Yesterday. A day trip to Nantou looks like this: get up at just after 4am, drink coffee, read, get the dogs out for a walk (two trips, because there are seven of them), get all the kit together, jump in the shower, get dressed and race to the train station to catch the 6am train north to Ershui. (For some unknown reason, the train always stops in Xingying and Chiayi city for five minutes, and thereby delaying the 8.12am arrival in Ershui by another ten minutes).
Arrive in Ershui, take the motorbike to the garage for an oil change first and then drive east to Mingjian township, grab a five minute eat in the McDonald’s and then onto the 16 east to Shuili. Stop for gas and then switch over to the 131 north to Yuchi, stop for a drink (buy the smallest carton of milk, not water as I don’t need much and can’t afford the space on this motorbike’s tiny rear rack – I should buy a box or build a new rack).
Yuchi to Puli on the 131 (avoid the 69 because although far more beautiful, it takes too long) and switch to the 72 east up the mountain as quick as I can and through the long tunnel.
Was lucky to encounter sparse traffic and all vehicles easily and safely overtaken both on this road and on the 131 previously. Bomb through Wujie and through the tunnel to emerge on the 83. Stop for drone pictures of the twin dams at Wujie (at about 10.45am).
The thing about these two dams is that you’re already quite close to them from the road with the view only partially obscured by trees and the lack of elevation. The drone shots were low altitude (about 20 or 30 meters) because that’s all that was needed to get them both in frame and also because a higher altitude would necessitate flying backwards into the tree-clad mountain where I’d lose sight of the drone and likely crash.
Quickly done with a loss of only about 20% of first battery life. Back on the bike and bombing along up to Wan-Da reservoir. Stop for a drink at the little “Appalachian” store, but find it closed for the holidays.
Back up around the signpost for Aowanda forest and across the bridge… follow the road up the switchbacks keeping an eye out for the unmarked road which I had previously inferred must be around here somewhere. Find the road that leads down to the hydroelectric power plant.
That’s not the one I want. But nearby is, miraculously, a vending machine from which I get a Mr Brown coffee can! Marvelous. Back on the road around a couple of more bends and I find it. The unmarked road.
Check map. There are actually two roads here with only one of them marked on Google maps. The other is dark. Very narrow, rough and broken surface with a precipitous drop of several hundred meters to one side. That’s my road.
Follow it slowly with increasing conviction that it’s going to lead me to where I want to go. Finally, turn a corner and look down on the hydroelectric power plant! Yes!
But up ahead the road is gated shut… Except it isn’t. The gate houses a pulley station and the road continues at a sharp, right angle switchback. Follow it. Further and further eastward. This is what I want. Eventually, the road forks up to the right and down to the left, and knowing the location of the new terraced farms (i.e. from 2016 onwards), I chose left. Correctly. Downhill leads to another switchback where I park, and, spying the dam off in the distance to the north about a kilometer away or less, I make the first flight with the drone out of concern that I won’t get permission from the farmers to enter their land.
Photography of the dam is a partial success but very difficult as I ended up flying beyond visual range among trees. The best I manage is a shot looking down at an angle…
I bring the drone back and head down into the farm. Follow the trail eastward until I reach a fork next to a shipping container farm house. Park the bike and follow the remaining, unpaved trail eastward until reaching a switchback very close to the dam. Unfortunately the view is obscured by trees. No matter. Fly over and into the valley below carefully moving the drone as close to the northern mountainside as possible without crashing. Descend. Very risky because I am flying beyond visual range and can’t see what is there, but I want the camera to capture the entire dam and spillway including the hydraulic jump at the base.
Having succeeded, I returned the drone to my station at the elbow in the trail and then walk back to the bike. Follow the trail back to the main road and then stop at a roadside shack for a beer. Let the dogs sniff me and talk to the old man. Sit back and reflect; job done, no more need to ever go back there.
Drive back to the 83, the 72, and the 131 stopping in Yuchi for something to eat and drink and a bathroom break. Fill up with gas afterwards and then back on the 131 to Shuili.
On reaching Shuili, I stopped at the second bend on Erping road and unpacked the drone for the first attempt to photograph the Tonguay dam. Achieve partial success.
It’s risky because again I can’t really see what I’m doing and how close the drone is to trees, so I kept my distance. I was able to tell, however, that the dam is set in a very narrow gorge and can only be viewed from a lower elevation very close to the north mountainside. I brought the drone back and drove uphill to the trail leading to the security gate. This time, approximately level with the dam crest but a couple of hundred yards away with the dam itself outside of visual range due to the interceding hillside and trees to the south, I flew the drone sideways to get as close as possible to a head-on view of the dam.
For the remainder of the Lunar New Year, I have a few more trips I’d like to take. One or two are return trips to Nantou to take aerial photography of Sun Moon Lake and its three neighbouring reservoirs (Toushe, Mingtan and Minghu). One is a trip south of Ershui to Yunlin county to fly the drone over Hushan reservoir and the Linnei Octagon and there are also several trips down south I’d like to take which all involve early morning shots but the two I will prioritize are the trips south to Pingtung county’s Mudan reservoir and the groundwater feed reservoirs just outside of Chaozhou.