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Green Island – A Tropical Island of Myriad Scenic, Historic, and Outdoor Fun Attractions

July 18, 2014 Destination Global No Comments Email Email

Green Island may be tiny, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in rugged volcanic scenery, startling political history, and a tropical sense of abandon.

On a recent outing with friends, after arriving by ferry at Nanliao Harbor, our first port of call is our guesthouse, where we drop our bags and rent our new wheel. Most, if not all, of Green Island’s guesthouses offer packages when you book, which include ferry tickets, scooter rental, and a variety of activities such as snorkeling and night safaris. Our package, booked through a cycling – adventure company, includes bicycle rental as well.

The island is encircled by a 20km ring road, and doing a full circle by bike takes a good three hours. Heading north along the west coast, we quickly enter Nanliao, the island’s main village and a typical seaside strip replete with drive shops, restaurants, and beachwear suppliers. Come nightfall, a few bars open for those who want to stay up late. Nanliao is a fine place to grab lunch. Seafood dominates the menus of Green Island’s restaurants, and the local specialty is fish boiled in a mixture of brine and ginger (to give is a spicy kick).
Soon after rounding the island’s northwest corner and stopping for a quick look at the lighthouse there, we arrive at the Green Island Human Rights Culture Park. This huge one – time prison complex reveals the darker side of the island’s past. During Taiwan’s period of martial law (1949-1987), thousands of political prisoners were shipped off to Green Island to perform hard labor and undergo thought is the high – security fortress, which has the dry title Oasis Villa.

From here the road becomes a torturous climb for cyclists, though one that offers glorious views of the prison below. Eventually, we arrive at Guanyin Cave, a limestone cavern converted into a temple to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. The cave houses a stalagmite in the (approximate) shape of the goddess, who faces the cave well with her back to the worshiper.

Climbing higher still, on the near crest of a steep incline we come to a sign for the Little Great Wall, a set of steps and viewing pavilions that undulates over the nearby promontory in a manner that recalls China’s famed landmark. From the topmost pavilion, there is great view over Haishenping, crater, and at the far end we can see two distinctive rock formations – the Pekinese Dog and Sleeping Beauty.
From here, it’s a merciful downhill stretch most of the way to the Zhaori Hot Springs, where you can soak your aching calves in one of the few saltwater hot springs in the world. The springs are split into two sections, a set of modern tiled pools, which are temperature – controlled, and a set of three circular stone pools which lie on the tidal flat, surrounded by jagged reef rocks.

Evening comes, and after dinner at our guesthouse we are ready for a night safari. Our bicycles stable for the night, we borrow the owner’s eco – friendly electric scooters and head out with a guide for a now anti – clockwise after – dark island tour. Most of Green Island’s wildlife is best seen at night – coconut crabs, gem – faced civets, flying foxes – and in one particular spinney of screw pines we espy a Tsuda’s giant stick insect, an endemic, parthenogenetic species that secretes a defensive fluid from its thorax which, rather pleasingly, smells of mint.

The next morning we go snorkeling, Taiwanese style. After being asked to put on life jackets, we are taken to Chaikou, a diving area on the north side of the island. Our guide then hands out six flotation rings, tells us to grab on, two snorkelers per rings, and we are hauled out to sea and towed around the reef in convoy. And though it may seem restrictive at first, as soon as you let go and enjoy the ride you soon discover it’s a lazy man’s dream. You get to enjoy the island’s 660 species of fish and 200 plus species of coral, which carpet the seabed and cling to the rocks.

All too quickly, it’s time to board the ferry back to Fugang on the mainland, and Green Island is soon shrinking in our wake. We leave knowing that we have left plenty unexplored, many a cove unseen, many a cave not entered. Green Island’s nooks and crannies are plentiful, and not to be rushed. We see them simply as places to explore the next time we visit.Getting there

The most common way to get to Green Island is by ferry. During summer, ferries leave from Taitung’s Fugang Harbor every two hours between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In winter, departures are infrequent and largely dependent on weather and a sufficient number of passengers. For an estimation of ferry times, check out www.ezboat.com.tw. The journey costs NT$460 each way, and takes about 50 minutes. If you want to fly to Green Island, there are three flights a day from Taitung Airport to Green Island (Daily Air: NT$2,130/one way)

Getting around
A few places around Nanliao Harbor rent regular bicycles for around NT$200/day, while a rental shop at the south exit rents electric bicycles for NT$400/day. There is also a free bike – loan service at the Green Island Visitor Center, just north of the main strip at Nanliao. Service hours are 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and bicycles must be returned by the end of each day.

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