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Beauty of south Penghu islets on display at new national park

2014/10/18 09:32:36

Taipei, Oct. 18 (CNA) Taiwan's ninth national park formally opened Saturday on some of the lesser known islands of Penghu, promising to bring unspoiled landscapes and the tranquility of a more bucolic lifestyle within close reach of residents of Taiwan's main, largely urbanized island.

The South Penghu Marine National Park encompasses the islets of Dongji, Xiji, Dongyuping and Xiyuping, covering a land area of some 370 hectares and a sea area of 35,473 hectares, about 1.3 times the size of Taipei City.

Penghu County covers a cluster of 64 islets off Taiwan's west coast in the Taiwan Strait and has a population of around 100,000.

But the southern islands that make up the new park are home to just 50 or so people due to decades of population relocation. Xiji is virtually uninhabited since the government began assisting locals to move to larger islands in 1978, according to the Marine National Park Headquarters, which also oversees the Dongsha National Marine Park in the South China Sea.

That has left scenic and well-conserved coral reef ecology on the remote islets, which drew over 4,000 travelers mostly to Dongji and Dongyuping last year. The number of tourists has skyrocketed to more than 9,600 visitors to Dongji and over 8,000 to Dongyuping as of the end of September.

The area will appeal to snorkeling enthusiasts, who will not want to miss the over 50 percent coral reef coverage around Xiyuping, the highest of the four southern Penghu islets, headquarters chief Yang Mo-lin said.

The surrounding seas feature large clusters of Acropora coral and a diversity of fish and shells living among the reefs.

Apart from marine biodiversity, the four islets are also known for magnificent basalt terrains and unique low-roofed houses built by early inhabitants with coral stone and basalt. The mostly abandoned buildings are referred to locally as "cai zhai," or vegetable houses.

Yang said the best season to visit the new national park will be May-August, but noted that the bed-and-breakfasts on Dongji and Dongyuping only provide the bare necessities.

To visit the park, visitors can travel from Taiwan proper to Penghu County's seat, Magong City, on the main island of the archipelago. From there, they can charter a ferry for the 60-minute ride to the park or take a public boat to the islet of Wang'an, and charter another vessel from there for a 30-40-minute ride.

There are, however, no public traffic links between the four pristine islets.

As Taiwan's ninth national park, the South Penghu Marine National Park follows the parks of Kenting, Yushan, Yangmingshan, Taroko, Shei-Pa, Kinmen, Dongsha, and Taijiang.

(By Hsieh Chia-chen and Elizabeth Hsu)