Some islands are known as summer destinations. People book their trips to Martha’s Vineyard, Bermuda, and the Isle of Skye months in advance to ensure they receive their first choice of dates and rooms in July and August. The beaches are packed, the restaurants are filled, and the traffic is bumper to bumper. Then autumn arrives, and departures are hasty. But sometimes the best time to visit these places is when everyone else leaves.
Jeju Island, the largest island in South Korea, is one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations. In the summer. People flock to the beautiful beaches: Jungmun, Gwakji, and Hamdeok. They hike up dormant Mt. Hallasan and through Manjang’s lava caves. They wake up really early to watch the sun rise from Seongsan Ilchulbong, a volcanic crater. And they clog Ilju Road, a 181-kilometer coastal road that rings the island.
But with a subtropical climate, Jeju Island is still warm and dry throughout autumn. On Ilju Road, you’ll see emerald beaches, hidden waterfalls, rocky coves, and crashing waves on one side. Basalt, lava structures, and oreum–volcanic cones–on the other. Seagulls and wildflowers are everywhere. Plus, in the south, the tangerine harvest is about the begin.
Along the northwestern coast, see black-lava shores, emerald water, and Korean rosebay flowers from observation platforms. On the southwestern shore, drive up Mt. Songaksan for views of Hyeongjeseom Island, Mt. Sanbangsan, and the sparkling water. In the east, visit Sinyang Beach, and the green fields and the lighthouse at Seopjikoji; go fishing in Jongdal-ri; and pass stone towers that people built to help bring them luck. Finally, see long-necked storks, long-legged spoonbills, and other rare birds–plus the best view of Mt. Hallasan–from Hadori. When the wind picks up in the early evening, cap off the day with sea urchin soup, potato pancakes, and green tea.
It’s amazing how much you can accomplish once the high season is over. You actually get to see more than brake lights along the road, and you’ll be able to photograph the sights without other tourists intruding on your pictures. You’ll be back to Jeju Island, but only after everyone else leaves again.