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September 24, 2017

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Wushanding Mud Volcano: One of Taiwan's most unusual sights

With several Indonesian volcanoes in the news a few weeks ago (including the dreaded Krakatoa itself) threatening to blow their tops, it's a comfort to know that the volcanic domes of Yangmingshan, which tower right outside my apartment window in Guandu, shouldn't (knock on wood) be giving Taipei citizens any trouble in the foreseeable future.

However, somewhere out in the boonies of Kaohsiung and Tainan counties, several volcanoes are very much active, erupting up to several times a year and inundating the surrounding countryside with their all-consuming liquid contents. Luckily these aren't malevolent, lava-spewing giants, but another, completely different and much less dangerous kind of force of nature: the mud volcano.

Only about 700 mud volcanoes are known to exist in about two-score countries around the world, of which close to half are in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. Taiwan has a respectable collection of its own, mostly in the south, and several (including one obscure example in the hills of Tainan County that erupted last June) are still very much active.

Mud volcanoes (which are unrelated to the classic magma-spewing volcano of which the peaks of Yangmingshan are long-dormant examples) are fascinating geological curiosities, but, unless you get a chance to fly to Azerbaijan and see one of the big boys (which are up to 500 meters in height!), the sight can be more than a little underwhelming.

One example, however, that is most certainly worth taking a little trouble to find (and it does take a little searching out) is Wushanding Mud Volcano (烏山頂泥火山), near the village of Yanchiao (燕巢), about twenty kilometers northeast of Kaohsiung City. Protected since 1992 as part of Taiwan's smallest nature reserve (less than five hectares in area), the mud volcano is the largest and most impressive of the 15 or 20 examples found around Taiwan.

To get there, first get yourself to the town of Yanchiao (燕巢), just off freeway one in Kaohsiung County. From here, the mud volcano is signposted, although the way isn't always clear. A good map of the area will greatly increase your chances of getting to the mud volcano without making a few unscheduled diversions.

Head east out of Yanchiao on route 38. In a couple of kilometers an interesting short diversion on the right (clearly signposted) leads up into the hills towards Chiliu Waterfall (崎溜瀑布). The falls are quite high, but the path was unfortunately blocked by a serious landslide years ago, and the waterfall is presently difficult to reach.

Turn right off route 38 along the narrow, signposted lane below the striking cliffs of Cock's Comb Mountain (雞冠山) and climb the hill. The way is now well signposted for the remaining couple of kilometers until you see, on the left, a large car park and (on weekends) a row of stalls selling food and local produce under a large corrugated iron shelter. The entrance to the nature reserve containing the mud volcano is directly opposite.

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