TAIWAN’S OFFSHORE ISLANDS
by Sophia Hsu
After the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) declaration of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, Taiwan moved forward to implement a 4-year program which would designate each year with a unique tourism theme. In 2018, that theme is the “Year of Bay Tourism”. Taiwan is blessed with an abundance of adventure-perfect offshore islands. Each island is easily accessible as a result of Taiwan’s superb transportation network, making each “little Taiwan” seem like a hop, skip, and a jump away from the big island. Each island is a “living theme park” unto itself floating in the sea welcoming visitors for a single- or two- day visit before moving on to the next.
Off the West Shore of Taiwan
The Penghu Islands, commonly referred to as simply “Penghu”, is a wide-flung archipelago of low-lying islands located in the mid-section of the Taiwan Strait. The islands are a slow-moving realm of old villages, old temples, old lighthouses, and old fort ruins. The three main islands are connected by bridges that form the outer walls of a comparatively calm inland sea. Boat tours to the outlying islands are popular, as are nighttime squid-fishing outings.
1. Yuweng Island (Xiyu) is the westernmost of the three main islands, and second largest in the Penghu archipelago. It is reached from its brethren islands via the celebrated 2,494m-long Penghu Great Bridge, perhaps Yuweng’s most prominent landmark. A highlight on the island is tourism-oriented Erkan Village, a dense collection of heritage residences in the old southern Fujian style of mainland China. Other notable sites include the ruins of the late Qing Dynasty-built Xiyu Western Fort, erected to protect against pirates and invaders, and Yuwengdao Lighthouse, built in 1778, on the island’s southern tip.
2. Qimei Island, with its honeymoon island landscape, is best experienced on a scooter…as are all the archipelago’s flat islands. Qimei’s iconic symbol is the Twin Hearts Stone Weir, made of stones laboriously stacked, which does its duty by leaving marine creatures stranded at low tide after innocently meandering in at high. The scenic beauty and romantic settings of this island entice a steady tide of soon-to-be-newlyweds for wedding photo shoots. Local legend says that the Tomb of the Seven Beauties – “Qimei” means “Seven Beauties” – is built around a well down which intemerate Ming Dynasty damsels tossed themselves as ne’er- do-well pirates sailed in. Also of interest are the coastal rock formations referred to as “Little Taiwan” and “Waiting for Husband Rock”. Both are worthy of their names when viewed from the coastal road observation decks.
3. Jibei Island, known as a getaway isle for fun and frolic, is promoted as an international water-recreation paradise. The resort at Jibei Sand Beach, a slice of fine coral/shell sand that spits out 1,500m into the sea, has windsurfing and snorkeling gear, jet-skis, and paddle boats all available for rent. You’ll also be able to enjoy under-the-sea sightseeing boat and speedboat outings, and a waterworld of other activities ranging from parasailing to family-fun banana boat rides. Jibei is known as Penghu’s “home of stone weirs”, with over 80 stone weirs awaiting your treasure-hunt discovery. Penghu is an important center for the protection of sea turtles, as the sands of Jibei and other archipelago locations are important nesting grounds.
Taiwan’s Northern-most Islands
The Matsu Islands, are the Republic of China’s northernmost possessions. The sparsely populated islands are (primarily) massive granite outcrops that rise abruptly from the sea. Flat parcels of land are precious, and the wildly indented coastlines are dominated by soaring cliffs. The key Matsu Islands touring spots are the PRC/ROC cold-war military history and ubiquitous military fortifications, the traditional East Fujian stone residence and temple architecture, and its cuisine…a world away from that found on mainland Taiwan.
4. Beigan Island, notable for its old villages, quiet coast-hill trails, and military history, is one of Matsu’s two largest islands. Beigan’s Qinbi, Matsu’s most popular old stone-house fishing village, resembles an old Mediterranean hill-clinging settlement. Pirate attacks were long common on the island. Beigan Island boasts numerous coastal walking pathways, created long ago by oyster gatherers and fishermen.
5. Dongju Island, has tiny Dapu Village, another timeless Matsu stone residence showcase that is well worth a visit. Topping Dongju’s northeast-corner cape is Dongquan Lighthouse, also known as the “Red-Hair Lighthouse”. The term “red hair” was a common regional term for Westerners in imperial days after the Dutch sailed in. Fuzheng Village, notably larger than Dapu, is another old fishing village currently experiencing a kind of revival. Here you’ll find scores of tier-stacked houses, harbor-moored fishing craft, beached hulks, cold-war era U.S.-built tanks on display, and Dongquan Lighthouse. Dongju is a prime viewing venue for the “Blue Tear” phenomenon, seen throughout Matsu, where local coastal waters sometimes glow blue at night, caused by stimulated algae glowing with an electric-blue fluorescence.
6. Greater Kinmen and Lesser Kinman
The Kinmen Islands are located less than a mile from China’s Fujian province. Although the military has a strong presence here, tourism is on the frontline, concentrated on the two main islands, Greater Kinmen and Lesser Kinmen.
Greater Kinmen is known for its southern Fujian architecture and military history. A must-see for all visitors is the Zhaishan Tunnel, an engineering marvel hand-hewn from solid granite in the 1960’s. The Tunnel opens to the sea and is designed to shelter 40 gunboats used to defend the island.
Lesser Kinmen, also known as Lieyu, has two keys sights worth noting. They include the Hujington War Museum and Siwei Tunnel, both reflecting their Greater Kinmen brethren.
7. Xiao Liuqiu, is the southern-most of the western offshore islands and is made almost entirely of coral. Visitors to the island should be sure to see Wild Boar Trench, Vase Rock, Beauty Cave, and Black Devil Cave, which has a tragic, complicated history. The island’s other main enticements include guided boat and glass-bottom boat tours, guided snorkeling experiences, guided tidal-zone eco tours, and superb, reasonably-priced seafood fare
8. Green Island is known for just that, for being green. And its bountiful natural beauty. Arriving at the island’s point-of-entry settlement, Nanliao, be sure to ride the hop-on/hop-off tour bus service, or rent a scooter or bicycle. If hiking is your preferred method of seeing the island, be sure to explore Guanyin Cave, and the island’s claim to fame, the coast-side Zhaori Hot Spring.
9. Orchid Island, as its name infers, is known for orchids and the Yami (also known as Tao) people. The location of the island provided more protection for this tribe of the Austronesian diaspora, so much of the traditional language and customs is still vibrant today. Visitors come to experience the tribal culture and flying fish.
10. Turtle Island looks like the upper half of a giant sea turtle, and floats just off the county coast. It is now uninhabited, making it the perfect place for an eco-reserve park. Access to the island is via yacht tours from Wushi Fishing Harbor.
For more information and travel suggestions, check out the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s website: www.taiwan.net.tw