▲ A meandering path leads walkers through the shady grove of centuries old nutmeg trees in Jeju’s Bijarim forest. It is just one of many forest walks available on the island better known for mountains and beaches. Photo by Brian Miller
With so much to see and do on this island, the places that often get overlooked are sometimes the ones worth going to check out most. While most people head to the beach for summer relief, others seek the shade of one of Jeju’s protected forests.
Jeolmul Recreational Forest, Seogwipo Natural Recreation Forest and Bijarim Forest, known for its nutmeg trees, are three excellent woodland destinations.
▲ Walkers in Jeolmul Forest can choose from wooden or rubber paths, or the healthful raised stone paths, intended to perform acupressure while you walk. Photos courtesy Jeolmul Recreational Forest
Jeolmul combines natural, man-made forests Jeolmul Recreational Forest is comprised of both a naturally formed forest and an artificially created one. With approximately 500 acres of artificial forest and 250 acres of natural forest, it serves as an alternative attraction to Hallsan.
By offering another location for hiking and exploring nature, Jeolmul Forest provides a recreational outdoor facility capable of accommodating families and large groups and also helps to prevent further environmental damage to Hallasan from overuse.
Almost entirely composed of Japanese cedar and black pine trees, most of which were planted in the early 1970s, Jeolmul is a very dense forest.
Japanese cedar and black pine trees dominate the artificially created forest while the natural forest is formed by various species of deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in autumn. Known as a fast-growing tree, the Japanese cedar was initially planted for the protection of tangerine and orange crops against the harsh winds of Jeju, but now serves only for recreational and nature-learning purposes, creating a relaxing atmosphere for visitors.
The Japanese Black Pine is also known for its ability to resist the sea winds, and is often referred to as the “sea pine.” Aptly named “black pine” after its dark bark color, it possesses tough leaves as well as a unique grey-white color to its winter buds, instead of the normally produced red of other pine species.
Jeolmul, named after an old story that tells of mul (water) being found near a Jeol (temple), has a diverse selection of facilities suited for everyone's needs, including camping sites and decks with cooking facilities, an exercise and children's play park, a hiking path along the 2,133 foot Jeolmul oreum, a folkloric play area and even a shitake mushroom cultivating site. It makes for a great getaway for couples and families alike.
▲ Seogwipo Forest, on the slopes of Hallasan, features platforms and shelters for resting and picnicking, which help to prevent environmental impact from visitors. Photo courtesy Seogwipo City Hall
Seogwipo Forest offers overnight accommodations Located just a few kilometers away from the base of the Yeong-shil trail of Hallasan, Seogwipo Natural Recreation Forest is a year-round facility made convenient for everyone from the one-day visitor to the family outing to large group accommodation. With access to camping sites, decks and even a forest recreational hall with a pension, it has more than enough room for those looking to stay a night or more.
With so much forest and an ecology pond near the entrance to the hiking trail, Seogwipo Forest aims to maintain a natural habitat for animal and plant life. It's not unlikely to spot several species of amphibians near the ponds or even see a deer on your walk along the trails through the woods.
There is easy access to an outdoor seminar hall suitable for large group meetings, a healthy Acupressure trail, more than a mile of eco-tourism and health hiking trail, a volleyball court and sport facilities, a shitake mushroom plantation and even a great view of Hallasan from atop the 2,500 foot Bubjungak Oreum.
Bijarim, the “nutmeg” forest While Jeolmul Recreational Forest and Seogwipo Natural Recreational Forest both reside along the base of Hallasan, Bijarim is situated closer to the outer rim of the island and consists of many prized nutmeg trees covering an area of more than 100 acres. Although somewhat harder to get to than Seogwipo or Jeolmul forest, Bijarim is quite a different experience in both plant life and atmosphere.
The forest is home to more than 2,500 nutmeg trees and is possibly the best example of a densely preserved nutmeg grove on the planet. With most of the trees over the age of 300, and some as old as 800, the forest is among the largest and one of the few natural nutmeg groves in the world.
At the center of the forest grows the "New Millenium Nutmeg," a tree over 800 years old, approximately 82 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter. It is known as the ancestor of the Bija (nutmeg) trees and is respected and admired by local residents for it being not only the oldest nutmeg in Korea, but the oldest tree among evergreens on Jeju.
Most of the trees that inhabit the forest are 20 to 50 feet tall, and 2 to 5 feet in diameter. The oil taken from the Bija tree blossoms were used in the past as a natural insecticide while the seeds were used for medicinal purposes such as regulating cholesterol and kidney functions as well as reducing back pain and coughing, strengthening the digestion system and lungs.
The Bijarim Forest was designated as a natural monument in attempts to preserve it for future generations. As recently as 2006, more than 150 people within Korea have become "sisters" of nutmeg trees in an effort to raise awareness about this significant and unique forest. These "sister" trees are indicated throughout the forest with name tags.
Jeolmul, Seogwipo and Bijarim forests present a triad of opportunities to enjoy a different look at the many faces of nature on Jeju.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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