Date: 2020-09-30 Number of Visitors: 1026 Referece: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan
A Southern Mountain Beauty Known for Indigenous Culture and Butterflies
TEXT / RICK CHARETTE
PHOTOS / VISION
The Maolin National Scenic Area is a unique getaway enclave characterized by heart-lifting mountain scenery, indigenous villages busy with cultural-creative entrepreneurs, soothing hot-spring resort soaking, invigorating trail hikes, titillating butterfly watching, energizing biking jaunts, and heartrate-accelerating river-rafting outings.
Taiwan’s national scenic areas are overseen by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. The Maolin NSA is in the deep south northeast of central Kaohsiung, in the western foothills of the Central Mountain Range. Long and comparatively slender, with a north-south orientation, this heavily forested region has three major rivers coursing through it. There are three main sections, centered on riverside villages: in the south Sandimen and Wutai, in the middle Maolin and Duona, in the north Bulao and Baolai.
The local population is heavily indigenous. Members of the Rukai and Paiwan tribes, which share many cultural elements, live in the south, Rukai in the middle, Tsou and Bunun in the north. The Rukai and Paiwan are known for striking arts and crafts and traditional dwellings made of slate. Sandimen, a Paiwan settlement, has numerous tourist-friendly studios famed for artworks rich with cultural symbolism.
Blessed with many hot-spring sources, the NSA is also home to quality commercially operated hot-spring facilities. It boasts Taiwan’s most extensive distribution of natural stream springs.
The NSA has many fine trails. One of the best and most popular starts and ends right at the edge of Maolin village. The settlement, spread out over a small-mountain slope, overlooks the rugged Zhuokou River.
The Zishalishali Trail is spread out over the slope above the village. This is perhaps the NSA’s premier locale for butterfly viewing. It starts at the village’s highest point beside its uppermost street, and loops around to end lower on the same street (near the Butterfly Restaurant; see “Dining” section below). One of its manmade highlights is the Maya Pavilion, located at one of its higher points, from which a glorious view of the convergence of the Zhuokou and Laonong rivers is taken in. “Maya” is the native term for the Mandarin Chinese “maolin,” meaning “luxuriant forest.”
“Zishalishali” is a native phrase meaning “place of many shell ginger trees.” The name arose long ago; local natives headed uphill to farm small plots passed by many shell ginger trees along the way. Though the trail’s total length is 3.7km, currently just 2.1km is open to the public.
Along the way, you’ll encounter squirrels, Taiwan barbets and – circling slowly high above – crested serpent eagles. And don’t be surprised to see more than a few domesticated natives, free-range chickens, scratching about the forest floor looking for tasty treasures. These are from the farm plots you’ll espy through the trees from the main pathway.
Of course, the point of your forest foray and the star of the fauna show here, the belle of the ball, is the butterfly. Dwarf Crows account for almost 75% of Maolin’s Purple Crow Butterfly seasonal population, which at times may reach one million or more. Double-branded Black Crows make up much of the rest. Visitors are asked to stay on the trail, so as not to disturb them, and not to touch any of the many encountered resting on trailside vegetation.
The Maolin NSA, one of our planet’s two mass butterfly overwintering sites, hosts great flocks of Purple Crow Butterflies (and butterfly admirers). There are four sub-species: Dwarf Crows, Double-branded Black Crows, Striped Blue Crows, and Blue-banded King Crows.
Other Area Attractions
Near the Zhuokou River’s mouth is the Maolin Entrance Park, which has leisure facilities for tourists. This is on the site of the former NSA administration building, wiped away in the terrible Typhoon Morakot of 2009. The park is filled with indigenous-theme sculptures of stone and steel that are glowingly lit up at night. The stone reliefs at the bases tell the proud history of the local indigenous peoples.
Below Maolin village is the striking setting of the Lovers’ Valley Suspension Bridge. This long pedestrian-only structure, decorated with totemic indigenous artwork, leaps the Zhuokou River at a height not far above the riverbed. A trail that begins at the far (south) end delivers you, after an easy 10-minute walk, to the five-level Lovers’ Gorge Waterfall, hidden away in lush forest.
Tremendous views of an entirely different sort, from the vantage point of the local birds of prey, await upriver on the soaring Duona High Suspension Bridge, long the only outside connection for Duona village. This is Taiwan’s highest bridge, 103m above the riverbed. The highway that today twists its way up the river valley ends at tourist-welcoming Duona, where a surviving group of 30 traditional Rukai slate houses is being preserved, Taiwan’s largest such cluster.
The Deengorge Guesthouse is a true hideaway getaway in the deep forest, located just upriver from Maolin village on the river’s south side. Perched on a small mountainside plateau, guests enjoy a sweeping view of the twisting river valley. “Deengorge” is derived from the native place name, which means “place of gathered stones.” Yesteryear Rukai travelers passing through would place beautiful riverbed stones here, in a cool, breezy rest place believed blessed by tribal ancestors.
Guestrooms are in structures with exteriors that resemble Rukai/Paiwan slate houses – one multi-room building with covered verandah and a few single-room cabin-style buildings. The rooms, which sleep 2 or 4, are homey, clean, and simple, and some feature appealing wood-beam ceilings. A buffet breakfast is enjoyed in the rustic open-air café/restaurant, decked out with carved-wood furnishings, where coffees, hot chocolate, cappuccinos, fresh Western-style baked treats, and other goodies roll forth.
Regular guided nighttime nature tours are offered (Chinese), plus special advance-booking English-language guided tours for up to six people.
Deengorge Guesthouse (得恩谷生態民宿)
Add: No. 138, Maolin Borough, Maolin District, Kaohsiung City
This pleasant, easy-ambience eatery/café/bakery, located in Maolin village, is run by a young Rukai entrepreneur. The open-concept design allows you to watch the kitchen/bakery staff at work. The carved-wood furnishings are complemented by a wealth of indigenous-theme artwork flourishes. Perhaps the most striking is a full-wall mural in black and white, crafted by local youngsters, depicting an olden-times village celebration before a slate house, participants decked out in festive regalia, warriors dancing around a bonfire.
Creative indigenous cuisine is served here, along with Western-style baked treats such as handmade French-style breads in which three types of traditional indigenous culinary ingredients are showcased: red quinoa, millet, and pigeon pea. Among the breads, especially savory/sweet scrumptious are the buns made with red quinoa and cranberries. Among the meal delicacies, perhaps most distinguished among the numerous hearty selections is the roast chicken, prepared with mountain pepper (aromatic litsea), another traditional native ingredient, and the a-bai, a type of tamale made with fermented millet and other treats wrapped in edible leaf. Fatty roast pork is usually a centerpiece, but the a-bai here are vegetarian, with peanuts and yam chunks the star additions.
The coffees are made with specialty Maolin-grown beans. Bags of Maolin bean as well as Maolin-cultivated red quinoa, a traditional native culinary specialty, are available for take-home purchase.
Butterfly Restaurant (巴特芙萊)
Add: No. 16, Neighborhood 1, Maolin Borough, Maolin District, Kaohsiung City
Getting There and Around
If traveling without your own wheels, note that Taiwan Tourist Shuttle buses on the service’s Northern Pingtung Shuttle Bus route operate between Pingtung Bus Station and the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park, located close to Sandimen village. Regular train service is available to Pingtung Station. Various other public bus options to/from different Maolin NSA destinations are available, notably to/from central Kaohsiung and from Pingtung City. These are detailed on the NSA website, which also provides information on getting around within the NSA – local bus routes, bicycle routes/rentals.