Weekend at Green Island

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While getting PADI Certified in Kenting earlier this year, all the pro divers out at sea with us were raving about the waters of Green Island (綠島), a small island off the coast of eastern Taiwan. I knew I had to add the spot to my Taiwan bucket list before my departure.

The island is known for its incredible geographic and marine biodiversity. Although you can circle around the entire island on e-scooters in just 40 minutes, the island offers endless underwater exploring, beaches, caves, star gazing, and even a prison to explore.

Remains of an old fishing village, tagged with new graffiti.
Remains of an old fishing village, tagged with new graffiti.

With the island’s small scale, you can get from the beach to mountain tops overlooking the entire coast within minutes. The island is speckled with pavilions built on top of cliffs, providing great places to hide from the UV rays while soaking in the island’s incredible coastline.

Depending on the tides, there is one white sand beach to meet your sunbathe and frolicking needs at Dabaisha, but most of the island’s beaches are pretty reefy. Concrete paths are built onto the beach for easy diving access even during low tides.

Fresh-caught octopus being hung to dry by local fishermen.
Fresh-caught octopus being hung to dry by local fishermen.

Due to the lack of both air and light pollution, the night skies are incredibly clear and breathtakingly illuminated by stars. I swear I could see entire galaxies. Other night activities include — night hiking, which many people do to see local deers and fireflies. There’s just as much to do at night as the daytime, so bring a flashlight!

Both snorkeling and scuba diving were extremely rewarding. To my surprise, you can see way more tropical fish via snorkeling than going deep. We snorkeled at the Shihlang Diving Area, an area of nationally-protected waters frequented by group snorkeling tours who often attract the fish by feeding. Although I’ve never agreed with feeding, it’s said to be beneficial to the local marine life as it attracts them to the protected area, instead of hanging out in the surrounding waters where they might be fished. Shrug.

Da Shack

Photo by Mandy Chong
Photo by Mandy Chong

We stayed at Da Shack, a metal hut with no AC, no doors, and no fourth wall. It’s owned and run by Eddie, a South African scuba diving pro, who purchased and converted a rundown warehouse into a simple flat for fellow ocean fanatics. The shack was rusty and far from pretty, located on the eastern coast where all typhoons and severe weather hit the island the hardest. Due to its unfavorable location, however, the area was unpopulated and price was cheap. It’s the only place I’ve ever been to in Taiwan where we could blast music in the middle of the night and not disturb anyone or have the cops come knocking.

Despite the lack of luxuries, I found Da Shack quite enjoyable with its natural breeze straight from the ocean. Eddie kept the place cool with rooftop sprinklers, equipped with fans and effective mosquito repellants. Did I mention there’s an outdoor shower with no roof?

Staying at Da Shack came with ferry tickets, e-scooter rentals, and snorkeling gear. Each scuba dive session is charged extra, but equipment costs are only charged once for the entire stay. It was still luxurious for me in the way that I didn’t have to do much planning and arrangements.

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Empty beaches whaaat! (Note: This is located just past the prison, a great place to star gaze.)

The History

Tomb stones commemorating the prisoners who died at the Green Island Prison.
Tomb stones commemorating the prisoners who died at the Green Island Prison.

One of the most incredible things about the trip was learning the geographic and controversial political history of this island.

Our scuba guide, Eddie, was also a geography and history enthusiast of the area. He owns the largest private collection of ancient maps in Taiwan, many made by the Spanish and Dutch when the island was still called “Formosa.” Due to Green Island’s location in eastern Taiwan and its frequency of tropical storms, Eddie said there are over 600 ships that have wrecked or went missing in the oceans surrounding the island. Wrecks and ancient artifacts continue to be found by scuba divers to this day.

Green Island consists of incredible marine biological diversity. According to our scuba guide Eddie, the coral reef scale and diversity is much more impressive than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (accounting the fact that sections of the reef are now more than 80% bleached). Most of the waters are also protected by the government, with swarms of colorful tropical fish near the coastal reefs, accessible just by snorkeling.

Green Island is also the home to the Human Rights Culture Park, a memorial to the political prisoners kept here during early Kuomintang rule and the period of martial law. Many of these exact prisoners went on to create the Democratic Progressive Party after their release, which this year just became the ruling political party. The prison still stands on the northern part of the island, its cultural relevance resulting in a reoccurring prison theme in the local restaurants and bars.

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Instead of fancy hotels or resorts, expect to see some fishing village huts leftover from the island’s rich history.

Travel Advisory

WATCH OUT!
WATCH OUT!

Due to its small scale and remote location, Green Island can be quite difficult to get to without proper planning. The only way to access the island is by boat or plane from Taitung County, meaning you must take into account getting to the east coast. Even the fastest Puyuma and Taroko express trains take 3-4 hours from Taipei, and it has to be carefully timed to make the rare and quickly-overbooked ferries and planes.

According to Eddie, the ferry company is a family business, and they love to cancel and shift around depart times just for the heck of it. There are only two flights in a day on tiny 18-seater jets, and they’re usually booked up months in advance. The ferry is also notorious for its bumpy ride and vomitable nature. TAKE SEASICKNESS PILLS!!!

Green Island FerryHowever, the difficulty in getting to the island can be quite a perk once you actually make it there. Unlike most tropical islands, the island is free of luxurious resorts, pollution, and tall buildings. It can get crowded during a few peak-season weekends (between June – August), but it’s relatively empty and quiet throughout the rest of the year.

Watch out for sunburns due to the clear skies that lack of pollution, tropical-level mosquitoes, and various animals on the road. Otherwise, happy scuba diving!

 

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