FYI SOUTH Magazine, July 2007.

ATVs on Taiwan's Gangtzai Desert

Words and photos by John Matthews Translated by Ann Lee

One of the most surprising geographic features in southern Taiwan awaits your exploration in an equally unusual fashion-in a 4x4 recreational vehicle. The Gangtzai Desert (Jioupeng) is a fascinating body of rolling sand waves, some of which are 100 vertical feet or more.

At Gangtzai, there are at least half a dozen businesses that rent All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) or provide 4x4 Jeep tours for small groups. The best places to rent from are those situated nearest to the beach, thereby giving you direct access to the dunes. If you are alone or with a friend, take an ATV for a spin. For a 125cc ATV, expect to pay at least NT$600 for a half-hour of cruising around and exploring on your own. If you have the courage and experience, rent the bigger 300cc ATV (NT$1,200/half hour) and feel the power of the machine ripping you up and down these sand mountains and across giant berms, without even a groan. However, be careful as you're on your own here; bring a helmet if you want head protection, as they are not provided and ATVs can be some of the most dangerous recreational vehicles on the planet.

The sand dunes are ranked as some of the largest in Taiwan and, on a typical weekend, only a handful of visitors come to revel, play or just spend a few moments taking photos. After all, this area remains relatively unknown. It gets little mention on any maps and, even more surprising, is the ecological sensitivity and importance of the site to certain species. Sea turtles are known to visit the massive beach once every year to lay their eggs in nesting grounds among the dunes.

Getting there from nearby Hengchun is the most practical. Travel on County Route 200 as it heads east across the island towards Manjhou. At Manjhou, the road swings to the left (northwest). Continue following Rt. 200 past Manjhou for roughly 30 kilometers of winding road to the town of Gangtzai and the Pacific Ocean.

* Visit www.ktdesert.idv.tw or call 0935-618-218 or 0952-023-268 for more information.