The highest point of Turtle Island (401 meters) ...

Getting to Turtle Island ...

Turtle Island was on my list of places to see for eons. I recall trying to get a permit years ago but there was no information in English and it was not a clear, easy process so I ended up giving up.

Walking through the old military tunnels
This year, I decided it was the year. Turtle Island is the only active volcano in Taiwan and the history is quite fascinating. It was a military base up until 2000 so parts of the island have been hollowed out. Access to the island is limited with only 250 permits being given out per day.

The permit process began by looking up the Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area. Although the site has information in English, most of it isn't up to date and there is nothing about permits to Turtle Island.

I called the number at the bottom of the website to inquire about the process. The people at the Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic were very helpful and guided me around the Chinese version of their site so that I could download the necessary documentation. The lady there gave me an email address to forward on my application.

After doing more research, I realized there is a trail on the island called the 401 Peak hiking trail which requires another permit. (This trail is limited to 40 people per day) I called the lady again to ask her about the procedure on getting a permit for the trail. She said I would first need to apply for a landing permit and once I got that I would then be able to apply for the 401 Peak hiking trail.

The application process was simple and within a week or two I received a landing permit in the mail for Turtle Island. This permit, however, stated that we would NOT be allowed to climb the 401 Peak hiking trail nor could we apply for it with this permit.

I sent the lady an email stating that I had received the permit but that it wouldn't allow us to get to the 401 Peak hiking trail. She told me that international visitors are not allowed to go up the 401 Peak hiking trail. I wrote her back and told her that the four of us applying are all long term residents of Taiwan, having been working and residing here for over a decade. She gave me directions on a different way to apply for the island using our Alien Resident Cards.

The new way to apply was via an online computer system which only allows one to apply for their requested date twenty days prior. I was hoping to apply early to be guaranteed a spot but this is when I learned that this way of applying is held in the form of a lucky draw. So, if 1,000 people apply for the day we've chosen, all of our names go into the draw and if one of our names is selected, we as a group get to go. If none of our names are chosen, we don't get to visit the island.

I was slowly beginning to remember why it was that I gave up the first time. Sigh.

I  emailed the lady again to ask if she knew of any guided groups that could arrange the trip for us. She sent me a listing of the fisheries in Toucheng. I made a call to the first number on the list but struggled to understand what was being said. This is when I decided to ask my boss for help.

My boss called one of the numbers on the list and learned of yet another way to apply to the island. We didn't need to apply online but rather send a fax with some basic information including our Alien Resident Certificate numbers. Applying this way is also in the form of a lucky draw.

From this point on, it was a waiting game. We waited and waited and the week prior, we still hadn't heard anything. I asked my boss if it would be possible to call them again to see what was happening.

We were told the draw would be on Monday or Tuesday and by Wednesday there was no word. I sadly announced to my friends that we most likely didn't get the permit for the 401 Peak hiking trail. I still held the landing permit that would get us to the island but we weren't sure about going.

Thursday morning my boss sent me a message to say that the fisheries had called and we had a spot on the 401 trail! I was ecstatic! I quickly emailed my friends to tell them the exciting news! We were told the tickets would be NTD$1,200 per person. This included the boat ride there and back, the 401 Peak hiking trail and a tour around the island.

On Friday at 4pm, my boss told me that she had gotten another phone call and the trip to the 401 Peak trail had been canceled as we were the only ones to apply that day. They needed a minimum of 25 people to go in order to hire the boat and the guides. My heart sunk.

As I said earlier, Turtle Island is the only active volcano in Taiwan and due to some recent earthquakes my boss suspected that people are postponing their trips. My boss told me that if I wanted to use the permit I had to go over to the island, the price was NTD$1,000. If we wanted to include whale watching, we could add on another NTD$500.

Reluctantly I sent out another email to inform my friends of the most recent news. None of us seemed too keen to pay NTD$1,000 for the island trip and we starting throwing around ideas of what else there was to do since we had planned to spend the night in Toucheng.

By Saturday afternoon, nothing had been decided. I suggested some things as I always have a list of places I  want to see but we kept going back to whale watching and the island. It seemed that since all the work had been put in, perhaps we should just go and enjoy the day.

At 4pm, I got a phone call from a lady at the fisheries. She wanted to confirm that our trip to the 401 was not possible and wanted to know our plans. I told her that we had decided to go whale watching and that we'd still like to visit the island. I did express my desire to get to the 401 trail and asked her how best to do this. I told her I would continue to apply week after week, so if there was a group going with space, she could call me anytime and I would go. She mumbled a few things I didn't understand and said she'd call me back.

Ten minutes later she announced that she had found a group for us to join and we could go up the 401 Peak trail the following day!! I couldn't believe it! I am so happy I speak Chinese as the opportunity was there for the taking and had I not been able to communicate, we would've missed out on something spectacular!

She did apologize to say that the trip would be a bit more expensive, NTD$1,700 per person. This trip included whale watching, (we didn't see any though we saw tons and tons of dolphins) the boat trip there and back, a loop around the island, the 401 Peak Trail with guides (everyone must have a guide to step foot on the island as some areas are restricted) and a tour of the main part of the island.

All and all it was a wonderful day and I would do it again in a second! Only fourteen of us climbed the 401 Peak hiking trail. Perhaps different fishery companies have different rules?! All I know is that the hard work paid off. The hike up was 1,706 steps and worth every one. It's a beautiful, beautiful island!

Turtle Island Adventures ...

Departing from Wushigang (烏石港) and making our way to Turtle Island (龜山島)

Turtle Island as seen from the coast of Toucheng (頭成) in Yilan (宜蘭)

From the backside, Turtle Island really does look like a turtle

Saturday May 9th, 2015

An 8am High Speed Rail train to Chiayi (嘉義) called for some early morning goodies

Wandering around Chiayi Park (嘉義公園) in the blistering heat

The Sun-Shooting Tower — NTD$50 to get to the top