Sunday, November 27, 2016

Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭森林遊樂區) - Gingko leaves in autumn [Travel in Taiwan 161126: Changing Colors]


When does autumn begin? When does autumn end? People usually associate autumn with the red color of maple leaves. You're lucky if you happen to live in Korea, Japan or any other country in the temperate climate region because you will have an opportunity to enjoy the dramatic color of the fall season. Unfortunately for Taiwan, the transformation of maple leaves happens lately in the third week of November or worst in the middle of December. The island's geographical position is the major reason of the delay and only the cool temperature and rain brought by the Northeasterly winds can make the magic to happen. 

With the recent arrival of the cool winter winds which in the Philippines is locally called as “amihan”, I decided to visit Xitou Nature Park in Nantou province. I've heard that the leaves of the Gingko trees there have transformed into a yellow color. I only know about these trees through textbooks and I don't remember seeing one in real life. This year, the Gingko trees were reported to change colors around November 20. The trees were already shedding their leaves when I heard about the news so I immediately packed my bag and went directly to Taipei Bus Station on a Saturday morning before it was already too late. If I'm lucky I could see the golden color of the Gingko trees aside from the usual red color of the maple trees.

at Taipei Bus Station


Bus 1826 (Taipei -> Taichung) ticket. My seat number was 7. 


I waited at Gate 215 to board Bus 1826 (via Shuinan)
Take note of the "via Shuinan" for Bus 1826 or you might be waiting for the wrong bus.

At Taipei Bus Station, I looked for the booths of King Bus where I bought a ticket for Bus 1826 (via Shuinan). This bus would take passengers to Taichung with its terminal station at the Gancheng bus stop. If you are familiar with the Sun Moon Lake Taiwan Tour Bus then you already know about this bus stop. Gancheng together with the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) Taichung Station were the first stops of the most tourist buses going to Nantou. However, my experience in boarding a Xitou tour bus at the THSR station made me decide to just board a bus going to Gancheng to reach Taichung province rather than ride a bullet train. There are so many passengers at the THSR Taichung Station especially during weekends that queuing would take 1 hour. So the 60 minute travel time from Taipei to Taichung with a bullet train would be put to waste by waiting to board a bus going to Xitou. The case is different for the Sun Moon Lake tour buses which are more frequent at the Taichung bullet train station.

Yuan Lin Bus Station in Xitou Nature Education Area

I paid NTD 220 for the bus ticket and the travel time took 2 hours and 30 minutes. My bus left Taipei Bus Station at 6:10 am and at 8:30 am I arrived safely at Gancheng bus stop. There were many buses parked at Gancheng during my arrival and I was in a hurry to board a Xitou bus stop. I said “Xitou” to the staff of the Nantou bus company and I was led to Bus 6883 which was a Taiwan Tour Bus. Xitou Pass tickets and normal tickets can be bought at the Nantou bus company but due to lack of time I immediately board the bus and paid the fare using my EasyCard. Before I left Taipei, I made sure that I have enough money in my smart card. Don't do this if you don't have enough credit for a round trip fare in Xitou. According to the Taiwan Tour Bus website, a one-way fare from Gancheng bus stop to Xitou Nature Park costs NTD 155. 

Bus 6883 left Gancheng bus stop at 8:40 am and just like what I said there were many passengers waiting at the THSR Taichung Station. Queue numbers were already given to the passengers so boarding the bus was orderly. The expected arrival time of the bus at Xitou was at 10:15 am but due to traffic in the mountain the bus arrived late at around 10:30 am in Yuanlin bus stop. Queue numbers can be obtained at this bus station for passengers coming back to Taichung. I estimated that I would finish my adventure around 5:00 pm so I asked for a slot for the 17:20 bus.

The lush forest of Xitou while walking from the bus stop to the gate of the park.
The ticket booth and the opening hours of the park.
ticket prices
the ticket
park map



After securing a seat for my return trip in Taichung, I went to the gate of the Xitou Nature Park. I showed my student ID at the counter and I was asked to pay the entrance fee worth NTD 150. There were free maps although it was printed in Chinese. If you forgot to get a copy of the map then don't worry because big billboard maps were around the park.
Cryptomeria japonica. These trees were planted in 1964.

Xitou Nature Park is a 2,500 hectare facility of the National Taiwan University (NTU) and officially the university's experimental forest. Various trees and plants can be seen here with tall Japanese cedar trees dominating most areas of the park. Many visitors go here in summer because of the cool temperature that one could experience. Aside from the lush vegetation and fresh air, there were various trails and attractions that the young and old can enjoy. Since it was my first time here, I just tried to observe the place and get familiar with the park. 


Cyrptomeria japonica (planted in 1945)

Trees planted dating back in the 1940s and 1950s amazed me. To find the Gingko trees, I followed the road leading to the Skywalk and Giant Tree. These two are popular attractions in the park and with many people taking this path I followed them without any hesitation. I was also thinking that the returning visitors that I encountered along the way must have come from the part of the forest where the Gingko trees were planted.






Xitou Skywalk
The road became uphill until I came across the entrance of the Skywalk.


fog
the coffee shop with restrooms
I continued my hike in the Forest Meadow Trail




The trees here were Taiwania cryptomerioides and Cryptomeria japonica. They were planted in 1971.

Walking around Xitou Nature Park was like doing hiking. The road was going up and as I go higher I could see fog in the forest. I passed by the Skywalk until I reached a sort of coffee shop with public restrooms. I continued my walk in the Meadow Forest Trail until the road became downward with giant cedar trees gracing the slopes of the mountain. A thick fog covered the forest making the place looked enchanted.


Maple trees along the way








The view from observation deck
The maple trees can be seen below.







Red maple trees!


The temperature was 18 °C and it was after 12 noon when I reached the marker pointing to the Gingko Plantation. It was a big relief although I was still 960 meters away. Haha! It was a good thing that the road trail became zigzag in form and it was like an easy walk going down the mountain. An observation deck caught my attention and I was surprised with the sight of maple trees trapped in its color transformation. Its leaves had a mixture of green, yellow to red color. It went down the hill and discovered two more maple trees but this time their leaves were all in red color. 



It's a Gingko tree!
Gingko Plantation area

















Gingko leaves
Many of the Gingko leaves had already fallen on the ground.








I was a few meters away from the Gingko Plantation when I noticed a tree with green leaves but with some shades of yellow. I looked closely until I realized that it was a Gingko tree. Continuing the walk downhill, I was surprised when all of a sudden I saw more yellow leaves filled the top of the trees. I was already at the Gingko Plantation and it was amazing to know that these trees were planted in 1921 at the time when Taiwan was still a colony of Japan. They were not so many but enough to be called a Gingko forest. Also called as the “grandfather tree” because of the long time it takes for a Gingko tree to become mature. If a young man planted a Gingko tree, then he would be already old when it starts to have seeds. His grandson would be the one to plant it for the next generations to come.
The way to the left leads to the exit.
Oh ribbons! lol
It was actually the red leaves of poinsettia flowers.






A close up of a poinsettia flower cluster
The locked orchid greenhouse











Some of the orchids that I was able to made a close up shot.






After enjoying the yellow colors of the Gingko trees, I followed the marker which led me to the exit. It was the end of my travel adventure when I noticed “red ribbons” hanging on a plant. I checked it and I got surprised that the “ribbons” were actually poinsettia flowers. Another surprising discovery at the end of my trip was the greenhouse containing lots of orchids in different colors. I could only look through the glass window and peek inside how beautiful the orchids were. The door of the greenhouse was locked which added mystery to the beauty of the blossoms inside.


The end of the exit.  Turn right and you will be at the entrance. Turn left and you will start again your adventure in Xitou Nature Park.  I can actually start at this "Exit" way to make a shortcut to the Gingko Plantation but since it was my first time in Xitou I followed the long route where I made a hiking adventure.
My Bus 6883 ticket back to Taichung. When I arrived at Yuan Lin Station, I took a number to reserve a seat for the last bus after 5:00 pm.  However, I finished my adventure at an earlier time so I had to fall in line for Bus 6883.
Follow the queue where the arrow points. The queue here is for Bus 6883 passengers who did not have any number.  When a bus comes, those who have numbers enter first the bus and empty seats are then occupied by the people on the queue.





I had a nice time in Xitou Nature Park. The maple leaves especially seeing the yellow leaves of the Gingko tree was a rare experience in Taiwan. Adding to the enchanting scenery in Xitou was the fog that blanketed the cedar forest. It lowered the temperature like it was spring time. Autumn was just starting to peak in Formosa and with the help of the cool Northeasterly winds expect to see more of Taiwan's changing colors.

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