Weekend Wanderings: Green Island

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Taiwan does a good job of providing an abundance of places for quick weekend excursions and with the heat and humidity beginning to set in on Kaohsiung, we recently jumped at the opportunity to join some friends on a trip to Taiwan’s Green Island.

The small speck of an island, located about 19 miles east of Taitung in southern Taiwan, is a popular diving and resort destination for those within the country, but is rarely mentioned as a “must visit” among other travelers in the region. It would be a rare sight, for example, to see a hoard of Aussie backpackers slamming beers on the ferry deck in route to Green Island’s Nanliao harbor.

Still when our group of five showed up there were plenty of Taiwanese tour groups moving about in scooter herds and crowding the souvenir shops.

For us, the trip brought welcomed respite from the Kaohsiung smog and an opportunity to see some more of Taiwan’s fabled coastline. The island itself–a stunning mixture of lush vegetation, crushed coral beaches and jagged volcanic mountains–seems much to0 pristine of a setting to have ever been home to a brutal political prison.

We planned to grab a few scooters as our transport for the weekend, but a recent fatal crash involving two foreigners on the island prompted scooter rental companies to change their policy, renting only to those with Taiwanese drivers licences–frustrating, but understandable.

Instead we settled on the option of bicycles. Sadly I was quite disappointed with the quality of the rides we were given. Had they been bicycles properly suited for the terrain, circumnavigating the island–and all her seaside cliffs–would’ve been a welcomed challenge. Instead I found myself dreading the trips we made from our campsite into town and back again, pretty much ensuring that an attempt at cycling around the island would not be made (big shout-out to Nomad Notions author Jenna Longoria and her boyfriend Dominic for accepting the challenge and succeeding).

We were able to set up camp on the southern tip of the island, on a bluff just above the island’s famous hot springs, about 100 yards from a scenic lookout post. I’m not entirely sure if camping here is even permissible, but the official camping grounds were closed due to renovation and the small herd of goats grazing nearby weren’t noticeably bothered so we claimed it as our own for the night, taking taking note of the goat shit scattered around the site.

Among all the things to do in Green Island, I was probably most interested in visiting the Zhahori salt water hot springs–one of only three in the world.

There’s five or six pools that range from chilled to steamy and you can grab a basket to put your belongings in while you take a dip. We changed in our tents, but there’s locker rooms with showers on the premises as well.

As is the norm we attracted a few stares but many others couldn’t have cared less about about our presence. Before we could take the plunge, however, we were quickly informed that we would need to wear swimming caps if we wanted to enter the main pools. Should we not want to wear  swimming caps, we would only be able to sit in the pools closer to the beach. The only noticeable difference besides the location was that the two pools near the beach were essentially dead coral tide pools ringed with cement barriers that have the warm spring water piped-in. Fair enough.

None of us were in the mood to purchase a swimming cap so we headed towards the beach and joined two Taiwanese guys already there. The water wasn’t as hot as I wanted but still relaxing and whereas were were told we couldn’t have beverages at the pools requiring swimming caps; here we’re able to knock down a couple of beers in peace–at least until one of the attendants began glaring at us and grabbed his walkie-talkie. I have no idea what he said to the person on the other end, but we clearly heard him mention “weiguoren” (foreigner). The jig was up.

We returned to the the other pools and wrapped our heads with towels and sarongs, satisfying the swimming cap rule. The sight–I’m sure–did little to combat the “crazy foreigner” stereotype (Kay looked like the Chiquita Banana lady) but none of us cared as we were finally allowed to enter the other pools. I went for hottest available and followed the example set buy an elderly Taiwanese woman–lapping water onto my neck and shoulders. I somehow felt this was the more therapeutic way to enjoy the hot spring. I added to the strategy by sipping wine out of a paper cup every so often. I would go on to try out all but the coldest of the springs before rain sent us scurrying back to the tents.

It should be mentioned that there’s nowhere near the hot springs where one can easily take a swim in the ocean. Nearby Dabaisha beach is one of main spots for snorkeling and diving, but is also ill suited to take a dip due to dead coral. From the road I could see a few people swimming off a small strip of beach just south of Nanliao village, but never went down to explore further. I’ve also read that the eastern side of the island has beaches where one can easily access the water.

In terms of eating, there seemed to be plenty of places in Nanliao village, near the harbor, but on our visit there were a lot of people who were contently eating at 7-11. We took the recommendation of another visitor and ate at a restaurant on the main strip. Among other things on the menu they offered rice and noodle dishes with venison (deer meat). So far as I know there’s not many many places to try venison in Taiwan so we decided to give it a go. A plate of the venison with noodles, some sashimi and a bit of sautéed cabbage did us well and was cheap enough that I could’ve ordered another dish and not felt guilty.

On a return trip to Green Island I think I’d prefer to have a scooter to throughly explore the whole of it, but I still enjoyed taking in the views and soaking in the hot springs. Our small second-hand tent did well to combat the light rain, but suffered two broken tent poles from battling the wind. Rain on the last day left us soggy on the ferry ride back to Taitung, but the weather more or less cooperated other than that. I won’t count it as a complete success being that we were limited in what we were able to do, but it held it’s own in terms of a quick weekend getaway.

Enough said.

*You can get to Green Island via Taitung. From Kaohsiung it takes about 3 hours by train, after which you will need to make your way to Fukang Harbor (easiest by taxi NT 150-200) and hop the 50 min ferry to the island (between NT 800-900 round-trip).

*Update: a taxi ride from Taitung station will be closer to NT 300-350. I previously posted the price at NT 150-200.

If you decide to camp at the designated campground it will run you NT 400 a person.

Entrance to the hot springs is NT 200 plus the cost of a swimming cap, should you decide to buy one. Avoid the crowds by going during the early morning or doing the day.

Rental scooters can be had for NT 300-400 per day, but you’ll need a Taiwanese scooter license. Should you choose to rent bicycles (not recommended) they’ll set you back NT 150 per day.

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