Despite weather forecasts to the contrary, our second full day on Gageodo dawned beautiful and clear. All four of us really wanted to see what was on the far end of the island, but after hiking more than 15 km the day before we did not want to undertake a 20+ km round trip on foot. Instead we chose to hire a boat to take us to the lighthouse on the northwestern tip of Gageodo. After a quick breakfast in our room, we headed downstairs and spoke with one of the men that had offered us a fishing charter the previous day. With Tamara’s Korean skills we were able to communicate that we only wanted to be dropped at the far end and we would hike back. He charged us 50,000/person which, considering it was Chuseok day, we thought was more than reasonable.
As it turned out, he was not just taking us to the end of the island. He was also giving us a tour of the coastline. It was really beautiful to look up at the cliffs we had walked above the day before and to get some idea of what the coast actually looks like.
The ride took 20-30 minutes and we were dropped at a small pier with a boathouse and a set of steps leading up to the lighthouse complex. The lighthouse complex is government run and is a very tidy area. It is also the only set of buildings on the island that is not connected to the main port by road. Through trails or by boat is the only way to access it. Given that we had asked only to be dropped off, we knew we would be walking the rest of the rest of the way home.
There are three trail options. One leads back down the west coast to the second village, one goes straight up and over the main mountain, and one goes around to the third village on the north eastern coast. We chose to head around and see the third village. It was almost immediately apparent that these trails were nothing like those we had experienced elsewhere in Korea. We headed into a bamboo tunnel and the brush just kept closing in. Apparently all the trails on the island are like this. Given that one guy we talked to had already seen a snake that day and all the rocks were covered in moss and dew, it was a bit of a hairy 2 km trek to the village.
When we did reach the village, we found it strangely deserted. Not one villager was seen, yet there was an AC unit running beside one of the houses and Tamara caught a whiff of something cooking. We settled into a shady area on the pier and had a mini lunch after attempting to wash out the various cuts and scrapes accumulated on the trail. During lunch, we decided that our best bet was to head back on the road through the centre of the island (yes it is there even though naver and google don’t show it) rather than taking on the trail that swings out along the coast. Given the condition of the first trail and what we could see of the second one, we would have been cut to pieces by the time we made it back to our pension.
After a quick look around the village we started up the switchbacks. All the roads on the island are concrete rather than asphalt and the reflect heat like crazy so we were all pretty soaked by the time we broke onto the ridgeline just south of the mountain summit.
There is a gazebo at the crossroads and we settled into the shade for a brief rest. From the Gazebo there is a road to the main village, a road to the summit, a trail that follows the ridgeline back to the main village, and the road we had just walked up from village three. Given that we were so close, we couldn’t pass up the summit so we left Pat and Mel resting at the gazebo and headed up to check it out.
It was the strangest summit we had ever seen. After walking about 500 meters up the road we hit a military guard post. The entire top of the mountain is a military base. The guard at the gate (police) checked us in taking our names and addresses before waving us up the wooden stairs to the summit. On the summit we were greeted by another policeman coming out of a guard hut. He indicated the summit marker to our left and made it quite clear that we were only allowed to take photos of an area about a meter square around the marker. He even took the picture for us. We were then ushered back down the stairs and checked out at the gate. Very odd.
After rejoining Pat and Mel, we headed down the road towards the main village. The road crosses the ridge running the length of the island so we were walking above the coastal road from the day before.
It was a surprisingly short walk back to the village and we got there before 3:00. We headed straight to the mart for ice cream and then back to the room to dump our gear, grab swimsuits and head for the beach. When we first arrived, there were several Korean families just finishing off a picnic. We headed down to the other end of the beach. From there it was straight into the water. And boy did that draw some shocked looks from the Koreans! We lounged on the rocks for a bit before heading back to the pension.
Dinner was once again fish-centric, but this time it was anchovy soup with tofu and a large dried fish of some kind as the centrepiece. It was actually really delicious.
We followed this up with a moonlight walk around town and out to the beaches. It was a full moon, or close enough that we couldn’t tell the difference, and a beautiful clear night.
Our final morning on Gageodo was slightly overcast, but that didn’t slow us down much. After a leisurely breakfast in the room and some reading time at the village gazebo, we headed back to the beach for one last dip. It was the first time we had been there when the tide was coming in. We found that there was a section of smooth, sloping rock (the same ones we had reclined on the day before) where the waves were washing quite strongly. The rocks were so smooth that we could ride the waves in and out across them without any difficulty. Great ride.
Sadly, we had to get to town for lunch, to settle the room, get our tickets and board the ferry home. Gageodo was an amazing trip – one of the top trips we have taken in Korea. There were so few people, great beaches, and decent hiking. It was easy to just relax and enjoy our time there. Such a great place.
Logistics and Advice
Let’s start by saying these are just suggestions and we are far from authorities on this stuff.
Getting there takes a while, but is not that complicated. Buses from Gwangju to Mokpo start at 5:20 AM and run regularly throughout the day for a little under ₩6,000. From the bus terminal it’s about a ₩6,000 cab ride to the ferry terminal. That’s when things start to get pricey. There is only one ferry to and from Gageodo each day. It leaves Mokpo at 8:10 and makes several stops along the way and costs over ₩60,000. Coming back, the ferry leaves Gageodo at 13:00 and costs slightly less. It takes between four and five hours. The ticket office opens at 11:30 and is located just behind the police building on the waterfront.
There are several different accommodation options in the main village including minbak, motels, and pensions. There is also a minbak at the second village. We think there is one at the third village as well, but the deserted feel to the place would suggest that it may not be operational. We paid ₩60,000 for the room we rented that had more than enough space for two couples. We looked at another room in the pension for ₩40,000 that would have comfortably held only one couple.
Once you’re on the island, getting around is largely by boat or on foot. It may be possible to hitch a ride. We were offered one as we climbed the hill out of the village on the first day, but we chose not to accept so we can’t say if there would have been a cost involved. For our boat trip, to the end of the island we paid ₩50,000 per person. Trails on the island are, in general, poorly maintained and overgrown with some nasty thorn bushes. Those who plan on hiking them will need long pants and should probably wear light long sleeves as well. There are roads, albeit narrow ones, to all three villages and the mountain summit, but not to the lighthouse.
Travelling the islands we learned that you should bring your own breakfast, unless of course you are OK with Korean style rice, fish, and kimchi for breakfast. This trip we brought oatmeal, trail mix and a bit of fruit. We also brought trail food for when we are out and about, including energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc. Basically, we only planned to eat out for dinners, and even one of those was made up of mostly ramyeon. If you don’t like fish, bring a lot of food, because it is hard to find anything else. Just because it’s on the menu doesn’t mean you can order it. The first night we ordered samgyupsal (which was listed on the side of the building) and were served maeuntang: spicy fish soup. It was a case of shut-up and eat or go hungry.
Bring cash to the islands. As much as you think you will need to cover all your costs. Some places might accept cards and some islands might have an atm. But there are no guarantees they will have them or that the machines will be working. There is not a lot of English on the islands, so be ready and willing to try Korean and get by with hand gestures. While we were snubbed pretty hard a few times, people generally seem more friendly and more willing to try to talk to you, laugh with you, and welcome you.