Diving for Sea Urchins at Jeju-do

Jeju-do off the south coast of Korea is the warmest and wettest place in the country. Lying 50 miles off the southernmost tip of the peninsula, Jeju-do has the (perhaps over-exaggerated) reputation of being the ‘Hawaii of South Korea’. Jeju-do began as the favoured honeymoon destination for Korean couples, lured by the warm south and the fact that until recently most people could not obtain their own passports and it is perhaps the best place to go for a decent beach holiday.

Things to see an do

Jeju-do may be overstating its beauty, but there are some impressive waterfalls, volcanic cones, and lava tubes to explore as well as miles and miles of seashore. At dusk, bats swoop out of caves by the tens of thousands, sometimes even blackening the sky over Jeju City.

Habitants of Jeju-do claim to be of Mongol descent and they are born with a birth mark on their buttocks to prove their lineage. It’s called a ‘Mongolian spot’ and it tends to fade with age. One of the more aesthetic legacies from the Mongol occupation are the island’s horses – their descendants are now popular with posing honeymooners. The harubang, or grandfather stone is something you will also see dotted across the island. They were carved from lava – but their purpose is still a matter for debate.

Another peculiar attraction on Jeju-do is the optical illusion of a road that appears to be sloping downhill, when in fact, due to the lie of the land, it is going uphill. Water poured on the ground gives the appearance of running uphill against gravity.

Beautiful divers

But the real reason to go to Jeju is to see its diving women – the Haenyo. The Haenyo dive off Songsan, at the eastern tip of Jeju-do. This place nestles at the foot of the spectacular volcanic cone known as the sunrise peak. If conditions are good, you can see Jeju-do’s diving women, searching for seaweed, shellfish and sea urchins.

One in five of the population of Jeju earn their living from the sea, and in many families the women have been divers for generations. Now many of them are in their 70s, but they still capture the Korean’s imaginations and were pin-up girls in their day – so if it is glamorous beaches you are looking for, head for Thailand, but if it is tradition and dramatic views you want, then Jeju might be just the ticket.


Destination – South Korea


Haenyo female Divers
Plenty of info on the region’s divers and planning a trip to Jeju-do

By Iain Overton