▲ Jeju Olle course 11 walkers are treated to stunning views of Sanbangsan and Hallasan. Photos courtesy Jeju Olle.
If you’ve ever wanted to get off the well-beaten tourist path in Jeju and see island nature up close and personal, lace up your hiking boots and get walking.
There is a growing system of public walking courses around Jeju, known as Jeju Olle that is attracting international attention. While group “volkswalking,” literally “people walking,” originated in Germany and has spread world wide, Jeju Olle marks the first organized group walking events in Jeju (other than Hallasan hiking groups). It’s pronounced “oh-lay,” and it comes from a Jeju word meaning narrow path.
The Olle courses do follow some narrow paths, but walkers also find themselves wandering down country lanes, trekking across farm pastures, skirting fields of cabbage and leaping across beach rocks. There are more than 200 kilometers of established courses, which stretch from just north of Seongsan Ilchulbong, along the south coast inland to the farms near Moseulpo.
Ahn Eun Joo, Olle manager, estimates 30,000 people have walked the courses in the last two years. The organization hosts monthly course walks which draw upwards of 1,000 walkers. She hastened to add that once people get walking they spread out, and you can walk without seeing anyone else. If group walking is not for you, the courses are open to the public at all times, free of charge.
Founded by former journalist The trails system was started in 2007 by Suh Myungsook, a former Seoul journalist who packed in her professional career to move to Jeju and start the Olle courses. It’s an ambitious non-profit project, but with government funding, a small office staff in Seogwipo and hundreds of volunteers, Jeju Olle has opened up Jeju to a whole new experience.
There are 11 established courses, with more planned. The courses originally took advantage of old roads that had fallen into disuse as modern highways began to criss cross the island, but they also include way trails, established walking paths, paths across open areas and trails built just for the Olle course. The walks offer an opportunity to see a part of Jeju that can’t be appreciated from a tour bus or car. They force you to get off the road and slow down. Down to the pace of island life, be it on the farms or the beaches.
There was initially some opposition from landowners to the courses, who feared so many walkers might trample their produce and property. This concern was mitigated by paying property owners a small fee for the use of their land, and offering them the opportunity to profit from the visitors. Food and beverage stands have sprung up along the courses, and visitors can eat in restaurants and stay at guest houses and homes in small villages along the way.
▲ Many of the Jeju Olle courses follow the island’s rugged coastline.
Courses offer variety of views, range of difficulty The courses can each be walked in a day, with lengths averaging 15 km., or walkers can dip in and out, walking shorter sections as they choose. All the courses are marked with distinctive blue or yellow arrows painted on rocks and stationery objects, or blue and yellow ribbons hanging from bushes and trees. The courses are not rated for difficulty, but with such a variety of terrain, they can be challenging. However, they are suitable for all ages and abilities.
The first course established winds for 15 km. through the area adjacent to the World Heritage Site of Seonsang Ilchulbong, with magnificent views of the unique volcanic peak. Many of the courses take in the sea views, and skirt the seashore. Others pass through orange groves, or fields of waving Eulalia. Course 5, also 15 km., climbs a hill at Yongmeori beach, where walkers can stop at Hamel Monument, named for Dutch sea captain Hendrick Hamel. The impressive mound of Sangbangsan looms in the background.
Ahn said a group of Japanese travel agents visited to walk the Olle courses in February, and are now organizing tour groups to include the Olle experience. They have also had walkers from Taipei and Taiwan. They will soon offer an Olle passport, a small book that can be stamped upon completion of each course.
Information in English coming soon There is an English language option on the Olle Web site, and an English guidebook will be out later this month. The guidebooks will be available at the Tourist Information desk at Jeju International Airport, and other locations to be determined.
The monthly walks take place on the last Saturday of every month, with buses leaving from predetermined locations in Jeju-si and Seogwipo.
The easiest way to access the courses individually is to take a bus to the bus stop nearest to the starting point, then take a taxi the rest of the way. Otherwise, if you take a car and park it, you will finish a long way from your vehicle.
For information in English on the Olle courses call the office at 64-766-2170. The Web site is www.jejuolle.org
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