Spring has most definitely sprung on Geoje Island.  At time of writing we are enduring a heavy April shower that has lasted most of the day but up until this morning we have enjoyed two weeks of warm, dry afternoons with the temperatures often hitting the mid-twenties when the sun shines and it has been doing so frequently.

The verdant hillsides that surround us now luxuriate in differing shades and textures of green as the conifers are joined by their deciduous relatives.  Fine, pale pinks of cherry blossom have been replaced by vibrant reds and purples of azalea.  Tulips and pansies planted here and there have bloomed to add further bright splashes of colour.

Yesterday and the previous Sunday we were able to borrow a car and go exploring the extremities of the island.  The majority of terrain here is hills and valleys right up to the coast with few large areas of flat land.  It makes for some entertaining, winding roads and some beautiful scenery.

The island is not especially large and a leisurely circumnavigation can be completed inside a day.  Two shipyards and the road bridge connection to the mainland dominate most of the north side.  Add the high-density buildings, population and traffic that accompany such industry and you have the urban hub of Geoje where rush-hour can be just as frantically static as anywhere else.

Head southwards and within moments the tower blocks disappear, the traffic thins and the countryside extends its welcome.  There are several beaches to visit of both sand and pebble varieties, each set within its own attractive, tree-lined bay.  Just off shore are numerous small, sheer-sided islands that are probably uninhabitable but make superb additions to the scenery.  Parts of the south coast are designated national parks, hopefully to preserve their natural beauty.

One of the many small islands off the coast

Tourist maps of the island show all manner of attractions seemingly right next to the road but we have found most of them very difficult to spot.  Signposts for such things as waterfalls, ceramic art galleries and a Confucian School have all managed to disappear once we have got within a kilometre or so of the alleged destinations.  During our searches we have managed to find a nascent miniature version of Kew Gardens and local Buddhist temple instead, neither of which was marked on the map.

Geoje Island is reportedly a popular tourist destination for mainland-dwellers during the summer and judging by the crowds and coaches we have seen already in some places, I can believe it.  We will continue our coastal explorations as long as we can before the high season arrives, then perhaps turn our attentions inland.  Who knows what we will find.

Azaleas as far as the eye can see…

Blossom and Buddhism

This weekend is reputedly the high point of the annual Cherry Blossom festival that started a couple of weeks ago.  Japan may spring more readily to the western mind when thinking about famous places for flowering cherries in bloom but that is by no means the only place in which to find them.  There are dozens lining the roads in and around the shipyard for example and they have been looking lovely since the weather started warming up around three weeks ago.

The number in the yard pale into insignificance though when compared to the trees in Hadong: a town a few hours north-west of here on the mainland.  Hadong is known throughout Korea for having a road several kilometres long lined either side with cherry trees that form a beautiful avenue of blossom each spring.  That fame has even been immortalised as the setting for scenes in a popular film.  Last Sunday a coach-load of us went to see for ourselves.

We chose last weekend because being the first of the two weekends in the festival it was generally known to be the less busy one.  If that held true this year, I pity the folk who are trying to visit the area today.  In the four hours it took for us to reach ‘journey’s end’ on the way out, we must have spent two of those hours inching along in traffic jams covering the last quarter of the distance.

The final hour was passed crawling along the famous road itself and from what I could see it is indeed beautiful.  It winds along a valley just a little above the lowest point.  To one side is steep dark stone, to the other a succession of perfectly manicured tea plantations with clipped and regimented green bushes looking like they have been prepared for a palace formal garden.  On both sides is a steady line of tree upon tree upon tree linking branches overhead and at this time of year providing a canopy of delicate pink blossom for mile after mile.

With our coach having a low roofline it was difficult for anyone taller than a small child (i.e. most of us) to appreciate the sight without carefully timed neck-craning.  Neither were we able to stop and get out for a look along the way as there was nowhere to park.  When we reached a place to stop at the end of the road, we were just out of view of it all which was unfortunate but we had good things to look forward to.

A short walk away was Ssang-Gye Buddhist temple.  Dating back to the eighth century A.D. it has undergone several renovations; most recently in 1975; and is still very much a working temple rather than a museum piece, with monks in residence.

The walk leads up the mountainside along a stream that looks clearly to have been there as a water source since the foundation of the temple as all the buildings are composed around it.  Even with thousands of visitors stomping around, the place managed to maintain an air of calm and there was no denying the beauty of it, both natural and man-made.  I hope the photographs below might help give an idea.

One of Ssang-Gye’s many beautiful buildings

Cherry blossom over the roof-tops

Some of the building artwork with stone lantern in the foreground