I spent last weekend scootering around the mountains of Kaohsiung with Richard Saunders and gang. Richard is author of the best books on hiking in the north of Taiwan: Taipei Day Trips I & II (more on the these later).
I had thought we'd be spending most of our time in Maolin, hiking around the mountainous forest reserve famed for its purple butterfly (purple milkweed or crow butterfly) valley. But much of the time was spent on the scooter, or taking short strolls to visit the sites. So this isn't really a hiking post, but it does introduce a seldom seen part of Taiwan so I thought I'd post.
The gang sets out.
The purple butterfly valley was discovered to home hundreds of thousands of purple butterflies each winter only about 30 years ago. It's true significance only became apparent a few years ago after the publication of a book on the world's butterflies by a British etymologist.
The valley in Maolin is one of only two mass wintering sites in the world, the other being the valleys of central Mexico, where the Monarch Butterfly spends his winter. From Maolin National Scenic Area website:
Every winter, it is conservatively estimated that at least a million Euploeini butterflies glide on purple wings to the holy mountain of the Rukai and Paiwan Tribes in south Taiwan and take shelter in warm valleys at the foot of Dawu Mountain. About six hundred thousand butterflies winter in "Purple Butterfly Valley", which along with the Monarch butterfly's winter home in Mexico is one of only two mass wintering sites known in the world.
"Purple Butterfly Valleys" exist only in the medium and low altitude regions of Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Taitung counties, in the traditional homelands of the Paiwan and Rukai tribes. At present there are about twenty butterfly gathering places known in the area, and the Maolin area of Kaohsiung County is home to at least seven.
On the way to Maolin we visited a number of mud volcanoes and mud pools. Mud volcanoes are quite rare in the world and a number are found in Taiwan.
The volancoes at Wushanding were best. Nicely, the area has been turned into a nature reserve. You must sign in to enter the area and also read a large signpost explaining how to behave. And note you can't just look at the sign. The volunteers insist you stare at it for at least a few seconds to absorb the import of the message. Laughable were it not so very necessary in a country where locals can utter "Wow how beautiful" and then toss a plastic bag into the landscape.
Up close the active volcanoes looked like grey beeswax candles.
You can stand on the volcanoes where the mud has dried and watch the churning and gurgling and spurting of mud in the crater.
This volcano is extinct.
The mud is not hot as many people expect. The bubbles are caused by natural gas perculating up through the slurry. The pools are supposed to be extremely deep. At this very remote pool we tested the depth with a long bamboo pool. Ribald commentary by Mark:
At the Yangnyu Mad (sic) Ponds the local shopkeeper kindly lit the pool on fire.
We arrived late in Maolin and rode out to Duona, a small Ruiki aboriginal community set in a low valley. It was almost dark so all my photos were taken the next morning.
The Rukai traditionally built their houses out of slate and a number of old slate houses can still be found.
The village is a decent place to spend the night. There are hot springs just down at the river but sadly they have gone from this:
To a series of bare cement pools on a bare cement retaining wall with a sheet metal cover. I didn't bother to take pics.
It's still a little early in the season for the purple butterflies but because we were seeing a fair number off the road I decided to take everyone to a spot I had discovered last year. Last weekend there were maybe a tenth of what I saw last December. According to Richard, the orange flowers blooming all over the slopes in this area are lantana, much loved by butterflies. I have a video from last year:
This is still a public area. The swarms in the reserved areas must make one pause. We're so happy to see one squirrel or a deer when we hike but to see such a superabundance of life, even such small life, is something precious on this crowded little island. God how the land must have teemed with all manner of mammals, fish and insect life at one point. I have heard that Taiwan used to export 50 million (dead) butterflies a year for those little students kits we got as children.
Lots of lovely high waterfalls at Maolin.
And many high suspension bridges.
Which are not just for people though.
Random shots of the beauty of Maolin: