Did the first picture grab your attention? That’s Boriam Temple atop Geumsan Mountain in the beautiful island of Namhae in the deep south of Korea, captured with my super-fancy and high-tech iPhone5 camera. That’s the view we were fortunate enough to have on a beautiful Sunday in mid-January. Oh, what a difference just one day can do to the weather and air quality. The day before, Elicia and I had explored Yeongchuisan Mountain in Yeosu with cold and windy conditions and sub-par air quality. But this Sunday we were treated with warm sunshine, subtle winds and great company from our Aussie friend Stu who shares our passion for hiking the many trails around Korea.
Looking at the above map, you’ll notice that Namhae is actually quite close to Yeosu. In fact, you can see the Namhae mountains on a clear day while standing in Yeosu. As the crow flies, it’s a straight shot, just a couple minutes and a few km’s. But us humans must hop in a car or bus and head north, following the roads east through Gwangyang and eventually turning south onto Namhae Island. Thankfully, the drive is absolutely gorgeous. In a few more months, these coastal roads will be slowed down with traffic from all over the country to see the beautiful spectacle of blooming cherry blossoms that line the roadsides. This day, however, we almost had the roads to ourselves and we made the 1 hour 45 minute drive go by in the blink of an eye.
When crossing over into Namhae one gets the pleasure of seeing the Namhae Bridge, modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fancisco, CA. It’s a much smaller bridge, but they look related I suppose.
Once on Namhae it’s quite simple: follow the beautiful, windy road south and try to keep your eyes on the road because there’s many scenic areas of mountains and coast that will attempt to pull your attention away from driving safely. Namhae is really special, and this was the second time visiting this large island. The first time we went kayaking and camped at Sangju Beach with friends. In January it’s a wee-bit too cold for camping and swimming, so our goal was to get to the top of Geumsan Mountain, part of the Hallyeohaesan National Marine Park. Here’s where we parked and also a little detail of the trails:
Since it’s part of the Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park, parking our car cost 4000won ($4.00) but it was free to enter the park and go hiking. Parking near sea-level, looking up at Geumsan Mountain was pretty cool and we were excited to get going.
As you may have noticed in the map, there’s just one trail going up and down from the road to access Geumsan Mountain. So, we started the 1.5km journey up the trail and as we got near the top, the trees seemed to disappear and the vertical rock formations took over. This allowed some neat caves to form, and the trails took us in and out of these caves, which was quite fun and provided some great scenery when looking south towards the sea.
Interestingly enough, we were able to spot Sangju Beach, the place where we camped about five months earlier.
Once on top of Geumsan Mountain, there are A LOT of trails that go to the various little peaks and look outs. We spent some time exploring, eating some lunch we had packed, and basking in the warm sunshine. There’s no need to worry about getting lost because there’s only one trail up/down from Guemsan Mountain.
There is, however, a road in which people can drive straight to Boriam Temple (the top of the mountain) so there were actually quite a lot of people at the temple enjoying the views. We were in the minority of people who had hiking boots on and had taken the trail. Most others who had driven up to the top were sporting fashionable dress clothes with high heels or Ugg boots, ready for their newest selfies.
Eventually we made our way back down the mountain by hopping & jumping down the stairs. The trail is just 1.5km so it’s not too long nor difficult. In total we hiked 4.2kms on this beautiful Sunday in January, and enjoyed the afternoon drive back to our little apartment-fortress in Namhae’s western neighbor, Yeosu.