|Jusangjeoli Cliff and a stretch of the southern coast of Jeju Island seen from the Jeju Olle course 8. |
(Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)
This is the last installment in an 11-part series that introduces some of the best walking trails in Korea. Based on each trail’s popularity and the recommendations of travel experts and the Culture Ministry, The Korea Herald selected the 10 best places for walking and hiking. The series received funding from the Korea Press Foundation. ― Ed.
Jeju Olle trail is the first walking trail in Korea developed and built by a journalist-turned-walking enthusiast Seo Myeong-suk. The opening of the first trail in 2007 trigged a nationwide walking boom, inspiring other provinces to create their own trails, even borrowing the name “Olle,” a word in Jeju local dialect meaning a narrow alley leading from a house to a main street.
Since Seo Myeong-suk started designing and developing some of the beautiful, hidden trails on Jeju Island in 2007, the Jeju Olle has now opened a total of 21 trails that follow the island’s beautiful coastline, go up and down small volcanic hills and take hikers through local villages.
The trails are well-built, clean and easy to walk as they are under constant care by the Jeju government and trail caretakers.
Of the many trails, courses 7 and 8 are two of the trails most frequently visited by tourists and novice walkers. They are well-known for having diverse features of the beautiful Jeju Island landscape that range from towering cliffs, rocky shores and sandy beaches to small ports and local residents’ front doors.
|Hikers walk up the wooden stairs built along Jeju Olle course 7. (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)|
“Course 7 has the reputation of being the prettiest path of the Olle trails. It has the least artificial road built with asphalt or cement. The scenes looking on the cliffs are just breathtaking,” said Kim Mi-sun, voluntary caretaker of trail 7 who runs a small café at the start of the trail.
Each course has a caretaker, who maintains the trail by making sure ribbons indicating directions are tied, assisting visitors with directions and cleaning. The ribbons and signs help walkers not get lost along the course.
Course 7 starts at a narrow seaside trail that overlooks Oedolgae Rock. The site attracts hundreds of tourists as it was featured in the popular 2003 TV series “Daejangguem.” A big picture of actress Lee Young-ae, who played the main role in the drama, is placed on the trail, serving as a photo spot for tourists.
Following the well-maintained wooden trail, one faces a challenging walk called “dombaenang-gil” along the rocky shoreline that features Jeju Island’s unique formations of volcanic basalt rocks.
Pristine nature on course 7 starts to show signs of human activity in Gangjeong. The once-small scenic village has now turned into the stage for demonstrations against the decision to construct a new naval base there.
The long-standing dispute, which emerged as a hot political issue last year, has not receded yet as religious groups, progressive political parties and NGO activists still hold a sit-in near the construction site.
Although the naval base shows signs of partial completion, yellow flags, a sign of protest, hang at every other house in the village.
Kang Chung-sea, a photographer who has been capturing scenes of Jeju Olle walking trail, explained that the protest has to do with the Jeju Island natives’ insular character that resists outside influence.
“You can guess from the slang they use for calling people from the mainland spoken with a lowly and inferior connotation. By nature, they oppose the forces coming from the mainland, including the central Korean government’s decision to build the naval base,” said Kang.
The people of Jeju may still harbor the psychological trauma of watching their neighbors and family members being killed in the April 3, 1948 massacre, which sought to suppress an uprising by Jeju-based progressive activists against the central government.
Course 8 is one of the longest courses on the Jeju Olle trail, stretching 19.2 kilometers along the southern coast. But, it’s an easily accessible route because it goes through the Jungmun Tourism Complex, a cluster of popular hotels and resorts. The course shares some parts of its path with the hotel promenades at Hyatt Regency Jeju and The Shilla Jeju.
Course 8 offers a stretch of rough, rocky beaches, offering the most pristine sea view of Jeju Island. The best sea view can be seen at Jusangjeoli cliff, one of the most famous tourist destinations. The cliff has a unique volcanic rock formation with rock pillars shaped like cubes or hexagons.
To get a glimpse of the diverse Jeju landscapes, a stop at the photo stand at the entrance of Jusangjeoli cliff, run by local photographer Koh Seung-chan, is recommended. He displays and sells his breathtakingly impressive works in prints and postcards featuring Jeju’s diverse landscape.
According to Koh, some pictures like Hallasan Mountain with snow on the peak and yellow canola flowers in a field under a clear blue sky were moments that come only once every few years.
The path called “The Marine Corps Trail” from Hyatt Regency Jeju to Nonjitmul is notorious as one is required to hike the 2-km rocky shore. But the trail is currently closed after a severe typhoon a couple years ago destroyed the path built by the Marine Corps.
It has been substituted by a 6.3-km trail that circles the eco-village Yerae-dong.
Course 8 includes a natural spring swimming pool, which is one of the unique geological features of the island, at Nonjitmul. The freshwater swimming pool, located just above the seashore, is a result of the spring water rising to the ground surface from rainfall.
“It’s really nice to take a bath while walking on the Olle trail in summer,” said Kang.
Jeju Olle walking trail courses 7 and 8 can be reached by airport limousine bus number 600 from the Jeju International Airport. Restaurants, small supermarkets and restrooms are seen along the streets.
By Lee Woo-young (firstname.lastname@example.org