Nanfang’ao(南方澳)—Picturesque Harbor Home of Golden Mazu(金媽祖)

Nanfang’ao(南方澳) is a pleasant harbor town built against picturesque coastal mountains near the southern entrance to Yilan(宜蘭)’s Lanyang Plain(蘭陽平原) in Eastern Taiwan. Several temples dot the quaint, well-kept village; well-used fishing boats fill the harbor; aromas of seafood and incense waft through small, lively streets. Freshly caught seafood overflows into local fish-sellers’ carts and abundant seafood restaurants.

Not only the fishing here is great; ornate temples carry on centuries-old cultural traditions amidst gorgeous mountain and sea views. Walking around the town, I was enchanted by the quaint yet lively feel. Verdant cliffs, distant peaks, and open sea views make for a truly magical setting.

I had heard about Nanfang’ao’s golden Mazu statue and set off to see it for myself, experience the fishing culture, and explore the mountainous coast.

The temples of Nanfang’ao draw many pilgrims, especially Nantian Temple(南天宮,nántiān’gōng), home of the ornate Golden Mazu(金媽祖) image. This archetypal Taiwanese temple houses several statues of Mazu(媽祖), a maiden sea goddess venerated for safeguarding sailors, including a spectacular jade statue on the second floor.

Somewhat dazed, I ascended the stairs, gawking at the ornate images, surrounded by pilgrims in a pious, celebratory atmosphere. Reaching the third floor, I marvelled at the prime treasure of Nantian Temple: Golden Mazu, a fantastic gilded gold statue of the goddess.

After the temple, I was ready for lunch. Nanfang’ao is famous for its mackerel(鯖魚,qīngyú) and has all sorts of fresh and dried seafood available. Ample seafood restaurants line the streets, and I had no trouble finding a good place. A local youngster took my order and soon I was sampling various local fish in a super-delicious fresh fish soup. The main street, Jiangxia Road(江夏路), also houses several dried fish shops, a scallion pancake stand, and vendors selling pineapples, coconuts, and sugarcane. I stopped by a drink stand to sample a sweet drink known as sea bird nest(海燕窝). Very refreshing, it is actually made from a certain seaweed that looks like a bird’s nest.

After savoring my meal, I set out for a loop around the harbor. Crossing Nanfang’ao Bridge(南方澳大橋), Taiwan’s only steel through-arch bridge, I made my way to Tofu Cape(豆腐岬). Tofu Cape Bathing Beach(豆腐岬海水浴場) sits in between a modern-looking hotel resembling a lighthouse and a fishing spot by some sort of old bunkers on unique-looking rocks. The small beach is a good place to dip in the water and appears popular for kayaking.

Hidden on the southeastern side of the cape, Thief Son’s Bay(賊仔澳) was my favorite scenic spot. At the end of a small local road, I reached the steep cliff trail down to Glass Beach(玻璃海灘), captivated by the view. The serene beach is enclosed by rocky cliffs and grassy hilltops. A crashed cement truck looks like a toy that tumbled down onto the ragged rocks below. The whole scene was somewhere between childhood fantasy and romantic getaway. Finally I grabbed the rope and descended the crag to the beach.

The most exciting activity is the precarious hike to Monkey Point(猴猴鼻). From Glass Beach, I climbed up a white rope with net floats that marks the way. A scramble over rocks past the abandoned cement truck lead me to a small sand bar strewn with dead porcupinefish. From here, a sheer path marches straight up and around Monkey Point. The steepest sections have ropes, but others are completely exposed, overlooking steep greenery and cliffs. Fisherman traverse to rocky shores to catch milkfish(虱目魚), a favorite throughout Taiwan. Taking another more overgrown path, I reached the peak for a breathtaking view.

Heading back, I stopped by Lover’s Bay(情人灣). The bay is wide and scenic with a nice viewing deck and gorgeous mountains across. A course sand beach called Neipi Beach(內埤海灘) stretches across most of the bay. This relaxing spot was perfect to rest awhile before finishing my loop. Unfortunately, it was already getting dark, so I didn’t stay too long.

Back in town, Nanfang’ao Bridge glowed in the night with changing colors. I enjoyed the reflections in the bay water, thinking back on the day.

Fragrance of joss and seafood, friendly fishing culture, beautiful mountainous shoreline, and the magnificent Golden Mazu—This is Nanfang’ao.

edit: I didn’t have time to visit, but there are a few small museums around as well: Call of the Sea Cultural Museum(南方澳討海文化館), Coral Dharma Realm Museum(珊瑚法界博物館), and San’gang Ironworks Museum(三剛鐵工廠文物館). I also didn’t make it to Nanfang’ao Lookout(南方澳觀景臺), probably one of the best places to overlook Nanfang’ao.

Nanfang’ao Day Trip Guide

cuisine:
• fresh fish soup(鮮魚湯,xiānyútāng), fresh fish noodles(鮮魚麵,xiānyúmiàn)
• sea bird nest drink(海燕窝,hǎiyànwō), agar-agar freeze(石花凍,shíhuādòng)
• mackerel(鯖魚,qīngyú), milkfish(虱目魚,shīmùyú)
• dried seafood
• pineapple, coconut, sugarcane

culture:
• Nantian Temple(南天宮,nántiān’gōng), Golden Mazu(金媽祖,jīnmāzǔ)
• Jiangxia Road(江夏路,jiāngxià lù)
• Nanfang’ao fishing harbor
• Call of the Sea Cultural Museum(南方澳討海文化館,nánfāngào tǎohǎi wénhuàguǎn)
• Coral Dharma Realm Museum(珊瑚法界博物館,shānhúfǎjiè bówùguǎn)
• San’gang Ironworks Museum(三剛鐵工廠文物館,sān’gāng tiěgōngchǎng wénwùguǎn)

sights:
• Tofu Cape(豆腐岬,dòufujiǎ), Tofu Cape Bathing Beach(豆腐岬海水浴場,dòufujiǎ hǎishuǐyùchǎng)
• Thief Son’s Bay(賊仔澳,zéizǎi’ào), Glass Beach(玻璃海灘,bōlìhǎitān), Monkey Point(猴猴鼻,hóuhoubí)
• Lover’s Bay(情人灣,qíngrénwān), Lover’s Bay Pavilion(情人灣涼亭,qíngrénwān liángtíng), Neipi Beach(內埤海灘,nèipíhǎitān)
• Nanfang’ao Bridge(南方澳大橋,nánfāng’ào dàqiáo)
• Nanfang’ao Lookout(南方澳觀景臺,nánfāng’ào guānjǐngtái)