I first came across Taiwan’s Muyumugi Gorge last spring in a short article that was linked to in a Reddit post. The author described an off-the-beaten-path swimming hole, just a short bus ride outside of Hualien, with water so clear you could see straight through to the rocks on the river bed. The pictures looked awesome and it sounded like not many tourists made it there so I promptly clipped the article to Evernote. Like most of the random tidbits that wind up in my notebooks, this article was on it’s way to being forgotten about until long after we left Taiwan, had it not been for a former coworker who overheard me talking about our upcoming trip. As it turned out, he had just come back from Taiwan a few days earlier and one of his highlights was the Muyumugi Gorge. Sure enough, the short article I had nearly forgotten about and his Taiwan highlight were one and the same, instantly bumping the Muyumugi Gorge up to the top of my list of things to see in Taiwan.
The big draw of Hualien for most people is undoubtably the Taroko Gorge, making it overrun with tourist year-round. And while the Taroko Gorge certainly factored into our decision to visit Hualien, the Muyumugi Gorge was the spot that I’d been talking about nonstop. So, on our first full day in Hualien, we set off via bus to find the lesser-known gorge. The bus we boarded zigzagged back and forth through Hualien’s busy streets before heading off, into the hills just west of the city.
The little research we’d done prior to our excursion made it sound like you needed a permit in order to hike into the hills of the aboriginal village where the gorge was, and that the local police limited the number of permits to 600 a day. When the bus let us off at the final stop, we headed across the street to the police station, hoping that we hadn’t arrived too late to make the days allotment of visitors. To our surprise, we found that the ‘permit’ was just a sign-in sheet with only a few dozen signatures. On our way to the police station, we’d befriended another traveler, a Polish girl volunteering in Taiwan, and after few signatures, the three of us were on our way, hiking up the dirt road toward the gorge.
For the first time on our trip, we’d left the large city and found ourselves in a lush, jungle-like setting. About three miles in, we started to see smaller trails leading down toward crystal clear waters that snaked through the hills. Even from fifty feet above you could tell how incredibly clear the water was. We headed a bit further down the main trail, leaving the small crowds of Taiwanese locals and tourists behind, and found a nice secluded area.
We spent the next few hours swimming and jumping off the surrounding rocks into the chilly water. You could see groups of small fish swim right up to the edge of the rocks that dotted the bank. The marble walls that surrounded the gorge, at points rising high into the hills, were lined with incredibly intricate patterns that seemed to have been polished smooth by the flowing water.
The entire scene was perfect – exactly what we needed after a solid week of trekking through city streets in ninety degree weather. It was also an unexpected and welcome surprise to find another Westerner. We’d been on the road for a little over a week at this point and it was refreshing to hear from someone else also navigating their way through Taiwan.
With only a few buses making the trip back into the main town, we made our way back down the trail, stopping along the way for a passion fruit popsicle from one of the local aboriginal vendors. We waited at the village’s one bus stop, an old tree in a parking lot behind the police station, feeling refreshed and totally relaxed.
Often times it’s a crap shoot when you hear about a ‘must see’ attraction. If the spot lives up to the hype then it’s often overrun with tourists. If the endorsement is the product of circumstances beyond the destination itself, then you’ll scratch your head and wonder what the person who made the suggestion saw in the place to begin with. The Muyumugi Gorge is one of the rare gems that exists in the magical grey area between tourist hotspot and disappointing dud. The natural beauty of the marble walls, the refreshing pools and the hike out of the aboriginal village and into the hills, combined with very few tourists make our day at the Muyumugi Gorge a clear favorite so far.