(Update Apr 2018: The site has been surrounded by a tall and not very climb-able fence. I doubt that there's no way in however and as recent as today I've seen photos posted from inside. The roofs of the large white warehouses have now mostly collapsed but otherwise the site looks the same.) I'd been itching to get in here ever since I snapped the above photo a couple of years ago. However one attempt ended in getting lost in mist, and time or weather never co-operated again, until yesterday.
The Shuinandong Smelter is an enormous ore sorting and smelting complex at the foot of the Jinguashi mining area. It was built in the early 1930's to handle the huge amount of gold and copper coming out of the area's mines. Over each level or step (the smelter is nicknamed 13 levels), the ore was further refined and the minerals sorted. The old photo below shows the smelter shortly after construction. The sheds that stood on each level have gone. The main building with the arches is mostly blocked by the highest shed, while the electricity building that also remains is on the far right. The smelter closed sometime in the 80's I think, along with the general decline of Taiwan's mines. It has been slowly engulfed by nature ever since. The setting among the mountains is spectacular, and has made this one of my favorite places on the island.
To reach the smelter from Jinguashi (where the Taipei-Jiufen bus 1062 stops), follow the Benshan No 6 Mine Entrance Hiking Trail (my name for it) that I've marked on the map here. This is the only way down I've found that doesn't involve a lot of road walking. You will go under and near the huge flues that used to carry poisonous gases up the mountains and away from the villages. It will put you right on top of the smelter, but you'll have to follow the road around a little bit to a gate to enter. We climbed behind and under the bridge here to get in, but you could just hop over the gate. The first building you'll come to is the electricity hall.
This huge building has two cavernous floors, and contained power transformers and other electrical equipment. However, all that remains are the bushings (the porcelain coils) of the transformers on the walls and ceilings. Smelting is an very power intensive process and there are bushings everywhere.
To reach the second level go through one of the windows to the rear of the building, and up some very wet and mineral caked steps. The second level is also empty, but the space is impressive. The building has a fair few holes on each floor (part of the architecture, the rest of the floor is sturdy) but is otherwise easy to move around.
The site can be a bit of a maze in places, but there are some overgrown paths. It's not hard to find the way up to the arched building at the top of the site. This place has some beautiful mineral structures growing around the metal funnels on the ground floor. There are several levels at one end, with a surprisingly well carved staircase linking them. The top floor is the most interesting, with a temple style circular portal looking out onto the Pacific below. It seems this floor acted as the main office of the site, though there is little furniture left.
Returning through the Electricity Hall it's simple to access the lower part of the site. There are many more buildings down here, and some more large sorting funnels. Of particular note are the two huge white warehouses, one with a partially collapsed roof. They are both empty but are still grand spaces. The windows are double glazed and look newer than the building. Perhaps there were plans to reuse this area, but then maybe the roof collapsed. Walking through the rubble pile with care will bring you to a small employee bathroom/social complex, with stairs into the lower warehouse.
In here there were a few cool things. Somehow a door has been placed high on the rafters. At one end a spring is running out of the wall with a brilliant verdigris stain.
There are a few very trashed factory buildings directly below. Don't try to continue down the path to them as it drops off. Instead go along the white warehouse and either climb down, or hop over a gate to the road, and under another gate. These were cool and are worth looking through. By this time we had been exploring in the sun for hours and were a bit fried and hungry, so we went quickly through here.
We exited through an empty barrel-roofed building and wondered along a trail into the Shuinandong car park. Here you can either catch a bus back up to Jinguashi, or crossing the highway there is a stop for an infrequent Keelung bus. We headed back up to Jiufen for beer and food in a beautiful and well hidden teahouse, near a small tunnel coming from the main steps. I even managed to find a shortcut avoiding the nightmarishly packed 'old street'.
The smelter is unguarded and there were several Taiwanese visitors exploring at the same time we were. It will take you a few hours to explore and see everything. Check out the location of this and other things around it here.