(Important - This river was devastated by typhoon floods. One of the swimming areas still exists. The river has changed a lot and is not as beautiful, but there are still a few nice stretches. I've updated this post with pics)
This summer I've started getting into river tracing. I started with an easy walk along the river between Wulai and Neidong, to Wusha Waterfall. I wanted something a little more challenging after that, and decided to explore the tributary branching off from an area I call Red Bridge. This is a kinda well-known swimming spot near an arched red bridge, downstream from Wulai town.
I've traced up this smaller river a few times now, and wanted to do a little write up. I'm going to be a little sketchy with directions, and not name the river. These swimming holes are great, and I wouldn't want to see them overrun. But I'm also not going to make it impossible to find and enjoy them, for people willing to put in some detective work.
The river post typhoon is now very open. There are many streches that look quite a bit wrecked:
There are two main swimming holes on this tributary. The lower one is very large and has an incredible view of the mountains around it. Slightly downstream from it there is a natural rock waterslide (this is stranded above the river now). These are known by Taiwanese river tracing groups, and there was a huge group there the first time I visited.
The second hole is further upstream (maybe a 15-20 minute walk) and is backed by a wide waterfall, with another higher fall behind it. This is a really beautiful spot and one of the best places I've found on New Taipei's rivers. Sadly it's totally gone.
I climbed up to the higher fall but could see no easy way up (or back down) it. I imagine someone's gone further, and if I get some more grippy 'climbing style' river shoes I may try too.
The practice of finding your way through the river and jumping into clear pools is a really fun way to spend the day. I've got my sights set on a few more rivers in the area and on Yangmingshan too. Even though this river is a bit destroyed I still enjoyed tracing it again. Parts are still pretty and fun. Also the more open river means you're in the warm sun a little more.
(2017: I haven't checked this path, but I doubt it remains. The river is actually easier to trace post typhoons as it's wider so the path is not vital anyway. The main river path is only just clinging on (photo below) so I don't think this smaller path survives)
There is a path which cuts out a long section of the lower river and comes out close to the big swimming hole. This path is used by river tracing groups, which surprised me as it's a bit treacherous. It's very narrow, overgrown, and some parts involve clinging to slippery rocks, with a large drop immediately next to you. If you're used to hiking rough trails it's ok, but it would make a tricky walk for someone used to Taiwan's paved routes. I prefer to just trace up the river but this path is quicker and less tiring. The path branches off from the main Wulai - Sanxia route, which starts a little way across Red Bridge. It's easy to find the entrance, but hard to find the way down to the river near the end, as it joins some other trails. It's also not easy to find from the river.
Both that path and the riverbank itself have a lot of snakes. Most are big-eyed ratsnakes, which are harmless, but large and fast. They hide along the riverbank until you're pretty much on top of them before exploding out of a hole and escaping. I had a small one go through my legs, which was a tense experience. I've also been very close to a couple of two metre plus specimens. The path seems like a perfect snake habitat, and the ground is often obscured. I hopped over a baby viper along here, as I saw it too late, and wouldn't be surprised if there were a fair few larger ones hiding nearby. I walk with a long stick and tap the ground in front of me, hopefully scaring most away.
Storms and Equipment
The other thing I'll note is that this is a narrow river, that is fast in places. I've seen it at very different levels, and also rise a lot during a surprise afternoon storm. If you don't know where the path out is, and try to trace back down during a storm, it could get very difficult.
The only equipment I go with are river shoes (available from a hiking store on Nanchang Rd near Guting, just south of the Heping intersection) and shorts. The river shoes are like wetsuit boots, with thick soles of some kind of coarse foam. The Taiwanese tour groups are covered in wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets, but if you are a good swimmer this shouldn't be necessary. A helmet may be quite a good idea though, especially if you go alone.
Enjoy and check out other rivers and waterfalls I've put on the Hidden Taiwan Map. The markers for this blog on the map are approximate.