A little-known but rewarding day trip from Busan, the Upo Wetlands are situated in Changnyeong County about 150 kilometers to the northwest. The wetlands consist of four marshy expanses. Upo in the center is the largest, with Sajipo on its east, Mokpo on its north and Jjokjibeol on its west. They are clustered close together just east of the Nakdong River, to which they were originally connected when they formed 6,000 years ago. (The other theory is that they are 140 million years old.)
These wetlands are an ideal spot for nature lovers and anyone interested in ecology, because, since 1962, they have been officially designated a nature zone under some name or other, finally becoming registered in 1998 with the Ramsar Convention, which is devoted to protecting waterfowl habitats around the world.
More than anything else, Upo is a birdwatcher’s paradise: resident species include turtle doves and magpies, while the crested ibis, Eurasian spoonbill and whooping swan arrive in winter. In summer, the black-crowned night heron, great egret and grey heron migrate here; the common snipe, greenshank and green sandpiper all pass through.
In all, birds from as far away as Siberia and Australia harbor here at some time in the year. During their stay, these birds become part of the wetlands’ ecosystem by feeding on numerous species of aquatic plants, which can be seen on and around the muddy-watery surface. The wetlands are also home to an abundance of fish, snails and insects on which the birds feed. Thus, they are part of an organic whole in which all life forms from the bacteria in the silt to the birds and insects in the tree tops are interdependent.
When you are dropped off at the main entrance, you will see a tiny information booth where you can acquire a free English map and behind it is the bike rental facility. A further 50 meters behind these lies the Upo Wetland Ecological Center, consisting of a gift shop, museum and botanical garden. The first carries souvenirs and snack food, the second presents dead the flora and fauna you can see alive outdoors, and the third is very small and just contains more plants.
Since the main reason for visiting the wetlands is, of course, the wetlands themselves, you can just go past these buildings to the trailhead after getting your map. Numerous trails run along and around them; some can only be traversed on foot, but most can be enjoyed on foot or bike. The total area comprises eight-and-a-half square kilometers, of which just over two are the surface of the water. To the Ecological Center’s credit, free WiFi and a drinking fountain must be mentioned.
All in all, the Upo Wetlands are a well-maintained and easy-to-explore scenic spot where you can get out of the city for a day to commune with nature. You can bring a picnic lunch, or dine at one of the restaurants across the street from the entrance. Since Bugok Hot Springs are in the same county, you could even soak in a tub after your hiking or biking exertions. Whatever you do, you will find the vista of the wetlands, with its swaying plants and soaring birds, deeply moving, and you can take home a memory of an agreeable day.
All this wildlife exists under beneficent human stewardship, principally the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (woopo.kfem.or.kr, Changnyeong branch 055-532-7856), and Changnyeong County, which is also home to a surprising array of historical sites; its tourist information number is 055-530-2241~2. The Upo Wetland Ecology Center can be reached at 055-530-1551, and its homepage is www.upo.or.kr.
Getting there: It takes about 75 minutes from Seobu Bus Terminal at Sasang subway station. There are 19 departures for Changnyeong’s intercity bus terminal every day, and the ride passes through some nice countryside. Once there, you can take a 10-minute taxi ride to ‘Upo-neup’, as the wetlands are called in Korean.
If you don’t want to take a taxi, you can take the local bus to get out to the wetlands, although there are only departures five times a day, at 6:50, 9:40, 1:30, 3:00 and 6:00. To get to Yeongsin Bus Terminal, go right as you exit the intercity terminal, walk about 100 meters, and it is on your right.
Lead photo courtesy of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
For more info about birds in Korea check out www.birdskorea.org
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