How to camp under the stars in Nan’ao

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Taiwan constantly surprises me. I may have been through a certain area several times and foolishly think that there is nothing else worth exploring but through the wonder of the Internet and my local chums, new information frequently makes its way to my eye and ear-holes whether it be locations for waterfalls, wild hot springs or in this case, caves on a beach.

A couple of years back on a trip to Taroko Gorge, a friend and I camped in this town no further than a two minute drive from this beach, and had absolutely no idea of its existence. I’ve been generous enough to give you a full write-up of our trip and some handy information at the end. Here is how to camp under the stars in Nan’ao.

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Photo credit due to my two fellow cave-campers, @wu_pongo and @jason_maowang for their sweet photography that I stole for this article.

Last week I received a message from one of my mates – Mao – that used to live in Taipei, but is now stationed down in Hualien on army related business. He tells me that he’s training for the Special Forces, but considering that his Instagram stories are just him walking a dog up mountains, I think he might be telling porkies. Only joking pal. I know you’re doing good work.

Anywho, he invited me on a camping trip to Nan’ao (南澳), which is a small, mainly indigenous town in Yilan County along the east coast, far from any city. He talked about sleeping in a cave by the sea, cooking steak for dinner, doing a little off-road motorcycle riding along the beach and having perfect conditions for stargazing in the evening due to the lack of light pollution. On top of that, it was his birthday, so it would be a crime not to throw a few beers into the equation. Is there anything here that doesn’t sound appealing? So I said yes, and started to pack my bag.

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I took the 3 hour motorcycle journey from Taipei all the way along the number 9 road, which takes you directly to central Nan’ao. I met Mao here (he was over an hour late, for the record) and we collected a few last minute supplies from the Hi-Life near to the train station; drinking water, kimchi, and obviously a couple of birthday beers. Then we loaded our guts with noodles and “100 year old egg”, which is tastier than it sounds. Give it a whirl.

We got down to the beach (GPS co-ordinates at the end of the article) via Hai’an Road and in a particularly sincere manner, the first thing Mao said to me before we touched the sand was:

“Don’t let your wheels get stuck, OK?”

Sound advice that I hoped wouldn’t be an issue for me on my Kymco KTR. I was quite wrong. For around 2km, the ground is manageable. The route is regularly used by the 4×4 vehicles of fishermen on the beach, thus the sand is fairly well compacted. I had little to complain about for the moment, but Mao – on his scooter – had to travel a little slower, saying that he was concerned for the welfare of our eggs. That bloke loves his eggs, I tell ya. When we passed the fishermen, the ground started to get much more soft. We struggled to keep our bikes upright as the front wheels sank left and right. I came up with the bright idea of riding nearer to the sea, where the ground was mainly stones, and presumably had more of a solid ground. I was catastrophically wrong, and I hated myself for it. The wheels sank into the ground, and I had visions of the tide coming in to make matters a whole lot worse. Thankfully, using careful clutch control and a lot of manhandling, I managed to get the bike back up onto the sand.

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That daft sod is me. Nice view though, eh?

Admitting defeat, Mao and I parked our bikes far up the beach as near to the cliff as possible so that the tide wouldn’t reach them. We walked the final kilometre because, well, we couldn’t take any more. Another of our friends joined later (who has a larger, heavier scooter, plus more beer) and had to park 500m further from camp than us. Doing the heroic thing, we walked down to meet him (and the beers) and helped with carrying supplies.

One nice addition to this area is the presence of a small waterfall. You can’t swim in it or anything, but it’s a handy place to have a natural shower in the evening. It’s easy to find, it’s about a 5 minute walk from the caves.

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Our shower for the evening. I’m afraid no towels are supplied so you’ll have to bring your own.

After this point there is a large, unmissable cave that is by far the most ideal spot for camping without a tent. It’s huge, is practically fully covered and has room for plenty of people. Unfortunately for us, when we arrived it was occupied by a group of stargazers. We took the second best option, which is just a little further along. The weather was perfect for our stay with hardly a cloud in the sky so shelter from the rain wasn’t a priority at the time, and we didn’t use sleeping bags. I can’t say with confidence that there is enough cover in the second cave to keep you dry overnight if it rains, so consider taking a tent if the weather report looks a bit iffy.

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This is the prime real estate of the area, the first cave. Set up camp here first and you’re laughing.

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Our evening was essentially photographing the Milky Way, drinking a little beer and scotch, and chowing down on wedges of cave steak. Pretty manly, eh? Yes it is.

We awoke at around 5am just before sunrise, as the dawn’s light didn’t really give us any option. As I have weak British skin, my kind friends mercifully decided to make a move sooner rather than later to stop my pasty bum getting burnt to a crisp. As expected, we struggled for the first section but once we reached the fishing spot it was plain sailing, as they say.

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Top notch sunrise.

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Handy info:

  • You can catch the train from Taipei to Nan’ao, which takes between 2-3 hours, and runs every 3 hours via the Mountain line or the Coast line trains. It’s $304NTD for the fast train and $234NTD for the slightly slower one.* This website allows you to search for train times, is pretty simple to navigate, and is in English! Woohoo!
  • The bus is a little pointless, as you have to change in Ludong (羅東) to get the train to Nan’ao anyway. If you bloody love buses and insist on doing this, you can get the 1917 or 1915 from Taipei bus station, which takes you to Ludong.
  • If you do plan on cooking, central Nan’ao (by the train station) has a few convenience stores such as Hi-Life and 7-eleven, so you can stop up on supplies there to save you from lugging your body weight in dried noodles and canned beef.
  • The caves are located about 4km south of the road that takes you to the beach (GPS co-ordinates for this road are [24.438332, 121.801142], and GPS co-ordinates for the caves are approximately [24.402575, 121.788924].
    You should either be prepared for a long slog of a beach walk or take a 4×4 vehicle. As you have just read, scooters are possible, but not advisable. If you take a motorcycle like a Sym Wolf or KTR, you might be OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…
  • If you do take a scooter/motorcycle, don’t ride on the stones near to the sea, like this idiot. I made the mistake so that you could learn! You’re welcome.
  • Take your bestest camera and tripod to shoot the Milky Way at night. If the sky is clear it really is spectacular.
  • Other essentials: earplugs (the sound of waves crashing is LOUD in the cave), mosquito repellent, drinking water, ground mat, picnic blanket, stove (obviously only if you want to cook), towel (if you want a waterfall shower), and a headlamp or LED light.

*All above info correct as of July 2017. You have my utmost heartfelt apologies if any of it is outdated.

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One thought on “How to camp under the stars in Nan’ao

  1. Pingback: The final day: Hualien to Taipei | Pepology

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