During our family road trip to Hualien, we stayed overnight at Cisingtan (Seven Star Bay, 七星潭). Many people have been to Hualien, it is after all a ‘must see’ place in Taiwan, but few have visited Seven Star Bay. Most people head straight out to the spectacular Taroko Gorge, bypassing the quiet beauty of the Hualien area.
I first visited seven star bay thirteen years ago. I was studying Chinese in Taiwan at the time. Sam and I had met in Australia and started dating a few months beforehand. When he came to visit me during the Christmas holidays we went traveling, and stopped off in Hualien to visit some of his friends from University. They took us to Seven Star Bay at sunset, where we had coffee at a small goat ‘ranch’ on the cliff overlooking the bay. There weren’t many goats, nor did we sample their goat’s milk, but from the café’s wide windows we had a clear view out along the coastline of the spectacular mountains crashing down to the deep blue ocean below, with wisps of clouds hanging like veils around their steep slopes.
After coffee, we ambled along the beach at dusk gathering stones to take home. Hualien is not for swimming: the surf is too rough and its stony coast unwelcoming. However, the Hualien area is rich in marble deposits, and consequently the stones along the Seven Star Bay are flecked with unusual colours and designs. Although not so common now, when we first visited we were trailed by several determined old ladies carefully selecting pure white and jet black rocks. These were collected for use in ornamental gardens, where their contrasting colours could be moulded into shapes. The stones that we collected then weren’t so special, but for years I lugged them around from share house to share house, annoying flatmates with memories of our sunset at Seven Star Bay.
On this trip, we arrived at Hualien at dusk after a long drive in the rain on the Su’ao-Hualien highway. We had made a tentative reservation to stay at a B & B, but as we couldn’t find it (Sam didn’t want to ring for directions), almost booked into an upmarket hotel overlooking the beach. That was until we realised that the hotel did not have any baby cots. The risk of Austin falling off the edge of the narrow double bed was too much of a likelihood to contemplate, so we bundled ourselves back into the car and backtracked to find the B & B.
And I am glad that we did, because our stay there ended up being the highlight of our short trip.
In the last five years or so, bed and breakfast style accommodation (minsu民宿) have become very popular throughout Taiwan. Some are good, but some are pretty amateurish. It is fine to feel as though you are part of the family, but you still want the experience to be more memorable than squatting in a spare room of a shack. But neither do you want it to be too luxurious, because that misses the point of the cosy B & B experience.
Hualienyou (花蓮遊) reaches a happy medium. Its rooms are well clean and well appointed, but not opulent. There are European-style rooms that are more romantic in style. But I recommend the family room we stayed in: a simple, wooden-floor room with Japanese style bedding that can sleep up to four people. While perhaps not as thick as many Westerners may be used to, the bedding was comfortable and we all slept well (at least until baby woke us up before dawn.) We had two people to each room, and I think that more might have stretched things a bit, and there was plenty of space for our little Austin to crawl around.
Hualienyou is a simple but stylish building, unlike some ramshackle minsu. There is a reason why it is built with such attention to detail: the owner is an architect, and personally designed the building. His wife runs the B & B and evidently loves making her guests feel welcome. It is a ‘green’ B & B, which basically means that in an effort to be environmentally friendly they do not provide all of the bathroom knick-knacks that a large hotel chain would. This is not a problem as there is a convenience store near by for supplies of you forget something. Essentials such as a hairdryer, kettle and tea/coffee selections are provided.
Being a bit of a foodie, let me indulge with a description of the catered breakfast, which was fresh and healthy. There was a simple salad, and a generous piece of whole-grain steamed bread (mantou), freshly blended soy milk and a fresh fruit platter. The fresh fruit was particularly good; many of the items had been home-grown by the family at their local farm, without the use of many chemicals. The selection included subtropical items such as pomelos, watermelon and papayas. I felt very healthy after eating this fruit. If this doesn’t quite fit the bill, there are several breakfast bars that make toasted sandwiches around the corner, which I later discovered with on a bike borrowed from the front courtyard.
The rates at Hualienyou are NT$1800 for a double room on a weekday, and NT$2,200 on a weekend. Superior family rooms are NT$2,500 in a weekday, and NT$2,900 on a weekend. However, Hualienyou usually offers discounts. On the Sunday night that we stayed, we had two rooms (sleeping four people plus a baby for around $3,000.
Hualienyou Green Bed and Breakfast (花蓮遊．綠色民宿)
No 16/1, Alley 4, Liye Street, Xincheng County, Hualien
I should mention that there is an antipodean connection: the couple honeymooned in Australia, and while they have not been back since, it clearly brings back a rush of good memories for them. While they don’t speak fluent English, I am sure that they would welcome anyone from Down Under to visit them.
But back to Seven Star Bay. Travelling with a baby, we were (as is often the case) woken up before dawn. So we decided to make the most of it, and headed out to Seven Star Bay to watch the sunrise. By the time we had marshalled the extended family we were a bit late for the main event, and the sky was overcast, but we still appreciated the subdued beauty of the bay in the early morning. Plus with not so many people about there was plenty of time to admire the view and gather local stones.
Things have changed a bit in the thirteen or so years since Sam and I last visited. Seven Star Bay now has a vibrant tourist centre (although thankfully it is not yet on the tour bus must-see route). And there is a long and extensive cycling track winding around the bay. In fact, you could even cycle from Seven Star Bay all the way into Hualien city itself. While we did not do so on this occasion, we definitely plan to come back once Austin is a bit older. Interestingly, an airforce base backs right onto the beach area. While we did not venture near the barbed wire fence to take photos, you could see fighter jets casually parked there. Several of them took off later that day, and their thunderous roar was an odd contrast to the relaxed atmosphere of the surrounding bay area. I guess with not much flat land on Taiwan’s east coast they have to make do with what they have.