Friday, June 29, 2012

Namhae! Korea's Treasure Island.

A few weekends ago, I joined one of Pedro's trips down to the beautifully stunning island of Namhae (남해). Located about 2.5hours south of Gwangju, Namhae is known as Korea's treasure Island for it's unspoiled, still largely agricultural, beauty; with many terraces and rice paddy's built into the steep mountain sides that descend into gorgeously clear waters.

Our first glimpse of Namhae came as we exited the mountains on the mainland and emerged on the coast, only to see - No! It couldn't be! The Golden Gate Bridge? We couldn't possibly have driven that far!

Built in 1973, the bridge connects Namhae to the mainland.  This view is made even more stunning by the small islands dotting the seas surrounding the area. This view was our introduction to the island in more ways that one. Namhae is not yet sufficiently touristy (a great blessing!) to warrant a viewing platform at the bridge. Instead, we stopped at a small market outpost by the side of the road. It was here that we first came to realise that alongside rice, onions and garlic play a huge role in this region's economy (so much so that there are quite a few statues of garlic located on the island!).

Bundles of garlic and onions for sale and transport.
Although it is certainly not the biggest of Korea's islands, Namhae's jagged coastline and rugged mointains make for long (and stunning) journeys when trying to get around. On our way down to the southern-most tip of the island, we stopped for lunch at a house located in the German Village (built entirely in the German style and with German Materials by Koreans and Korean-Germans who went to Germany in the 1960s to find work and later returned). Worth the peak in, the house contained some of the oddest assortments of objects I've ever seen.

The Sunshine Curiousity Museum near the German Village
My favourite discovery of the stop, however, was a toad. No, really, a live toad. It was adorable and beautiful and... well, I'll just let you see the picture below :).

Isn't it just too cute?
Winding along the coast (breathtaking), we eventually made our way to the now-famous (after having it's beauty captured by a TV commercial) Dareangi Village where we stayed the night with a local 할머니 (halmoni, or Korean grandmother). Built into a steep ocean cliff-side on 108 terraced steps, Dareangi Village (다랭이마을) is made even more beautiful by the pastel coloured roof and stucco wall paintings that adorn all of the homes.

A view of the sea and terraces, many of which (unsurprisingly I suppose) contain rice paddies

A lovely painted roof - many of these bore pictures of fruits and flowers.

Some of the wall paintings serve to remind that, even this far south, memories of the Korean war are never far away.

Just in case you have to turn your back on the view behind you, here it is once again ;).

Although the island does support some beautiful sandy beaches (more on those later), the coastline around Dareangi is rather rugged and forbidding. Still, clear blue water calls out on a hot day and, so, we made our way down to a local stone (the locals claim 'pebble' but I've never before seen pebbles quite that large!) beach.

Supply stores line the coast in case of North Korean attack.
I think it needs to be stressed that this is no East Coast, Namhae is located at the very South of the peninsula and still, this seems to be a real worry.

Caution! Teddy bear soldiers guard the outhouse!

Another lookout.

The not-quite-pebbles.

A view of Dareangi from the hike back up to the village. 

The hike back down to the point just below the village where sits Gacheon Amsu, the town's guardian rock.

Gacheon Amsu Rock

And the bridge that leads to it.

After a night spent roasting marshmallows in a bonfire made at an abandoned school yard (in the pitch black), it was time to hit up a proper beach!

But not before we got some great kayaking in *insert huge grin*. One of my favourite sports, sea kayaking in Namhae is not to be missed. The craggy coastline makes for all sorts of amazing coves and rock passages, with loads of interesting sea life to check out. Also - waves ^_^. I got thoroughly toasted and salted in our 3+hrs out on the water but it was well worth it. Wish I had more pictures, but I was, unfortunately, not brave enough to risk my camera in the venture.

The inland view of Julio's Kayak (고병국 카약) in Dumo Village. For pricing, directions and a great time, look him up on Google or Facebook :). Great instructor and loads of fun. He also goes out in a motor boat for longer journeys to ensure safety and a rest for kayakers in distress.

The beautiful sand of Sanju (산주) Beach which receives over 1 million visitors per year. For a quieter, but just as lovely, time, check out  Songjeong (송정) 4km to the east. The perfect way to end the day *insert pleasantly relaxed sigh here*

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