Mount Qixing: the Seven Star Mountain

Mount Qixing, or Seven Star Mountain, is the highest peak in northern Taiwan. hiking up to the 1,120 meter peak is a steep climb but the views of Taipei and surrounding Yangmingshan National Park are worth the sweat!

Seven Star Mountain - it just sounds like a magical place. some of the mountain names around Taipei and Yangmingshan don't make much sense to me, but Mount Qixing has a beautiful translation. and of course - beautiful views.

my neighborhood is not very far from Yangmingshan National Park, but this was my first visit. some friends from Hsinchu came up last weekend and invited me to hike Seven Star Mountain with them, and of course I accepted. Mount Qixing [ 七星山 or Mount Cising ] gets its name from seven peaks, and at 1,120 meters tall it is the highest in northern Taiwan.

we started our hike from the Xiaoyoukeng end - a giant volcanic crater - because the climb up is a little less steep that way. the skies were mostly clear and the sun was bright as we sweat our way up to the first peak. vents steaming sulfur-scented gas peeked through the tall grasses, adding little poofs of white to the scenery.

the stone step trail led us up, and up, and up. we stopped for a breather at the first observation deck. the weather had started to haze over, so our views of Taipei and the north coast weren't as clear as they could have been. but what we could see - was pretty incredible.

at the main peak of Mount Qixing, the post marker was surrounded by photo-takers. we got in a shot and then we decided to get goofy with a yoga pose photo like all the cool tourists do. thus, warrior II. [just be glad we nixed the initial idea of downward facing dog.] all the locals at the top thought we were hilarious, and took pictures of us taking pictures. just another day in the life of a waiguoren.

after our photo break, we made our way to the east peak. the views from here were just as stunning, though the area is smaller and people seem to move through instead of lingering like they do at the main peak.

the way down was a series of steep stairs, and we were sweaty with shaky calves by the time we reached the bottom. [which I think explains the lack of photos from that point.]

it might be stretching to say this trail is in my backyard - but on a clear day I can see Mount Qixing from my neighborhood so I think it counts. Seven Star Mountain may be my favorite Taipei hike yet. the climb was definitely strenuous, but the views were incredible. one might even be inclined to make cheesy puns about rating this hike seven stars... but I'll spare you that for now.

how to get there

to get to the trail: take any bus that goes into Yangmingshan National Park and get off at the bus terminal. Qixing has 3 trailheads but the easiest way is to start at Xiaoyoukeng [小油坑.] I recommend the 124 bus which runs from the terminal to Xiaoyoukeng, but the 108 minibus will also take you there. we hiked towards Lengshuikeng and completed the trail in about 2 hours. you could also go towards Miaopu which would be about 3 hours - this leg of the trail is much steeper and a bit longer. hop the 108 minibus from either Miaopu [Boy Scouts Stop] or Lengshuikeng  [冷水坑] to get back to the main bus terminal. this English map of Qixing from the park's website might also be helpful.


5 tips for your New Zealand road trip

planning a road trip through scenic New Zealand? here's five simple tips to help your travels go a bit more smoothly.

New Zealand is one of the world's most epic places to travel to, and visitors and locals both will agree the best way to see it all is a good old-fashioned road trip. in fact, I spent a three week vacation doing just that earlier this year. whether you rent a camper van, tents, stay in backpacker lodges or rent apartments - driving through New Zealand's gorgeous scenery is sure to amaze. but any good road trip requires at least a little planning. today I'm sharing some advice from my travels north and south over this beautiful country: a few tips that helped make our drive through New Zealand safe, enjoyable, and memorable.

renting a car with GPS in New Zealand

1. get the full insurance and GPS

I'll be honest - when I used to travel in the US and rent cars, I always went for the cheapest insurance option available. I would never get a GPS and instead relied on my phone's navigational app and/or a Mapquest printout. when booking our New Zealand trip, however, we went for the full coverage. this was probably the smartest planning decision we made!

the price difference between standard and full insurance was not that much, and after hearing how spotty [or non-existant] the cell service can be in some areas we decided to book a GPS as well. the GPS was helpful for directions, obviously, but we also used our GPS to find points of interest - that's how we discovered Cave Rock near Christchurch. but for us, the insurance coverage really paid off. [or rather, ensured that WE didn't have to pay.] we ended up having to take our rental car in for a new fuse just hours after we picked it up. the next night our rear window was smashed in by someone attempting to steal our camp gear - but a replacement car was covered. a week later we ended up with a third rental, as our replacement car had started making funny noises [which turned out to be a belt issue when we took it to the agency.] and thanks to the insurance, we didn't have to pay a dime for any of this.

winding roads through New Zealand

2. obey local traffic laws

this one sounds like a no-brainer, but for tourists not used to driving on the left of the road or using kilometers per hour New Zealand driving can take a bit of getting used to. we had a little help from our GPS which alerted us when we crept over the speed limit. tourism is a huge industry in New Zealand, but that doesn't mean the cops are lenient on tourists who don't obey the laws.

it's also common courtesy in New Zealand to pull to the side and let others pass if you are going slower than traffic [which, driving your camper van and gaping at the views, you probably are.] most roads have areas on the shoulders to accommodate this every few kilometers.

rental car in New Zealand mountains

3. buy a travel sim card

if you have an unlocked smartphone [or one which you can change out the Sim card] I would highly suggest picking up a New Zealand card while you are traveling the country. I paid around $20 US for both a card and one month's worth of service - including texts, calls, and 500 MB of data. there are several companies offering similar deals: Vodafone, Telecom NZ, and 2 Degrees.

there are definitely spots in New Zealand where you won't get service. but being able to look up weather or hours for nearby restaurants, call and change hotel reservations, or use the navigation app when the car fuse powering our GPS was dead was invaluable. [and of course, you want to be able to upload your epic vacation shots to instagram.]

4. stock up on snacks

food options between destinations in New Zealand can be sparse. I'm one of those people who needs to eat every few hours or else I start to get hangry. and when you're in a car with 3 other people for 3 weeks straight... that's not good. so we took to stopping at grocery stores before leaving town to stock up on snacks for the drive. I love junk food as much as the next girl [mmm... potato chips] but the grocery store not only gave us more and healthier options, but we found it was cheaper than gas station snacks. most days of travel we ended up stopping to have picnic lunches along the way.

spotting Mount Cook from the road in New Zealand

5. pull over for breaks

for the sake of safety, you should switch drivers every hour or two and make sure you stop to stretch often. scenic overviews, picnic areas and public toilets are well-marked in New Zealand with blue signs and plenty of arrows.

but, let's be real. mostly you will want to pull over for the views. I admit that I shot quite a few photos through the windshield [especially the ones you see in this post.] but there's so much to see when driving through New Zealand, you really shouldn't let a piece of tempered glass get between you and the sights.

mountains and sheep in New Zealand

if you won't be making it to New Zealand any time soon [though I hope you will!] feel free to apply these recommendations to any road trip you might be taking. if you are curious as to where exactly this road trip took us, you can check out our full NZ travel itinerary. you might also be interested in seeing what I packed for 3 weeks in NZ.

5 tips for your New Zealand road trip

do you have any other road trip tips to add? would you follow this advice or just "wing it" when traveling?

look familiar? this originally appeared as a guest post on Route Bliss


hiking Taipei // Battleship Rock

I think I'm becoming a hiking addict. slowly, I'm learning to name the surrounding mountains by sight. I now have hiking tan lines. I've been hiking five times in the last two weeks, both on my own and with new friends who have unofficially formed a weekly group hike date. I just really love mountains, ok?

our first hike date took us up the Junjian Yan hiking trail on the Tianmu end. the trail continues over to Beitou [and apparently past an interesting temple] but we just did the short climb to Battleship Rock, otherwise known as Dog's Head Mountain.

for reference: the Tianmu end of the trail can be found by following signs near Yang Ming University [from the Shipai MRT] or by walking up the road in the northwest area of the Taipei Veterans General Hospital on Shipai Road section 2.

we had a beautiful, clear day. the sun was almost blinding but we were up and down in maybe an hour's time. the giant sandstone peak is what is officially "Battleship Rock" - though there's not much resemblance to my eyes. maybe if you look at it from ground level from the east, it looks a bit like a ship that is sinking.... well I guess they have to name these things somehow.

like most of the Taipei hikes I've done, a healthy portion of the trail is just stairs. I like to think of it as nature's thigh master... my legs are getting seriously strong from all the up and down. a little sweat and strength building is good for you. plus fresh air and sunshine. and sweeping 360 views of Tianmu, Beitou, Yangmingshan Park and downtown Taipei.

Battleship Rock was a great beginner's hike. someday I'd like to go back and do the full trail, but I'm happy to know this hike is right in my backyard for an easy mountain fix. 

[yep, I'm addicted. #sorrynotsorry ]
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