For most westerners, New Years Eve means late night parties with friends or family (and usually booze) where we count down the seconds to midnight and ring in the New Year with cheering and fanfare. Korea has a different, if no less alcoholic, way of ringing in the New Year. Every December 31st thousands of Koreans brave the freezing cold and flock to various beaches and mountain peaks where the stay up all night to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. You may not know, but one of the most popular spots in the country for greeting the sun on January 1st isn’t far from Gyeongju: The Homigot Sunrise Plaza (호미곷해맞이공원).
Only an half hour’s drive from Pohang, “Homigot” literally means Tiger’s Tail Cape ( if you envision the Korean peninsula to be shaped like tiger, the cape is at the tip of its tail) and it’s a lovely place to visit any time of the year. We got out to Homigot last August and it made for a pleasant break from the summer’s heat. Aside from the sea itself, there are a number of attractions that make Homigot worth the trip, the most famous being two curious sculptures known as the “Hands of Harmony.” These stone and bronze statues are a pair of huge human hands, one rising from the water and the other from land. They supposedly represent the hopes and aspirations of the Korean people and they were installed for the turn of the millennium. They have been strategically placed so that if they are photographed at sunrise, they look like they are holding the rising sun, though they make for a popular family photo op any time of the day.
For maritime enthusiasts, there is also the Homigot Lighthouse and Lighthouse Museum. The lighthouse itself was built in 1903, at the tail end of the Joseon Dyansty, and is one of the tallest in the country. The museum documents the construction of the lighthouse and also houses displays and presentations on lighthouses from around the world. We decided to skip the museum on our visit, so I can’t say if it’s worth the price of admission. However, a stroll through the lighthouse replicas in the museum garden was amusing and had us wondering what happened to all the golf balls and astro turf.
One warning though, don’t come out to Homigot expecting an afternoon of sand and surf. The coastline at Homigot is quite rocky (and a tad bit grungy). However, if you’re looking to do some swimming or picnicking, there are some nice beaches further along the coast. Homigot does offer some great restaurants that serve up fresh sushi and other seafood dishes. You can sit outside at most of these and do some people watching while you eat.
If you are interested in heading to Homigot this New Years Eve for the Sunrise Festival, they’ve usually got a lot of entertainment planned to keep you going through the cold, winter night. They’ve scheduled a full night of fireworks, concerts and performances along with free servings of tteokguk (떡국), or rice cake soup. I’ll add a couple more warnings here: Homigot is a bit tricky to get to by public transport, so be prepared to do some bus hopping. If you do drive out there, make sure you leave with a full tank of gas. You’re likely to get caught in some nasty traffic jams coming back. Also, be sure to dress warmly and bring blankets, sleeping bags or even a tent as you might get stuck out in the cold for a while. Other than that, it sounds like a fun, exciting and unique way to ring in the New Year.
View Homigot Sunrise Plaza in a larger map