the top on a very very old and worn out staircase. Because you can make a circle route of the peninsula it's worth it to walk as far out to sea as you can go.

On the rainy day pictured here we made the journey seaward taking our time to explore because shockingly few tourists actually make the easy walk on this lower level. The final section is about 1km long, and after the first few minutes most people get bored and go back. That means you'll be able to enjoy the natural beauty unmolested by crowds of other people. Tour buses let people take photos of the queens head, heads up the stairs for a birds eye view, and then they call it a trip.

A view along the lower level as we set out from tourist land. Totally deserted.

Water-washed stone. Pretty.

Shallow Caves we saw halfway to the end.

As I mentioned above, Yeliu is a great stop as a tour of the north coast or a short ride out of Keelung city, but makes for somewhat of a short day out if it's your only stop. Visitors to Taipei with only a few days in town should skip this unless you've got a strange thing for erosion or choose to make a full day of the coast. If you're able to get a car and drive from Danshui some of the scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it is worth stopping at all the attractions along the road and makes a good outing from the city center. I'd recommend ending that drive by getting photos at sunset from Jiufen 九份 if you're able to.

If you're travelling by bus, you should plan on walking about 5km round trip if you want to reach the farthest tip of the geopark. Get here from Taipei by taking the Guoguang 國光 (kuokuang) bus from their Main Station terminal and getting off at the stop called Guoshengpu - 國聖埔 - then walk the short distance into the little town to the park. When you're ready to go you can grab the bus back to Taipei across the street from where you got dropped off. If you're looking to head into Keelung there is a Keelung Bus Company service to and from Keelung city at the same bus stand. From there you can see the night market in town, then ride the train or bus back to Taipei.

If you're really trying to get a local feel for things you can grab bus 862 or 863 which terminates in Danshui 淡水 (now called Tamsui on maps) and runs the entire north coast. This would be a good way to get yourself to Shimen's stone gate, Baishawan beach, or just to enjoy the view from the bus. I've never done this so double check that the buses are running when you want to go, but I have seen seeing both numbers zip past while riding my bike.

Which is another great idea to give you. You can bike along the largely deserted highway - save for getting out of Danshui - by following Route 2. There are bike rental stores in Danshui or you can use the MRT on the weekends to transport a bike from town. Tamsui to Keelung will run you about 40 miles. If you take some of the turn offs which end up at temples or other out of the way places you'll get up to about 50. There is a somewhat hidden left turn approaching Keelung which avoids heavy traffic as the main road swings inland and up hill where you'll see a very steep street with a hairpin turn in it below you as you climb just past Ta-Wu-Lun 大武崙 harbor. Take that turn, go down the hairpin and follow the roads into the city. Ride back to Taipei - using route 5 until you get to river side trails - or grab a train which accepts bikes from Keelung.

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