Adventures in ultra-running, nature-loving, plant-eating & travel

Jeju Olle 336k

 

She wouldn’t walk away. She had been by turns following us and running ahead of us for 6 kilometers. Always close at our heels, or a few paces in front; often looking up at us and grinning in sheer delight over our shared adventure. But she was a small blonde dog, miles away from her home and her puppy, and we were now responsible for her. We thought she should turn back. Still, it would have been impossible to chase her away. She’d run away with our hearts! What could be more delightful than having a canine trekking companion? She was our friend, if only for that one magical morning.

An image of the author's husband hiking along a trail of volcanic rock. His back is to the camera, and he is wearing a blue backpack. A small blonde dog follows closely behind him. The pair are passing by some characteristic orange and blue ribbons of the Jeju Olle, tied to some long grass. It is a cloudy day, and the sea is just visible on the upper left side of the image.

The adventure: a 336k trek around Jeju Island

This was the final morning of our 12 day circumnavigation of Jeju Island. My husband Kent and I were trekking the Jeju Olle, a network of pedestrian paths encircling South Korea’s largest island. Every day we’d been lucky in various ways: we’d had great weather, managed to find inexpensive accommodation and good food, and seen splendid natural beauty. But the highlight of our trek was definitely our daily animal encounters! We’d petted cats, shared apples with horses, met mantises, and had a lovely little dog join us on our last Olle course.

A map of the Jeju Olle route trekked by the author and her husband. Jeju Island appears as a green mass in the blue ocean, ringed by a red line that shows where the author walked. There is a small gap in the southwest corner, where route #10 is located. This course was closed for restoration during the time of the author's trek. The trek started and finished on the east coast, near a large island.
A map of our Jeju Olle route – minus course #10 in the southwest. We started and finished on the east coast, near the large island.

One year earlier, in October 2014, we’d visited friends living on Jeju Island. Together, we walked one of the Olle courses while catching up on life. The route we explored that day was fairly typical of the Olle trails, a 16 kilometer route following scenic coastal roads and rugged trails over volcanic cones. When our friends told us we could walk around the whole island on these footpaths, then and there we vowed to come back and do it!

In October 2015, we were back in Korea, and we immediately hopped on a ferry to Jeju! Upon arrival in Jeju City, our first stop was to pick up the two Jeju Olle passports in which to collect stamps along the way (plus a bonus English guidebook!).

An image of the author standing outside the Jeju Olle Cafe in downtown Jeju City. She is standing in front of several blue metal frame Olle ponies, and is holding the two Olle passports in one hand, and the English Olle guidebook in the other hand.
That done, we reunited with our friends. After a short sunset stroll together, we studied maps of the Jeju Olle routes. With just under two weeks for our trip, we decided to stick to the main trails: 21 paths wrapping around the island’s outer edge.

A dimly-lit image of the author and her husband. They are standing with their two friends and their new baby, wearing a bright pink hood. The group are standing on a hill above a harbor. The sun has just set behind them, and the lights of the town are shining in whites and oranges. The sea is a reflective, silvery hue, and the sky is painted orange, yellow and white from the sunset.

Olle Day-by-day

***The following is a day-by-day and route-by-route description of our adventure trekking around Jeju Island.***

Day 1: 11.4k – Route 21

The day after we arrived happened to be a volunteer clean-up day on one of the Olle trails! The clean-up was on the final course – #21, but we decided to make it our first. It was exciting to be out on the trail and meeting new people – all passionate and knowledgeable about Jeju Olle. So we spent the first day of our trek walking and talking, and using giant tweezers to pick up trash. And of course, we immediately began mapping our trek and gathering our first stamps!

A close-up image featuring the author's husband's hands. He is holding his Olle passport open with his left hand, and is using his right hand to apply a rectangular stamp. A stamp pad with blue ink is open on the wooden horse's head that he is using as a surface for stamping.
First stamp!
An image of the author and her husband holding orange drinks in plastic bottles. They are wearing sunglasses and standing in front of a grassy slope leading down towards black volcanic rocks and a flat blue expanse of sea.
Mango smoothie stop!

Although we were off to a great start, the sheer amount of trash we found was a sobering reminder of the state of our planet. At one point, I spent several minutes on my knees yanking on some half-buried black plastic, only to discover that it was just the tip of a massive trash-berg. Farms in Korea often use huge plastic sheets to insulate greenhouses in winter, and this practice can result in a lot of waste. At another point, on a beach, I filled bag after bag of trash from the heap of rubbish washed up on the shoreline. Other volunteers reminded me that we just had to do our best.

Of course, this problem wasn’t a reflection of Jeju Olle, and we were all out there to work on it. We all want our trails to be clean, and it’s important to take matters into our own hands rather than complaining about the problems we find. I was glad we started of our journey on these trails with a little trail cleaning.

An image of a group of Olle volunteers walking on a farm road. All are carrying blue or white plastic bags full of trash. The farm fields to either side of the road are filled with bright green plants, and the sky is blue.
Trash squad

That evening, we prepared to begin our journey in earnest. We needed to be ready to support ourselves for the next 11 days and 20 Olle courses! Our friend helped us to find our first guesthouse, and we enjoyed a dinner out together. We assessed the supplies we had (fresh veggies and fruit, vegan energy bars, PB and J sandwiches) and made plans for gathering more. We also re-examined our route around the island and planned our daily distances before falling asleep, imagining what adventures lay in store for us.

Day 2: 31.4k – Routes 1 & 2

A beautiful dawn on the morning we set off to do courses #1 and 2. We decided to add a quick summit of Seongsan Ilchulbong to the start of the day. We can’t resist a peak!

An image of Seongsan Ilchulbong illuminated at dawn. The peak appears as a dark hulk in the right of the image, rising above the sea and the town of Seongsan. Bright yellow rays of sunlight break through a thick layer of dark clouds, illuminating the left side of the image.
Truly, sunrise peak!
An image of the author and her husband standing near the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong. The author's arm is raised in celebration, and she is wearing pink sunglasses. Behind them, the town of Seongsan sits on a jagged green landmass with swathes of blue sea sweeping through it.
On Seongsan Ilchulbong

Our favorite parts of the day included spotting secret herons, patting beach horses, interacting with a praying mantis, and climbing oreums (small volcanic cones)!

An image featuring a horse directly facing the camera. It casts a dark shadow on pale sand. Another horse's shadow is visible in the bottom right corner of the frame. A flat stretch of blue sea forms the background, with the green bulk of Seongsan Ilchulbong rising above it all in the distance.
First of many horse encounters
A close-up image of a green praying mantis. The insect is standing on a wooden boardwalk over a marsh. On the near side, the mantis is a dark emerald green, but on the far side, the bright sun makes his legs and back appear lime green.
King of the boardwalk

We didn’t see any other hikers, except of course on Seongsan Ilchulbong. Sometimes snacking as we walked, we took turns carrying a two-liter bottle of water. The terrain varied widely: narrow paths through the dense grass on the tops of oreums to paved road along the shore to a wooden walkway atop a marsh. Our journey also included a peaceful stop at a quiet little temple. We ended the day in the late afternoon at an official Olle guesthouse, complete with friendly staff who cooked Kent a ramyeon topped with fresh veggies! We felt happy and accomplished after our first full day of trekking.

Day 3: 23k – Route 3

On this day, our plan was to hike one and a half of the two longest Olle courses. Our day started out beautifully, with a nice climb to an observation deck on a crisp morning.

An image taken from an oreum (small volcanic cone) overlooking an expanse of green forest. The author and her husband are in the foreground, in front of a brown wooden railing. Other oreums dot the landscape in the distance, and many soft grey and white clouds fill the sky near the horizon.
Green lookout

Mid-morning, we were hiking through a farming area and were beckoned over by a friendly grandmother. She was wrinkled and bent over, carrying a massive pumpkin. She refused our offers of help, but invited us back to her house. It seemed like the right thing to do, so we agreed.

Inside her simple home, we met her husband. We were asked to take off our shoes and join the pair for a coffee. The husband invited Kent to partake of a cold soup of cabbage and snails. He is a brave man, my husband. After a few minutes, I began making moves to go, and Kent followed suit.

To our surprise, the couple began to ask us for money, and the language barrier made everything uncomfortable and awkward. We’d never been in this kind of situation in Korea, and we didn’t know what they wanted or what to do. Listening for numbers, we tried to comply and smooth things over. Neither of them seemed satisfied with the small bills that we offered. We wound up hurrying away, feeling a little strange.

However, an hour or two onward, we found a beach covered with silky white sand.  To extend our playtime there, we decided to call it quits on our trekking day. We’d only finished course 3, but we knew we could make up time on future days. Later, after making a call home to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, we played cards and watched the lights of the boats on the horizon come on.

An image of the author and her husband, laying on a beach. They are laying with their stomachs on the sand and looking towards the camera. The beach stretches away far behind them, a bright white. The turquoise ocean is visible at the horizon, and the sky is a pale blue, dotted with small, puffy clouds.
That doesn’t look like trekking…

Day 4: 30.2k – Routes 4 & 5

Another beautiful sunrise on the south-facing sea! After a breakfast of champions (bananas for me! ramyeon for Kent!), we set off to walk courses #4 and 5. After a silly stop in a sculpture park, we were really on our way.

An image of the author playfully sitting on a horse sculpture. The sculpture looks surprised and is lifting one front leg, while the author leans smilingly to one side and clings to the reins,
Not a lazy pony!

Today’s biggest challenge came in the form of spiders. Simple enough! But one of us hates getting webbed, so the other one had to hone his or her web-removal tactics. No names shall be named.

This day’s highlight was helping out a mamma dog who had gotten separated from her pups.  Back inside a low stone fence with her family, she rewarded us with lots of licks and tail-wagging.

An image of a mother dog and her four pups. She is a tawny color, with black around her eyes and muzzle. She is looking at the camera with her mouth slightly open, apparently smiling. She is wearing a blue canvas collar attached to a chain leash. All four of her puppies are nursing from their mom, their faces hidden beneath her body. Three of them are a light blonde, and one is a darker color like its mom.
Mom and pups!

Later on, another animal sighting! This time it was some friendly cats looking like tiny lions in the tall grass.

An image of two ginger cats in long grass. The first cat is in the center of the image, looking down. The other cat is slightly harder to spot, on the right side of the frame. Both cats sit above a small pond surrounded by black volcanic rocks.
Wild cat sighting

Today’s biggest victory might have been finally finding a bibimbap restaurant and a bakery! We had been living on our stash of snacks since dinner with our friend on the first night. So we were very happy to gather some supplies, like fresh bread and peanut butter! And, we may or may not have two entrees each during our extended and lovely lunch!

Day 5: 29.6k – Routes 6 & 7

On day 5, we completed courses #6 and 7. We got started with another stunning sunrise!

An image of a sunrise. The bright yellow globe of the sun is in the top center of the image. Just below the rising sun is a lighthouse on a spit of land. The land and lighthouse appear an inky black against the brilliant orange sky. Closer to the camera, a stretch of sea is painted peach by the sunrise, with a brilliant gold streak cutting through the middle, illuminating the sun's path.
Beautiful seaside dawn

These courses took us through Jeju island’s second biggest city, Seogwipo. It was an excuse to indulge in some luxuries: hiking up a hill with a coffee is not something I ever imagined doing, but it happened here! On top of an oreum, we had great views of Hallasan in the center of the island.

An image of the dormant volcano Hallasan that dominates the central skyline of Jeju Island. Here, in this image taken from near Seogwipo, it is a massive hulk of gently sloping tan rock rising above the buildings of the city.
The south face of Hallasan

We encountered a few more spidery forests, and had great views of the small island Gapa-do(home of Olle course 10-1!).

An image of one of the many large black and yellow spiders spotted on this trek. In this image, the spider rests in the middle of the web and you can see it from underneath. The white strands of the web are visible against the blue sea in the background, and the spider has trapped dozens of flies of different sizes it it. Out of focus and in the distance is the small island of Gapa-do.
Walking into spiderwebs

Near the end of the day, we encountered an adorable, fluffy bunny. It wasn’t a wild one – I think it was someone’s pet. But it was cute and curious, and allowed us to touch its super-soft fur!

A close-up side view of a rabbit. This rabbit has white fur on its body, with brown spots around its eyes and mouth. It has long, floppy brown and white ears. It is nosing for something under a rock in this image.
Today’s cute animal sighting!

We stopped for the night in a town that seemed to be having a protest – ribbons and banners and posters were everywhere. We stayed with a friendly family who gave us a huge bucket of fresh tangerines!

Day 6: 32k – Routes 8 & 9

And now – possibly our two favorite courses: routes #8 and 9!

First thing in the morning, we found a gorgeous, sprawling temple complex. This was followed by a remarkably tourist-free lava formation, and a footpath through a fancy resort.

A beautiful image of Yakcheonsa temple. The colors of the temple buildings are striking in the morning light. They appear especially bright red, yellow and green. Two tiered towers rise above a lower hall, and beyond them, another grand building rises into the sky. The sky is a brilliant blue above, with patterned, airbrushed clouds.
Yakcheonsa Temple
An image of a small calm bay of slate blue water. The cliffs that edge the far side of the bay are columnar lava formations. Thin pine trees tower over the far cliffs, and lush green plants line the foreground.
Jusangjeolli cliffs

Later, we climbed one of the most scenic hills of the trip to find a peaceful eco-park before hitting the coast again. And that was just on route #8!

An image of a wire sculpture depicting one of Jeju Island's famous female divers. Her face and hands are solid, but the rest of her is an open wire grid, so you can see a fish swimming inside her, where her heart should be. Her face looks thoughtful and calm. Beyond this sculpture, the sea is many shades of blue. In the distance, the dramatic cliffs of course 9 rise high above the water.
Art at the Daepyeong Haenyeo center

Route #9 is truly a hiking trail: it’s exclusively on dirt trails, and it climbs first up a cliff and then over an oreum. We couldn’t help but rejoice to be back in our natural habitat: the mountains!

An image of the author and her husband wearing their backpacks as they hiked along course 9. They are on a dirt trail, with long grass to one side and pine trees to the other side. A pair of blue and orange Olle course marker ribbons hangs from a branch of the nearest pine tree.
On trails again!
An image of two small cats. The cat on the left has a brown back and white belly. It is laying down on the path, with its paws curled under, looking to the left. The cat on the right is almost all white, except for a mask of black on its ears and a black splotch of a mustache.
Cute animal sighting of the day!

***A note about route #10: while we were visiting, this course was officially closed. According to the Jeju Olle website, it was off-limits for a year to allow the trees and grasses to grow back along the trail. Rather than disrespecting nature or hoofing it along the road, we took a taxi to the start of route #11. But we returned to run the re-opened course during a storm in October 2016!

Day 7: 35.1k – Routes 11 & 12

After spending the night in a proper portside town (and having resupplied with all the necessary peanut butter), we carried on to omplete routes #11 and 12 on our seventh Olle day. The trail started out on a misty, slightly spooky oreum containing Jeju’s largest graveyard.

A haunting image taken from near the peak of Moseulbong. A straw-covered trail leads through the middle of the image, and to the left are several grass-covered burial mounds and stone tablets. The sun shines through a mist, making the sky blindingly white and blurry. Below, several oreums rise dramatically from the flat farmland, and the long slope of Hallasan is just visible in the distance.
Moseulbong cemetery

Then our trail meandered through a thick forest of tropical and temperate plants – called gotjawal in the local dialect. We liked this dense forest removed from the world. It was almost perfectly still and silent, far removed from the traffic on the coastal roads, and even the sounds of the wind and waves. It was nice to get a little lost here!

An image of the author as a small figure in the distance, trekking through a dense forest. Tiny streaks of sunlight dot the trail, but the palette of the image is mostly deep green and dark brown. Some Olle course marker ribbons hand near the author's left shoulder.
Gotjawal trekking

Course #11 took us far inland, and it was only by the end of the day that route #12 brought us back to the coast. We enjoyed sea views from an oreum with a weather station on the top, then strolled along some spectacular lava formations at sunset. We had rounded the narrow western edge of the island, and were now facing the mainland.

An image of the author and her husband above a seascape. The author is sitting on a silver railing above her husband, the wind blowing her hair to the right. There are several small islands and boats in the blue waters below.
Back to the sea!
An image of the author trekking on a paved road at the shoreline. She is halfway turned back towards the camera and appears to be laughing. A steep cliff covered in greenery rises to the right, and jagged volcanic rocks form the coast below to the left. The road winds ahead and rounds a bed. One large island juts up from the sea in the distance.
Nice road

After collecting our last stamp of the day, we spent the night in a pilgrim’s hostel! We rescued a mantis that was stuck in our window screen. Later, we looked out over a calm harbor at the moon rising. A delightful halfway point!

An image of Yongsu Port after sunset. The port is lit with warm yellow lights that reflect on the water. A little ways away, two boats are lit with bright white lights. An island is outlined in black beyond them. The sky is a canvas of purples, blues and pinks, with a tiny crescent moon hung in the center.
Dusk falls at Yongsu Port

Day 8: 33.9k – Routes 13 & 14

Route #13 took us away from the coast again. Korea is big on theme museums and villages, and today’s adventure began in a town of chairs! We later followed route #14 back to the coast, finding ‘spontaneous cacti’ (as promised in the Olle passport!) along with many truly beautiful beaches.

An image of a brown giant chair, several stories high. In spaces lining this chairs back and legs are other, normal size chairs of a similar color and shape. This huge chair is the entrance to an outdoor museum and art gallery about chairs.
Chairs within chairs
The author and her husband standing in front of a sunlit field of cacti. These cacti are native to Jeju Island, and are the only cacti growing naturally in this part of the world. The author's arm is raised and she wears an excited grin. Some of the cacti are blooming with spherical pink bulbs.
With some spontaneous cacti!

We seemed to have a rhythm on the north side of the island. During the mornings, we’d walk away from the sea, cutting across farmland into cool, green forests. Then, in the golden light of the afternoon, we’d find our way back to the coast and the lapping of the waves again.

We took some time to reflect on our journey so far in a seaside gazebo. It was just the two of us with the rugged beauty of this island of wind and rock.

In the middle of a forest, several kilometers in every direction from a village or town, the author and her husband stumbled upon a tiny coffee station. It was in a sturdy shelter painted green, and came complete with a stash of coffee, paper cups, a trash bin, a tiny kettle, a camping stove and propane. Many previous trekkers had written messages on used paper cups and pinned them to the shelter wall. This is an image of this surprise little sanctuary!
Coffee, anyone?
A close-up image of bright orange Jeju tangerines, growing amidst green leaves. The author did not sample any of those growing alongside their route (that's illegal! And immoral!) but did enjoy many tangerine gifts during the trek.
Forbidden fruit

That night, we slept in a motel, as we were back in a town again. We visited a restaurant and got more picnic-worthy bread and veggies.

Day 9: 34.7k – Routes 15 & 16

On October 18th, we revisited the Olle course we’d first experienced with our friends more than a year ago!

Just after we’d started, we came across a beautiful temple that we’d missed the first time around. We met a friendly and curious monk, who invited us inside for breakfast. Usually I worry about social situations like this, because I know I’ll have to refuse the food and struggle to explain my dietary choices. But I’d visited temples on the mainland before, and learned that most Korean Buddhist monks are vegetarian. So if ever there was an opportunity to take a stranger up on their hospitality, this was it, right? We said yes!

Well, I learned something: fish are a staple of Jeju cuisine, even among Buddhist clergy! I ended up smiling apologetically over a heaping bowl of rice, turning away dish after dish of sea friends. Still, it was a good experience: we chatted with the monks and friendly kitchen ladies, and received a blessing for our ongoing journey.

Surrounded by beautiful pink, white and blue paper lotus flowers on tall sticks, the author sits in the center of this image. Porous black volcanic rocks rise up behind her, and a little gold pagoda tops the tiny hill. Beyond are the wooden steps leading up to a temple building.
At Seonwoonjeongsa Temple

The rest of our morning was less eventful. We wandered through lots of different kinds of farms. We climbed the same oreum where, just over a week earlier, we’d watched the sun set with our friends. This time, we were alone there. During a snack break, we watched airplanes land and take off from the nearby airport.

An image of a large number of aloe plants, growing inside the open shell of a green house. The plants are of various sizes and shades of green. The nearby plants all clearly have serrated edges on their long, tapered leaves.
Aloe farm?

We also walked route #16 on what ended up being the longest walking day of our trip. We reached the coast and walked the bike path abutting the coastal ring road. The sea was a beautiful sparkling sapphire in the late afternoon light.

One of us found a great pension at the end of the day, while the other complained that it was ‘several kilometers too far uphill’. Not the proudest of moments on this trip, perhaps, but one of the funniest memories.

An image of a typical Olle rest stop. There are two 'stone grandfather' carvings beside a grassy trail leading to a wooden gazebo. Beside the gazebo is the wooden blue Jeju Olle pony, containing stamps and an ink pad. The gazebo is surrounded by trimmed grass, and behind a fence there are many tall green pines growing.
Classic rest stop

Day 10: 27.9k – Routes 17 & half of 18

Strangely, for a course that is set entirely within Jeju City, we didn’t find course #17 to be urban at all! The route hugged the quiet, green bank of a river downstream for a while.. Later on, it led us back to the coast, where a pair of ‘lighthorses’ were keeping watch. It was only at the end, after turning a corner and emerging into a rather alarming marketplace, that we really entered the city. We stopped just long enough to do errands (our usual peanut butter, veggies and fruit re-supply) before setting off on route #18.

An image of two horse-shaped lighthouses guarding a bay. One is red, facing inwards, and the other is white, facing out towards the sea.
‘Lighthorses’
An image of the author and her husband with an Olle pony. The author stands behind the pony, while her husband is in the foreground. The Jeju Olle ponies are blue and natural wood, and they contain stamps and ink inside a box on their heads. To the left, there is a stretch of short grass, and a railing overlooking the sea. The sky is blue with soft swirls of cloud.
With an Olle pony

Another contender for a favorite course, route #18 exits the city by way of Sarabong, a great peak with views of the ocean and the city.  Mid-route, we decided to slow our pace and stop at the half-way point. This allowed us to chill on a beautiful black sand beach in Samyang village for sunset.

This image shows Jeju City from above. Taken from Sara Oreum, it looks west across several bare deciduous trees and some green pine trees, down at the city below. The sea stretches away from a large harbor to the right, and the grey buildings of the city are partially swallowed up in a bright haze.
A look at Jeju City from Sara Oreum

Day 11: 30.2k – Routes 18 & 19

We were up early to complete course #18. Happy to be up and active, and happy with the journey we were so close to completing! We lingered at several beautiful beaches during the morning. I really wanted to take my time appreciating the special rugged coastline and sink my toes into stretches of soft sand.

An image of a tall gazebo on top of a cliff of jagged black volcanic rocks. There is a wooden railing leading up to the gazebo from the right, across a stretch of dry, brown grass. To the left, the dark rocks drop off into the sea and cover the foreground.
Too many pretty picnic places!

Today was also possibly our best day for animal encounters! We ran into a huge gang of goats munching away beside the road. Later on we met a brown mantis – I’d never seen such a creature!

A close-up image of a goat, looking directly into the camera. This goat has a black coat and small, sturdy horns. He has green eyes, and clusters of green seeds are stuck to his body. He is standing on the edge of a road that's covered with the brown trimmings of grass.
Hi friend!
An image of a dark brown praying mantis, seen from the side, Its triangular face is turned towards the camera, and its two front legs are clasped together.
Brown mantis!

In the afternoon, course #19 wove through a windfarm. It was a unique, eerie sort of experience with the wind whistling sharply across the spinning blades of the turbines. By evening, we’d made it to an art village. We chose our pension based on the presence of one adorable puppy and its sweet, friendly mom. This was our last sleep before our last day of trekking!

An image of a building decorated with with wire art and text. The text reads Jeju Olle 20 Route, and looks as though it is being written by a giant hand and pencil. The building is surrounded by a crumbling black rock fence.
Art village
An image of the author sitting in the grass, petting the blonde dog that would become their walking companion the following day, and holding a tiny puppy on her lap.
Puppy friends!

Day 12: 16.2k – Route 20

Route #20 was our last course, and at only 16 kilometers, it promised to be a short day. It was also one of the best days of the trip!

This was the day when we were followed by the sweet dog from our guesthouse! We enjoyed her company for several hours and a surprising number of kilometers. To get her home safely, we stopped at another of the lovely beach towns along the eastern edge of the island. We bought our cute canine friend some sausages from a mart, and poured handfuls of water into our cupped hands for her to drink. We asked an employee for help with our funny (furry) predicament. Together, we waited with her while an official drove over with a van and a pet carrier. But our little friend was much too independent to submit to the indignity of this, and instead sat on the driver’s lap; looking like a little queen regarding her kingdom as they pulled away and out of our view.

A close-up image of the light blonde dog that walked with the couple on their final day of trekking. This image was taken on the deck of a convenience store. Several green plastic chairs stand empty behind the dog. The dog has perky ears, and you see the side of her long face. You can see her gentle brown eye and long, pale whiskers.
Our special furry friend

With the rest of the course, we took our time: enjoying the windy weather and our last views of volcanic rocks stacked up to make fences, with aromatic ripe tangerines peeking over the top. We lingered on beaches, kicking off our shoes and wading and taking too many photos. Then, at the place where we started the clean-up 12 days earlier, we finished our Jeju Olle circumnambulation of 336 kilometers!

An image of the author and her husband. This time, they are standing on a long, curving line of black volcanic rocks. They are smiling at the camera and behind them are more black rocks dividing a pale blue sea.
Really, the last beach selfie
An image of a tiny table and two chairs set on a high, wide wall above the coast. There is a little wooden ladder consisting of four stairs leading up to this setting, and a colorful bouquet of flowers decorates the table.
Fanciful dining for two
An image of the author's husband, holding the two Olle passports up in one hand. He is facing the camera and smiling broadly. Two Olle ribbons hang into the image from the top left.
Done!

We celebrated with some sandwiches and stretches, as we do! Afterwards, we caught a bus bound for Jeju city. We had hoped to catch a ferry to the remote Chuja-do to complete a bonus quest on Olle route 18-1. Alas, due to strong winds, that ferry was cancelled. So we wound up instead on a ferry bound for home, bidding Jeju (and our friends) goodbye.

 

Although this was the end of our circumnambulation, it was not the end of our adventures on Jeju! We did ultimately make it to Chuja-do for one epic run adventure on Olle course #18-1. Later, we returned to Jeju to trek that missing section of the circle, course #10, and ride our bikes around the island. Finally, in October 2017, we returned to Jeju again to do our most epic adventure yet: running a one hundred kilometer race!

 

Know and Go! Jeju Olle

Transportation

Transportation around the island is great (and cheap!) on public buses, but some knowledge of the Korean alphabet can be helpful to know what bus to take and where to get off. For slightly more money, taxis can get you exactly where you want to go, fast! Rental cars and scooters are also available, but obviously less practical if your main mission is trekking around the island.

Trek

The walking itself can be as strenuous or relaxed as you choose, because there are so many options for eating and sleeping. You can choose to complete one course a day or set a more aggressive pace, knowing that you’ll have little trouble finding a stopover/resupply point.

Another important thing to note is wear appropriate shoes! While the Olle network isn’t a mountain hike, it still traverses a variety of terrain types, so you’ll want good footwear. But if you’re signing yourself up for a trek, you probably already know that!

Stay & Eat

Anyone can do this trip. Since Jeju is a popular tourist destination, there are lots of places to stay and there are lots of towns with cafes and restaurants. Foodies often really enjoy sampling the strong flavors of Korean cuisine, but veggies should be aware that Korean cuisine is heavily meat-based. Here on the island, that is especially true, with most dishes featuring seafood in some form. That being said, there are normal grocery stores in both cities and several smaller towns where you can get your own supplies, as we did. Camping can be done (though there are few official campgrounds), and some types of accommodation (pensions especially) have a kitchen available.

Communicate

In urban areas, it’s not difficult to find someone who speaks a little English, but in rural areas, knowing a little Korean or using a dictionary can be really helpful for advanced requests. For example, knowing the Hangul for the various types of accommodation is immensely helpful, as is knowing how to pronounce a food you’d like. But never underestimate the power of charades!

Climate

Although we experienced great weather during our trek, Jeju is famous for its wild winds, so bringing warm clothes is advisable. In general, most hikers head out during Korea’s autumn – for clear skies, pretty foliage and mild weather. But it does tend to rain in fall, especially on Jeju, so pack your rain gear as well. Spring is gorgeous for flowers, but haze can limit visibility. Jeju, being so far south, is also an option in winter. It has relatively mild winters with snowfall being limited to the volcano. Summer is hot, humid and often rainy, but incredibly lush and beautiful. A hike during this season would give you the chance to really enjoy the beaches.

Other notes

Be aware that there are more than the 21 main routes encircling the island to check out! There are also 5 supplementary courses. Three of these are on Jeju’s offshore islands and the other two head to points inland. I would like to highly recommend course 18-1 on Chuja Island. It was an awesome, off-the-beaten-path adventure that my husband and I both adored! Other favorite courses on the mainland included routes 8, 9, 11 and 18.

Of course, a trip to Jeju isn’t complete without a visit to Hallasan, the inactive volcano at the center of the island.  Additionally, there is an amazing 80 kilometer hiking course around Hallasan. Entirely made of rugged trails and seldom-used forest roads deep in the forest, so it offers a totally different hiking (or trail running!) experience to the Jeju Olle.

Prefer cycling to trekking? Jeju’s got great cycling too – you can bike around the island in just over 200k on a protected bike lane that follows the coastal ring road.

Finally, you might also want to check out some of Jeju’s beaches at greater length or explore the island’s underground lava tubes. Jeju is one of UNESCO’s new natural wonders of the world, so it’s worth extending your trip to explore. Enjoy your adventures there with a box of delicious local tangerines – or tangerine rice wine!

Get maps and more info on the Jeju Olle here or check out Olle community events here.