WRITTEN BY
Tyler Roney

PHOTOS AND VIDEO
Noel Thomas

PUBLISHED
September 13, 2017

LOCATION
Jeju, Korea

In the vast pantheon of Asian beaches, islands, and tropical bliss, Korea often doesn’t make the cut. It is, however, in the volcanic curiosities of Jeju that Korea redeems itself – an island built on 2 million year old magma. And, with low winds and a relatively drone-friendly atmosphere, it is from the air that these geographic and cultural peculiarities are best explored.

“What drew me to Jeju what is the unique volcanic structures, for example Seongsan Ilchulbon is a very unique crater, the only one of its kind in the world,” says Noel Thomas, a drone videographer from New Jersey.

ABOVE: Video from Noel Thomas flies over the Korean island of Jeju.

The volcanic structures are unique indeed. The most popular is perhaps the Manjanggul Lava Tube: 30 meters high, the twelfth longest in the world, and home to about 30,000 bats. Above ground, however, the remnants of this volcanic past are expressed everywhere from Mount Hallasan to the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall and the outer islands.

ABOVE: The curious geographic features of Jeju are courtesy of its volcanic past.

“My favorite though is the little island of Udo off the coast of Jeju, there is an amazing landscape that can be seen on Udo only on the other side not facing Jeju,” Noel says. “A drone is the only way to see these particular landscapes and structures.” Udo is a large island on a lava plateau, said to resemble a laying cow.

ABOVE: Windmills above clear blue water on Sinchang Windmill Coastal Road.

Low winds, geographical anomalies, and a relatively drone-friendly atmosphere: it’s an ideal droning location. Noel shoots with a Phantom 4 pro drone that records 4K at 60 frames a second. “I also use a headset called the Avegant Glyph,” says Noel. “[Also], neutral density filters polarized for the camera to get smooth cinematic footage and reduce glare.”

The rules for drone flight, Noel assures, is quite similar to the US. “Stay below 400 feet and don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport.”

ABOVE: The beaches and clear, cool waters of Jeju draw visitors from around Asia and the world.

It is, however, not the volcanic geography that brings the constant throng of visitors to Jeju; it’s the beaches. True, they’re not as nice as one might find in Southeast Asia, but they easily beat anything found on China’s east coast and rival Japan’s best.

With it’s waterfalls and beaches, newlyweds come from all around Asia and the West to celebrate in Jeju: romantic, sub-tropical, developed, and with clear, cold water. Hyeopjae Beach is the most popular, but the coffee-shop-lined Woljeongri Beach is perhaps more relaxing and with bright white sands. With more than half a dozen beaches of interest, Jeju’s coastline – both rocky and sandy – features stunning geologic scenes and quite passable island life adventures. And, soon, travelers will be able to put a Four Seasons to their Jeju hotel list.

ABOVE: Hedge maze in Maze Land on Jeju, Maze Land also features the world’s largest stone maze of roughly 5.3. kilometers.

Many of the beaches of East Asia can seem quite uniform (tiki bar after tiki bar), but Jeju is still pleasantly Korean. Island life on Korea’s Jeju is distinct from their mainland neighbors – a tourist island with a history of rebellion and toughness.

Other tourist sites abound, all great for drone shots, including the curious Maze Land, which features the longest stone maze in the world, and the surprisingly picturesque windmills on the island’s west.

ABOVE: Seonim Bridge on Jeju Island, reminiscent of a Korean myth involving seven celestial nymphs.

“The culture and people are quite intriguing,” says Noel. “For example the Jeju women divers that work in the ocean.” Noel speaks of the most famous example of this hearty Jeju attitude: the haenyeo divers, women who dive sans scuba gear into the freezing waters to hunt for abalone and other seafood.

Jeju isn’t an average beach getaway. Travelers trade beach bars for volcanology and warm snorkeling for kimchi, but Jeju is fascinating – especially from the air.