Jeju Olle

Caroline Hobbs

Today my co-teacher laughed at me, but in a good way. We were discussing what we’re going to do over the weekend. She guessed before I had a chance to open my mouth–“hiking, right?”

I’ve become such a hiker, in fact, that instead of asking me what I did over the weekend, my students now just say, “hiking?” and look at me (and my rock-star tiger calves) with awe.

Marc and I have fallen in love with hiking–specifically with hiking around the entirety of Jeju Island. The expression “fallen in love” though is an insult to the pure, intense emotional state we experience over this hobby. “Obsessed” makes it seem like our fevered excitement over putting on our packs and running out the door is nothing more than a weird pass-time. No–we are nothing less than BANANAS TO THE MAX EXTREME about getting all the way around the island on what is known as the Jeju Olle Trail.

The Olle consists of 26 shorter trails, ranging in length from 5km  to 22.9km–most of the trails are between 14-18km. The length of the entire trail is around 440km (273 miles!). And we are going to hike the heck out of it.

Olle was founded in 2007 and its estimated that in 2008 alone, over 1 million people hiked at least a portion of it, which isn’t surprising, given that  Seoul–Jeju is the busiest passenger flight-path in the world.

The name of the trails has its genesis in the word Ollegil (올레길) which roughly translates into the road that connects two houses. The word is distinctive to the Jeju dialect,  and forms a bit of a pun in Korean standard, sounding similar to “Would you come?” Thus, the name is a welcoming invitation to hike around Jeju. (It’s also conveniently the same sound as a certain soccer anthem, which we make sure to sing at the start of each trail.)

Olle was founded by a former journalist, Suh Myung-Suk. She was inspired by her trek though the Camino de Santiago, that myriad of trails that terminates at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela in Galasia, Spain.

The Olle organization encourages hikers to “walk slowly, and enjoy every step.” While we often ignore the first part (who wants to hike slowly?) we couldn’t avoid the second, even had we wanted to. It is Crayon-Pop-levels-of-fun-ice-cream.

Olle 16 - 06
One of the most enjoyable things about the Olle is its abundance of variety. Trails generally follow already established hiking routes, roads, or alleys. Because of this, they wind and twist. In a single Olle, you are likely to hike on paved streets, around lazy orange groves, on rocky beaches, up an oreum (오름, a small volcanic mountain), and maneuver your way through a field with high grass and a cow checking you out–all with beautiful views of Mt. Halla (the tallest mountain in all of Korea) and the ever-lovely sea. There are even three short trails on the outlying smaller islands.
 Olle 5 - 14
Trails are marked with beautiful orange and blue flags emblazoned with the Olle logo, orange and blue arrows, and little blue ponies (emblematic of the Jeju pony breed). Each trail has three checkpoints–the starting point, a middle point, and a finishing point. At each checkpoint, travelers have the opportunity to put a stamp in their Olle passport book.
Olle 16 - 79
For us, collecting a stamp fills us with feelings of accomplishment. Each stamp is unique and beautiful–designed to fit the “theme” of the trail. Once we collect all of our stamps, we can bring our passport books to the Olle office for a completion stamp, certificate, and a heightened sense of badassitude. We are going to hike this island like woah.

6 thoughts on “Jeju Olle

  1. Hi Caroline & Marc,

    Jim Saunders here from Jeju Olle Trail. I also live on Jeju Island and volunteer with the foundation generally helping out with anything English related.

    I was checking our Twitter account this morning and came upon your tweet and blog post about us. Thanks for a decent introduction. You pretty much got it all correct.

    There is one anecdote I always like to tell about our ribbons. The blue represents Jeju’s ocean while the orange represents the tangerines grown on the island.

    How many routes (as we call them in English) have you walked? I see a group of foreigners around the Route 16 marker. Is this at the start or finish?

    If you do want to follow Olle news in a bit more detail then you can ‘like’ us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/jejuolletrail – usually with English translations). Then there’s the Olle Walkers Facebook Group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/ollewalkers/ – I post exclusively English language content for Olle enthusiasts).

    We also have a couple of events each month including Clean Olle (http://www.jnuri.net/news/articleView.html?idxno=11667 – scroll down for English) and Walk Together (which can be likened to a mini festival).

    Actually Clean Olle will be going ahead every Saturday for this month on our festival routes.Our festival (http://www.jejuolle.org/LAKR/festival/tpl_2012festival.html) is from Thursday, October 31, through to Saturday, November 2, so we’re cleaning them a lot. I can’t make it this weekend from the Route 15 start point at 10 a.m. but maybe in the following weeks.

    Finally if you are ever interested in walking an Olle route together at a different time then please let me know. I’d be happy to go with you to introduce Olle and the island’s history a bit more.

    I’ve been rambling on, but I hope that gives you both an overview about some of the things that happen with Jeju Olle Trail!

    Stay well on the routes!

    • Hi Jim!

      Thank for stopping by! We’re excited that you saw our post.

      So far we have walked six routes (5, 6, 9, 10, 1-1, 16). We plan to do all of them by the time we (possibly) leave next year in August.

      We might take you up on walking together sometime. We’ll shoot you a message if so!

  2. Pingback: Hiking at Elm House | Fabulous 50's

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