Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s southern metropolis – once relegated as an industrial city – is now a bustling city that is known for its hipster culture, particularly around the Love River and Pier 2. As the main city in the south, with its gleaming skyscrapers and wide open boulevards, the pace is much slower than in Taipei.
Kaohsiung is also a convenient base if you’re visiting some natural gems like the Maolin Valley and Tianliao Moon World.
Located in the south of Taiwan some 45km east of Kaohsiung in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range, the Maolin National Scenic Area is the southernmost section of Taiwan’s thick mountain spine. The sizeable expanse of this remote Taiwanese hinterland is home to a combination of mountains, vertiginously high suspension bridges, waterfalls, natural swimming pools and rich aboriginal heritage.
The only road through the area – County Road 132 – connects Maolin to Duona.
The main drawcard in this mountainous region is the Purple Butterfly Valley, one of only 2 overwintering butterfly valleys in the world (the other being Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Valley). The butterflies are not found in one location, but at a number of sites dotted around the valley – there will be signboards along the main road.
Taiwan’s Purple Crow Butterfly are normally found throughout the island, but when winter arrives, they migrate en masse (numbering in millions) to the southern mountain valleys which are their winter nesting grounds. Here, you can find four sub-species: Dwarf Crows (75% of Maolin’s butterfly population), Double-branded Black Crows which make up the rest, along with some Striped Blue Crows and Blue-banded King Crows.
The time to catch the butterflies is during winter from November to March, and best between December and January when millions of them flutter throughout the valley between 9am and 11am. On cooler or rainy days, the butterflies remain motionless in the trees.
Nature and Culture
Maolin is famous for its waterfalls; there are 3 easily accessible falls close to Maolin village, including Lover’s Gorge, Maolin Waterfall, and Dajin Waterfall.
Across the river from Maolin village is Lover’s Gorge with its multi-tiered waterfall and pretty swimming pools. From the first tier, you can easily reach the second via a trail; access to the third and fourth tier requires some scrambling. Not far away is Maolin Waterfall, accessible via a hiking trail that goes through serene stands of bamboo and across two impressive suspension bridges.
Another impressive waterfall is the Dajin Waterfall which is the closest to Kaohsiung, and therefore more crowded over the weekends. The falls are accessible via a short uphill and downhill trudge (800 steps) from the nearby temple. A small hiking trail leads you to a smaller waterfall with a perfect pool for swimming.
Another reason for visiting this region is the local people – mainly Rukai, who are known for their beautiful slate houses. To explore their aboriginal culture, you can visit the traditional village of Wutai with its preserved houses, or head to the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park.
Maolin is also dotted with suspension bridges, and one of the most iconic is the 103m-tall Duona Suspension Bridge, perched high in the mountains stretching across a deep chasm. It’s the tallest bridge in Taiwan, with the posts decorated in Rukai designs, and is the starting point for hikes to nearby Longtoushan (Dragon Head Mountain).
Tianliao Moon World
Tianliao is a natural landscape that literally looks like the mountainous surface of the moon. The area has boardwalks from where you can have a bird’s eye view over the dramatic moonscape, which is also dotted with small lakes. Visit in the evening to see it in multi-colour lights.