Why You Won't Be Able To Visit This Iconic Tourist Destination In Taiwan Ever Again

For travelers in the underrated destination of Taiwan, the end of 2023 brought some bad news, as the popular Elephant Trunk Rock lost its trunk and, indeed, its whole face. For years, tourists flocked to the Shen'ao area in New Taipei City to see this rock arch extending from the side of a coastal cliff down into the sea. The natural process of erosion helped the sandstone formation live up to its name, giving it the appearance of an elephant's head, with the hint of a mouth, an elongated trunk, and even one big ear flap. Exposure to seawater, waves, and wind took its toll, however, and on December 15, 2023, the elephant-shaped part of the rock finally collapsed and was lost to the sea.

Now Elephant Trunk Rock lives only in pictures, like a temporary art installation delivered, then dismantled, by Mother Nature. The place inspired an endless Instagram reel, from selfies to pics of couples posing against the backdrop of the rock. People even used to climb out on the rock — dotting the elephant's head with ant-sized human figures — but in more recent photos, a different picture had begun to emerge. You could see the edge of the cliff roped off, with signs posted around it, stating "No Crossing" and "Dangerous Sea Area. No Entry." It wasn't possible to get up close and look over the edge anymore, and it turns out there was a very good reason for that since the rocks were about to give way.

The short-lived ride of Elephant Trunk Rock

Elephant Trunk Rock's previous appearance wasn't just some weak case of pareidolia, the phenomenon whereby people tend to perceive familiar shapes and images like religious icons in everything from breakfast toast to clouds overhead. As visitors to Australia's Skull Rock can maybe attest, you need your imagination sometimes to see the faces in certain rocks. With Taiwan's Elephant Trunk Rock, however, the resemblance was as striking as that of New Zealand's Elephant Rock, which similarly collapsed due to erosion, sweeping out to sea in 2016.

Despite its popularity and the centuries-old geological processes that formed it, Elephant Trunk Rock only enjoyed a short run as a climbing spot. Until 2000, the rock was inaccessible to the public due to its proximity to a local military base. It was blocked off again in 2020 to prevent further climbing. Since then, it's mostly been seen at a safe distance from the opposite cliffside.

Shen'ao and the former site of Elephant Trunk Rock are located in the Ruifang District on Taiwan's northern coast. Further up the coast, about a 40-minute car ride away, is Queen's Head, another interesting mushroom rock formation that's said to resemble Queen Elizabeth from the neck up. Local officials hope to reinforce it and preserve it as a landmark since it's also been losing mass, but the fate of Elephant Trunk Rock serves as a reminder that you might want to see places like this while you can.

What to do in Shen'ao instead

In place of Elephant Trunk Rock, the Ruifang District Office recommends that tourists visit the nearby Shen'ao Fishing Port and El Capitan Outer Reef in New Taipei City. In the port, you can dine on fresh seafood at restaurants like Youxin Seafood, or you can charter a boat and try your hand at fishing. Through Klook, you can also reserve a 90-minute SUP (standup paddleboarding) experience where you'll get to see the sunrise over Shen'ao Bay.

The sea-to-sky trail is a good place to enjoy a sunset walk along the water, punctuated by the sight of cute calamari installations and the evening lights illuminating the port. Calamari rice noodles are a local specialty, as is white hairtail fish. From the trail, it's only a 10-minute walk to the Shen'ao Rail Bike, where you can book an online reservation for a ride aboard a big, two-seat blowfish bike. The railway was once used to transport coal, but now it offers a scenic, 30-minute ride back and forth between Shen'ao Station and Badouzi Station. Along the way, you'll pass through a beautiful light sculpture tunnel.

Shen'ao wasn't the only game in town for elephant-shaped rocks, though anyone who's still dead set on seeing one of those may have to book a flight elsewhere. Places like Iceland and Sardinia have their own versions, while Thailand has been known to have live elephants give massages with their feet (for when your back's as hard as a rock).