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In the company of school groups, families and selfie-stick-wielding tourists, I was suddenly amongst royalty.
Shielding my eyes from the sun, I looked up at the queen and was immediately struck by her commanding presence. She towered over me, a set of broad shoulders supporting a long, slender neck.
Although a line of visitors waiting for a photo op had begun to form behind me, I took my time studying her majesty’s profile as she remained transfixed by the sea.
As I followed her gaze, I couldn’t help but feel equally in awe of the landscape that surrounded me. Earlier that day, I had flown into Taiwan’s capital of Taipei, about an hour’s drive away. Now, at Yehliu Geopark in northern Taiwan, I felt like I was on another planet.
The cape that holds this sandstone geopark shows the effects of 20 million years of natural weathering and erosion. Formerly a trade route between mainland China and Taiwan’s Keelung harbor, the area is now a well-known natural attraction, featuring several iconic natural landmarks, such as the “Queen’s Head,” a 4,000-year-old mushroom-shaped rock named for its uncanny resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I.
Brad Shih, director of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau in Los Angeles, noted that the geopark’s queen is especially significant because of her quickly waning lifespan. Due to natural and man-made erosion, the width of her neck continues to decrease, a process that will lead to her eventual collapse (the narrowest part of her neck now measures approximately 54 inches).
“The Queen’s Head is like the Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park,” he said. “There was a debate between conservation and preservation of the landmark. After many professional meetings and discussions, it was decided that the Queen’s Head will remain natural, without any artificial substances to preserve it.”
But even without the queen — arguably the most well-known attraction in the geopark — future tourists will still be able to study the area’s geology and view several unique natural rock formations. Many of these rocks have eroded over thousands of years and are named for their likeness — mushroom rocks, bean-curd rocks, candle-shaped rocks, ginger rocks and honeycomb rocks are among those that visitors might see.
Our guide, Henry Chen, pointed out a smaller Queen’s Head replica, fondly dubbed “Cute Princess” by locals, and noted that bird lovers will appreciate the many exotic species in the area, such as the little egret, an aquatic bird.
And, due to the park’s proximity to the East China Sea, adjacent fish markets and seafood restaurants provide tourists with the perfect place to buy fresh and dried gourmet seafood after their visit (along with ginger tea, homemade candies and more). I happily took part in this post-tour activity at a nearby seafood restaurant, filling my stomach with fresh squid, clams, fish soup and more.
“The geopark provides environmental education and ecotourism for Taiwan,” Shih said. “Because of this, it strongly connects to the economic development of the local community. After a guided tour — which visitors reserve at the park’s visitor center — clients can walk into the local community to experience the culture of the surrounding fishing village.”