Taiwan's Northeast Coast
The 166km coastal Provincial Hwy 2 winds along the top of the island from the mouth of the Tamsui River to the alluvial plains of Yilan. It's a stunning route with a wide range of coastal landscapes: rolling grass hills, high rugged cliffs, sand beaches, pebble beaches, rocky terraces and windswept peninsulas.
This mountainous township 25km south of Taipei is a world apart from its urban neighbour. In the jungle that covers most of the area you'll find spectacular waterfalls, river pools for swimming, hiking trails and top birdwatching venues. Wulai (烏來; Wūlái, which means 'hot spring water') is a beautiful and largely untamed slice of Taiwan.
The oldest city in northern Taiwan, and long a base for traditional industries such as glass- and noodle-making, this laid-back, leafy town (新竹; Xīnzhú) makes for a great day trip from Taipei. The town centre spreads back from a pretty restored canal zone, bordered by small personalised shops and restaurants.
Shei-pa National Park
Many rivers and one mountain range (the Snow) run through this rugged 768-sq-km national park in northern Taiwan. Shei-pa National Park (雪霸國家公園; Xuěbà Guójiā Gōngyuán) is home to 51 mountain peaks of over 3000m each, and is the primary source of drinking water for northern and central Taiwan. Many consider the mountain scenery here to be Taiwan's finest.
Despite Taiwan's heavily urbanised landscape, the north has retained much of its frontier past, where a slower pace of life prevails in makeshift-looking villages. Such are the settlements that dot Pingxi District – a wild, wooded gorge served by the Pingxi Branch Rail Line (平溪鐵路支線; Píngxī Tiělù Zhīxiàn).
Jiufen & Jinguashi
Nestled against the mountains and hemmed in by the sea are Jiufen (九份; Jiǔfèn) and its neighbour Jinguashi (金瓜石; Jīnguāshí), 10 minutes by bus away from Jiufen's main road. These two villages are the quaintest stops along the northeast coast. Both were mining centres during the Japanese era, and by the 1930s Jiufen was so prosperous it was known as 'Little Shanghai'.
Wuling Forest Recreation Area
Wuling Forest Recreation Area (武陵國家森林遊樂區), better known as Wuling Farm, was originally established by retired soldiers in 1963 as a fruit-growing area. The farm (elevation 1740m to 2200m) became part of Shei-pa National Park in 1992, and these days only a few show orchards remain.
Tai'an Hot Springs
In a remote mountainous corner of southeastern Miaoli County, on the boundary of Shei-pa National Park, Tai'an is more or less the region that County Rd 62 runs through. Beginning just outside Wenshui town, County Rd 62 runs for 16km alongside the Wenshui River. Most visitors stay within the last 3km stretch, in Jinshui Village.
Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area
During the 20th century, Alishan, Bashianshan and this 126-sq-km forest recreation area were the three top logging sites in Taiwan. Taipingshan (太平山; Tàipíng Shān) only became a protected area in 1983 and has since transformed itself into one of the best mountain retreats in Taiwan.
Mingchih Forest Recreation Area
This forest recreation area is a good base for exploration, and provides a retreat from the relentless heat of summer in the city. Lying at an altitude between 1000m and 1700m, even in July the average temperature is only 20°C. There's not much in the reserve itself except pleasant little Lake Mingchih across the highway.
The most popular beach in northern Taiwan, Fulong (福隆; Fúlóng) has a long sandy beach and clear waters that are suitable for sailing, windsurfing, surfing and other sports. The coastline is a popular cycling destination. There are two parts to the beach, divided by the Shuangshi River.