I swapped the lake for the forest. I caught a bumpy little bus to Alishan Forest Reserve. The scenery en route was spectacular as we wound up the mountain roads.
The temperature also started to become much more pleasant. I had spent most of my time at Sun moon lake a sweaty mess. Alishan is 2,200 metres above sea level making for lovely trekking weather. It also has its own microclimate which can change very quickly. The greenery comes at a price, there are 209 rainy days a year. The mist also envelopes the forest very quickly. There are 244 cloudy days a year.
Often like my 1st day there you experience all weathers in the space of a few hours. One minute it is sunny, then the mist creeps over quickly, then there was a huge downpour, then it was very sunny for a few minutes and then more rain and repeat. Fortunately, the 1st downpour came when I was at the rest stop, sampling the local delicacies for lunch. Where I was also able to purchase a purple plastic mac which covered me completely.
I hiked for 4 hours, it was interesting to see the forest in all weathers, little eerie and atmosphere as the mist rolled in. There are huge cedar trees, firs, oaks and pine. The flowers add splashes of colour, the hydrangeas were magnificent. Also so many birds and the cheeky Formosan rock macaques. I even got to see the famous Mikado pheasant which features on the $1,000 bill, a lovely local I had been chatting to earlier told me this.
It is wonderful that this area was once used for logging but is now a reserve. There is even a pagoda erected to the loggers who died but also to appease the tree spirit for the 100,000 trees which were felled. The circular layers of the base symbolize tree rings, each representing
500 years, and the notches on the sides represent the cuts of the saw.
The other thing the area is renowned for is its stunning sunrise and sunset over a sea of clouds. Of course often, the fog obscures everything, you have to have luck. Fortunately, like the rest of this trip, I was very lucky. There have been downpours, it is that season but never at the important times. I had my fingers crossed as I headed off into the park to a viewing point I had been told about.
The sunset I witnessed was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. Looking down into a sea of clouds which changed shape and colour as the sun tinged them pink and then they gradually grew darker. There were only about half a dozen of us there, most people go to the viewing deck of the railway station or the roof of the Alishan Hotel. It was lovely to witness it in peace and collective awe.
Shuttle buses and a small train service serve spots within the park. At 4.20am the next morning I was on the train with lots of other tourists to go to the sunrise viewpoint. Actually, there are 3 viewing platforms and almost everyone heads to the same one. For me that was a reason to go to one of the others. The weather was clear but there were no clouds this morning.
After sunrise the crowds jump back on the train and shuttle buses and head back for breakfast. This is the perfect time to explore the forest park when it is almost empty. I decided to skip breakfast and hike all the trails in the park including some of the ones I had hiked the day before. The weather was so lovely, clear blue skies and sunlight twinkling through the trees. I went to every viewing platform, so many steps but worth every one. By the end my calf muscles were screaming.
It was time for me to head out just as the mist was rolling back in. I took a short bus ride to the 1st stop on the forest railway, a very famous, scenic train journey. I met 2 lovely local young guys. They insisted on carrying my bag and sharing some of the local delicacies with me. I washed this down with a bottle of Alishan mountain honey beer.
Another fabulous adventure and as always here I met such friendly locals.
By Lynn Stephenson