Raccoons on a farm? We were so thrilled by these at Shin Kong Chao Feng Ranch & Resort (新光兆丰休闲农场) which is fully licensed as a zoo. I have never seen white raccoons before.
This leisure farm in Hualien is also Taiwan's largest, at 726 hectares. That's a lot of land, and that's why they can have so many facilities - orchards, flower fields, pastures, dairy farm, zoo, netted butterfly garden, ecological bird park and botanical gardens. It's HUGE!
You will need a buggy to get around! This is fun!
But back to the raccoons that stole our hearts...
God these are so big, fat and adorable. They are also very smart, waving at us in hopes of food (quickly giving up when they sensed we had none). The water moat keeps them from escaping, but they do seem to like pawing around in it.
It isn't just raccoons at this petite zoo. They also have monkeys including this large white macaque which could be albino.
Mother and baby monkey. Well, if the animals are procreating, they must feel safe at the zoo to do so.
Tree sloths - one under the lamp, and another on its lower right. Look at how well they are fed - plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. It's quite an expenditure for the farm.
Baby ostriches carefully quarantined at the age of two months - ostrich chicks are at their most vulnerable up to three months of age because they are prone to breaking their limbs. We were told that if a leg gets broken, the ostrich has no way to heal and will eventually die.
What a beautiful great hornbill. The bird park has over 200 kinds of birds, and the adjacent parrot park breeds over 100 kinds of parrots.
We passed by various other animals like muntjac, deer, camel, vicuna, rabbits, sheep, and horses but it was a quick tour and we didn't have time to explore much as it was getting late (the sun sets early in autumn too).
Along the way, we saw this enigmatic piano prop in the middle of nowhere. Well, usually this area would be blooming with colourful flowers of all types in the earlier seasons, but now the soil is resting.
Just imagine this surrounded by a sea of orchestrated flowers. Yes, it's a popular wedding photography spot.
Soon we reached the dairy farm section. They have 500 heads of dairy cattle here, and most of them look to be the Holstein Friesian variety (the black and white kind we are most familiar with). They have 70 hectares of pasture to graze in - that's a luxury!
The cow patties are used as organic fertiliser for the pasture, orchard and botanical garden. Ah, the cycle of life! Makes them self-sufficient too.
There is a small milking facility. I'm reminded of my visit to Greenfields' integrated dairy facility in Java. This is of course much smaller, but the cows still obediently line up for their turn in the milking queue.
Here are some pregnant cows.
Once they have delivered, they will be ready to give milk.
They are very curious and love to interact with visitors.
And here are some calves born not too long ago. They are separated from their mothers after a few days and given formula. I've been told they thrive better on formula, so the deprivation isn't as bad.
They are also fed pangola grass, which is a dairy cattle favourite. That said, they still would love to chew your backpack or your sleeve if you're not looking.
The farm has so many parks, statues and gardens. We did not see the fruit orchards, but you can pick fruits from October to April. They grow lemon, avocado, banana, grapefruit, kumquat, orange, and many others.
I did see a dinosaur garden populated with almost lifesize statues. Sorry we didn't have time to take photos - these are all snaps from the buggy whizzing around. Aside from decorative gardens, they also have a water plant ecology area, a greenhouse, a desert plant garden and a medicinal plant garden.
The main dining hall called Harvest Festival has aboriginal themed decor.
It's very much a banquet setting inside.
We had quite the feast - steamed fish, golden stirfried prawns, steamed chicken, dong po pork, black chicken soup, more seafood and vegetables, that farmer's "leftover" soup (I forget the name), and dessert (milk pudding and purple dragonfruit, not shown).
There's one more highlight here - the onsite hot spring facilities! A hot soak really makes the tiredness melt away from your marrow. Too bad it's a 45-minute limit for the private baths, so make sure you fill your water up quickly (while you wash up outside the tub) and enjoy.
Time to retire to our lodges. There are about 130 of these in the "Netherlands" village. This exterior shot was taken the next morning as it was already dark when we got in.
I have to say the accommodation looks better on the outside than inside. But at least the room floor and bedlinen are clean. It's cosy and yet has a spacious feel thanks to the high ceilings.
Beds are a little on the hard side, but I've found that to be almost true on all the farmstays. If you keep your doors and screens closed, you shouldn't get any mosquitoes in the room.
Bathrooms look a little dated, but are serviceable.
The toilet is a separate enclosure, so one person does not have to hog both toilet and shower facilities.
There are bigger units that can accommodate even larger families or groups.
It all looks really green and peaceful on the outside. One thing good here is the fresh air.
Breakfast the next day is a buffet spread of Taiwanese and Western favourites. If you get up early enough, you might catch some of the fresh milk from the dairy itself.
The main lobby where you check in and out. This ranch and resort is expectedly popular with families and schools. They are big on eco-tourism too.
This is our "帅哥" nicknamed Xiao Yang - our "handsome" host who is in charge of event marketing. I can't believe the other girls dug out all his personal love life details over dinner.
Anyway, CTC Travel has convenient land packages that include meals and the essential transfers to these leisure farms from major train stations.
3D/2N Land Package (S$368 weekdays; S$428 weekday and weekend; S$488 weekends)
* 2 nights stay in Leisure Farm
* Daily breakfast for two
* 1 lunch and 1 dinner for two
* Return transfers from Hualien Train Station
SHIN KONG CHAO FENG RANCH & RESORT
No.20 Yongfu Street, Linrong Neighborhood,
Fonglin Township, Hualien County,
Tel: +(886) 3-877-2666
Many thanks to CTC Travel and Taiwan Leisure Farm Development Association for the media trip