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Walkers on the 11th trail of “Jeju Olle” can see large fields in front of them, Mt. Sambang in the middle, and snow-capped Mt. Halla as a background. / Courtesy of Jeju Olle

‘Olle’: Where You Can Taste Jeju’s True Character

By Kim Rahn
Staff Reporter

Jeju Island has long been a vacation destination for Koreans. The resort island, with its subtropical climate and warm seawater, along with its flora, marine fauna and living culture, makes it an exotic destination for mainlanders.

Along with its decades-long popularity, however, there have also been calls for changes to familiar attractions on the island and the development of new ones.

The island’s local authority and tourism-related industries have moved to renew its tourist attractions, as well as adopt new types of tourism such as medical travel.

Two such efforts have come to fruition in recent years. Jeju and its lava tubes were designated as a World Natural Heritage site, and trekking courses named “olle” were developed and are drawing nature-lovers to the island. The island is also working on a project to create a medical tourism town.

Natural Heritage

“Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes” was designated as a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO in June 2007 ― the first and only one of its kind in Korea.

The island was produced by volcanic activity from about two million years ago. It has various types of volcanic topography, and has been dubbed a “volcano museum.” Mt. Halla stands 1,950 meters above sea level at the center of the island; 368 volcanic cones, called “oreum” in Jeju dialect, are scattered all over the island; and tuff rings and tuff cones produced by explosive hydro-volcanic activity are also found on the island.

Among the landforms, Mt. Halla Natural Reserve, Geomunoreum Lava Tube System, and Seongsan Ilchungbong (Sunrise Peak) Tuff Cone were all accepted at UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention.

Mt. Halla, Korea’s Natural Monument No. 182, is the centerpiece of the landscape of Jeju. South Korea’s highest peak and a symbol of Jeju Island, the mountain features unique landscape with some 40 oreum on it.

On top of the mountain is a crater lake called Baengnokdam, meaning white deer. Legends say that Taoist hermits in the mountain played in the water with white deer, or they drank liquor made from white deer antlers.

On the southwestern mountainside is a group of oddly-shaped rocks, called Yeongsilgiam.

The Geomunoreum Lava Tube System refers to a series of lava tube caves. The lava from Geomunoreum near Jeju City flowed in a northeast direction down to the coastline for about 13 kilometers. It was formed between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago.

The system includes Geomunoreum and five caves ― Bengduigul, Manjanggul, Gimnyeonggul, Yongcheondonggul and Dangcheomuldonggul. Only Manjanggul is open to public.

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Natural Monument No. 420, is a typical tuff cone formed by hydro-volcanism about 5,000 years ago. The 180-meter-high peak has a 600-meter wide crater, with the bottom of the crater being 90 meters above sea level.

Standing like a castle on the eastern coast of Jeju Island, Seongsan Ilchulbong exposes the inner structural and sedimentological characteristics of a tuff cone, which gives it high geological value.

Watching the sun rise from the top of the cone is one of the most popular activities for tourists on Jeju.

Would You Come?

Although Jeju has long been a popular travel destination, the island still has some gems hidden away from the major attractions. Beautiful places can be found in every nook and corner, some of which are only accessible on foot.

Along with the boom of trekking, well-being and slow life, hiking on the “Jeju Olle” is becoming a new fashionable activity on Jeju. The trail has been called Korea’s Camino de Santiago, the 800-kilometer pilgrimage from France to Spain.

“Olle” in the Jeju dialect means a narrow pathway connected from street to the front gate of a house. It is also homonym for “Would you come?” in Korean, so Jeju Olle has taken the meaning of “Would you come to Jeju?”

Thanks to a former journalist’s initiative, walking-lovers have developed hiking trails by finding hidden roads of the island, restoring old paths, and searching for lanes where cars cannot access.

There are 12 olle trails on the southern parts of the island, which are a combined 200 kilometers long. It takes between three to six hours on average to complete a single trail.

The route from Siheung Elementary School to Gwangchigi Beach was the first olle trail opened. Walkers can see both oreums and the sea on the route, which passes by Malmi Oreum, Al Oreum, Seongsan Ilchulbong, and offers views of Udo Island to the east of Jeju and many picturesque farms.

The sixth olle, from Soesokkak estuary to Oedolgae Rock shows both coastal scenery and Seogwipo city. On the 11th course, travelers will encounter sites important in modern and contemporary history ― Alturu air field where Japan assembled the largest number of Korean workers during the World War II; Seodal Oreum, the site of massacre of civilians in 1950; and Moseulbong peak where Jeju’s largest cemetery is located.

The olle trail exploration team emphasizes that the routes are meant to be enjoyed slowly, for relaxation of the body and soul in nature.

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