The Strange and the Beautiful - Taiwan's Amazing Coastal Rock Formations

Taiwan, sitting on the Rim of Fire, is very young and immature in geological terms. It is being hurled up from the sea at a rapid rate as two tectonic plates, the Eurasian Plate and Philippine Sea Plate, jostle for position. On most of the Taiwan front neither seems inclined to give way, so the only way is up for both. The result is many bizarre, wonderful, ever-evolving coastal landscape formations, with additional sculpting added by Mother Nature wielding her wind, wave, and other artist tools. 

By Rick Charette

Here’s my selection for five of the best coastal rock formations found on Taiwan and its offshore islands.

On the north coast not far from Taipei is the fishing port of Yeliu, with Yeliu Geopark adjoining (entry fee). The town and port are at the tip of a cape, and the park is at the edge of the town, on a headland sliver that resembles an upside-down crooked finger. Bizarre sandstone and coral formations on the rocky promontory have been carved by Mother Nature. The gallery of works includes a bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, Cinderella’s lost slipper, burning candles (to my mind, by far the most beautiful), and petrified eggs left to hatch by ancient sea monsters. The works are fast-transforming, for the sandstone is soft and Mother Nature’s tools persistent and efficient.
The artworks are all in the first section nearest the mainland, accessed by wide, comfortable boardwalks. If time allows, after enjoying the formations walk the footpath that takes you to the promontory’s tip. The views from the lighthouse here are stunning, the sea wrapping around you almost 360 degrees.

Nanya and Longdong
Located on the northeast coast, Nanya features gnarled and twisted sandstone and exposed-iron rock formations shaped by patient wind/water erosion. Oxidization has turned the iron brilliant shades of red, striping the many artistic sculptures. The most famous work here is a giant striated pile resembling a huge block of two-tone ice-cream in the process of melting.
Longdong is also on the northeast coast. The stark cliffs here rise up almost directly from the surf, hundreds of meters high in places. Massive boulders lie at the bottom, and you can sometimes make out their original locations on the cliffs. For good reason, this spot is one of the most popular climbing locations in north Taiwan. “Longdong” means “dragon hole,” and the Longdongwan Cape Trail gives you viewing access of the massive cliff-bottom cave, today well above the sculpting surf, where dragons may well have once lived.

Penghu / Tongpan Island
Much of this Penghu archipelago of 64 small islands in the Taiwan Strait, which locals proudly describe as “pearls sprinkled in the turquoise sea,” was formed long ago by volcanic activity that has long since ceased. Basalt-column cliffs rising from the sea are a common sight – formed as lava shot up from the sea floor, was quick-cooled by seawater and then air, and almost instantly contracted and cracked.
The best viewing destination is Tongpan Island, which features a basalt mesa platform and is almost entirely ringed with neatly stacked cliff columns. There is a trail atop the mesa. This island is a regular stop on boat tours from the main Penghu islands; you’ll feel you are visiting a whimsical work created by giants.

Xiao Liuqiu / Vase Rock
Xiao Liuqiu, a small island off Taiwan’s southwest coast, is composed of coral. There are fantastic rock formations all around the island, with Vase Rock perhaps the most popular. The area abounds in colorful underwater marine life, which you can enjoy in a semi-submersible or glass-bottom boat. Other key nature-sculpted attractions are Beauty Cave, Black Dwarf Cave, and Wild Boar Ditch.

Located near the south tip of Taiwan, on the east-coast side, this stretch of comparatively isolated coastline (stretching about 2.5 km; entry fee) is one of Taiwan’s premier geological classrooms. It has been said that the landscape here looks more like that of another planet than that of spaceship Earth. Three different geological layers are clearly discerned, the carved outcroppings of the exposed-sandstone stratum resembling such familiar figures as the hare, frog, seahorse, and beehive, and chessboard. A long signposted trail guides you through the area.

(Source: 09/07/2012 Provided by Travel in Taiwan Bimonthly July Autust Issue, 2012)