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[KENTING]The Sunlight and Other Highlights of Kenting

Date:2020-08-03 Number of Visitors:1181

A Quick Tour of Southern Taiwan’s Tropical Playground

TEXT / STEVEN CROOK

PHOTOS / VISION

Taiwan’s population and industries are concentrated in the north, so perhaps it’s no surprise that when the government marked out the boundaries of the country’s first national park back in 1982, it did so in the southernmost part of the island. Kenting National Park covers a relatively modest 181km2 of land and 152km2 of ocean — but if it lacks anything in size, it makes up for it in sheer diversity.

  • A Quick Tour of Southern Taiwan’s Tropical Playground

Some of the millions of visitors the park receives each year come in search of beach-based hedonism. The local equivalent of Florida’s spring-breakers, they’re accompanied by equally strong contingents of birdwatchers and other ecotourists, watersport enthusiasts, and families with young children.

The Kenting (Kending)* National Park, covering the southernmost part of the Hengchun Peninsula, is within day-tripping distance of Kaohsiung, the big harbor city of the southwest. If this is your launch-point and you have 48 or more hours and your own vehicle, you’ll be able to hit most of the park’s highlights.
* Both spellings can be found in different place names, on signboards, etc. in the area. In this article “Kenting” refers to the national park.

 

A Swing Through Taiwan’s Most Popular National Park

If you’re coming from Kaohsiung, it makes sense to detour off Provincial Highway 26 near the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium and proceed southward on the much quieter coastal road (County Road 153).
Those with an interest in snorkeling want to stop at Wanlitong village, where there’s a sandy beach and protected reefs. If you don’t have snorkeling equipment with you, rent what you need from one of the village shops. There’s yet another appealing beach and even more watersport fun 8km further south at Baisha Bay (“White Sand Bay”).
If you look at a map, you’ll notice that the Kenting area features two prominent peninsulas on its south side, and that the tip of the westerly headland is called Maobitou. Dangerously jagged rocks dominate the scenery here – don’t even try to get close to the water. Those with an interest in geology will find the bilingual information panels well worth a read.

Following the coast northeast from Maobitou will lead you straight to South Bay. There are numerous places to sleep or eat here, many of them just a few minutes’ walk from the 600m-long sandy beach.
Passing the national park headquarters, and then the stretch of Kending Road (Provincial Highway 26) that’s both the busiest part of party-central Kending Village and the gateway to inland attractions such as the Kenting National Forest Recreation Area, brings you to Eluanbi, Kenting’s second peninsula.
Remember the nasty rocks you saw at Maobitou? After a series of shipwrecks along the coast, the authorities decided in the early 1880s to build a 21m-high lighthouse within a few hundred meters of Taiwan’s southernmost dry land.
There was just one problem. The local Paiwan indigenous people were violently opposed to the plan – hence the defensive wall and cannon emplacements you can still see today. Within a few years, fortunately, the Paiwan had been won over, thanks in part to a British lighthouse-keeper who took the time to learn their language and understand their customs.

  • Eluanbi Lighthouse

    Eluanbi Lighthouse

If you’d like to get away from your fellow tourists, head northward from here along the rugged east coast. One of this writer’s favorite spots is a five-minute drive northwest of Eluanbi. Longpan Park is a windswept expanse of grasslands and cliffs. Because of the near-constant winds blowing in from the Pacific, trees can’t grow here – so hold on to your hat!
Forces of erosion have bestowed on the Jialeshui Scenic Area, 10km further up the road, an extraordinary selection of wind- and wave-sculpted rocks. Look carefully and you’ll spot boulders that resemble various animals or human features.

Rather than returning to the west coast via the Provincial Highway, consider taking County Road 200A and then County Road 200 through the hilly interior to the historic town of Hengchun.
One of Hengchun’s chief claims to fame is that it has Taiwan’s best-preserved defensive wall. All four of the original gates, and just over half of the 2.7km-long wall, have survived such threats as road-widening projects and natural disasters. Amazingly, rather than using cement, the bricks and stones were glued together with a blend of lime, sugar, and glutinous rice.
Kending-bound buses pass right by the South Gate. If you decide to stop for an hour or two in this charming little town, get yourself to the East Gate and spend some time on the top, appreciating the view inland.

  • Hengchun East Gate

    Hengchun East Gate

Hengchun is one of just two places in Taiwan where “Ghost Month” (which in 2020 begins on August 19) is marked with pole-climbing rites called Qianggu (“grappling with orphaned ghosts”). The other location is Toucheng in Yilan County. The Hengchun event, officially named the Hengchun Pole Climb Festival, sees competitors racing up 23m-high heavily greased poles as they endeavor to snatch a winner’s flag that’s placed on top of a large raised platform, before their rivals get to it.
The town is small enough to be explored on foot. If you find yourself working up a thirst, saunter over to the Hengchun 3000 Brewseum. An outpost of Taiwan’s growing craft-beer scene, this brewery/bar gets its name from the founder’s collection of beer mugs and glasses. All 3,000 of them are displayed on the wall in the tasting room, along with other beer-related memorabilia. But you came for the beer, right? So sit down and enjoy a creamy ale or a brown porter before resuming your tour.

 

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

By now, it could be time for a proper meal. Thanks to the number of tourists passing through, and a cohort of big-city restaurateurs who’ve decided to relocate to the area, Kenting has one of Taiwan’s best dining scenes.
With a reputation for generous portions of delicious food, not to mention affordability, Kitchen Swell is a popular option in the very center of Hengchun. Specializing in oven-baked pizza and other Italian favorites, it’s housed in an 80-year-old two-floor structure that’s been remodeled so as to let in an abundance of natural light while preserving the best of the building’s original charm.

Kitchen Swell (波波廚房)
Add: No. 88, Guangming Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County
(屏東縣恆春鎮光明路88號)
Tel: +886-8-889-6575

  • Kitchen Swell

    Kitchen Swell

Just around the corner from Kitchen Swell, Café 1918 offers indoor and outdoor seating in what used to be a branch of a credit union. If you can read Chinese script, on seeing the café’s Chinese name you’ll immediately understand why the building in which the café is housed is designed to resemble a bank. It implies a credit association and is designed to convey a sense of trustworthiness and permanence. The “1918” in the English name is a strong clue as to its age.

Among the items decorating the interior are an antique movie projector and one of the credit union’s original safes. The menu comprises the hot and cold drinks you can find in any self-respecting café, reasonably priced snacks such as scallion pancake with egg and soup-filled dumplings, and a handful of set meals. Return customers rave about the roast pork curry.

Café 1918 (恆春信用組合)
Add: No. 155, Wenhua Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County
(屏東縣恆春鎮文化路155號)
Tel: +886-8-888-3700
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  • Café 1918
  • Café 1918

Piccolo Polpo Italian Restaurant (迷路小章魚) at South Bay is especially strong when it comes to seafood, but those who prefer land proteins will find plenty of options as well. If you arrive early, you might get a table from which you can look out to the sea. Yet, however much you love the ocean, you’ll likely spend much more time focused on the expertly-presented food appearing on your table.
Piccolo Polpo’s risotto dishes come in for particular praise, as do the sakura shrimp battered fries. You’ve never heard of sakura shrimp? They’re little translucent pink crustaceans that thrive in just a few locations in Asia, including one in Taiwan. The restaurant also has a good selection of wines from Europe and other places.

Piccolo Polpo Italian Restaurant (迷路小章魚)
Add: No. 60, Nanwan Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County
(屏東縣恆春鎮南灣路60號)
Tel: +886-8-888-2822
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  • Piccolo Polpo Italian Restaurant

    Piccolo Polpo Italian Restaurant

Resting Your Weary Head

As one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist destinations, Kenting offers visitors a tremendous number and range of accommodation options, from luxurious resort-style hotels to homey B&Bs. For the budget-conscious, there are campsites and backpacker hostels.

Few of Kenting’s hotels are better known than the landmark Chateau Beach Resort. It isn’t merely on the ocean side of the main road – it is right on the sand, providing direct and exclusive access to a 2.8km-long stretch of pristine beach. Yet there’s no need to get into the ocean, as the hotel has three swimming pools for kids and a deeper pool for adults.
Many of the resort’s 295 guestrooms offer splendid sea views. Don’t despair if you can’t book an ocean-facing room, however – from many of those looking inland you can see Mt. Dajian and other natural features of the national park.
Three in-house restaurants serve Western, Chinese/Taiwanese, and Japanese cuisine, respectively. As the sun sets, guests can sip cocktails at the beachside bar, or tuck into some barbecued delicacies. Fifteen minutes on foot to the east, in Kending Village, there are dozens of other eating options, including street food in the village night market.
As befits a hotel with a strong maritime focus, guests can borrow bodyboards (before they venture into the waves, first-timers will be given some training by the on-site instructors) and rent kayaks (which, as you’d expect, come with life-jackets). It’s also possible to sign up for a 20-minute voyage on a Hobie sailboat, or a SUP session. What’s SUP? Stand-up paddleboarding – if you don’t want to paddle yourself, you can sit on the board and relax while a competent member of the staff does all the hard work!

Chateau Beach Resort (墾丁夏都沙灘酒店)
Add: No. 451, Kending Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County
(屏東縣恆春鎮墾丁路451號)
Tel: +886-8-886-2222
Website

  • Chateau Beach Resort

    Chateau Beach Resort

Located on the other side of the village, which is Kenting’s busiest settlement, but also within striking distance of the action, the landmark Howard Beach Resort Kenting is a family-friendly institution. Among the 405 guestrooms are twin-bed attics with ocean views, superior rooms with garden views, and one- or two-bedroom villas with individual gardens, parking areas, and wading pools.
The large outdoor pool is excellent for swimming, or you can laze in the whirlpool. If you’d rather have a dip in the sea, all you need to do is walk for a couple of minutes to Little Bay Beach. There’s no need to cross the busy road; a pedestrian tunnel connecting hotel and beach goes under the highway.
If your kids still have energy to burn off, or it’s too rainy or hot to venture out, you’ll find plenty of activities and distractions in the games area. And there’s no danger of going hungry if you stay in the hotel. As well as an international buffet restaurant and Chinese/Taiwanese restaurant, there’s a lounge for when you fancy a coffee or a glass of wine at the end of a wonderful vacation day.

Howard Beach Resort Kenting (墾丁福華渡假飯店)
Add: No. 2, Kending Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County
(屏東縣恆春鎮墾丁路2號)
Tel: +886-8-886-2323
Website

  • Howard Beach Resort Kenting

    Howard Beach Resort Kenting

  • Garden area

    Garden area

Getting There

Visitors who depend on public transportation should look into getting a Kenting Shuttle Bus Pass, valid for one (NT$150) or two (NT$250) days. The color-coded shuttle bus network links the major sights, but services aren’t frequent, so careful planning is needed. Some regular bus services, such as the No. 8249 from Kaohsiung to the village of Shuiwaku via Eluanbi Lighthouse, are also useful.

English and Chinese:

Baisha Bay 白沙灣
East Gate 東門
Eluanbi 鵝鑾鼻
Eluanbi Lighthouse 鵝鑾鼻燈塔
Ghost Month 鬼月
Hengchun 恆春
Hengchun 3000 Brewseum 恆春3000啤酒博物館
Hengchun Peninsula 恆春半島
Hengchun Pole Climb Festival 恆春古城國際豎孤棚觀光文化活動
Jialeshui Scenic Area 佳樂水風景區
Kending Road 墾丁路
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area 國家森林遊樂區
Kenting National Park 墾丁國家公園
Kenting Shuttle Bus Pass 墾丁街車一日券
Little Bay Beach 小灣海灘
Longpan Park 龍磐公園
Maobitou 貓鼻頭
Mt. Dajian 大尖山
National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium 國立海洋生物博物館
Paiwan 排灣
Qianggu 搶孤
Shuiwaku 水蛙窟
South Bay 南灣遊憩區
South Gate 南門
Wanlitong 萬里桐

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    Last update time: 2020-10-16
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