Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jeju See That?

Wherever I went in South Korea people never neglected to recommend that I should visit Jeju. "Very pretty." "Sandy beaches." "Delicious oranges." "Good weather." Indeed, Jeju island is South Korea's Hawaii. As well as being the main holiday destination for locals it is also a volcanic island and is home to south Korea's highest peak, Hallasan, a dormant volcano. In fact the whole island is basically the mountain, whose main cone rises up in the very centre of the island and can be seen from everywhere (theoretically at least, although the peak is usually shrouded in mist). What makes it unique though, at least for geology geeks, is the numerous so-called "parasitic cones" (oreum in the native dialect) of which there are over 350 scattered around the island. Many are easily overlooked, but others form clusters of craters that pop unexpectedly out of the surrounding farmland and look distinctly otherworldly. Add to this some funky, hexagonal basalt blocks that spill into the sea and lava tubes that look like dragons' lairs and you have all the ingredients for a volcanic geologist's wet dream.

View of some oreum peeking out of the mist on the way up Hallasan.

Of course I had to bag Hallasan as it is South Korea's highest mountain, and at 1950m with a nice, well-maintained path to the top it's a straightforward walk. Though that doesn't stop older Koreans from making a meal of it with their hiking sticks and all weather gear. It was amusing to see how the sticks were more of a hindrance than a help as they often got caught in cracks and poked into their co-climbers. And whilst the slog up along the main trail was rather unspectacular as it passed through low, brushy forest, with plenty of mist, the descent along a less popular, but more open, trail afforded vistas of the entire island and forests in their autumn finery as the clouds were burned away with the strengthening sun.

Autumnal colours on the descent from Hallasan.

To keep the many Korean holidaymakers who are not into hiking happy Jeju is also crammed full of assorted museums, some are about aspects of the island's culture but many have no connection whatsoever to the island. So there's a citrus museum and one dedicated to local rock carvings as well as a paper doll museum, teddy bear museum and even a chocolate museum. Some museums seem so popular that there are three of them, so the island boasts three peace museums, three folklore museums and even, for some strange reason I cannot begin to fathom, three sex museums (unlike their Japanese neighbours, the Koreans are rather prudish when it comes to sex).

The oranges (possibly tangerines/clementines/satsumas/mandarines or other similar agrume) for which Jeju is famous in South Korea (so of course there is a museum dedicated to them too).

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