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September 25, 2017

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Taiyao Waterfall: An intriguing, unknown scenic wonder in Hsinchu County

Guidebooks and maps are great ways to explore the countryside, but, as with so many things, some of the best discoveries are passed on through word of mouth. It was during a visit nearly a decade ago to the spectacular 50-meter-high Maliguang Falls in Hsinchu County, perhaps northern Taiwan's most magnificent waterfall, that I first heard local residents talk of another fall on the same stream above it, rumored to be twice as high.

It was only at the end of last year, however, that, returning to the area again, we finally got directions to this intriguing, unknown scenic wonder. We had to wait a little longer still until a fine, unseasonably warm weekend in early January, before getting the chance to actually trek out to the waterfall.

Taiyao Waterfall (抬耀瀑布) lies on the Shilei Stream, high above the potholed, ever winding mountain road known as county route 60 in a remote corner of Hsinchu County, about 40 kilometers southeast of the county city, although it's much easier to reach the area from the North Cross-island Highway (national route 7), which passes a few kilometers to the east.

The narrow route 60 turns off the highway to the right near the settlement of Sia Baling (下巴陵), shortly after it crosses the canyon of the Dahan River by an impressive new bridge often used by bungee jumpers.

Follow route 60 for a kilometer, turn right at the fork and follow it through the small aboriginal villages of Yieheng and Tieliku, taking care as the narrow road is in terrible condition in a few places. About four kilometers after Tieliku, there's a fork beside a large wooden map board.

Turn left, uphill here, passing the wooden sign marking the trailhead for Maliguang Waterfall, and follow the road up, up and up. It's a very steep climb in places, but finally the road enters the tiny, remote aboriginal settlement of Taiyao (抬耀), clinging to the steep mountainside and—of course—commanding a stupendous view. Turn right at the fork, passing along the main street of the settlement, and follow the road ahead, as it continues climbing still higher, although the panorama is soon left behind as the road enters a forest that covers the highest slopes of the great ridge.

Now park the car beside the first (square) water tank standing beside the road at a sharp zigzag bend and walk behind it to reveal a narrow trail. Follow this trail along the route of an abandoned water channel and several water pipes as they contour the wooded mountainside.

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