TAITUNG’S CARP HILL ( 臺東鯉魚山)

There are multiple places in Taiwan that are named after that most auspicious of fishes: the carp. There’s a Carp Hill in Taipei’s Neihu District, a Carp Lake in Hualien and another in Nantou, and then this Carp Hill in the middle of Taitung City – most of them so named because their shape bears a passing resemblance to a fish. In fact, the signs around Taitung all call this place Liyu Mountain (Liyu being the pinyin of 鯉魚), or Carp Mountain, but I’m going with hill, because it seems a stretch to call it a mountain. Either way, if you’re planning a visit to the region, this should be part of your “what to do in Taitung” list.

How Carp Hill Got Its Name

I’m going to start this with some of the tales used to explain the existence of Carp Hill. If you’re just here for the directions, you can jump to that section here.

There are several local stories told to explain away the existence of this little blip in the otherwise flat landscape, although the common themes of troublesome big fish, Dutch invaders and a guardian cat can be found linking the three together.

The first story says that there was once a pair of giant carp which came to land at night, swimming across the land until dawn when they would return to the ocean once more. One day (presumably in the 1600s), Dutch settlers dug into the base of the hill, excavating two caves from which they extracted precious stones. In the process, they plucked out the carps’ eyes, rendering them unable to move.

A second, sadder tale says that the geographical feature is the body of a young lovelorn man who took his own life. He was a local plainsman who had fallen in love with the daughter of a tribal leader. The woman’s father was having none of it, and sent a scouting party out from his village to deal with his daughter’s would-be suitor. Finding himself in a hopeless situation, the boy decided to die by suicide rather than at the mercy of the aboriginal villagers, and (this is the bit where you have to suspend disbelief), after death his body became carp mountain. The tribespeople knew that the spirit of a fish had taken up residence in this newly formed hill, and it made them nervous. To try and ensure peace, the village leader summoned a cat spirit to stand guard over the hill. This is why Cat Hill can also be found in Taitung.

The third story contains elements from both the first and second. In this story, there is once more a pair of carp that used to escape the ocean of an evening to come to land and cause trouble for the people living on Taitung Plane. The carp had to return to the ocean before sun-up, or else they’d be transformed into stone until darkness fell again. Luckily there was also a cat which would watch the land for signs of these fish, chasing them around in an effort to get rid of the troublesome spirits. However, the fish were able to outsmart the cat for millennia, always managing to slip away from the cat’s grasping paws. Each time the feline came close to catching them, they would each make a quick leap and land in the safety of the Pacific Ocean, or else the sun would come up and the hunt would be paused. One day, the cat was closing in on the pair, and at the last minute, the male carp jumped into the sea and swam away, but the female carp was trapped by the sun. It just so happened, that on that day, there was a ship sailing past the coast here, and the sailors aboard the ship noticed bright gemstones glinting in the sun. Unable to resist the lure of such visible treasures, the sailors came ashore and set out to retrieve the jewels. As in the first tale, the result is that the female carp’s eyes were removed, leaving her forever trapped in stone. Even now, you can see the Cat Hill watching the Carp Hill, and far out to sea is the male carp (Green Island), looking back at his erstwhile partner in troublemaking.

Distance: 2.3km

Time: 1 hour was enough for us.

Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 0.5/10 – There are a few steps, but that’s as taxing as it gets.

Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 1.5/10 – Some steps and a minimal amount of elevation gain.

Total ascent: Just under 100m.

Water: A small bottle will suffice. I think we just took our coffee mugs.

Shade: Patchy – if you go on a sunny day then you will need to protect yourself.

Mobile network: Clear throughout.

Enjoyment: If you’re in Taitung then it’s definitely worth coming here so you can enjoy seeing the city from another angle. There’s also a fair amount of historical interest to be uncovered if that’s your jam.

Route type: Loop with several small spurs.

Permit: None needed.

Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.


DIRECTIONS:

The main entrance to the hiking trails of Carp Hill is decorated with bright red arches and lampposts which are themselves adorned with jumping carps. This road – if you follow it – will lead you straight up to Taitung’s Martyrs Shrine, but that wasn’t our first port of call.

Instead, before we reached the red arches, we turned right up the steps between vegetable vendors and randomly parked scooters.

Right from the get-go, there are indications of some of the former lives lived by this patch of land – a military bunker juts out from the plants beside the trail. Given the hill’s prominent position on the otherwise flat plane that houses Taitung City, it’s not surprising that it has served many functions for the people settling here over the years. A muse for local folklore, a place of worship for Japanese colonisers, a defensive military position for the KMT, and now somewhere to exercise for locals and tourists alike. These overlapping uses have all left their trace on the land.

The steps lead up to Longfeng Baoyu Pagoda (龍鳳寶玉塔), beyond it you can pop in to visit Longfeng Temple before heading up the steps on the right. Someone has turned the pavilion into their home–a neat roll of bedding and other belongings were tucked below the bench seats.

Steps beyond the pavilion take you up to the first views of the walk. Head right to get a look at the city before returning to follow the path around the outer edge of the mountain park.

From this easternmost viewing platform, there are views over the north and east of the city. You can see the Railway Art Village stretching out towards the coast.

And to the north you can make out the distinctively lumpy ridge that climbs up to Mount Dulan (a peak we’d visited the day before). Mount Dulan is the flatter and slightly higher bulge on the very far right of the ridge.

After returning to the junction just below the platform, we then continued to follow the trail around the top edge of the mound. There’s a flight of steps on the left which joins from behind the temple I think, and a pavilion beside an old and sprawling banyan tree (the tree looks like it’s grown up around the remains of some old military site). Head straight over and up again at the old tree pavilion.

A gap through trees beside the trail offers another sneaky view of Mount Dulan. It’s not surprising that the local aboriginal population deems the mountain sacred, it has such a presence.

Take a right here at this T-junction and follow the sign directing you towards Lishou Scenic Platform (鯉首觀景台).

Right beside the junction, there was a magnificent fruiting prickly pear plant. Whoever is responsible for maintaining the local area has cut off several blades of the original plant and stuck them in the ground on the far side of the path, so maybe in another few years there will be a prickly pear tunnel to pass through.

A ridge spans the distance from the junction to the tip of the carp’s head. Bushes to either side were lively with chattering bulbils and the path itself was dotted with exercising aunties. Close to the viewing platform, there is another trail joining from the left – ignore it and make your way on towards Lishou Viewing Platform.

There’s a narrow observation deck here at the carp’s head, and a faded information board points out some of the features that are visible from here.

As the northwesternmost tip of the mountain park, this platform gives you some great views inland towards the taller range of mountains that shelter Taitung on its western edge.

We wanted to walk from the head to the tail, so we retraced our steps to the prickly pear junction, then took a right turn. At the next junction, we followed the path straight over.

The trail along this section feels a little prettier than the earlier part, mostly because the trail building materials have blended into the surroundings more than the concrete steps of earlier.

At the next junction take a right (once more you’ll have to return to this spot later). Teresa decided to hang out at the bench here rather than go to the third viewing platform (it was a work day after all and her customers had woken up by this point).

This platform feels almost like a bird hide, it stands on stilts with at least one side sheltered by tree cover.

Take a peek below the platform before you climb the stairs – you’ll find an old bunker (complete with concrete air vent). I guess places that make for scenic viewing platforms in times of peace often make equally good defensive vantage points in times of unrest.

This spot gives you the best view looking south down the coast as it runs through Taimali towards Taiwan’s southern tip.

From the combined bunker/viewing platform, I retraced my steps back towards the junction where I’d left Teresa, then from there continued down the steps back to the start of the walk.

The path here has a view of Taitung County Stadium, as well as the rippled blue roof of one of the buildings in the Railway Art Village.

As we made our way further down we caught a glimpse of Longfeng Temple tucked into the trees with Mount Dulan in the far distance.

We wanted to head back down via the Martyrs Shrine, so we turned left at the next junction, passing a pavilion with a blocky penguin which looks like it might have been a rubbish bin at some time in the past.

A cat grooming itself on a monument for writer and thinker, Hu Shi. The monument is named the Hu Tie-hua Memorial Stele (胡鐵花紀念碑), using Hu Shi’s courtesy name, and it was upcycled from an older Loyal Souls Monument left by the Japanese. This isn’t the only place in Taitung to bear Hu’s name. Not far from Carp Hill you can find Tiehua Road – renamed in honour of Hu’s 1952 visit to the city.

Much like the Hu Tie-hu Memorial Stele, Taitung Martyrs Shrine is the second shrine to grace this specific piece of land. The first incarnation was Taitung Shinto Shrin (臺東神社), it most important shrine in Taitung during the period of Japanese rule. The version of it which stood on Carp Hill (the was another even earlier shrine which was later relocated here) existed between 1930 and some time after the end of World War Two when it was torn down to be replaced with the current Martyrs Shrine. As it stands today, it’s one of multiple such Martyrs Shrines that were erected all over Taiwan to commemorate soldiers who died in service to the ROC army. For a far more detailed and thorough history of this site, I strongly recommend you check out Josh Ellis’s article on the subject.

From the Martyrs Shrine, we took the broad stairs back down to the road, past rows and rows of aunties doing their early morning workout routines to the accompaniment of bad karaoke and pop hits from the 1970’s, and then only then did our thoughts turn to breakfast.


How to get to Taitung’s Carp Hill

Google maps address: The walk starts from Bo’ai Road, just opposite the northwestern end of the Railway Art Village.

GPS location: N22 45.210 E121 08.670

Public transport: The most convenient way to get to Taitung is by train, and from the train station you can take one of the several buses which shuttle between there and Taitung’s main bus station. The trail is just a short walk away from the bus station.

Nearby trails:


Taitung Carp Hill Trail Map

GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)


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If you enjoy what I write and would like to help me pay for the cost of running this site or train tickets to the next trailhead, then feel free to throw a few dollars my way. You can find me on either PayPal or Buy Me a Coffee.

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