1 - THE DOME OF LIGHT
Your exploration of Kaohsiung’s scenic points of interest begins in one of the city’s main metro stations. This may sound bizarre, but inside Formosa Boulevard station, the transfer interchange for the Red and Orange lines, the main concourse is roofed by a 660 sqm dome constructed from 4,500 individual pieces of stained glass – one of the world’s largest public art installations of its kind.
Supported by huge coloured pillars, it was created by Italian-born US artist Narcissus Quagliata and took nearly four years to complete. A kaleidoscopic panorama that stretches like a vast umbrella over commuters’ heads, the dome presents four themes – Water: the womb of life; Earth: prosperity and growth; Light: the creative spirit; and Fire: destruction and rebirth – meant to bring a message of love and tolerance. At the least, it certainly brings a ray of colourful light into the lives of all of those who pass under it.
2 - LOTUS LAKE
Jump on the Red line heading north to Zuoying Metro station (R16). Either walk down Mingtan Road to the northern edge of Lotus Lake, or catch a bus to the southern end, where the lake’s best-known structures are located. Next to a shady park of ancient banyan trees stand the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas – a little gaudy perhaps, but entering the dragon’s mouth and exiting the tiger’s maw is said to bring luck, and proves great entertainment for children.
The man-made Lotus Lake has been a popular destination since the Qing Dynasty, and on its western side are numerous pavilions and temples, such as the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, where ponds are filled with vibrant carp and long-necked turtles sun themselves on tiny stone bridges. There’s also a statue of the Goddess of Mercy riding a dragon within the complex – enter through the dragon’s fanged mouth and negotiate the ups and downs of its snaking belly, which is painted with colourful scenes of legend.
Other sites worth checking out include the Chi-Ming-Tang temple, an astonishing sensory feast of gold and red, incense smoke, booming gongs and the rattle of much-used fortune sticks; and the huge, intimidating statue of Xuan Tian Shang-di, the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven. eng.taiwan.net.tw
3 - LOVE RIVER
A ten-minute taxi ride south (costing about NT$230/£6) will bring you to the last-mile stretch of Love River, which bisects the city and is its focal point. A decade ago it was a polluted and unsightly waterway but in the intervening years the river was cleaned up and the area underwent renovation and greening. Today it boasts riverside parks and promenades, broad, tree-lined thoroughfares and a host of statues, coffee shops, cafés, restaurants and cultural sites, including the Kaohsiung Museum of History.
Friendly, style-conscious youngsters mix with families, while joggers and cyclists use the bike paths. You can take a scenic gondola boat ride or hire water skis, and in the evening many bars open up, with musicians setting up along the riverside to entertain the crowds.
4 - CIJIN (CHICHIN) ISLAND
Jump in a taxi for the short trip west to Gushan ferry pier, then hop on a boat for the five-minute ride (NT$30/£0.80 one-way) across to Cijin Island, which protects Kaohsiung Harbour from the open sea and was the earliest developed area of the city once known as Takow.
A relaxed fishing hamlet, Cijin’s many points of interest are centred around its northern end and can easily be visited in a looping walk. Close to the Cijin ferry pier is the small but atmospheric Tianhou temple, which was built in 1673 and is Kaohsiung’s oldest. Rows of pretty red lanterns create a shady “porch” area out front, while monks inside tend to the altars.
On a rugged bluff near the northern tip of the island you’ll spot Taiwan’s second oldest lighthouse. Descend the steep steps from here and you’ll be treated to an unexpected sight – a series of huge cliffs against which the full force of the ocean smashes, waves breaking and shooting skyward in a ferocious outburst of water-borne energy.
A man-made tunnel through the cliffs will bring you to the northern end of Cijin Beach, a long, broad strand of black sand that is popular with surfers as well as families. Facing the beach is Seafood Street (Miaoqian Street), a classic set-up of stalls selling everything from mussels to squid, octopus and myriad fish. Grab some barbecued squid on a stick to snack on as you wander back to the ferry through the entertaining communal bustle.
5 - BRITISH CONSULATE AT TAKOW
Back on the mainland, cross the nearby bridge and walk up the hill to finish your day with a classic British afternoon tea or a sunset drink at the perfectly positioned British Consulate at Takow. This meticulously preserved colonial building dates back to 1879 and contains historical exhibitions, a tea lounge, a verandah and gardens with fantastic views. It makes for a cultured end to your day in this surprisingly sophisticated city.
The consulate is open Tues-Fri 10am-7pm (from 9am on weekends); entry NT$99 (£2.50); britishconsulate.khcc.gov.tw