Nature has bestowed much on popular Jeju Island, writes Neil Porten.
In late October, the tangerines are heavy on the trees on Jeju Island. This self-governing province off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula is hopeful of a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a reciprocal trip to possibly scale South Korea's highest mountain, Hallasan, after Kim and the South Korean President climbed North Korea's highest peak in September 2018. To literally sweeten the deal, Jeju has sent 200 tonnes of its famous tangerines to North Korea.
The lengths some places will go to attract tourists.
Jeju really doesn't have to try that hard with the ordinary visitor. Its moderate climate, natural beauty and beaches makes it one of the most popular destinations for South Koreans. And 1.2 million cruise tourists visit the island annually, which is how I ended up there during a round-trip sailing from Tokyo.
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Agriculture is a traditional strength of the Jeju economy and as well as citrus, green tea cultivation has grown increasingly important. The Osulloc Tea Museum in the eastern part of the island is right next to Seogwang Tea Garden, where you can walk along the rows of thigh-high tea bushes and get a close look at the dense foliage. Inside the museum building, an architectural attraction in itself, is a mostly deserted gallery of historical images, teapots and cups, and a packed cafe and tea-tasting room where free samples are continuously poured and all manner of green tea-laced foodstuffs are consumed.
Hallasan is a volcano; the whole island is a volcanic field, formed by eruptions two million years ago. Happily for visitors, this has left awesome natural attractions such as the 8km long Manjanggul Lava Tube and awesome volcanic clay, which the Innisfree skincare company sells by the bucketload in products from another beautiful building right next to the tea museum. Inner health and outer beauty satisfied in one swoop. Just mind the signs on the path between the two buildings and "beware snakes".
From snakes to dragons. G-Dragon, aka the "King of K-pop", aka Kwon Ji-yong is a South Korean music and fashion icon whose entrepreneurial interests include collaborating on the design of Untitled, 2017, a cafe at the Jeju Shinwa World resort. It's another remarkable building: like someone has sliced a giant oddfellow lolly in half, smashed the two pieces together at right angles then tilted opposite ends of the whole thing 30 degrees on the horizontal. To enter you step down to and through floor-to-ceiling glass.
Inside, two huge inflatable flowers hang from the roof, plumping themselves up every minute or so to the roar of air pumps. Patrons can sit beneath these red and yellow floral art pieces on beanbags, or at slab tables of unpainted timber. Amid all this designery you can even buy a coffee.
Apparently G-Dragon's philanthropic endeavours include opening a citrus orchard on Jeju Island with the harvested fruit donated to charity. Who would have thought the humble tangerine could be so versatile?
Cruise World has six-night cruises aboard the Costa neoRomatica between Japan and South Korea from April to August. Balcony cabins start from $1349pp, twin-share.