Jeju island, the largest island located in right at the end of the Korean Peninsula, was formed approximately 2 million years ago by the eruption of an underwater volcano. This beautiful island is almost in sub-tropical climate and is known for its volcanic landscape of craters and picturesque coastal sceneries, through countless tangerine groves crisscrossed by distinctive stone walls and houses the tallest mountain in South Korea, Mount Hallasan, standing at 1,950 M asl.
The best way to see Jeju Island is to hike the Jeju Olle Trail Network as it affords anybody experiences often missed with the speed a vehicle brings. Jeju Olle Trail is a series of hiking routes that comprises of 27 routes circumference Jeju Island with 437-KM of walks (to date) with various degree of challenge.
By hiking the trails, walkers get to appreciate the many views and cultural variety of the island. The Jeju Olle Trails are easily hiked by following the well-marked signposts. There are Ganse horses, arrows and ribbons to guide you the right way.
Ganse is the name of Jeju’s pony. The word comes from Ganse-dari, meaning slow idler in Jeju. Ganse points toward the direction of the route at a forked road.
Arrows can be seen at intersections, and they are usually on the ground, stonewall and utility poles. Blue arrows are the direction most hikers will follow when hiking from the planned starting points to the finishing points. Whereas orange arrows point in the reverse direction of the trail when hiking from the finishing points to the starting points.
Vibrant blue ribbons representing Jeju ocean and orange ribbons symbolizing Jeju tangerines can be seen visibly and are tied to trees and utility poles. Ribbons are usually hung at a height, above the eye level. So that hikers can find them easily, even from afar, or on a windy day. Similarly, follow the right colour of ribbons depending on which direction of the route you intend to embark on.
There are also Sign-stone at the starting point of each route that provide an overview of the map, elevation, major spots, and toilet locations. Along the routes, there are distance plates that show the remaining distance and total distance of the route from starting point in forward direction.
There are Ganse-shaped stamp stations with signature stamps of each route at the starting points, mid-points, and finishing points of each route. There is a little wooden door at the Ganse heads, and you will find ink stamps to stamp your Olle Passport. These stamps are hikers’ collection of achievement as they walk the routes. Complete all the routes and hikers will receive a finisher’s certificate and a medal.
Jeju Olle Passport is just a size of general passport. It includes stamping pages for each route, notepad, location of information centres and list of local stores with passport benefits. The sales profit of Jeju Olle Passport supports operation of Jeju Olle Foundation for maintaining the Jeju Olle Trail Network.
There is no formula or a system to choose which trails you should embark on because each route has its own unique charms. For first timers, perhaps start off with a trail graded <Easy>.
We took 3 days to walk 3 trails, dedicating a trail to each day on self-guided basis. Our first hike started off with Route 5 located at the southern coast of the island. We took the public bus transportation to Namwon Port which is a large village with good transportation network, shops and eateries. We walked along the coastal road which is one of the most beautiful coastal trails in Korea.
Along the way, we made stops to take pictures, stop by cafes which we can only carefully picked because there are simply too many cafes and each has its own distinctive décor that there are no 2 cafes the same.
On each route, hikers can expect a variety of terrains to walk on. There are paved paths/roads, nature trails, rock paths that are very close to the shores, boardwalks and flights of steps. As Jeju Island is formed from volcanic eruption, there are also many oreum climbs along the routes. Oreums are volcanic cones that now look more like hills.
We often factor in more hours than the recommended walking time as we wanted to walk leisurely and truly appreciate the places we walked to. More often, the trails are simply too captivating that we must halt to take pictures. Not forgetting we need café stops too.
The 2nd trail we chosen was Route 6 which is considered the trail that showcase sampling bits of the Olle Trail network. It goes along the coast and through forested paths before we see urban sights again as we approach Seogwipo City. We walked the seaside while enjoying the panoramic view of the deep blue ocean at the two lighthouse landmarks.
As we enter Seogwipo City, the first highlight is Lee Jung Seop Street – named after Korean genius painter Lee Jung Seop who sought refuge on Jeju Island during the Korean War. Then we continue to the largest traditional market in Seogwipo City, the Maeil Olle Market. You can find many local produces of Jeju Island in this market. Shopping starts!
Finally, we arrived at the Jeju Olle Foundation Headquarter which is also the ending point of Route 6. Do visit the tourist centre to grab some souvenirs to commemorate your olle walks. It is also the largest tourist centre which you can find most of the olle trail souvenirs here. More shopping here!
Our last trail was Route 7. It was also a day that we hiked against the rain or rather, the impending typhoon that stroked 2 days later. It is also our longest trail among the 3 routes. We hiked along the beautiful Oedolgae known for its outstanding scenery of rock spire and its surrounding cliffs. This area was also a filming location of the ever popular 2003 historical Korean Drama – Jewel In The Palace (Dae Jang Geum).
The we continue along Olle hikers' all-time favorite ecology trail - Subong-ro. The trail is built solely by a former Olle Ranger, Mr. Subong Kim. He made walking path with a hand shovel on the path only goats used to walk.
The rugged and wild ‘Dumeonimul- Seogeon-do (island)' route was once un-walkable, but staffs and volunteers of Jeju Olle handpicked stone by stone off the trail and improved it into a new coastal path. This is the most challenging part of the route as we walked on rocky path most of the time and it was very close to the ocean with waves hitting the rocks all the time.
Sadly our hiking vacation was cut short as the typhoon came. Before we even leave Jeju Island, we are already beginning planning when we would return to complete more trails. The thrill satisfaction of collect stamps at the checkpoitns along the routes are simply too addictive. You got to try it to get what I mean!
Not confident on a self-guided hiking trip yet, join us this March on a guided trip - JEJU OLLE TRAILS & HALLASAN departing on 19 March 2023.
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