“Ask how they adjust to
the light that rains on the traveller’s back
And pushes out before him. It is always “the journey,”
And we are never sure if these are preparations
Or a welcome back to the old circle of stone posts”
– John Ashbery, Not Only / But Also
During my final months in Taiwan, I planned on seeing a bit more of the island that I called home for a couple years. As I didn’t have to work on Fridays, I decided to look at day-trips outside Taipei as they’d be less crowded than on the weekend. That’s when I came across Yehliu Geopark on the northern end of Taiwan.
I had read a little bit about Yehliu, but I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. The only photo that stood out was of Queen’s Head Rock, which people claim looks like the profile of Queen Elizabeth I (you can make your own judgement about that). Most recent news about the attraction focused on how erosion could soon destroy the single iconic rock formation, but made no mention of the rest of the park.
So, off I headed on a long bus ride that went around Yanmingshan National Park. I had to be sure to time the bus properly because it did not come by often. The ride was only an hour and a half, which is better than taking the winding roads through the park to coast.
There was a lot more to wander around when I arrived shortly before noon. I stopped off at one of the restaurants just outside the park for a quick lunch — had I waited until after my walk through Yehliu, I would’ve had to fight the crowds that arrived later.
I didn’t know where anything was along the mile-long cape, so I headed straight out the farthest edge to the lighthouse atop Gueitou Mountain. As I wandered closer to the lighthouse, the crowd thinned out. I assumed there’d be a great view of the entire park from there, but I was wrong — the view was obscured in that direction, but it was peaceful and quiet. There were also a lot of butterflies around.
There were some other trails down along the coast from the lighthouse, but I decided to choose the trail that I knew led back the way I came. It was hot and there was little shade, so it was better to see the main attractions before more tourists arrived.
While wandering through the park, I was in awe of the alien-like landscape (this could be a sci-fi movie set without all the people). The only day in Taiwan I took more photos was in Taroko Gorge.
I gazed at all the different rock formations, each with a descriptive name, some of which are more or less imaginative than Queen’s Head. I saw Dragon’s Head, Fairy’s Shoe, Taiwan Rock, Pineapple Bun, and Fried Drumstick, though I have no idea when and where I came across them.
Somewhere in the middle of the wandering I noticed Queen’s Head Rock, which, of course, had a long line of people patiently waiting to take a picture next to it. Seeing as I wasn’t hungry or desperate to go anywhere, I opted to join the line. It took about 20 minutes before I could ask someone to take a picture for me as proof that I waited.
Queen’s Head is literally the only rock formation at which tourists aren’t allowed to get too close. There are warnings for visitors to not touch or climb on the rocks, but there are always tourists who make the attempt (and the park is well staffed with security yelling at people to not touch). There’s also a painted red line closer to the coast to serve as a warning not to cross as waves can crash over (again, a lot of people did not heed the warning).
At the southern end of the cape, there’s another trail that leads up with fewer tourists. This is the spot I found with the best views of the park. The view is unobstructed, allowing visitors to see the entire cape and all the rock formations. It’s a beautiful spot to stand and take in the natural beauty.
As I left Yehliu Geopark, the crowds grew — there were more tour buses in the parking lot. I was glad to get out when I did. I decided to wander around what served as the town before finding more food and catching the bus back to Taipei.
Not far from Yehliu there’s another park that is far less crowded. It also isn’t maintained as far as I could tell. There were no red lines telling visitors not to get too close as waves crash against the smooth rocks.
There were a few people relaxing at this little spot on the coast, and none of them were noisy. Even if they were noisy, the ocean drowned out the sound — all I could hear was the waves crashing on the rocks.
I sat admiring the smooth, multicolored stone against the ocean until I memorized the contours. Sun-drenched and content, I walked to the bus stop and napped on the return journey home, dreaming of impossible shapes sculpted by rain, waves, and wind.