▲ The small island boasts surprisingly large fields of barley, well worth the trip out in late spring. Photo by Colleen Hyde
Gapa Island, or as it is more frequently called, Gapado, is a flat emerald gem just 5 kilometers off the southwest coast of Jeju Island, but with a more rural and traditional feel than the rest of Jeju.
Marado is just to the south of Gapado and is the famed southernmost island of Korea. Marado may see more tourism but larger Gapado has just as much to offer as its more famous sibling. Gapado offers unparalleled views across the short distance to Jeju Island.
The first part of a visit to Gapado is the scenic 20 minute ferry ride from Moseulpo harbor in southwestern Jeju. The passenger ferry bounces over the waves for the quick trip to Gapado with glimpses of taller Marado in the distance. Looking back toward Jeju Sanbangsan dominates the southern coast and on a clear day Mt. Halla can be seen.
Slow down, relax Gapado Island also supplies a unique experience of Korean island life for visitors. With only about 200 permanent residents the island is uncrowded and simple.
There are a few cars but no buses. Stroll around the island’s 4 kilometers of rocky coastline. Take the well-marked walking trails and roads that criss-cross the island’s interior. Search out the large dolmen, (prehistoric burial stones), spotted around the island in the fields.
Spot shaman ritual sites that are located along the coast with small stone altars. Photograph the wildflowers that dot the island or the birds flitting around the largely treeless island. Watch haenyeos, Jeju’s famed female divers, working on the rocky coast. Truly Gapado’s sights are scattered and not at all flashy or gaudy but have an abundance of charm. Gapado has a lot to give the visitor who slows down and appreciates the island’s quiet sights. Shops and restaurants are clustered in the south and north ends of the island, where the passenger ferry docks. Residents are friendly and eager to help. The village has simple stone houses like those on Jeju and many building walls are painted with colorful murals depicting traditional life on Gapado. This island community is proud of its roots.
The history of Gapado is understandably linked to the fishing industry. The island has maintained a steady population since 1824, but the history of the island is much older.
In 1653, Dutchman Hendrick Hamel shipwrecked near Gapado and he and his crew were taken into custody. They were transferred to Seoul and held prisoner in Korea for 13 years before escaping. Hamel’s book about Korea was largely responsible for introducing the reclusive Korea to the wider world.
▲ Turban shell is one of the most popular sea corps harvested in Gapado. Photo courtesy Gapari Community Center
Barley Festival Fishing is the reason most tourists visit the island and is enough to satisfy many visitors, but the island is eager to attract a more diverse group of visitors. Gapado’s Barley Festival is held in the spring and celebrates the island’s barley crop and the island’s culture. Visitors to the festival are encouraged to fly kites in the ever present wind, make traditional foods, fish, watch demonstrations of traditional crafts and stroll through the swaying fields of barley on wide, paved paths.
Ferries to Gapado leave from Moseulpo harbor in southwestern Jeju. There are usually two to three ferries daily but the schedule varies by time of year and weather so check ahead.
The ferry company phone number is 064-794-3500. Ferries from the same location also go to Marado. Allow at least 3 to 4 hours to explore Gapado by foot and be sure to check the time for the last ferry returning to Moseulpo. Overnight lodging is available in several small pensions. The island has a Web site, available only in Korean, http://www.gapari.co.kr.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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