Emerald and Sapphire Magnificence in Taiwan
Taiwan has no shortage of striking sights and exotic destinations. Despite being a relatively small island, it boasts some of the highest mountains in East Asia, breathtaking coastal roads sandwiched by steep, rocky mountains and sea shores of turquoise, and history-rich cities and towns.
If that is not awesome enough, there are a few island clusters that make up for great summer getaways, such as Penghu, Kinmen, and Liechiang (where the famous Matzu Islands are located). There is no doubt that traveling comes in “island doses” in Taiwan.
While all those islands are located in the Taiwan Strait, there are two very popular islands off the southeast coast of Taiwan that complete the “domestic island‘ offer, namely, Green Island and Orchid Island. And although Orchid Island has its own merit, being a true secret paradise preserving the indigenous heritage like no other in Taiwan, the northern “sister”, Green Island, or 綠島 in Chinese (pinyin: lvdao), is arguably the best in preserving an unspeakable natural beauty.
It is a volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean with roughly 16 square kilometers in area, located just 40 kilometers off the southeastern city of Taitung. It is a place with plenty of amazing views of green and plenty of adventure potential. Whether it is a mountaintop, the sea, or under the sea, the outdoor scene will make any visitor wish that this island life could last much longer.
How to get to Green Island
Before getting to Green Island, it is necessary to get to Taiwan first. This is quite easy since Taoyuan Airport (TPE), the main airport of Taiwan, is a main East Asian hub too, connected with direct flights to other major cities in Asia, Europe and the western seaboard of the US.
Once in Taiwan, making it to Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, is merely about following the signs inside the airport to take the Taoyuan Metro. From there, some planning, and a close eye to the time tables is needed, with the aim of minimizing the commuting, and maximizing the effective travel experience. After all, transportation options along the east coast of Taiwan are not as many and as frequent as they are along the west side, where most cities are located.
From there, there are three commuting stages to make it to Green Island:
First, arrive to Taitung City (臺東市). The official website for Taitung County offers thorough details on bus, train, car, and even plane options to get to Taitung. The link to that website is here. On the other hand, the most efficient, budget-friendly way to reach Taitung from other places in southern Taiwan such as Pingtung City, Kaohsiung City or Kenting National Park (the latter being another popular travel destination) might be the railway service, from Fangliao Station (枋寮車站) in Pingtung.
Second, make it to Fugang Port (富岡). Let this be a straightforward 25-minute taxi ride to reach this port from either the airport or the train station. As a person who prefers the adventure of walking to a destination whenever is possible, I consider that in this case, it is definitely not a reasonable option. Naturally, if you are traveling with your own car, this stage becomes irrelevant, although finding a parking space in Taitung City will be needed. Bear this in mind for it could take some considerable time around the port area.
Third and last, take a passenger boat to Green Island. The third and final step to get to Green Island is taking the 50-minute ship ride from Fugang Port in Taitung, to Nanliao Harbor (南寮港) in Green Island.
Here comes a warning: to say this boat ride is an “uncomfortable ride” is to put it mildly. This strait of water between the ports is incredibly windy, producing waves that rise up a few meters. This makes the boat “fly” abruptly for a second, just to splash down again in the next, and this cycle is repeated constantly until the very end of the ride. Thus, prepare yourself mentally for an unforgiving 50-minute “rollercoaster”. Taking sea sickness pills beforehand, or any sleeping pills for long flights is a good idea. Another good idea is to have one’s stomach as empty as possible before the ride. This far-from-pleasant part of the trip will be worth the effort after arriving on Green Island. Everything will be better, much better, after arriving at Nanliao Harbor.
Below is a breakdown of a proposed itinerary, with estimated costs for transportation from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to Green Island:
|Nangang Station (南港站)(*before 7:00 pm)||Hualien Station (花蓮站)||3hrs30min / Taipei Bus No. 1071||NTD 270 (USD 10)|
|Hualien Station (花蓮站)||Taitung Station臺東站||3hrs16min / Train Chu-Kuang Express 602 (莒光602)||NTD 264 (USD 9.50)|
|Taitung Station(臺東站)||Fugang Fishing Harbor (富岡漁港)||20min / Taxi||NTD 445/6=74.2/person|
|Fugang Fishing Harbor (富岡漁港)(*before 3:30pm)||Nanliao Harbor (南寮港), Green island 綠島||50min / Ferry (豪華客輪G21610)||NTD 560 (USD 20)|
|Nanliao Harbor (南寮港), Green Island(*before 11:20pm)||Fugang Fishing Harbor (富岡漁港||50min / Ferry (豪華客輪K21200)||NTD 560 (USD 20)|
|Fugang Fishing Harbor 富岡漁港||Taitung Station (臺東站)||20min / Taxi||NTD 445/6=74.2/person|
|Taitung Station(臺東站)||Hualien Station (花蓮站)||1hrs54min / TrainTze-Chiang Limited Express 427(自強427)||NTD 343 (USD 12.30)|
|Hualien Station (花蓮站)||Nangang Station (南港站)||3hrs30min / Taipei Bus臺北客運1071||NTD 270 (USD 10)|
If the time is a constraint and spending more is not a problem, there are a few domestic flights from Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) to Taitung Airport (TTT) operated by Mandarin Airlines and Uni Airways, and then a rather cozy 19-passenger-only aircraft to Green Island (GNI), operated by Daily Air Corporation.
Travel planning for Green Island
This is a small island, therefore there is an understandably limited range of options for different tastes in regards of convenience and comfort. Still, a great travel experience is not compromised. Most of the tourist infrastructure of Green Island is located in the northwest side. That is, most shops (including the only two convenience stores), accommodations, visitor center, and restaurants are here. Nanliao Harbor and Green Island Airport, for boat and plane arrivals, respectively, are also in this area.
The following daily expenses can be considered for a budget-friendly planning:
- Meals. The culinary options in Green Island range from the “delicacies” found in 7-Eleven and Family Mart (with standardized prices across Taiwan), going through local eateries, to the evening buffet-style barbecue restaurants. The average price for a traditional breakfast is around 80 NTD (less than USD 3), lunch is around 150 NTD (about USD 5), and a barbecue dinner (for the sake of the good times) can be about 250 NTD (about USD 9). Alternatively, there are a few local grocery stores in the town where it’s possible to stock up on fruits and packed snacks for the day.
- Accommodation: most accommodations are located on the northwest side, either north of Nanliao Harbor or east of “Lvudao” Airport, with the cheaper options hovering around 1,000 NTD (about USD 30) per night. These prices aren’t exactly cheap, but there are not many options either. As an alternative, there are a few camping sites to spend the night or even camp on one of the many beaches (see my map below for camping sites), unless there is a sign forbidding it.
- Mobile data: all phone carriers offer different prepaid data packages aimed at tourists. You might want to purchase one right at the airport, way before arriving at Green Island for it might be a bit inconvenient to try to get one once you are there, and WiFi is not a must in establishments. The mobile signal is strong everywhere on the island though.
- Transportation: No rental company will lend you any vehicle without a driving license they can prove as valid, even if you claim to be the best driver in your hometown. Alternatively, many stores offer electric scooters with battery swaps when needed, and no driving license is required. Just make sure to be back for a change before the battery runs out. As for the daily rental rates, it is possible to get one of these electric rides for 600 NTD (about 18 USD), or the standard petrol scooter for an average of 200 NTD. For a car, it is possible to get anything around 400 NTD per person. All these rates can be improved slightly depending on your bargaining skills and the size of your group.
- Where to get cash: In Green Island, there is only one 7-Eleven and one Family Mart store, both with an ATM. Aside from those ATMs, it’s not a good idea to expect to find other places where to withdraw money on the island. However, it is advisable to withdraw money at any convenience store in Taitung or before, in case any issue with international withdrawals emerges. Take note that there are no ATMs at Fugang Port, where the payment for the ferry has to be made.
- Language barrier: since a great part of the economic activity of the island depends on tourism, people in convenience stores, restaurants, and other tourism-related establishments know a few basic English words. Just enough to attend to the needs of foreigners. When it comes to asking around for directions to places, map services such as Google Maps or MAPS.ME work just great, and most places of interest are well signposted in Mandarin Chinese and English.
There are as many kinds of travel bags as there are travelers. Below is just a rough list of the essentials for Green Island:
- Surgical masks (to wear inside public places and transports)
- Power bank(s) for electronics (power sources are limited)
- Sunscreen, insect repellent (lots of outdoor and nature-related activities)
- Plastic bags/resealable bags (to keep wildlife and water away from your food and valuables)
- Flashlight (useful to spot deers at night too)
- Umbrella/Raincoat (weather is quite unpredictable in Taiwan)
- Water bottle (for refills)
- Swimming cap (if you are planning to visit the hot springs)
- Motion sickness pills x2 (Diphenidol. In Chinese: 暈車藥)
What to do and where to go in Green Island
With only the minimum infrastructure for a pleasant and convenient stay, it is no surprise that all there is to do and go in Green Island is related to nature and outdoors. Awesome coastline highway, rocky caves, cliffs, and huge doses of vitamin D. I will let the images speak for themselves.
1. Dabaisha (大白沙潛水區)
Lovely southwestern beach with white sands and lots of coral and shells to collect on the shore.
2. Chaikou Snorkeling Area (柴口浮潛區)
Although it is a popular spot for divers, the beach is good enough for picnics and enjoying the sunset and evening starry sky.
3. Little Great Wall
This “wall” is more a staircase at the side of the highway that leads to a couple of resting pavilions from where one can have a bird’s view of the “sleeping beauty rock” (睡美人岩), and the east side of Green Island.
4. Triple Rocks (三峰岩)
When the tide is good, the reefs make for great natural pools of seawater. A little more towards the sea and one can do some snorkeling/freediving and spot plenty of sea creatures in the pristine waters of this area. Above the surface, Gongguan Nose (公館鼻) is a few hundred meters away for a nice, short hike to the top.
5. “Cowhead” Mountain or Niutoushan (牛頭山)
While this “mountain” does not pose much of an upward challenge, it takes some effort to find a parking spot and a ten-minute walk to the grasslands dominating this plain that elevates over the sea level only a few hundred meters. This northeasternmost spot offers a beautiful sight of the northern and eastern reef shores of Green Island, and to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
6. Amei Mountain (阿眉山), and Across Mountain Ancient Trail
The reward of reaching the observation platform at the top of this trail is a 360-degree view of the island, and the cool, refreshing wind. After all, who does not want to brag about having hiked an island on foot, on a single day, from side to side? Make sure to bring enough water and power snacks for this three-hour hike to the top, and another two hours of descent.
7. Drive around Green Island
This around-the-island highway is total bliss for the driving experience in itself, and also for the summer beach vibes. One can take a reconnaissance ride in less than half an hour with a scooter or car. With so few people on the road and so many beautiful sights, one is tempted to park anywhere without thinking too much about other drivers. Thus, be mindful of where you park before wandering around.
8. Zhaori Hot Springs (朝日溫泉)
Hot springs are a relatively popular attraction around the world, but one hardly finds saltwater ones like Zhaori Hot Springs. It is a place for people of all ages, and although the facilities are old, they are well taken care of, with enough changing rooms, places to sit, and several pools with different warmth levels.
The entrance fee per person is 200 NTDs, and the use of a swimming cap or hair net is mandatory for everyone. Bring some eggs and hard boil them with the thermal waters for a delicious hot spring snack. Tip: visit the hot springs after the sun goes down for a relaxing evening under the stars.
9. Astrophotography and star gazing
With so much light pollution in cities and towns in Taiwan, it is easy to find a spot with little to no artificial light to do some night shots when the sky is clear above Green Island. With the right camera gear (that is, a tripod, a camera, or a phone with astrophotography capabilities), one can get insanely beautiful images of the Milky Way above, and other celestial bodies. Alternatively, bringing a towel or a mat, laying down on the sand, and watching the satellites and shooting stars crossing the sky is always a great idea.
Further exploring in Green Island
Depending on the time available on Green Island, there are plenty of other places of interest worth visiting. Here are just some worth considering:
- Green Island Ziping Ecological Conservation Area (綠島紫坪生態保育區).
- Youzi Lake (柚子湖).
- Fanchuanbi Grassland (帆船鼻大草原).
- Sika Deer Ecological Park (梅花鹿生態園區). The entrance to this park is just 50 NTD. If you want to spot the deers in the wild, though, it is possible to spot them wandering among the bushes at night, in the inland parts of the highway (east side). The big group of tourists using their lanterns to flash the deers’ eyes is impossible to miss, and an alternative way to find these animals.
- Sleeping Beauty Rock (睡美人岩).
- White Terror memorial park (白色恐怖綠島紀念園區). Prison museum commemorating the lives of dissidents imprisoned during Taiwan’s martial law period. This is just one of the few memorials sites in Green Island dedicated to this part of the local history, but probably the most important one to visit for those into the local recent history of Taiwan.
- Scuba diving. Let’s face it, this is one big reason to visit this tiny island, and stay for several days or weeks. With just 400 NTD for gear rental, including coach and accident insurance, one can level up the travel experience in Green Island by going underwater. It is no coincidence that many local and international divers come here to observe the rich coral just below the surface, either during the day or at night. Just take your car or scooter, head to one of the many diving spots available.
Here is a visual breakdown for all mentioned above. Reference points in Green Island for travel planning, the places I visited, and other secondary points of interest. There is a dedicated category for those adventurous enough to endure the Across Mountain Ancient Trail across the whole island.
Special considerations for Green Island
- Take advantage of the economies of scale. Try to take a trip with at least one fellow traveler to cut transportation costs when renting a scooter. If possible, gather a few more to afford a car rental. There is a substantial difference between cruising around the island riding scooters, exposed to the elements day and night, and driving around in the comfort of a car (and air conditioning).
- Prepare the boat ride. Seriously. If you consider taking the boat to Green Island, prepare your motion sickness pills or melatonin to fall asleep for the whole duration of the ride, even if you consider yourself a strong person.
- While in the rest of Taiwan it is not rare to find several convenience stores close to each other, in Green Island there is one 7-Eleven and one Family Mart. Although there are local stores, they offer just a fraction of the product assortment expected from those TWO convenience stores. Make sure to stock up before starting any adventure.
- Drone flying. Despite its tiny size, Green Island boasts a domestic airport, and therefore the flying restrictions for flying drones apply to their full extent to a big portion of the island. Also, if you are camping, consider the limited access to electricity sources to (re)charge the batteries of your flying camera (restaurants might not allow visitors to charge electronic devices). See the map above for an estimate of the no-fly zone on the island.
- If you are planning to camp, prepare for the nomad lifestyle. In other words, spending the night in tents means putting up the tent every night, and folding it back again in the morning. Although it is perfectly safe to leave a tent unattended with belongings inside, while adventuring somewhere else, it is better to put everything back again in the backpack in order to avoid problems with the locals or other visitors.
- Explore Taitung while waiting for the boat. The departure times for the passenger boats to Green Island, although punctual, are not so frequent. This waiting time can be used to explore a few secondary places in your list.
Green Island in Taiwan, is a remote and considerably tricky place to reach, making it just not feasible for many, especially for those visiting Taiwan with limited time. However, it is impossible to go wrong putting this lovely little island in any travel plan. The interaction with the colorful tropical nature is the overarching theme of this place, and its ethos could well be the detachment of all the digital distractions that characterize modern life.