Nowhere in Taiwan shatters the myth of the island as an industrial wasteland more resolutely than its pristine east coast, cut off from the country’s crowded west and north by the cloud-piercing central ranges. While the region is best known for the awe-inspiring Taroko Gorge – the centrepiece of Taroko National Park – it encompasses a broad array of geological wonders. The plunging Qingshui Cliffs in the north of Taroko National Park are among Asia’s most magnificent, while the East Coast National Scenic Area and East Rift Valley National Scenic Area are defined by picturesque landscapes and outdoor activities: hiking, surfing, snorkelling, diving, and whitewater rafting on rivers such as the Xiuguluan. The main cities of Hualien and Taitung are fairly slow-paced and well equipped for tourism, with numerous companies offering tours of nearby attractions. And just off the coast of Taitung are two exotic Pacific islands, both easily accessed by air and sea and fringed with coral suitable for snorkelling and diving. The closer, Ludao (Green Island), was a centre of exile for political prisoners during the White Terror of the 1950s, while the less touristy Lanyu (Orchid Island) is home to the Tao people – by far the most isolated of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes.
The region is visibly marked by ethnic diversity, with Taiwan’s densest concentration of indigenous peoples: seven officially recognized tribes are represented here, and their relative isolation has enabled them to preserve many of their traditional beliefs, languages and practices. The stretch between the cities of Hualien and Taitung is the heartland of the Ami, and scattered throughout are villages of the Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Sakizaya and Tao people. Visiting the area during a festival period – the busiest of which is in July and August – gives a fascinating glimpse into a seldom seen side of Taiwan.