The Struggle for Shanyuan Beach

Beautiful Shanyuan Bay (杉原海水浴場; Shānyuán Hǎishuǐ Yùchǎng) has the longest swimmable beach between Hualien and Taitung. The beach once supported a range of local businesses from B&Bs to a campsite to one of the best Italian restaurants in Taiwan. However, in 2004, with the promise of bringing jobs to the region, the local government signed a BOT (build-operate-transfer) agreement with Taipei's Miramar Group. They kicked other businesses off the beach and boarded it up. Things then got a little suspect. By law, projects under 0.9 hectares do not need to pass an environmental impact assessment (EIA). So, as many others have, Miramar simply declared plans for a hotel of 0.9 hectares, but subsequently applied for expansion permits each year. In the end it had a resort six times the size of the originally plans, and all without a single EIA.

The Environmental Protection Agency got wind of this, and although Taitung County quickly pushed through an EIA, both the High Court and Supreme Court ruled that this was flawed. In July 2013 the High Court came very close to accusing the Taitung Council of contempt of court. However, construction on the building moved ahead despite the court orders.

The fight for the beach went on led by Taitung locals and indigenous groups. In July 2016, following a protest in Taipei, the Executive Yuan concluded that the project had not obtained the informed consent of indigenous communities affected, and hence was not eligible for a permit from the Ministry of the Interior. The government representative stated that laws to better help indigenous people exercise their basic rights would be formulated. However, for now the resort building remains standing – an unused white elephant that still blocks, at least partially, the region's finest beach.

Geological Fireworks

The many hot springs of the east coast attest to some very dramatic geological pyrotechnics that occur right beneath your feet. In fact the Coastal Mountain Range was once its own island – part of the Philippine techtonic plate which, over a relatively short geological timescale, has come bounding across the Pacific and slammed into the Eurasian plate causing a flurry of mountain formation. The plates are still moving – by several centimetres per decade.

The youngest rocks, known as Liche Mélange, are little more than masses of compressed gravel, uplifted then collapsing into rapidly changing scree-cliffs. These are most apparent at the Liji Badlands. At Xiaoyeliu and Shihtiping, alternate layers of hard limestone and softer mudstone have been raised to an angle then eroded into cuesta formations: sloping scarps with some rocks taking almost sculpted aspects. Such processes over a longer timescale have carved out the caves at Baxian which, 30,000 years ago, provided homes to Taiwan's earliest known human populations.

All of this creates plenty of photogenic scenery, and if you want to learn more, there are much fuller explanations at Taitung's very professional National Museum of Prehistory.