Jul 5, 2016

China's awe-inspiring natural landscapes

The treasures of China’s natural world are sometimes overlooked in favour of visiting its giant cities with their forests of skyscrapers, buzzing nightlife and super malls.

But the landscapes of Sichuan, Guangxi and Hunan provinces offer immense beauty with spectacular waterfalls, lakes and woodlands showcasing the quieter side of the world’s most populated nation.

And there are plenty of unique hallmarks to discover in a journey into the Chinese countryside. The towering quartz sandstone pillars in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park have inspired awe for centuries, seen at one extreme in many ancient Chinese paintings, and at the other as locations for the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.

Located in Hunan Province, the National Park has many other scenic spots to enjoy beyond the forest of pillars. Discover streams, lakes, waterfalls, caves and rare herbal and medicinal plants, plus 116 species of animals including leopards and monkeys.

In Sichuan Province, the Jiuzhai Valley, also known as Jiuzhaigou or Nine Villages Valley. The nine Tibetan villages are scattered throughout the 240 kilometre valley. It is home to endangered plants and animals including the giant panda, deer and the Sichuan takin, a rare mountain goat found in its dense forests. One hundred and forty different types of birds soar over the jagged alpine peaks of the Tibetan plateau and the area’s stunning signature blue, green and purplish pools. 


Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Among the park’s most scenic and memorable are Swan Lake – named for its visiting swans and ducks – Mirror Lake and Panda Lake, where visitors flock, hoping to spot the black and white endangered bears which are considered lucky in Chinese culture.


Jiuzhai Valley

But the astonishingly picturesque Five Flower Lake - a shallow multi-coloured pool in the Rize Valley – is the undisputed pride of the park. Regarded as being among the world’s most beautiful, the lake’s many different shades of turquoise glisten even more brightly during autumn when the reds and golden hues of the surrounding landscape create a natural kaleidoscope.

Legend has it that the lakes were created after an ancient goddess dropped a mirror that her lover had given her, smashing it into 108 pieces. Scientists say the pristine shallow waters contain calcium carbonate and hydrophytes which explain the many shades of azure.

While the 18-kilometre-long Rize Valley is most famous for the lake system, there are other scenic sites such as caves, waterfalls and the dramatically named Primeval Forest.

There are no restaurants or hotels inside the historic area with a small visitors centre at the entrance, boardwalks and some small viewing platforms the only development. Natural wonders meet miracles of engineering.