When they find out that the island’s name literally means “seven beauties,” would-be visitors to Qimei could be forgiven for thinking the appellation refers to scenic spots. Qimei is, after all, a spectacular place of rocky coves, basalt cliffs, and undulating grasslands.
Qimei (sometimes spelled Chimei or Cimei) is the southernmost link in the chain of islands that comprise Penghu County. Located about 295 kilometers southwest of Taipei, it covers an area of 6.99 square kilometers, making it the fourth-largest of the county’s 90 islands and islets. It has nearly 4,000 permanent residents and one of the highest points of land in the Penghu archipelago (66 meters above sea level).
Throughout its long history – archaeologists believe people have been living here, on and off, for 4,500 years – the island has been known by various names, including Nanyu (“south island,” because of its location in the archipelago) and Dayu (“big island”). During the Qing Dynasty, which ruled Taiwan between 1684 and 1895, Qimei was nicknamed “island of widows” because so many of its menfolk had been lost at sea.
Although “Qimei” was not adopted as the official name of the local-government division until 1949, the story behind this toponym is somewhere around 500 years old. When a group of pirates hell-bent on rape and pillage landed on the island, seven local maidens found themselves cornered by the intruders. Rather than submit to humiliation and probable enslavement, the seven threw themselves down a well. Their willingness to die rather than surrender their chastity was celebrated by subsequent generations, and the place where they died – which is considered their tomb – remains one of the island’s most-visited spots.
These days visitors are no more likely to encounter pirates than they are to meet extraterrestrials, and traveling to Qimei by boat or airplane is safe. The quickest way to get to the island is, of course, to fly. There is usually one flight per day to/from Magong (the administrative, commercial, and population center of the archipelago; flight time 30 minutes), and two per day to/from Kaohsiung (flight time 35 minutes).
The majority of tourists, particularly those who visit during the peak summer months of July and August, reach Qimei by boat. Typically they arrive on pleasure craft that sail from Magong around 9 o’clock in the morning, stopping first at Wangan Island.
These ferry excursions are such a finely developed tourist institution that it is usually possible to buy tickets that include the use of a Vespa-type scooter on both Wangan and Qimei, or if you would rather not trouble yourself with matters of parking and navigation, you can purchase tickets that include bus tours around both islands. Those weighing the former option should know there is hardly any traffic on Qimei, the roads are well maintained, and getting lost is pretty difficult.
The tours allow visitors around two hours to explore Wangan and a similar amount of time on Qimei, and are back in Magong for dinner. Prices vary depending on the exact itinerary (some routes include Tongpan and/or Hujing islands), but are seldom more than NT$1,000 per person for the roundtrip. Tickets can be bought through local hotels or at dockside.
If you enjoy sea voyages and Qimei is your main destination, consider taking one of the ferries that link the island with Kaohsiung. These do not operate daily, but usually sail on or just before the weekend.
When seeking information about travel options to/from Qimei and within Penghu County, a good place to start is the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765. This number is toll free if you are calling from within Taiwan. If your question cannot be answered right away, they will call you back after doing some research, typically within half an hour.
Whether you overnight on Qimei or zip around as part of a multi-island day-tour, there are a number of attractions you should try to visit.
One is “Wife Waiting for Husband Rock,” also known as “Waiting- Husband Reef.” At some time in the distant past, legend has it, a couple devoted to each other lived near the tomb of the seven maidens. The husband would go out fishing early every day, and each evening his pregnant wife would go down to the seashore to wait for his return. But one day, while she was waiting, a fierce storm suddenly blew in. Fearing for her husband, the woman stayed outside, but in vain. The following day she moved to a different vantage point to better scan the horizon for returning boats. On the third day, she succumbed to her hopelessness. But, it is said, her devotion was noted by the gods and spirits that see everything in this world, and as the years passed the rock took on the shape of a supine pregnant woman.
Another popular attraction is “Little Taiwan,” which is not an island like Taiwan proper, but rather a peninsula on Qimei’s east coast. In its overall shape, it certainly resembles Taiwan, though this rocky platform is quite flat, whereas Taiwan is one of the world’s most mountainous islands.
Probably the best known and most photographed coastal feature is man-made. The “Double-Hearted Weir” was actually built using chunks of coral and basalt to trap fish, which swim in when the tide is high but cannot escape when it ebbs. Tourists come to admire its alluring shape, however, not to see it in action. It is far from unique, but of the 500-odd fish-catching weirs in Penghu County, it is one of the largest and certainly the most elegant.
When sightseeing on Qimei (or anywhere on the archipelago, for that matter), be sure to bring a hat, parasol, and/or sunblock. The island is blessed with a sunny climate and clear skies. Trees and buildings are few and far between; when trying to get that postcard-perfect shot of the “Double-Hearted Weir,” you are likely to find yourself far from any shade.
Many of Qimei’s accommodation and eating options are in the southwestern part of the island, around Nanhu Port. During the summer, booking your hotel or homestay well in advance is advisable. When it comes to deciding where to eat, the website of the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration is a useful resource, listing details of 70-odd dining establishments, among them ice cream specialists, seafood restaurants, and coffee shops.