Driving from Tongyeong to Geoje
The drive from Tongyeong to Geoje is about 30 minutes. However, the journey from Yi Sun-sin Park (earlier post), in Tongyeong, to Windy Hill, in Geoje, took over an hour. Both scenic points are located at the southernmost tip of each island city. We would spend the night in Geoje. Most Korean hotels and pensions have a late check-in and we weren’t in a hurry. In summer (2019), the sun sets pretty late and we had a couple of hours before calling it a day.
Geoje is about an hour away from Busan. It might be a better idea to explore Geoje from Busan — if you’re coming from Seoul or driving along the east coast. There’s a lot to explore in Geoje and the regional tourist site might be a good starting point to plan a longer trip.
Traditional Korean Techniques
Driving in rural Korea can be a rewarding experience. There are so many interesting cultural practices that aren’t easy to spot in the big cities or popular tourist sights. We had learned about traditional Korean fishing (using rods) in Namhae. However, I’m not sure if this is a traditional fishing or farming technique. From our Namhae trip, I just assumed it’s a traditional way to catch fish.
Hallyeohaesang National Park
The winding roads of Geoje were deserted on a Friday afternoon. The route wasn’t too challenging and I didn’t need to focus on the direction boards or road map. The scenery changed from idyllic farms, quaint village roads, towering trees to green mountains.
Wildflowers popped sporadically. Unlike Namhae, where I felt intimidated by the lack of human presence, in Geoje, the isolation was a treat.The weather was nice and cool for a change.
We drove deeper into Hallyeohaesang Marine National Park. In the month of June, hydrangeas covered the sloping hills on the side. I’m not sure if they were planted or naturally grow in the summer months. Driving through a tunnel of trees is one of the most soothing parts of the drive to ‘Windy Hill‘.
It wasn’t easy finding parking here. We were surprised to see so many Korean tourists appear from nowhere. Most of them were leaving and we found a spot to squeeze (literally)/park the car. There are many tourist shops and cafes just before the stairs that lead to top of the hill. The wooden windmill, on the top, is Windy Hill’s top tourist draw.
Manicured lawns with well-marked walking trails covered the hill. Last summer was quite hot and it was nice to enjoy the occasional sea breeze.
Speed boats took tourists for a spin in the sea or possibly closer to the hazy island in the distance. We didn’t have the time to explore these options and focussed on the views from the top.
It would have been nice to sit on a chair and enjoy the natural beauty of this green island in Hallyeohaesang National Park. The fact that every chair was empty — indicated how hot the weather actually was.
Windy hill is a manicured cliff that overlooks the sea and cascading mountains of the national park. Dense foliage covered every inch of the small islands.
It’s a steep and quick climb to the wooden windmill. The views from this vantage point are totally worth it. Most Koreans were obsessed with the wooden windmill and couldn’t get enough of it. Two popular K-Dramas have been shot here and that’s possibly one of the reasons why it’s so famous.
There’s another trail that leads into the woods. We knew we didn’t have the time to explore that trail and we preferred to walk towards the village settlement.
After an internet search, I finally found out the name of these flowers that pop from every divider in Seoul during summer. I love these flowers so much that we’ve bought a plant in every summer. These flowers are called petunia surfinia (or vice versa)and were growing abundantly along a long railing to the other end of the village road.
The village (my guess Dopojang village) was quieter and perfect to enjoy long shots of windy hill. Remember to speak softly in such villages and try to respect locals while photographing houses or people. Always ask permission — if you see someone. Lookout for boards on photography. The government wants to attract tourists to such villages, by inviting local artists to paint murals on the walls; but one must also understand that for most locals it can be annoying to find a dozen snapping cameras. We walked in silence and enjoyed the narrow village roads.
Petunia flowers lined the outer perimeter of the village road and made a wonderful foreground to those gorgeous views.
Eating roasted chestnuts is quite popular here and we bought a pack of chestnuts from a local stall. I was quite hungry and those warm chestnuts hit the spot.
We continued walking to the main road and discovered another parking lot on the top. I guess, the GPS leads you to the parking closest to the location of your destination. There’s a touristy museum nearby. We weren’t able to pick up a tourist map of Geoje and the map on the board was our reference for the day.
We were lucky to find a wonderful cliff — hidden in plain sight. Windy Hill was the main attraction, however, I preferred the solitude and uninterrupted (non-gimmicky) views from Sinseondae Cliff.
Views like these can get anyone’s energy levels back on track. I felt invigorated and didn’t think twice before walking closer to the base.
Yellow wildflowers were growing in wild abandon and tiny islands emerged out of the sea. It was a perfect setting for a picnic.
The walking trail goes right to the base and if you look closer (second pic), you can spot a couple of people on the edge of the rock.
These rocks were quite unique in texture and composition. Wind and water erosion had sculpted the cliff into nicely sliced slabs. Vegetation was denser at the top and the base was mostly abundant in shrubs, grass, and wildflowers.
Water formed a small chasm between two rock faces and it looked pretty spectacular from the other side.
We found orange algae (possibly lichen) on multiple rock surfaces. It looked quite pretty in the evening sun. Wildflowers formed pretty bouquets and spilled out of rock crevices.
The walk back to the top and the parking lot felt very long. We would have liked to explore more and possibly stay back here.
Dopojang Mural Street
We passed murals and street art on the way back to the parking lot. Unlike other mural villages (it’s a thing in Korea), most paintings were losing colour and the flowers caught our attention instead. Hydrangeas and ice plants dotted the sloping hills on the side of the narrow road.
Our pension was located on the top of a narrow village road. It’s always better to rent a smaller car in Korea — especially if you’re doing village exploration. Basil had to gently manoeuvre the car through this narrow road. The owner/caretaker couldn’t speak English and there was some confusion regarding payment. When everything was settled, we finally enjoyed the view from our window.
Our room overlooked colourful rooftops of village houses, the sea, and Hallyeohaesang National Park. It was the perfect view and setting to end a long day of exploration.
On the next morning, we stopped for breakfast at Hakdong Beach. We had a long way to go back to Yeosu — to return the rental car. We started early in the morning to get a head start and skip traffic.
Hakdong Beach is known for its black pebbles. There’s a story about a young girl who took a pebble back to her country and returned it to South Korea — after her mother found it in her bag.
We walked for a bit and sat to enjoy the cool breeze. It was last day of our very long summer trip (2019) and we were sad to go back to city life.
The best part of having your own car (despite problems with navigation and language) is the luxury of stopping wherever and whenever you want. We found this pretty sanctuary on the way and it was hard to leave. The next couple of hours were spent navigating (and also getting lost) through highways, rotaries, tolls, and tunnels. We retraced our path from Geoje to Yeosu via Tongyeong and Namhae. It turned out that we had to return the car a day earlier and had to pay an additional fee (with a fine) to the rental agency. After that, we left our bags in a local hostel and spent our last day walking around Yeosu.