(Update Jan 2019 - The abandoned railway has been turned into a tourist rail-bike attraction. Seems you can hire small rail carts at Badouzi and propel them to the old mine. As far as I can see the mine is still closed off) I first passed Shenao Village (深澳, Deep Bay), near Keelung, sometime in late 2010. I had been in Taiwan for about 3 weeks. My co-workers at my first job invited me to join them in Jiufen, where I screwed up making tea. Shenao was home to one of the largest in coal power plants in East Asia. Demolition was underway and the whole side of the building had been ripped off. It was a striking sight and it lodged in my mind as we drove past.
I didn't think much else about Shenao until I saw articles like this one popping up. Taiwan has a pretty bad air pollution problem. I'm getting quite tired of planning long bike rides and hikes only for the air to be a hazardous muck. The current administration is planning to phase out nuclear. Instead of pursuing large scale renewable energy to make up the difference it is seemingly trying to go back to coal and put another large plant here in Shenao.
What really got my attention though was the language used by these articles. Most described the power plant as mothballed, or to be expanded. One even used a photo of the former power station and captioned it as still extant. Focus Taiwan, the official government news source, Taipei Times, and the Chinese language Liberty Times made similar language choices. It jogged my memory so I checked Google and sure enough there was an empty field. If that's a 'mothballed' power station then just about every state-owned field is too. Later stories began referring to 're-building' and I think this is probably poor fact checking rather than some nefarious misinformation by newspapers close to the current government. As I looked around the site I found a large concrete ruin to the north that I took to be a train station and the famous Elephant Arch on a nearby rocky cape. After reading about the area online a little I felt I had enough for a little adventure.
Elephant Arch on Fanziao Cape
This sea-arch is a lot bigger than I thought it would be and is quite a stunning sight. It really does look like an elephant head with a long trunk plunging into the sea. The area is surrounded by alien looking mushroom rocks a lot like those at Yehliu. To the left of the arch is one of the most sheer sea-cliffs I've seen. The whole area is very dramatic and well worth the short walk from the harbor.
I didn't visit Elephant Arch first. I've just put it first as it's the most famous site in the area and the search term most of you ended up on this page with. I'd actually been jumping and crawling around the abandoned mine buildings written about below first and so was dirty, sweaty and covered in annoying plant barbs. I was therefore a little disappointed to find Elephant Arch swarming with day-trippers. They assumed I couldn't understand who they were talking about in a mix of shock and mirth. I decided to annoy them back by jumping around loudly and suddenly between the rocks and interrupting their pictures. I'm don't claim to be very mature. It seems that the arch here was relatively unknown until the last couple of years but now even tour buses stop here.
Shenao has another lesser known rock formation. On the road around the harbor look up to the cliffs, A portion of the rock is the shape of an old man's face with a very pointy nose.
Jianji Coal Mine and the Worker Villages
I started the day just north of the power station site at s weather blasted concrete ruin called Jianji Coal Mine. I found a way in down some steps hidden in plants, though it would be simple to hop in from the road too. From this entry by Wolf Shepherd and my own exploration I think I've pieced together Shenao's actually quite complicated mining sites.
This building was a transfer site to move coal onto freight trains. The abandoned railway to the power plant runs next to the site. This line was entirely closed but then re-opened as far as Badouzi for tourist sites.
The entrance of the mine was hidden behind tall grasses near the bathroom block.
The main building is in a terrible condition with holes all over the place. It was tricky and dangerous to get around in and I couldn't get up to the top floor.
In the bathroom block I found a small brick tunnel but I think this was just a drainage culvert or air flow tunnel.
Above this site there are two dormitory villages for mine workers and another larger one for power plant workers. The upper level of the Jianji building is a bridge that used to extend across the road. This brought workers from the villages to mines by the coast. On the coast side is a warehouse and a bricked up tunnel called Linhai which joined the other mines. On the village side there's a ruined electricity station.
The smaller miner dormitory area had a couple of mostly uninhabited mid century structures with some typical patriotic slogans and a few guard dogs. A small aboriginal community from Taidong lives up here. They also used to be miners and were brought here by the mine owners as cheap labor.
The larger area was more interesting. Aside from the usual meanly-proportioned housing blocks there was what seemed to be a community center. The stage and hanging box on the second floor suggested it was once used as a theater, perhaps even a movie theater.
Workers at the power plant were put up in the 'Taipower New Village'. Currently this is just up the hill from the plant under some high voltage pylons. The lower half of the site is abandoned but surprisingly the upper buildings are mostly inhabited. The crackling of the power lines permeates the entire site. A four floor block in a striking sky blue sits right on top of a new looking substation.
The Coastal Mining Area
At the top of a winding overgrown road there's another large mining area. Most of the mines in Shenao go beneath sea level. The technology for cost-effective undersea mining wasn't available until after WW2 so all the mines date from the 1940's onwards. It was fitting that most of the mines in the area were operated by a fairly adventurous set of brothers. The Li family owned and managed the mines and also helped fund local infrastructure. They are the same family that operated Houtongs mines which I wrote about here.
The first pit is bricked up. It was a large mine that dropped very far under the ocean. A small tunnel mouth is next door and almost hidden in the trees. I went through this tunnel but there was nothing on the other side. It seems it was used for drainage. An old office sits above a second unsealed mine tunnel. This tunnel is earthen and wet with some failed supports. I have no idea how far it goes and didn't venture far inside.
Heading up some steps to the left a path was soon lost in undergrowth. However I knew from a few blogs that there was something up here. After clambering in and out of a ditch I found a large coal transfer station. This place had some deep chasms open in the floor and I was nervous passing by them. One pit was for coal storage but I'm not sure what the larger one was for. A bricked up tunnel seems to be other entrance of the Linhai Tunnel. Another was possibly another mine entrance or a loop for a cart railway. The other structure in the area is a workshop but you'd need a machete to get to though the plants to that one. I could see it from the coast road.
Right next to the large temple by Shenao Harbor there's a sealed mine entrance. This one is easy to miss as someone has built a parking shed in front of it. The steep incline indicates this mine goes below sea level pretty quickly.
I was passing a few weeks later and decided to have another look around Shenao. I was surprised to see the railway was clear of plants and some excavators were working on the old mine sidings. Perhaps the railway is being re-opened or made into a bike path. I stopped at Badouzi along the coast and had a quick look in the old railway tunnel.
It would not take much to rebuild the railway. Badouzi also had some mining activity. While wandering around I found the old tunnel, the electric room, and the office building.
All locations can be found on the Hidden Taiwan Map.