Maolin District of Kaohsiung City is an amazing outdoor paradise and my favorite place in Taiwan. In this mountainous district of Kaohsiung, you can find waterfalls, streams, hot springs, butterflies, aboriginal culture, and great views, all by the roadside! Popular activities include swimming, hot spring bathing, river tracing, camping, and hiking.
Please note I have also finished blogs about Maolin Village, Wanshan Village, Duona Suspension Bridge, and Duona Village (click the links to see each individual blog).
During the Japanese occupation, some of the original inhabitants of Maolin Village live in the mountains behind Wanshan Village. However later these aboriginals were forcibly moved to the current village. Many of the inhabitants were originally located elsewhere, but had to relocate their home or village due to typhoons or unsafe terrain. There are a few abandoned villages above the current village that you can still hike to.
The villages have about 2000 total inhabitants, mostly aboriginals from the Rukai (魯凱族) Wulu Bunun (布農) and Paiwan (排灣) tribes, as well as some Han Chinese people. The district also has Maolin Middle school, the only middle school, and three elementary schools.
Wanshan has the smallest population of any village in Taiwan according to the government website here, with a population of just 450 people. 95% of the people are aborigines from the Rukai Tribe (魯凱族), and the rest are either from the Wulu Bunun Tribe (布農) or Han Chinese.
Originally the people of Wanshan village lived at the base of Mali Mountain (麻里山), but were moved by the government in 1956 to their current location.
Many of the inhabitants of Maolin were originally located elsewhere, but had to relocate their home or village due to typhoons or unsafe terrain. There are a few abandoned villages around Maolin that you can still hike to.
Typhoon Morakot brought record floods to Taiwan because it slowly moved over the island delivering torrential rain. Nearly 700 people were killed during the disaster (to see what Maolin looked like right after the flooding, check out this blog here).
Basically all the bridges in Maolin were destroyed during Typhoon Morakot in 2009 except Duona Suspension bridge which is built so high that it would never be affected by floodwater.
Most all the bridges currently in Maolin were reconstructed after the 2009 floods.
Duona is the most remote village in Maolin District of Kaohsiung City, and is said to harbor the most complete version of the Rukai Aborigine culture.
The Rukai People first began to move into the area now known as Duona about 300 years ago (1700s), making it one of the oldest aborigine villages in Taiwan.
Most of the people live in traditional stone houses made from nearby plentiful shale rock, which are characteristic of the Rukai Tribe. The stone houses are warm in the winter and stay cool during the summer.
Near the village is a small plain which is said to be the home of Taiwan's indigenous species of black rice. The village was almost completely cut off from the outside world until the Japanese built the Duona Suspension Bridge, which helped to link it to the rest of Taiwan as well as better control the native population.
The actual Distrcit boundaries extend to Pingtung County and Taitung County, and include largely untouched and "virgin" forests and mountain wilderness areas such as Shuang-guei Lake, providing precious wildlife habitat for many of Taiwan's indigenous animals and plants.
When to go:
I recommend going in the summer time when the waterfalls have plenty of water and warm temperatures make it a great time to go swimming. In winter it will be cold and the waterfalls can dry up.
On the other hand if you want to go just for hiking, winter would be a better time to go.
If there is a Typhoon, the inhabitants of Maolin will be evacuated, and you should not try to go in for your own safety.
If you are coming to see butterflies, the butterfly migration is in the fall and ends roughly in November.
How to get there:
By Car: Maolin can be reached via provincial highway 27 from Pingtung or Liugui. Once you come to Dajin Bridge, go straight up the mountain.
By Bus: You can take a bus there but I don't recommend it. It's a 3 hour bus ride from Pingtung Bus Station. If you can rent a car or scooter it is about a 1 1/2 hour drive from Kaohsiung.
Please see a map below marked with all the destinations we will visit in this blog:
I have been to Maolin many times and I can say with certainty that it is my favorite place in Taiwan. Believe it or not this guide is only full of easy to reach places that you can get to by car. However there are many off the beaten path destinations to explore. Below we will introduce the following places and fun things to do on your trip to Maolin:
Let's get started!
Also, you can check out our drone footage of the area above.
Maolin Village 茂林 - 茂林里
Maolin Village is the first and largest village you come across in the mountainous Maolin District of Kaohsiung. It features an aboriginal cultural sights, waterfalls, swimming holes, delicious food, and much more to be explored by you. For our full blog on Maolin Village, click here.
Maolin and the surrounding area is home to one of the the biggest butterfly migrations in the world every autumn (the other notable one being Mexico's monarch butterfly), where you can see scores of purple crow butterflies fly through the valleys of southern Taiwan. However, I have never seen that many butterflies in Maolin (I have seen more in the nearby township of Meinong in Qishan District). Maolin has much more to offer than just butterflies!
Wubake Creative Workshop 烏巴克創藝工作坊
Just below Maolin Village is Wubake Creative Workshop (烏巴克創藝工作坊), which features aboriginal artwork from the area's residents. You can also make your own necklace and glass beads, try on traditional aboriginal clothes, enjoy some traditional food, and enjoy the scenery.
Lover's Suspension Bridge 情人吊橋
Ride next to the bridge which you can drive across is a pedestrian suspension bridge called "Lover's Suspension Bridge" (情人吊橋).
Lover's Waterfall 情人瀑布
Qingren Waterfall is a huge waterfall and main attraction in Qingren Valley. You can drive right up to the lower falls, no hiking required (unless you want to go to the upper falls, but the trail was closed the last time I went). There is a cement retention pond at the bottom of it which makes it great for swimming. The best time to see this waterfall is in the summer when there is lots of water and the weather is warm. In winter the waterfall can dry up and it can get super cold.
Maolin Valley 茂林谷
Another great place to swim is Maolin Valley (茂林谷). If you drive up the road a little bit you will come across a concrete dam and swimming hole. If no one else is there, the water is perfectly clear.
Wanshan Village 茂林 - 萬山里
Wanshan is a small village that lies on a mountain slope between Maolin Village and Duona Village. Near the village are waterfalls, streams, hot springs, and great views. Popular activities include swimming, hot spring bathing, river tracing, camping, and hiking. For our full blog on Wanshan Village, click here.
Handong Waterfall (涵洞瀑布)
Okay, so actually I have never been to Meiya Valley Waterfall because it is a pretty gnarly hike. But I have been to the waterfall right next to the parking lot called Handong Waterfall (涵洞瀑布) at least a dozen times. It is my favorite swimming hole in Maolin.
Swimming in the Zhuokou River 在濁口溪戲水
The Zhuokou River near Wanshan Village is a popular swimming spot. The river only gets ankle deep most of the time and is safe to swim in. In the summer the water is warm!
Cliff Jumping 懸崖跳躍
All around the river's edges you can find pools and cliffs that are perfect for cliff jumping.
Secret Local Hot Springs 當地人地秘密溫泉
If you keep going down the riverside, you will find some wild hot springs that have been carved out by the locals. Admission is free but space is limited. There are also some unfinished hot springs near a parking lot that have not been finished for some reason. These hot springs are subject to change every year.
Secret River Tracing Spot 秘密朔溪的地方
I guess now that I am revealing this spot it is no longer secret. There is a small creek that breaks out of the mountains into the Zhuokou River not far from Wanshan.
Natural Mud Bathing 天然泥巴澡
Sitting in that natural mud bath, I have never felt more peaceful and relaxed. It's different that floating in water because the mud actually supports your weight at every angle. You don't have to do anything but just sit there and look and the blue sky while the mud lifts you into a sea of clouds.
Is the mud therapeutic and good for your skin? Probably.
Be warned though that it takes 3 showers to get the mud off your skin and 100 washes in a washing machine to get the mud off your bathing suit.
Finding Dragon Bone Stones 撿龍紋石
Dragon stones are only found in Taiwan (at least with this name). They are bits of metamorphic shale rocks with bits of metal (mostly copper) ore in them, formed from ocean sediments under pressure, and then lifted to the surface when Taiwan was formed by the colliding of the Eurasian and Philippine plates. The indigenous people have used this shale to build stone houses for centuries, but shale with metal in it becomes "dragon bone stone."
There are plenty of paid car camping sites in Wanshan Village if you want to stay the night.
Duona Suspension Bridge 茂林 - 多納高吊橋
Duona Suspension Bridge (aka Duonagao Suspension Bridge 多納高吊橋) is the highest pedestrian suspension bridge in Southeast Asia, featuring amazing views of the Zhuokou River and Maolin's mountainous landscape. The bridge is part of a trail that connects the top of a ridge-line, giving hikers 360 views of the river valley and surrounding landscape.
Duona Great Bridge 多納大橋
At the bottom of the valley you can see the Duona Great Bridge (aka Duona Glass Bridge) which to this day is a popular Instagramming spot. This car in front of us was stopping for a selfie.
Small Great Wall 小長城
After you cross Duona Suspension Bridge you will directly step onto the trail to Dragon's Head Mountain, which is a sloping ridge that goes around Duona Bridge and looks like a sleeping dragon. This trail is also known as "The Small Great Wall" (小長城) because of its resemblance to hiking the Great Wall of China, which is often on top of mountain ridges.
Dragon's Head Mountain 龍頭山
After you cross Duona Suspension Bridge you will directly step onto the trail to Dragon's Head Mountain, which is a sloping ridge that goes around Duona Bridge and looks like a sleeping dragon.
Serpent's Head Mountain 百步蛇頭山
You can also see views of the nearby serpent's head mountain, which looks like a giant snake.
Duona Village 茂林 - 多納部落
Duona Village in Maolin (Aka Duona Tribe, Tona, or Kungadavane 多納部落) is one of the oldest inhabited tribal villages in Taiwan, home to people of the Rukai Tribe. The village features a street full of traditional foods and restaurants, intact aboriginal culture, traditional stone houses, as well as nearby rivers, waterfalls, and hiking trails for tourists to explore. For our full blog on this village, click here.
Duona Alley 多納巷
The main attraction in Duona is Duona Alley (多納巷) which is full of restaurants, cafe's, convenience stores, and drink shops. It is the best place to find food in Maolin, but usually the restaraunts are only open in the afternoon.
Traditional Stone Slab Houses 傳統石版屋
Traditional Rukai Tribal houses are made from the flat slate rocks that cab be found in the area. There are still houses being made like this with some modern modificiations.
Remnants of the Duona Hot Springs and beyond 廢棄的多納溫泉
If you drive down the road from Duona, you will come across the remnants of the Duona Hot Springs, which were destroyed in a rock slide, and once a major tourist attraction. If you keep going up the river though, you will come to Ghost Axe canyon, a great river tracing spot, and endless other places to explore. However, the road ends here in Duona.
Places we missed:
Thanks for reading and be sure to visit Maolin soon!
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.