We spent most of last year travelling around South Korea. Every opportunity or holiday was converted to a weekend getaway from Seoul. Our trips were spontaneous and planned on the spot. We wanted to explore paths that were off the popular tourist radar and closer to nature.
Last April (2019), we explored the city of Ulsan on the Easter weekend. We had walked in Taehwagang Grand Park on Good Friday and took the city tour — in search of dinosaur tracks & ancient petroglyphs — on Saturday morning. In the evening, we took a local bus from Taehwagang River to our motel near Ilsan Beach. It’s a very long (scenic) ride to the other side of the city and the bus stops at every stop. After check-in, we rested for a bit, and went out to explore Daewangam Park before sunset.
Korean beaches officially open in summer (June – August). There were very few people on Ilsan Beach in the month of April. It gets pretty chilly and windy in spring. It would have been nice to spend more time here, but we were in a hurry to explore the park before it got dark. We walked along the beach — towards the green outline of Daewangam Park.
It’s a pretty steep climb to reach to the top. The tourist counter had shut for the day and I couldn’t find any brochures or maps. We followed local tourists and climbed the stairs to reach the forest trail.
I wish we had found this map before we explored the park. It would have given us an approximate idea of where we headed and what was in store for us. When you’re short on time, it’s just a crazy race towards the unknown.
The forest trail literally cuts through the forest and we reached the main tourist activity area very quickly. It’s a nice trail with all kinds of trees and it might look stunning during the peak of cherry blossoms and in autumn.
We made a small detour to Ulgi Lighthouse. There’s a lookout point just beyond the lighthouse and it’s perfect to enjoy a panoramic view of Daewanganm Island. Few tourists explored this path and that made it all the more alluring.
Daewangam Island is the main attraction of the park. We had made it just in time and hurried towards the scattered collection of sandy-brown rocks. In spring, wildflowers grow everywhere and they’re a sight for sore eyes.
Along the Coast
There are multiple walking trails in Daewangam Park. We spotted a trail that lead to the rocky coast below. We were tempted to explore this trail, but we didn’t know how long it would take to get back, and we didn’t want to risk missing the main purpose of this trip.
It’s quite common for women to sell fresh/live shellfish, abalone, and other interesting sea creatures along the coast of Korea. Some women, dressed in black wetsuits, reminded me of Jeju’s iconic Haenyeo Divers. I wasn’t sure if these women were selling fish or filling them in boxes.
We quickly climbed back to the main entrance of the island. It was windy in the evening and I was glad I had carried my sweatshirt. It had been a long day and I was tired with all the walking. However, golden hour was soon approaching and we would have to hurry before sunset. The sun brought out the beautiful golden-yellow hues of the rocks.
A long iron bridge snakes around the crests and troughs of the rock island. It’s quite an easy trail to walk along. Most tourists were making their way back to the mainland. Our bad planning had been perfect to minimise the number of people on the trail.
In the evening — under the shade of towering rocks and covered with floating seaweeds — the water looked gorgeous in shades of deep blue. If you look close enough, you might even begin to see patterns emerging in the water.
We could spot the dark green outline of the pine forest — with Ulgi Lighthouse sticking out.
On the Rocks
The walking trail is undulating and alternates between sea and lookout points.
The rocks on this tiny island have been carved by the weather, wind, and sea — over an extended period of time. Erosion is quite the artist. It’s not very hard to imagine shapes of mythical creatures and sleeping dragons emerging from lifeless rocks.
Water created narrow channels after splitting ginormous rocks into two parts. Everything looked fantastic and I felt like a child on a geology field trip.
“Men argue. Nature acts.”
The trail eventually ends at a vantage point with a panoramic view of the Daewangam Park and the coast. There was some crowding here and we didn’t stay for long at this point.
“Everything you can imagine is real.”
― Pablo Picasso
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
― Anne Frank
Korean cats are quite adventurous. We’ve spotted them on mountain peaks and on rocky outcrops. The cats in Seoul are very different and are prone to obesity. These strays had no problems walking on the tricky path. There was a slight dispute for territory — before each cat went on his/her own way.
We were happy to watch the sun set beyond the outline of pine trees. We had managed to explore this gem in record time and it was worth the energy spent on speed walking.
Along the Coastal Trail
It was hard to ignore those hunger pangs. We hadn’t carried anything to munch on. We could have taken the forest path, but we found another trail that runs parallel to the coast. This trail is a little longer as it hugs the outer circumference of the park. However, the views are absolutely gorgeous.
It was a silent and scenic walk back to the entrance of the park. We were alone in this magical paradise. We had saved the best for last.
The trail alternates between a rocky path and wooden stairs. It’s not too much effort — just a gentle slope. Although, I wish we had packed some energy bars or nuts with us. We were starving and hoped to find food at the end of the trail.
“Sometimes I get so immersed in my own company, if I unexpectedly run into someone I know, it’s a bit of a shock and takes me a while to adjust.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro
The trail often forked and we’d meander to isolated lookout points. Some of these points required nimble legs and ambidextrous hands. Yes, there were bars to hold, and sometimes — just thin air at the edge of the outcrop.
The rock formations just kept getting better and we forgot that we were losing daylight. Everything looked so beautiful and the silence made it hard for us to leave these natural gems. The trail was simple and well marked (with light) and I wasn’t worried about getting lost.
In the distance, we could spot the port and probably Hyundai Motor Ulsan Plant.
Back to the Start
We finally reached the forest trail and immediately went in search of food. We found a shortcut to the tourist area and hoped the main food court wouldn’t be shut.
It’s frustrating when you see a zillion coffee shops open and barely any restaurants open after dark. Luckily, Mom’s Touch (a local Korean burger chain) was still taking last orders and we had made it just in time.
Our walk wasn’t over yet. We had to walk along the beach to reach our motel. It was deserted by eightish on a Saturday night. But the city lights weren’t ready to fade away.