Jeju Island, A New World Wonder

Jeju Island, also known as the “Honeymoon Isle”, was recently voted by members of the international public as one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature, beating out some pretty prestigious competition.

On Nov 11 at 4 am (KST) an announcement was made in Zurich, Switzerland, that sent more than 1,000 people gathered on Jeju Island into a frenzy. Jeju had been named one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature in a competition hosted by the New7Wonders Foundation, a Swiss NGO that conserves and promotes heritage sites around the world.

The competition was the second of its kind from the NGO, which previously selected Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 from a selection of 200 monuments. Jeju’s win is a part of the foundation’s second project to find the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. After a verification process, the winners will be officially inaugurated in early 2012.

Ranked 261st out of 440 initial locations in December 2008, Jeju was voted one of the 28 finalists in July 2009. Korea’s largest island was then succesfully voted into the top 10 before it was announced as one the final seven. The other six winners are the Amazon in South America, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Brazil, Komodo National Park in Indonesia, Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines and Table Mountain in South Africa.

The Foundation had several criteria for competitors, at least one of which had to be met in order to qualify: landscape, island, volcanoes, beaches, caves rainfall and forests. Some speculate that one of the reasons why Jeju was selected is because it is the only entry that met all seven criteria.

The island has long been a popular destination for couples in Korea, as well as a popular spot for filming TV dramas due to its warm climat and sandy beaches. But aside from the love-struck couples wandering along the islands’ beaches, there is just as much fun to be had for the scientifically minded.

Geomunoreum, which refers to the oreum (Jeju dialect for parasite volcano), is regarded as the finest system of lava tube caves anywhre – a fact not lost on UNESCO, which in 2007 recognized it as a World Natural Heritage Site.

Seongsan Ilchulbong peak is perhaps one of the island’s most iconic vistas, a 600-meter-wide crater rising from the sea whose northwest side is a verdant hill that connects to Seongsan Village. In spring, the island’s hillsides are swathed in bright yellow rape flowers that overlook golf courses and a network of olle walking trails.

The trails, 200 km of connecting paths that take travelers all along the south coast of Jeju, were inspired by the famous Pilgrim’s Trail in Spain and made from hidden, forgottend routes. The trails take visitors through forests, mountains and beaches, and offer unrivalled views of Jeju’s dramatic volcanic landscape.

Another unique attraction is the island’s haenyeo. Concentrated on Udo Island (Cow Island), the haenyeo are women famed for their natural skills as divers. Udo is small enough that it can be traversed in a few hours by scooter or golf cart.

Recently, Jeju has become known for its golf facilities, which are so high-end that the island hosted a PGA Tour Asia event in 2004 at Jungmun Beach Golf Club. Highlighting the investment made in the island is the increase in world-class golf courses, and the 12 country clubs in 2004 have more than doubled to 28 as of last year.

According to the Korea JoongAng Daily, around 700,000 tourists visited the island in 2010, accounting for 8.8% of total tourist figures for the mainland. The Jeju Development Institute projects that the results of the competition will increase tourism to the island by 8.5% in Korean tourists and a massive 73.6% in foreign visitors.

 

Source: KOREA People & Culture December 2011

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