How will this Korean hit tourism product turn into a long-lasting legacy and become Jeju’s prime trail destination?
From a foreigner’s point of view, I thought about these questions and many others during 28 hiking days (and two additional rest days) when completing an Olle thru-hike. I wanted to separate all the talk and experience it firsthand on the ground, all on foot, with the use of an occasional ferry ride to reach the smaller island courses.
While the 24 segments of trails totals 394.9 kilometers, there is plenty of bonus walking because of backtracking, visiting worthwhile off-course sites, connecting back to the next numbered course after a spur trail terminates, and finding places that are necessary for writing and maintaining hygiene with a budget of much less than 1 million won.
I wrote near-daily reports for The Jeju Weekly’s “Hike Jeju” — Part 1 of a 3-part project to detail the island’s public, navigable trails, and jotted down GPS coordinates for inclusion into the paper’s online map. I walked and encountered the hidden places and people wedged along, on and off the trails, coming out of the woodwork.
After consuming liquids, snapping digital pictures, handling a GPS device, taking notes, visiting saunas, tangs (small shower rooms) and beaches, melting in various Internet café chairs, and sleeping (to maintain an outdoors connection) wherever fit — which would probably be considered unfit for most Korean Olle users — this is what I found.
Olle has a substantive variety of everything. If a hiker can name it, it is here, including the scenery, locals, and footpaths.
The scenery is gorgeous at turns, downright depressing at others, and often boundless at tiring moments. The painting’s forever embossed into memory. It presents an in-focus view of the real Jeju from desolate stretches of dry farmland to urban waterfalls back to cactuses. View a power plant one moment and awaken a roe deer the next.
The locals are similarly various. Some Olle trails open up to the backroads interior, revealing innocent farmers, scrupulous local business owners, a land where no police are present. Contrast that to the edgy, city courses, where some locals turn away from their rural brothers’ and sisters’ ideals.
The paths are tricky, which is a great thing. Completing only one Olle course a day is highly recommended because footing is too strenuous. It ranges from deep sand, hot asphalt, dry concrete, packed dirt, slippery boulders, cropped farmland, dewy grass, chest-high greenery, sea walls, wood planks, steep stairs, and so much more.
Finally, Olle is a perfect fit for Koreans. It does allow for the healing, love, and peace those born in this hurried land may yearn for today. The blend of perfectly placed cafes, guesthouses, food stalls, temples, churches, and small resting places bring out the best for a Korean consumer.
To balance the positives, Olle is a tough walk for a non-Korean speaker. Having to completely give up a language will make it hard for Olle to attract international users, as English is sparsely displayed throughout the courses and not a passable second language by the locals along the trail.
All other possible drawbacks include wanton litter, seashore waste, and spots of less-than-satisfactory bathroom cleanliness. Also, general maintenance is sparse due to the lack of a decent budget to make necessary repairs. Last, following the trails’ selective markers are tough for even a knowledgeable, trail-beaten hiker.
▲ Photo by Steve Oberhauser
Olle is very young. Started in 2007 by founder Suh Myung Sook, its potential is almost limitless for Jeju’s tourism sector, probably the most important area as the island delves through the years.
Having previously interviewed Olle officials at their main office and understanding their shoestring budget, money has to be supplied for improvements in some form, whether by way of government or foundation or sponsorship, at the same time, garnering support from those people where the courses pass. To not continually improve the courses year in and year out would be a crime.
Meanwhile, creativity has to be examined. What is hot one year in Korea, often is not the next. Olle must find a way to keep their positive momentum — by way of their blue and orange wooden arrows, ribbons, painted arrows, and ganse (image of the Jeju pony) markers — moving forward. In addition, creativity is further important as the possibility of creating more non-Olle related trails on Jeju might dilute the organization's influence.
The Best Picks
The only parity with the Olle courses is found in the top three selections. Out of 50 points possible (view all 24 in-depth, course ratings online), places 1, 2, and 3 are nearly interchangeable.
Course No. 14-1 (49.5 points) was chosen as the best overall course, being the best rural and natural path. In the shadows of Jeoji Oreum at the onset, the long stretches running through Gotjawal have clean and pristine stamped all over it.
A close second, Course No. 6 covers Seogwipo’s urban landscape and earned 49 points. Three waterfalls, two oreum, the Lee Joong Seop museum, the everyday market, and more solidify this as the most frequently walked Olle part.
Third, Chujado’s Course No. 18-1 is brilliant and by far the best island path. The long and often arduous ferry ride to Jeju’s remotest island is worth the expense to spend even more energy hiking. It received 48.5 points.
After these three, anything is possible on the trails. For example, the lowest-ranked course plummets with a 30.0-point tally.
Of special note, the most desirable two-day, two-course consecutive hike would be Nos. 9 and 10, approaching Andeok Valley, through Hwasun Beach around Jeju’s southwestern corner ending at Moseulpo Harbor, for an added option of a trip to Gapado (Course No. 10-1) to complete its five-kilometer stroll.
And last, the greatest three-day, three-course consecutive hike is Course Nos. 1, 2, and 3 starting at Siheung (inland west of Seongsan) and concluding at Pyoseon Beach for a 49.6-kilometer stretch. The added option here is Udo’s Course No. 1-1.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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