“Mermaid” House, Crater Among Jeju Gems

There’s a reason the World Conservation Congress was held in Jeju—its natural beauty is hard to beat.

So after a long day spent writing yesterday (check out my story on the escalating war over elephant poaching on National Geographic News) I decided to stretch my legs a bit and see some of the island.

My taxi driver picked me up promptly at 6 a.m., and off we went to one of the island’s marquee attractions—Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, also known as Sunrise Peak.

Seongsan is a “tuff cone” (I had to look it up, too)—a type of volcanic formation created by the interaction of basaltic magma and water.

Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, seen from Mt. Seopjikoji. Photos by Christine Dell’Amore

About 5,000 years ago, a volcano erupted in a shallow sea, and the resulting magma formed an island—Seongsan, now a World Natural Heritage Site—that eroded over time. From the air, the formation looks like a giant green bowl, tethered to the mainland by a ribbon of rock.

It’s so big you can’t get a handle on what you’re looking at until you make the strenuous half-hour climb to the top. Once there you can get the full scope of the crater, which is rimmed with sharp volcanic rock and filled with all kinds of vegetation.

Inside Seongsan’s crater.

Steep path down from the crater.

I also got to see a sideways view of Seongsan from Mount Seopjikoji, a promontory with cool volcanic shapes (including one that resembles a candlestick).

Next up: the Jeju Folk Museum, a surprisingly large complex that focuses on Jeju life in the 1800s. The museum had dozens of re-created houses—simple structures built of straw, wood, and other natural materials—that would have housed various people back in the day: fisher, farmer, hunter, and so on.

Most intriguing was the house of the haenyeo, which means “sea women.” Dubbed the “mermaids of Jeju,” for decades these women have been diving into the ocean to collect clams, abalone, and seaweed—all without the hooks and lines of a fisher.

A house of a “haenyeo,” or sea woman.

Outside the house was a mannequin of a haenyeo, who was clutching her crude net and taewak, a hollowed-out gourd that serves, among many things, as a flotation device and buoy.

The profession, still highly regarded and competitive, highlights the resilience of Jeju women, according to my audio guide. Many of the exhibits emphasized how people have adapted to the challenges of life on Jeju, among them a lack of fresh water, poor soils, and a persistent wind.

My last visit was to the Cheonjiyoen Waterfall, which means “God’s pond” in Korean. The 72-foot-high (22-meter-high) falls sits in a subtropical forest boasting rare plants and species, including the giant mottled eel.

Cheonjiyoen Waterfall is home to the giant mottled eel.

I would have loved to see the fish—which a sign told me is “flesh-eating”—but I left happy they’re lurking somewhere in the deep.

Christine Dell’Amore, environment writer-editor for National Geographic News, is reporting from the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju Island, South Korea.

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.