Friday, April 20, 2012

Jaunt to Jeju Island

Bob had a board of directors meeting scheduled to take place at Jeju the middle of April, which is reputed as the Korean "Hawaiian" Island, so I tagged along.  The island is an Asian "honeymoon" spot and is being touted as the potential home of one of the new "7 Natural Wonders of the World".  (Jeju)  Unfortunately, Korea has had a late spring this year, so we were there just before the island would put on her spring colors, but we found beauty there anyway.  Jeju is off the southern coast of Korea and the gorgeous blue water surrounding the coast made me long for summer!  We arrived at the airport early in the afternoon, rented a car, and set off on an adventure.  I was fortunate on the plane ride to sit next to a native of the island who is currently a Tourism Professor at a University there!  He gave us some great travel tips which proved to be worthwhile.  We took his advice and went to "Jeju Stone Park".  I think we were the first to arrive and wondered around almost by ourselves through the impressive museum and rock gardens.  I kept thinking that Michael would love this place, because it featured a lot of geology and explained the volcanic formation of the island and the nature of the rocks, hills, and coastline we would eventually see.  I really enjoyed this place, and could not capture the magnitude of what we saw as we roamed through acres of stone formations.

Inside, the museum had some beautiful displays of natural rock formations.  Many made me chuckle as I silently named them after people I know.  The "Grandmother" rock reminded me of a wooden craft sculpture I used to make with the scroll saw.  (Thanks to my sister-in-law, Pam!)

Outside was quite impressive.  There were three "courses" to walk through and enjoy.  Anciently Koreans had tens of thousands of "Gods".  The were superstitious and placed rock formations at key places around their homes to ward off negative aura.  The also crafted ancestor rocks to provide companionship and to honor their dead. 

This was the first of many places we would find the famous Jeju Island "Grandfather" sculpture made of local volcanic rock and with miniatures selling for a premium! Legend has it that by rubbing his nose, your will be blessed with fertility and will bear a son.  (Ooowww, now I get it!)

It was a chilly and extremely windy afternoon, but we wanted to make the best of it.  My next goal was to drive to Seongsan Ilchulbong Toff Cone (commonly called "Sunrise Peak") so that we could hike to the brim to watch the sunset.  It is the photo icon most associated with Jeju - a crater that was formed when a volcano erupted under the ocean.  The cone has a large basin at the top which was just starting to turn green.  We did catch the sunset as we left the mount.

Our initial plan was to spend the next day hiking Mount Halla, the highest mountain in South Korea. There is a lake filled crater at the top which is surrounded by about 40 oreums (secondary volcanic cones).  However, with the still winter like scenery and snow on the mount, we decided instead to enjoy the lower outreaches of the island.  Our first stop was Hallim park.  It boasts eight theme parks in one, with lava caves, a folk village, animals, water gardens, stone and bonsai gardens and more.  It was designed for the tourist, and we certainly fit the part.

 As we drove around the west coast we stopped to take in some of the beautiful sights including a shimmering white sand beach framed with black lava rock and honoring the haenyeo (women divers collecting sea food) of Jeju, a lush green tea garden, historical sites and small islets in the sea.

 Can this lovely island turn out to be any more stunning? . . .

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