Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Behind Nanhua Reservoir (南化水庫)

I made two trips over this year's Dragon Boat long weekend; one on Saturday and one on Sunday, both to the back of Nanhua reservoir. Three years ago a Taiwanese friend of mine had told me about a very special place there, but she had been unable to tell me the precise location. Then last week I read about it in English via a website dedicated to finding watefalls in Taiwan - the place is called "Dadi Gorge" and the website gave precise location data. From the website:

"Dadi Gorge is an almost inaccessible gorge at the north end of Nanhua Reservoir. Unless you have a boat the only time that you can hike there is during March and April when the reservoir is at its lowest levels."

Well I do have a boat (several, actually) and as it appears to be a relatively well-known place that I had only heard of, I decided to go and photograph it. My Russian friend Addy asked if he could come along to check it out too and so two of us set off from Tainan city at about 7.30am, reaching the south end of Nanhua reservoir at about 9am...

The most frequently photographed view of Nanhua reservoir - the earlier you reach this point the better. It is even more spectacular at 6am or 7am.
Initially we went too far along the 179 road along the east side of the reservoir (because I forgot the note to turn left just after the 12km mark), but soon found our spot just downhill from a mango farm. There was a very rough and slippery shale-covered trail leading down the hillside to a little bay leading out to the main river which feeds Nanhua reservoir. We scrambled down this trail and pushed through the reeds to find that there was nothing but a very steep embankment upon which to prepare the boats and get our kit ready. Once we had pushed off and out of the bay into the main river, I made a remarkable error- not re-checking the website's directions (which indicated that the gorge lay just a short distance upstream) and instead I decided we would follow the river a kilometer or two downstream toward the reservoir. There was a slight northward breeze which produced enough waves to slow our southward progress downstream whenever Addy or I paused in our rowing. The main cause of such pauses was, in my case at least, the presence of kites and eagles along the eastern cliff looming over the river...

Addy relaxing in what is now my spare boat - the cycling hat and lack of sunscreen on his face ensuring he would eventually end up with a frying pan shaped sunburn mark all over his face.
Addy has taken to the boat quite well and has enough physical strength to keep up a good pace..
It was very hot, and it took a relatively long time for us to round the bend and finally get what we mistakenly thought was the Dadi Gorge waterfall in sight (as I later learned in actual fact, this waterfall, though dry at the time, is perhaps twice as high as the Dadi Gorge waterfall)...

We were still a half kilometer or more away from the tall, vertical eastern cliff face with the waterfall.
Addy also found time to take pictures and was in awe of the place throughout the morning...
Eventually, following a short break in the shade of overhanging bamboo on the western shoreline, we paddled our way further downstream and around a second bend to come face to face with the cliff on the eastern shoreline. It was easily a hundred feet tall or more...

On the opposing shore from the eastern cliff face with the striking geology; it is arranged in both narrow columns squeezed together on the left and fat rows laid one on top of another to the right.
The then dried-up watefall; I swam right the way across and back again to cool off and instantly began to think about returning here shortly after the heavy rains that are due in the coming weeks and months. 
From the western shore opposite the cliff looking south downstream.
A second pale streak down the cliff face to the right indicated that there was a second waterfall. I am looking forward to coming back here to see these falls in action.
After my short swim and Addy's admonishments to me not to drink the water straight out of the reservoir raw (I had already run out of water), we headed back the way we had came and made good time but it was tiring work.

Later that night, long after we had returned to Tainan city, I was getting messages from my friend Ruby and her sister Niki that they wanted to go to Dadi Gorge too. At some point before those messages I had realized my error and knew immediately that it would in fact be necessary to go back and look again for the real Dadi Gorge. We set off on Sunday morning a bit later than the day before (partly because I had been very tired), and arrived at Nanhua reservoir at just after 10am...

The view overlooking the centre of the reservoir from the 179 mountain road on the east side at just after 10am. One thing that suprised me, though I cannot say whether this was pleasent or unpleasant, was the absence of neglected puppies which had previously been a heartbreaking feature of this spot..
Eventually we got to the mango farm upon the hillside, and made our way back down the steep trail to the same spot I had been at the day before with Addy. This time, instead of two one-man boats I had brought my big, three-man boat with me which takes longer to inflate but enables me to bring the girls with me and is relatively easy to manouvre as long as I time the strokes correctly and don't try to go too fast. In about twenty minutes after setting off from the shore we reached what I had surmised must be the trail-head leading up along a small creek into Dadi Gorge. Niki, who had been there before, disagreed and said that it must be further downstream, but - I was right this time. As I was concentrating on landing the boat correctly at a suitable place along the shoreline, a motorboat approached from further upstream with four local men on it who were overheard by one of the girls to have said something like...
"...they must be foreigners, because no Taiwanese would do that! [i.e. row the boat to Dadi Gorge - ed]."
Which was funny because it echoes the sort of remarks I often make about this kind of activity, i.e. I usually cannot get any Taiwanese friends to come with me on these kinds of trips because the weather is so hot, and the trip involves getting wet and dirty and possibly sunburned. Most Taiwanese girls would probably rather spend their summer weekends in a department store looking at clothes and enjoying the high quality air conditioning. Not all Taiwanese girls however...

Approaching the cavern entrance from the stream...
The locals who had taken the motorboat had simply come to the gorge in order to collect some fishing nets they had left in the stream, and once they had those, they left after a very brief conversation with us.

Niki (left) and Ruby (right) just outside the cavern entrance.
During the late winter month and early spring months this entrance would be bone dry, but was now knee-deep and later waist-deep in water. Ruby took off her Birkenstock sandals to wade through...

Ruby waist deep in the water at the gorge entrance with Niki pulling an odd pose behind her.
Myself, trying to look like a superstar for the camera at the entrance to the gorge.
The gorge itself is very impressive and runs in a single, semi-circular arc from approximately due-west to approximately due north. The rock structures are all laid horizontally, stacked one on top of the other to an overall height of easily more than a hundred feet.
We slowly picked our way upstream through the rocks in constant awe at the size and shape of the gorge.
Looking up out of the gorge toward the sky.
It is a wonder that this thing has survived so many earthquakes; on the west side of Taiwan, earthquakes are frequent but usually relatively small. 
Looking back down the gorge the way we had came - that is Ruby following me.
Eventually we saw it: the watefall at the end of the gorge...

Niki was eager to get to it and she walked ahead of us...
Ruby kept stopping to take breaks - she had ditched her expensive sandals near the cavern entrance to the gorge and made her way barefoot.
Niki approaches the waterfall and the end of the gorge...

Once all three of us had arrived, the two girls immediately entered the water to cool off, whereas I got my camera kit out and began scaling the walls behind us to find an adequate vantage point from which to take pictures...

It's the kind of place that you might dream of being at when you're tired, hungry and still at work with all kinds of onerous chores yet to be finished and no prospect of rest for hours to come.
Looking back down the massive gorge.
Ruby lay on her back on the large rock, while Niki waded into the pool.
The same shot but at a higher shutter speed to capture the water.
After having taken a few shots from high up on the rock folds above the pool, I then climbed down again and set the camera up on the tripod to try to get some group shots of all three of us in the pool - with one or two funny and slightly embarassing results...

Most of the photographs we took were actually taken using my HTC phone camera, but there seems to be some sort of problem in getting google drive to actually display all of the pictures I have uploaded to it (over 100). It was a good day out, and I'm pleased to have been able to knock Dadi Gorge off my checklist of things to see, though the girls are eager to go back there again soon.

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