In the fastest growing area of Xinbei Shi (“New Taipei City”, formerly Taipei County) in Taiwan, there’s an area of natural beauty that welcomes wildlife and people alike. Along the banks near the mouth of the Danshui (a.k.a. Tamsui) River, an expanse of mangroves thrive just beneath the popular shoreline where a myriad of high-rise condominiums have been built. The Hongshulin (“red forest”, the Chinese name for mangroves) Nature Reserve in Danshui Township is home to the northernmost large-area mangrove forest in the Northern Hemisphere.
The success of the mangrove forest is due to its location. This area of the Danshui is where nutrient-rich waters flows down from mountains on both sides of the river, and where rising tides bring in salt water from the Taiwan Strait, creating a natural wetland habitat that serves as both an estuary and an intertidal zone. At full tide, approximately two-third of the land area is under water, allowing for fish and shrimp to feed on the nutrients trapped within the mangrove forest. At low tide, the shallow waters and exposed beaches lets larger birds hunt fish that have been trapped, and smaller birds and crabs collect food within and beneath the sand and mud.
The environment had not always been conducive for natural growth. Approximately 10 years ago, the Danshui River was notorious for its pollution and foul smell. As the third largest river in Taiwan, with its main tributaries along some of the island’s most populated areas, the river received heavy pollution and even raw sewage from the rapidly industrializing neighborhoods. It was deemed unsuitable, even dangerous, for recreational purposes, and much of the natural habitat suffered extensive damage. It was not until the government made concerted efforts to divert and treat local wastewater and sewage, restrict industrial pollution, and prohibit building into the conservation areas, when the ecology recovered and revived its natural beauty.
Today, the Hongshulin Nature Reserve is partitioned from its high-rise neighbors by Zhongzheng Road, the only shoreline automobile access from Taipei City to the Danshui area, and the Taipei MRT Rapid Transit Railway. It has once again become a thriving natural haven for wetland and tidal wildlife. In addition, it has become a prominent destination for tourists and local residents as well.
The government has constructed a trail with raised paths and boardwalks for bicycle and pedestrians to navigate through the reserve. Visitors get a closer look to examine the ecology and observe wildlife such as pelicans, great and snowy egrets, sacred ibises, sandpipers, fiddler crabs, and the ever playful…mudskippers, fish that crawl and hop on land at low tide! The trail can be accessed from the Zhuwei and the Hongshulin MRT Stations on the Danshui Line.
A pavilion near the Zhuwei station entrance allows visitors to walk down to the wetland level and take closer observations and photos. The reserve is also a great place for people joggers and trekkers to exercise away from the busy street. It is truly a natural paradise in the hustling metropolis.
The Hongshulin Nature Reserve trail can be also explored during the evenings. Across the river from Zhuwei, there’s a yacht-building factory that lights up in the shape of a sail. On the trail itself, you can stroll through areas surrounded by golden reeds that are so serene that you can hear yourself think. You can also take an excursion to the Danshui Old Street, just off the MRT Line’s terminal Danshui Station, where the night market bustles with shops and stands of food, games and entertainment.
For a different experience, you can visit the Danshui Fisherman’s Wharf at the mouth of Danshui River. It is a very popular venue for weekend concerts and events, and known for its single leaning-tower cable-stayed Lover’s Bridge, and the restaurants and souvenir shops beneath the raised wharf. The Wharf also boasts a very spectacular sunset that attracts photographers from all over.