Monday, November 28, 2011

Dokdo, Korea's Eastern-most Volcanic Islands

Dokdo, Korea's Easternmost Volcanic IslandsKorea's easternmost islets of Dokdo are a special place to visit. But those seeking to stay overnight must obtain an entry permit from the Cultural Heritage Administration several weeks in advance as ordinary visitors are restricted to trips of just one hour.

The islets were formed from lava flows resulting from a volcanic eruption around 2,000 m below the surface of the ocean that occurred between 4.6 million to 2.5 million years ago. The creation of Dokdo predates Ulleung Island by around 2 million years, and Jeju Island by around 3.4 million years.

Dokdo is actually composed of two islands -- east and west -- and surrounded by around 90 rock formations.

The two islands lie around 150 m apart. According to the maritime police guarding Dokdo, the water separating the two is very shallow -- it never dips below 2.0 m -- and traversable on foot, but the narrow channel is usually crossed by boat for safety reasons.

Depending on weather conditions, visitors are usually only granted access to Dokdo for about 50 days each year. That means many are forced to turn back without ever setting foot on the islands.

After a short trek around Dokdo, we headed to the west island to stay for a day. Kim Sung-do, the sole inhabitant, came to greet us aboard a rubber boat and we got to the other side in less than three minutes. From the seawall, trumpet shells, sea urchins and other marine life were visible under the waves. The ebbing tides create an optimum environment for a wide variety of marine species.

Early next morning, we hiked for about 20 minutes to the highest point of the island in order to catch a breathtaking sunrise.

The forest on the other side of the island teems with lush vegetation. The high peaks and dry soil make it a tough environment for vegetation to flourish, but around 60 different types of plants can still be found there. Another 20-minute hike led our party to the only freshwater source there, which produces about one barrel of water a day.

After we left the west island and headed east, the situation became slightly more tense. The east island is controlled by the military and photography is prohibited, unless visitors are accompanied by a minder. As a result, we could not set foot on it until we received approval from the maritime police guarding its power generators, radars and communications facilities. The military facilities were off-limits.

Dokdo, Korea's easternmost territory, is open to both Koreans and foreigners, but the latter must go through a routine application process to gain admittance.


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