▲ Only a short 20-minute ferry ride from Moseulpo port, the small island of Gapado offers a serene getaway from the hustle and bustle of Jeju. Photo by Susan Shain
From the aerial photos on display at the ferry terminal, Gapado Island does not look like much – a rocky pancake of an island without a whole lot going on. Though an accurate assessment, this is not a flaw; rather, it’s exactly where Gapado’s charm lies.
Most people pass by Gapado, a tiny island off Jeju’s south coast, on their way to Marado Island, Gapado’s neighbor and Korea’s southernmost point. Others visit Gapado for the Barley Festival, which was held this year in early May. But visiting Gapado at other times is a relaxed and authentic way to experience the island and its 200 or so residents.
The journey to Gapado begins with a pleasant 20-minute ferry ride from Moseulpo port. Stepping off the ferry feels almost like stepping back in time, with no buses and few cars to distract you.
Once on the island, there are no tourist attractions; more likely, it will be you that is the attraction. As a non-Korean, I was pointed and stared at more than usual and at one point was even ambushed and followed by a man who jumped out of a car and started frantically snapping photos of me.
The entire island offers unique and beautiful views of Jeju and Mt. Sanbang. The best way to spend your time is to walk the lovely five-kilometer Olle trail. If you don’t feel like walking, bike rentals are available for a very affordable 3,000 won per day. Ask at the the building with the bathrooms closest to the ferry dock.
The shortest of the Olle bunch, Gapado’s trail meanders around the island’s perimeter and takes only about an hour to complete. It winds along the stunning shore, where jagged black rocks jut in striking contrast to the azure water. Piles of prayer rocks, burial mounds smothered in wildflowers, and carefully arranged stone fences provide endless photo opportunities. Even the buildings add to the island’s charm, as many of the colorful houses are covered in vines, and many of the walls have brightly colored murals depicting island life.
One of the highlights of my visit was the abundant barley fields. I had heard of amber waves of grain before but never experienced anything like this. Though more green than amber, the shimmering fields have a magical quality that is impossible to capture with a photograph. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.
▲ Above, a barley field sways gently in the wind. Photos by Susan Shain
There are a variety of small eateries clustered around the two ports. We received exuberant service at a restaurant whose specialty is kalguksu – homemade “knife-cut” wheat noodles in a flavorful broth. Their 7,000 won version featured kelp and orange sea urchins and was tasty and satisfying. The restaurant is accessible by turning right and walking up the hill for about five minutes from the dock. It is on the edge of the Olle trail before an expanse of barley fields.
A thorough exploration of the island will not take more than a few hours and would be best on a sunny day, as its atmosphere is perfect for strolling, taking photos, and simply letting the salty breeze blow across your face.
To visit Gapado, take any bus headed to Moseulpo. Walk five minutes to the port and purchase a ticket at the ferry office (8,000 - 10,000 won round-trip, depending on the day). Ferries usually leave at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m., returning at 9:20 a.m., 12 p.m., 2:20 p.m, and 5 p.m., but the schedule varies according to day and weather, so be sure to ask at the ferry office before departing, or call 064-795-3500 ahead of time (Korean only).
▲ Above, a bowl of kalguksu, homemade wheat noodles in broth, offered by one of the island’s restaurants. Right, prayer rocks along Gapado’s Olle trail. Photos by Susan Shain
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