Xiao Liu Qiu (or known as Little Liuqiu, Lambai Island, Lamay Island) is a small coral island off the southwest coast of Taiwan. I heard about if from Vanida, a lovely French woman I met in a Bunnan village while travelling in Yushan park. The island is known for its clear water, amazing coral reefs, sandy beaches, and the quiet relaxed atmosphere. And of course green sea turtles, snorkeling and scuba diving. Turtles are protected here and I spot many from the shore, some old matriarchs, and am lucky to see a few during my snorkel tour. I read that there’re about 100 green sea turtles who also breed on the island in the summer. May be more now? Here’s hoping.
Getting to Kaohsiung was easy taking high speed rail, but public transport to Donggang harbour can take hours and cab rides on your own are expensive. The info that hoponworld provided was spot on: “Walk to Spring Tourist Rental (春天旅遊汽機車出租, see map here) to grab a shuttle taxi to Donggang Wharf. You might need to wait for passengers to fill up the taxi, but usually, this doesn’t take very long. Rides cost NT$150 per person.“
My guesthouse happens to be in the area and it’s a quick walk. There’s already a taxi van waiting with one other passenger inside. I pay NT150 and am prepared to wait for the van to fill up, alas, already 5 minutes later we take off. And what a ride it was! The driver must have been in a hurry, on a caffeine high, or just simply loved the thrill of breaking speed limits and slaloming through traffic. Here’s my face during the ride, illustrating disbelief and alarm… while Chinese pop songs play on the radio.
Reminded me of my first taxi ride in India some thirty something years ago (I was sure I was going to die, but that’s another story). But hey, the driver gets us to Donggang in record time, no accident, and I make a ferry I didn’t know I’d otherwise have missed. The hotel booked on Liuqiu has arranged the ferry ticket and electric scooter rental on the island – the ferry ride is smooth, and we’re sent off with fireworks crackling… looking back at shore there is a religious procession. We’ve just been through a week of festivities and fireworks in Taipei celebrating King Quinshan’s birthday – also something to write about another time. 🙂
On arrival, plenty of vendors are offering regular scooters, but I can’t seem to find the one supplying electric scooters that the hotel recommended. Until a friendly local points me in the right direction just a short walk from the harbour. So happy I get to ride this little electric beauty for the next three days. And fun! Extra bonus, if the battery charge is low, I just exchange it for a charged one at the hotel, don’t have to wait for it to be charged. Cool, eh?!
The island is indeed very small (6.8 sqkm) and yet large enough for about 13 000 residents, plus hundreds of thousands of tourists coming through in a year. I circle and cross it many times during my stay. As this is low season and during the week, it’s super quiet. It will get a whole lot busier on the weekend. You can find more historical information on Wikipedia, but I want to copy a paragraph here that I found particularly interesting…
“Liuqiu transitioned to a tourism-based economy in the early 21st century… It now receives hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, although this brings new challenges. In early 2015, more than 850 metric tons of garbage piled up on the island when the county government forgot to budget funds to transport it to Taiwan Island for incineration. The island was left without disposal services from January to May, when it was finally able to draw on a national subsidy to correct the problem. Similarly, refuse from tourists and fishermen killed over 90% of the island’s coral before conservation efforts began to reverse the trend.”
Ah yes, I noticed a lot of dead coral… much on the beaches, and also noticeable while snorkelling.
What’s fascinating are the limestone formations and uplifted coral reef rocks with imprints and remnants of coral – quite beautiful and mostly covered in lush vegetation now. Wild Boar Trench Trail, Black Devil Cave, Beauty Cave, Houshi Fringing Reef, Flower Vase Rock, Century old Banyan, Seaview Pavilion are some of the sites and walks I visited. The entrance fee of NT$120 pays for all walks, very much worth it, and valid for two days and multiple entries.
The Wild Boar Trench trail is a beautiful walk that takes me through lush jungle filled with towering Banyan trees and incredible tropical plant life. Many side trails to explore here and narrow overhangs to maneuver. Don’t bump your head!
Black Devil Cave is another geological surprise with interesting history and many great sea views. I’ve heard two very different versions of the cave’s massacre stories – one involving the massacre of a group of slaves abandoned on the island by the Dutch; the other a massacre of the last aboriginals of the island by the Dutch, subsequently enslaving and deporting the survivors… which ones true? The Dutch did it – either way.
In search of a washroom, I stumble upon a wonderful exhibit of wood carvings and large coral next to the restaurant by the exit. No idea who the artist is, but I thank them…
Geban Bay, the biggest and nicest beach is closed as the road has been washed out and is under construction. I look down at it from the roadside a little further up and can see large turtles in the shallow reef waters. What a nice break for them to not have any tourists around!
The beach by the Seaview Pavilion is another great spot to view turtles, especially later in the day. If you’re a good swimmer and have your own snorkeling gear, you can also swim here, but with care.
I went with Little Sea Turtle Snorkeling in the morning in the Vase Rock area and enjoyed having the full wetsuit gear, a guide taking photos, and feeling safe in their care as the ocean can be rough. What’s not shown in the photos are some of the fish we saw, a striking large black and white sea moraine, yellow and black angel fish, Nemo of course, and many others, three turtles resting in rock caves and 2 others swimming. As before mentioned, much of the coral is unfortunately dead. I do wonder where all the human refuse is going nowadays and what improvements have been made.
As a tourist, I’m part of the problem. Even when I try to make more sustainable choices like the electro scooter. The amount of garbage that is produced and incinerated is enormous. By the way, the air quality in Kaohsiung is not good which is not surprising. It’s the largest harbour and industrial zone in Taiwan!
On the ride back from Donggang harbour to the HSR station – this time with a very sensible and safe older driver – we pass through the industrial zone. A good reminder that much of the wealth in Taiwan is due to “Made in Taiwan” – major industries being: Electronics, communications and information technology products, petroleum refining, chemicals, textiles, iron and steel, machinery, cement, food processing, vehicles, consumer products, pharmaceuticals – to name a few. Export goods include semiconductors, petrochemicals, automobile/auto parts, ships, wireless communication equipment, flat display displays, steel, electronics, plastics, computers. To make most of this, Taiwan imports massive amounts of oil/petroleum, natural gas, coal, etc.
However small Little LiuChiu is, there’s lots to see and experience. I’m glad I had this laid back experience without crowds and summer heat. I had some great food, met friendly people, passed by many temples (I actually visited only one). There are sunrise and sunset spots, the usual street dogs and cats (mostly well fed and peaceful), a few good swimming spots, plenty of diving and snorkeling tours (or glass bottom boats if you don’t want to get wet), and only a few cars.
By the way, I’m sitting in rainy Taipei writing this. The month of December has been a wet and cool one in Taipei and the northeast… Liuchiu sure was a nice break from that!