Steeped in history: Wuyi Mountain in Fujian

Updated: 2014-06-13
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Covered in greenery, criss-crossed by clear streams, and home to a host of endemic species, the Wuyishan mountains rise out of Fujian province, forming a natural border with Jiangxi to the north.

Of the 70 square kilometres which make up this biodiversity hot spot,100 hectares have Unesco status, owing to their pristine forests, unique culture and an unusual geology which is dominated by rocky pinnacles — think Guilin in red sandstone. Thanks to biweekly direct flights, Wuyishan is now a mere 90-minute hop from Hong Kong.
Drifting down Nine Bend River on a bamboo raft offers dramatic views.
Fancy reclining in a rattan chair, with cool water rippling over your bare feet as you glide downstream on a bamboo raft?

There are certainly worse ways to recover from a day’s hiking.

Meandering through the mountains, Nine Bend River slices through a landscape of deep gorges and pebbly beaches. Floating along the stream with fish finning about beneath the raft, the ride is so serene you’d be lulled to sleep if it wasn’t for the dramatic views. Bring cold beers and snacks.

To step up the pace, visit between June and September and swap your bamboo raft for a rubber dinghy. If you’d rather keep your feet dry, there are other options: wobble your way across Wuyishan’s ropes course, hire tandems in town, or enjoy a round on the 18-hole golf course.
Climbing the steep staircase up to the Heavenly Tour Peak.
With immense rocky pillars towering above subtropical shrubbery, you could kick back and admire Fujian’s luxurious landscapes all day long. But you’d be selling it short if you didn’t explore on two feet.

Pay an entrance fee at the park gates and take your pick of the paved trails which weave between the tea terraces, crisscross the trickling streams and guide you towards plunging waterfalls, cool caves and sacred rocks.

Many of Wuyishan’s 36 peaks are less than 600 metres high, but their sheer faces mean that climbing to the top is still a challenge. Heavenly Tour Peak (Tianyou Feng) is the one everyone wants to climb, thanks to its rock-hewn staircase, dramatic panorama of the neighbouring mountains, and its birds-eye views of the meandering river at its base.

For easy exploration, hire a local guide. Otherwise, find your way using signposts, shuttle buses and tourist maps.
A mule train passes through the Tian Xin Yong Le temple grounds.
Brace yourself for galloping horses, an army of tea pickers and robed dignitaries pirouetting around bamboo poles. Four years ago, filmmakers Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers), Wang Chaoge and Fan Yue joined forces to direct Impression Da Hong Pao — a contemporary interpretation of Wuyishan culture. The 90-minute stage show runs most evenings at the foot of Wuyi Mountain, often to a sell-out audience.
Xiamei, an ancient tea trading centre and water village.
Illuminated rock faces create a natural backdrop for performers while the audience pivots 360 degrees on a rotating stage. Book in advance to guarantee a seat.
Children play in Xiamei.
For a different slant on Wuyi culture, look out for ancient burial caves cut above the mountain streams, or take a taxi to the traditional water village of Xiamei, where pretty bridges criss-cross the river and Ming dynasty dwellings line the banks. A historic tea-marketing hub, Xiamei was once the starting point of an ancient tea road, which led across China all the way to Moscow.
When you smell incense wafting through the bamboo, follow your nose to discover a Taoist temple, an elaborate shrine, or some cushions placed beneath a mountainside for prayer.

A historic hub of neo-Confucianism, Wuyishan has long been revered for its harmonious co-existence of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian beliefs. Creating a colourful religious landscape, more than 300 temples, pretty pavilions, and ruined monasteries hide among the tea bushes, perch on rocky platforms, and decorate the forest floor.
Tian Xin Yong Le temple.
Particularly impressive is Wuyishan Palace — one of the most important Taoist temples of the 10th century. Alongside the area’s ruins and restorations are hundreds of ancient inscriptions engraved into the rock faces by Song dynasty scholars.
Staking its claim as the birthplace of Chinese oolong, tea bushes cover almost every Wuyishan hillside that isn’t drenched in natural vegetation.

Once a year the leaves are handpicked, withered, curled and baked over charcoal in small batches.
Above and below: picking, sorting and brewing Wuyishan’s famed tea.
Said to cure everything from headaches to heart disease, Wuyishan oolong was one of the first Chinese teas exported to Europe in the 17th century.

More than 800 strains have been cultivated here, but Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) is king: the world’s most expensive brew, 50 grams of this can sell for almost HK$17,000.

In Wuyishan, tea is consumed at every opportunity. Enjoy it the traditional way, served using a tiny tea set and a silver tray. And leave space in your suitcase to take a few boxes home.
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