Weizhou Island a volcanic wonder

Updated: 2013-01-17 07:29

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

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Our day trip to Weizhou Island was a journey of discovery, as the volcanic isle welcomed us with many attractions apart from its natural beauty.

The mysterious isle, a 60-minute drive from Beihai, drew few visitors until it was developed into a tourist attraction recently.

Covering an area of 26.88 sq km, it is believed to be one of the largest and youngest volcanic isles in China. The island was listed as a national geological park in 2004.

Evidence of volcanic activity is well-preserved and visible all over the island, though the last eruption occurred several thousand years ago.

We were captivated by bizarre volcanic landscapes at Crocodile Park. The entire island is shaped like a crawling crocodile, with its long tail flung to one side.

As we walk down to the beach from the island's spine, we get a chance to track past eruptions by observing rocks formations along the way.

At the top, rocks are softer and lighter colored because they were able to cool down gradually after an eruption. Lower down, rocks appear dark brown, almost black, indicating that they were formed as the lava is suddenly quenched by sea water.

Hilltops are covered with much vegetation, but there is not even a blade of grass on the lower parts.

We walk down the zigzag steps carved into the slopes and suddenly, the vista opens up into a wonderful sea view as we reach the viewing platforms. Time for pictures!

Bougainvillea spectabilis, flowering shrubs that are sometimes called "paper flowers", cluster along the path flaunting breathtaking hues of purple and pink under the sun.

Coming down from the mountain, we proceed on a planked path along a beach of red and black rocks, and circle round the head of the "crocodile". The path leads to a number of scenic spots, such as Moon Bay and the actual crater.

About 15,000 residents, mostly fishermen, still live in 53 villages on the lush, green island. Large fields of bananas can be seen by the roads.

Offshore, there is a bounty of coral and other treasures from the sea.

Many villagers sell shells, coral and locally harvested fruits to tourists.

Restaurants offer tasty seafood cooked in the regional style. Weizhou Island delicacies include its famous pork, from pigs that are raised on bananas.

Although we missed the pork on this trip, we did have the chance to enjoy the fresh seafood.

In the famous Sangu Temple, elderly villagers gather under the shade of a giant tree with branches tied with hundred of fluttering red prayer ribbons.

Local fishermen, who believe in Sangu, or Goddess Mazu of the Sea, host grand celebrations every year on her birthday.

In addition to the Chinese temple, a French-style Catholic church has stood on the island for about 150 years.

Built by French priests, it took 10 years to finish and it used to house a monastery, a school, a hospital and a kindergarten.

What's unusual about the church is the material used. Volcanic and coral rocks are held together by a traditional cement made from sticky rice, brown sugar and egg white. The church's extraordinary walls and resonating bell testify to its history.

In fact, it still plays an important role nowadays, as many nearby villagers remain Catholics. The church is packed with worshippers on weekends. On Easter, Christmas and other important feast days, local followers will gather here for services.

In Shengtang village nearby, houses reflect a slight Gothic style. The islanders build their houses with corals, which make them cool in summer and warm in winter.

And to cap a wonderful day out enjoying the sights, we head to the beautiful Five Color Beach as sunset arrives, and stretch out on deck chairs for a spectacular sunset as a final farewell to the day, and the island.

(China Daily 01/17/2013 page19)