Hiking & rafting in Taiwan’s Wild East: Interview with Matt from Hualien Outdoors

Taroko 1

A company organizing outdoor trips for English-speaking tourists in Taiwan

Taiwan’s real beauty is not be be found in the cities, but in the great outdoors and preferably off the beaten track. But many tourists wonder: How to get to those places, how to prepare and how to avoid getting lost?

Album: German TV Returns to Taiwan

Hualien Outdoors is a company specializing in trips and activities including hiking in Taroko Gorge and river rafting. On their website, you find this statement:

We don’t take people into the outdoors because we have to, we all have day jobs. We do it because we enjoy sharing Hualien with our guests. The feeling of sharing this place with someone is wonderful, and addicting.


The guys at Hualien Outdoors also post videos of these trips on their Youtube channel.

I interviewed Matt Hopkins, one of the company’s founders.

Matt Hualien Outdoors

Some time ago, I was busy preparing stuff for a German TV team coming over from Tokyo. We wanted to film some amazing Taiwan mountain scenery, and a friend put me in touch with Matt, as he was “the guy in the know.”

I contacted Matt, and he gave me some extremely useful advice on two places we ended up visiting:

  • Jhuilu (Zhuilu) Old Trail (錐麓古道), the showpiece of Taroko Gorge: A path less than a meter wide with a 500m vertical drop on one side.
  • Little Chi Lai (Qilai) Trail (小奇萊步道) at Mt. Hehuan (合歡山): A wonderful, easy trail that gives a good idea of the high alpine forest and views of Taiwan.

We talked about Matt coming along for the filming, but did not find a suitable time. So, in order to learn more about the idea behind Hualien Outdoors, I asked Matt some questions by e-mail.

Album: German TV Returns to Taiwan

Customized trips and two-day packages

What makes your services special?

“We are the only western style out tripping business on the East Coast of Taiwan, which is amazing considering the vast beauty of this area. We offer small, customized trips to places away from the hordes of tourists in tour buses that have descended on the Hualien and Taroko Gorge areas in recent years.

“We take guests to rivers where the water is safe enough to drink, temples hidden in the mountains and other off-the-beaten-path areas that other companies either don’t go to, or don’t know about. Trips are small and flexible, food is locally sourced and of the highest quality and trips are not based on a menu of ‘famous’ places. Each group gets a different trip based on their preferences and expectations of a trip outdoors. We do trips for everyone from families with infants to world traveling adrenaline junkies and everyone in between.”

Why did you feel you were the right person to start this company?

“Having lived in Hualien exploring the mountains and rivers of the area for the past seven years, I found myself in the right place at the right time. I have run a bilingual outdoor school for local children for the past three years, and this business has evolved from that. So many friends were asking to go out into the mountains with us and the kids, I decided to expand the business from a school to an out tripping company in 2011. So far the experiment is going well! There is a small but very experienced group of people that help out part-time taking guests into the rivers and mountains of Hualien.”

Wilderness experiences in Taiwan

Who should get in touch with you, and who should not?

“Hualien Outdoors might not be the best choice for those people who want a simple trip to the most famous places in Taroko that can be easily reached from the road and do not need permits. There are many cheaper options for those types of trips: taxi, bus, tour bus etc. Those looking for a more unique, personalized and off-the-beaten-path wilderness experience, with a little more physical challenge, would most enjoy our trips. Especially if they love water sports. River tracing is a sport like no other!”

What were some weird or moving things that happened during your trips?

“Once, on a trip up to Zhuilu Old Trail, I had a guest who kept asking questions about the cliff walk. How long, how wide, how high up, things like that. Once we got to the cliff face itself he stopped, lifted up his shirt, and revealed a home-made harness. He proceeded to ‘clip into’ the safety rope and do the cliff walk attached to the cliff face by a piece of webbing.

“General speaking though, most people know what they are getting into when they come on a trip us. They do their research. Even so, most river tracing trips there is usually someone who relaxes on a rock and says ‘this is the most beautiful place I have ever been’. That is a great feeling to take people to places like that. Sharing this place with people can be very addictive.”

River tracing on Taiwan’s east coast

Are there places in Taiwan that you would you really like to take tourists to, but have not yet been able to?

“Taiwan has a distinct lack of western style tourist infrastructure in the mountains. In Taroko Gorge, for example, there are lots of places in the lower stretches for tour buses to disgorge their passengers, and a precious few trails that are great but need permits. Then there are some great trails in Hehuan Mountain at the top of the National Park, above 3000m. There is almost nothing in between. I would love to be about to take guests on hikes through the 1500-2500m valleys that cut through the park, but there is no infrastructure to do it at all.

“River tracing is a different story, thankfully, as there are dozens of drainage systems and rivers within an hours drive of Hualien. It really is a paradise for river tracers.”

How will things develop?

“Due to various reasons, the largest being no one knows how beautiful this area is, Hualien’s wilderness has remained relatively pristine and undeveloped. With the recent push by the Taiwanese government to increase the international profile of tourism in Taiwan, many westerners are coming to Taiwan but not finding many options for western style trips. We are trying to fill that gap.”

The company’s website: Hualien Outdoors

Dear readers: What are your favourite places off the beaten track in Taiwan?

I am a German reporter living and working in Taiwan. Read more English posts on this mostly German blog. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, or Google Plus.

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Klaus Bardenhagen

Klaus Bardenhagen


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