Taiwan is famously mountainous, with soaring ranges stretching all the way from the northern tip to the south. This means that no matter which city you choose to base yourself in, you won’t be more than an hour from the nearest mountain (and a great hike). In Taipei, for instance, you can easily access the popular Yangmingshan National Park with its numerous trails that criss-cross the mountainous landscape, as well as the Four Beast Mountain which is actually located within the city.
If you’re willing to venture just a little further, northeast Taiwan offers more than just mountain hikes – there are the dramatic geological formations along the scenic coastline, there’s the old gold mining town at Jinguanshi, and there’s Jiufen, a popular tourist area that’s famous as the Japanese teahouse setting for Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.
The popularity of these sites ensure that there is a steady stream of tourists, so the best – and most scenic – way to take it all in is from atop the nearby mountain ridge between Teapot and Banping Mountains. The hike is not excessively high or long, although it can be challenging at various points along the way: the hike contains many roped scrambling sections that can be a bit tricky to navigate.
However, it’s a great way to escape the bustle and experience a thrilling ridgeline hike just metres away from the crowd, as these two peaks feature craggy hills and green mountains that tumble down to the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Situated in the mountainous area of Jinguanshi not far from the popular tourist street of Jiufen, Teapot Mountain (600m) gets its name from the rock formation (boulder, rather) at the top that most people agree that it looks like a teapot without a handle.
The trail to the ‘teapot’ on the mountain is a popular hiking route thanks to its easy access from Jinguanshi’s Gold Ecological Museum (accessible by car or bus) that’s only an hour from Taipei. There is no entrance fee for the museum, which is an outdoor park containing exhibits, restaurants, and an old mining railroad.
The trailhead to Teapot Mountain starts from the back of the museum, with 2 ways to tackle the hike: the in-and-out
HIKING TEAPOT MOUNTAIN
hike to the top of Teapot Mountain and back that takes about 3-4 hours at a leisurely pace with lunch en route or a longer trek that continues past Teapot Mountain to neighbouring Banping mountain and ends at Jiufen in about 5-6 hours.
To The Teapot
Beginning from the signposted trailhead at the Gold Ecological Museum, the route to Teapot Mountain involves climbing 2 sets of well-maintained stone stairs, with 2 small pagoda rest-stops en route. If hiking in winter, blooming cherry blossom trees line the path, complementing the striking ocean views.
It takes about an hour to reach the ‘tea- pot’ at the top of the mountain along the well-marked trail. There is a rest stop here
Emerging from the cave, you’re essentially standing on the large pile of boulders that forms the top of Teapot Mountain, with spectacular views of Jiufen, Jinguashi, Jilong Mountain, Bitou Cape, the Yin Yang Sea and the Northeast Coast. On a sunny, clear day views extend as far as Keelung and maybe Taipei 101 as it peeks out over the mountains.
From here, the option is to return along the same trail, or push on towards Banpingshan – this portion is more difficult and the trail is more exposed, so check the weather before proceeding.
From Teapot Mountain, after scrambling past some giant boulders, there is a trail that leads uphill to the neighbouring peak of Banpingshan (713m).
The trail is flanked by tall silvergrass – of- ten head-high – which can be overgrown especially in summer, so it may be difficult to discern the path; hikers may want to wear long sleeves and pants here so as not to get cut by the thick grass. Alternating between dirt, grass, and rocks which can get slippery, the trail is a narrow single-track that leads to a steep, narrow cliff section to be climbed. This almost-vertical ascent is aided by the presence of sturdy ropes. The reward for reaching the summit of Banpingshan is a stunning 360-degree view of northern Taiwan – to the west is Taipei, to the north is the eastern coastline, and to the south is the rolling mountains that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Pushing on, the trail continues to undulate with fixed ropes installed along the steepest sections. Some sections are only a few inches wide and require some scrambling. The trail will then steeply descend through silvergrass before reaching a saddle that marks the end of the trail. From hereon, the rest of the journey – either back to Jinguanshi or towards Jiufen – is on tarmac roads. As this is a mountainous area, the roads zig-zag, and traffic can be tricky. Turning right takes you along the curving, switchback roads
until you reach a junction: turning right again will bring you back to Jinguanshi while turning left will take you towards Jiufen along Route 102 (the main road). A recommended route (if you don’t need to return to Jinguanshi) is to end up in Jiufen Old Street – once you pass a cemetery, get off the road and follow the set of stairs downhill towards Jiufen’s windy maze of stairways.
Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street consists of a series of old tea houses that seem to tumble down from the mountainside. Here, you can relax in one of the many tea houses that overlook the dramatic north coast – arrive before sunset for the best views (and before the crowds arrive).
Jiufen’s hodgepodge of teahouses line the main thoroughfares of Jishan Street and Shuqi Street, which runs up the hill in a jumble of stairs. These traditional teahouses feature classic Chinese architecture, complete with latticed windows and carved balconies, all of which face the dramatic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Serving premium Taiwanese tea, visitors can partake in a tea ceremony or simply enjoy the views. Come the evening, rows of red lanterns light the main thoroughfare like an ethereal scene right out of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
Once a haven of inspiration for Taiwanese artists and authors for its atmospheric setting, you can enjoy tea at Jiufen Teahouse which is still equipped with steaming iron kettles nestled in a long fiery bank of coals.
The area around Jinguanshi (including Jiufen) was once a major area for gold mining during the Japanese occupation. While there isn’t any more gold in the area – you can explore the Jinguanshi’s Gold Ecological Museum for more explanation – there are interesting ruins of the abandoned gold mining factory.
The Golden Waterfall isn’t very big, but it’s quite attractive and runs off into the ocean in an area known as the Yin-Yang Sea, where the normally blue water is turned murky brown due to the run-off from the gold mines.
A small coal-mining town originally built during the Japanese era, Houtong was once a thriving community. After the 1990s, when the coal industry died, the residents moved away.
In 2008, a local began caring for abandoned cats in the village, and from there, Houtong’s new identity as a cat haven attracted enough tourists to turn it into a cat-themed village filled with cat houses, cat sculptures, cat murals, and plenty of cat-themed items. Today, the village is home to some 100 cats – they can be seen everywhere, even at the train station (which is along the famed Pingxi Line).
Teapot Mountain – as well as Jiufen and Jinguanshi – is easily accessible from Taipei. No matter which mode of transport you take, the travel time is roughly an hour. You can get there by bus, car, or a combination of train and bus. The Gold Fulong Shuttle Bus (http://en.taiwantrip.com.tw/line/32) takes you from Jiufen to Jinguanshi and Golden Waterfall, stopping at other attractions before terminating at Fulong Beach. For more info, click here.