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UNESCO World Heritage Series: Part 2 - Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes

by Yvonne Kim
24 February 2017

By Matthew Fennell, Contributing Writer

The second installment of our World Heritage Series sees us take a trip to Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes, South Korea’s only natural site to make the revered list of United Nation designated list. While Korea has 11 identifiable places of special cultural importance, if you want to visit a place of physical significance then you have to take a trip to South Korea’s largest island, 130 kilometers south of the peninsula. Jeju Island has a mythical feeling for many Koreans, while its appeal to Chinese tourists is growing exponentially; the Seoul to Jeju Island air route is the busiest in the world with a staggering 11.1 million passengers making the trip in 2015. While the amount of tourists, theme parks and attractions may threaten to take away a lot of Jeju’s charm, there is no doubting the natural beauty that the island possesses.

Mount Halla (Hallasan) is the central feature of Jeju Island, and along with the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System and the Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, feature on the inscribed list under the title of “Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes”. Halla Mountain is the largest in South Korea standing at almost 2,000 meters high, formed as a result of the collection of lava, which created a massive shield volcano and crater lake. Despite the numbers of people making the climb on a daily basis, the scenery on the way up, and the view at the top, certainly make it worthy of its World Heritage status. The same can be said about Seongsan Ilchulbong, or sunrise peak as it is locally known, which was created when an underwater volcano exploded more than 5,000 years ago. For Koreans, it is a long held belief that they should make the early morning hike to see the sun rise at least once in their lives.

While mountains may be already familiar to many people, a unique, yet impressive feature on the island is the extensive system of massive lava tubes that can be found just below the surface. These spaces through which hot lava once flowed are now empty caves, some of the largest in the world. The World Heritage Convention describe Jeju’s underground landscape as the “finest such cave system in the world, having an outstanding visual impact even for those experienced with such phenomena”. The caves, along with providing opportunities for scientific research, are a highlight for many people who visit the island. Although only 1 kilometer of the cave system is open to tourists, the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System actually stretches for many kilometers. Along with taking its place on the World Heritage list, Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes is also listed at number 23 on CNN Go's 50 natural wonders: The ultimate list of scenic splendor.