I love maps. When I was 13, I asked for a ridiculously large atlas for my Bar Mitzvah, instead of a bike or Nintendo 64, like most other boys would. Now I spend countless hours pouring over satellite images identifying points of interest, drawing lines for possible routes to them, and then attempting to visit them later. If I was able to get to the identified points, and there was indeed something interesting there, such as a waterfall or lake, then I plot the coordinates, draw hiking maps to them, and share what I've learned with the world. That's how I discovered most of the places that I've published on this website. (
I'm always looking for new satellite photos and new maps that can help me in my quest. Therefore got quite excited when Fitness-Tracker Strava's Heat Map started circulating in the news for allegedly revealing secret places. Over the weekend it was discovered that the map apparently shows the locations of US military bases around the world. This phenomenon seems to have affected Taiwan as well, but this is not the kind of hard-to-get information that I am looking for. What this map also shows, is the hiking and river tracing routes of millions of explorers around the world.
There is a limitation to mapped data. Trails only show up on maps if they are significant enough for the mappers to notice them. Unnamed places won't be added because mapped items need names, and maps need to constantly updated because the mountains and rivers are always changing.
Hike maps might not be up to date, the trails on them might not exist anymore. Strava's map is different though. This data is from real human movements, and it's recent. We can study this data and find new hiking trails and points of interest what we didn't know of before. Unofficial trails that don't make it onto official maps. We can use this new information to plan our own outdoor trips around the island.
There is so much data here that it could take months to analyze, but from just a quick glance, here are a few tracks that caught my eyes:
The first thing I noticed is that there are many ways to cross Taiwan. Between the Central Southern Cross highways there are no roads, yet we see many lines going east to west. This confirms that these hiking routes aren't just lines on your trail map, people are actually using them.
That the Southern Cross Highway shows up at all is interesting, even though it isn't surprising. Many more tracks appear on the dirt roads through the forest (adventurers circumnavigating the roadblock) than the first section past Meishan (park service and construction workers). Interestingly though, most of these people don't go all the way through to Taitung. Most of the west-side traffic turns around when they reach Yakou tunnel, with a few hikers stopping to go to Guanshan, and some continuing all the way through Nan Yi Duan. On the east side, we can see that Jiaming hu is very popular.
There is even interesting information to be gathered in popular destinations like Kenting. Here we see snorkelers at Nixon Rock. That boat ride you pay for is going to be painfully predictable. And if you want to go snorkeling at Baisha, the coral is on the southern side of the beach. This type of information isn't just useful for traveling in Taiwan, but also for your overseas trips to the Philippines and other snorkeling hot spots.
Some routes are less obvious though. At those amazing cliffs that everyone stops and and wonders how to get down? There is a path on the southern side.
What's up this river in Taitung though? Could there be a nice waterfall there?
And why is everyone swimming here? What makes that place special? Are these the best spots for surfing?
Why did these people go up the river before Hayouxi Hot Spring? Were they hunters? Or is there something up there worth visiting? I have some waterfalls marked up there, could they be visiting those? That seems possible for the more popular first point. But that trip would have taken days. Is there another hot spring?
I don't know, but I'd like to find out. I'm happy to have another tool for finding new secret spots. I'd like to thank everyone who uploaded their tracks for the help. While this is all good fun and games for exploring nature, where public sharing of information benefits everyone. This isn't the case for all fields though. If you work in the military, now may be a good time to check your privacy settings, or maybe uninstall your fitness trackers entirely.
For hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, thank you for sharing. We now know where obscure places to hike, swim, and snorkel almost everywhere in the world. This is an invaluable tool for adventure travel enthusiasts, backpackers, and independent travelers.