From great heights to beach life

“Hello palm trees on sandy beaches and the sound of crashing waves!”

Induruwa and Galle, Sri Lanka

Our decent from about 2000m high to sea level began after a delicious breakfast. The estimated time of travel was about 6 hours and although a long drive I was looking forward to taking in the scenic views along the way.

We left Nuwara Eliya on the A7 highway which took us past some beautiful waterfalls. We first stopped to take in the view of St Clair’s Falls which is called the Little Niagara of Sri Lanka followed by a cup of tea at the Tea Castle. From here you can get an impressive but far away view over Devon’s Falls which is the 19th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. Leaving the town of Talawaele behind, we continued to travel through the Ceylon tea plantations and small towns while we meandered downwards. I did have to close my eyes on some occasions as the constant weaving back and forth along the road made for an uncomfortable ride.

Halfway through our journey we stopped for lunch at Kitulgala on the Kelani River which is well known for river rafting.  It was very busy with groups of rafters making their way to the river and even the Tuk-Tuks played their part in helping transport rafts on top of their rooves, dwarfing the Tuk-Tuks.  The vegetation in this area is filled with the Kitul palm tree.  It is the sap from these palm trees that they use to make jaggery.  We went to a lovely spot for lunch overlooking the river at Plantation Hotel where we ordered chicken curry and rice.  The portion of rice was massive completely filling a dinner plate with our chicken curry being two small pieces in some curry sauce.  Nevertheless it was tasty, but might have been wise to share.

A few more hours on the road after lunch and I must admit that I was getting restless sitting in the car, it was very tempting to say ‘Are we there yet?’ every five minutes.  We welcomed the on ramp to the Southern Expressway which did speed our journey up a bit.

We finally made it to Induruwa on the south west coast – hello palm trees on sandy beaches and the sound of crashing waves!

The Whispering Palms hotel is really in an idyllic and quiet location – the sandy beach that stretches out in front of the hotel is ideal for long walks. In the early evenings you can watch, as you walk, the hermit crabs scurry into their little burrows the closer you get to them. It is also an ideal place to watch the sunset or evening rain shower. You can view my hotel review on TripAdvisor.

We spent a fair bit of time relaxing at the hotel pool with the occasional swim in the sea.  The sea was rather rough and we had a few unexpected tumbles along the way – in fact it took me days to get all the sand out of my hair and scalp :).

As much as I love the beach I had not been to Sri Lanka before and hence exploring was a definite must on our list.  First on the exploration list was Galle, a UNESCO world heritage site.  The road from Induruwa to Galle runs parallel to the coast line, taking you past lovely ocean and beach scenery along with roadside stores selling fresh king coconuts.

It also takes you past some of the worst hit areas of the 2004 tsunami.  Evidence of the destruction can still be seen today with house ruins, houses still being repaired along with the sadness clearly felt when locals talk about the natural disaster that affected so many.  As you get closer to Hikkaduwa you can visit the Tsunami museum and view the giant Buddha,  Tsunami Honganji Vihara,  built in remembrance of those that died in the tragedy.

The town of Hikkaduwa is very vibrant with lots of guesthouses, shops and places to eat, it  has been named Hippiduwa by the locals.  Although the coral gardens have been placed under protection you can apparently still see an abundance of marine life on one of the many glass-bottomed boat trips.

As we entered into Galle you could feel how busier the town was.  We headed straight up to The Lady Hill hotel and their rooftop bar for the views of Galle and the sea.  The view does not fail to impress and you can get a good outline of the fort from here.  If it wasn’t for the view I personally did not find anything spectacular about the hotel or bar and the service was a little on the slow side.

We enjoyed our time exploring within the fort walls.  The old Dutch town centre is still full of colonial buildings, most in good repair. Filled with boutique shops and cafés you could spend hours exploring if it was not so hot. I kid you not – my nail polish on my toes started melting, that combined with a walk on the beach later added texture and glittering sand to my toes, who needs nail art!

We managed to find a table at Poonies Kitchen,  an organic health café, on Peddlars street serving some delightful mouth-watering treats and cold drinks.  We did not attempt the ‘world’s best’ carrot cake as it was not gluten free.  But I think my Dad would be a better taste tester as he has tasted many around the world.  It was then on to explore the old Dutch hospital, lighthouse and promenade along the perimeter of the fortifications.

I welcomed the air conditioned car as we made our way back to Induruwa, stopping this time to visit the Sea Turtle Conservation Project.  As endangered species they need all the help they can get and these conservation areas provide a safe haven for the turtles to hatch as naturally as possible before returning them to the ocean.

Next on our exploration list was to do a River Safari on the Madu Ganga River.  We used the company Nilwala River Safari, mainly as they were quick on answering my questions on Facebook messenger making it easy to book.  However, upon arriving at Balapitiya, I suspect that you could easily find other companies to take you.

The area surrounding the river is swampy marshland covered in mangrove forests.  They say there are 64 islands along the river, but some are immersed in water.  The main source of economy for the locals in the cinnamon industry.  We stopped off at one of the cinnamon islands for a cup of cinnamon tea and to get a lesson in cinnamon cultivation, which I must say I found rather fascinating.  First the outer peel is removed from the plant, which they use as fertiliser and then the exposed inner bark is then rubbed with a brass rod to loosen the bark.  Within two quick cuts the inner layer of bark can be removed in one piece.  It is then packed in layers one inside the other and left to dry naturally.  You can purchase cinnamon items on the island and we decided to try the cinnamon oil – amazingly my mosquito bite that I got arriving at the river completely disappeared.  My husband also applied the oil to his bites and they certainly took the redness and itchiness away.  Our precious 20ml of cinnamon oil thankfully made it back with us intact for future use.

The river cruise allows you to take in the views of the river and get up close to the Mangroves, where you should watch out for water monitors!  All tours take you to one of the larger inhabited islands ‘Koth Duwa’ which has an ancient Buddhist Temple that dates back to the oldest kings of Sri Lanka.  You also have the opportunity to visit an open-air fish massage facility – um, no thanks was my reply!  I could think nothing worse than fish nibbling my feet.

Between daytrips and much needed relaxing by the pool we managed to fit in a full Ayurvedic Body massage.  I found it rather relaxing and the head massage definitely helped remove more beach sand that had made its home in my hair.

Our time here on the beach was sadly coming to an end, so we enjoyed one last night watching the sunset, drinking chilled white wine and eating freshly cooked seafood.

The next day we were off to Colombo!


Coconut trees, mountains and tea plantations

“Settled in the middle of the Uva Mountains we reached Nuwera Eliya in the mist”

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

And touchdown…Ayubowan as they say here, welcome to Sri Lanka. We had finally arrived, some 45 minutes late which was unfortunate as we had a long driver ahead to our first destination. The airport is not very large but when arriving the first thing you see is a sea of faces all holding up white placards. We were lucky in spotting our name straight away and were soon meeting our driver and guide, Vimu, for the next three days. For those wanting to pick up local currency there are many currency exchange companies but only two ATMs. The best one we found was the Bank of Ceylon as you didn’t have any pay any extra bank charges.

Heading outside into the humid hot air we were soon in our air conditioned car and heading towards Nuwara Eliya in the heart of the Tea region. Don’t be fooled it was to be a good 6.5hrs before we reached our hotel. It is only once you are here in Sri Lanka that you realise that distances seem so much further. We travelled all the way along a single lane road, passing many very busy villages and towns where everyone was just racing to pass the next person – no matter if you were a motorcyclist, tuk-tuk or car, you had to be the fastest! Unless you were a big bus where they seem to aggressively push you out of the way so they can pass you, just to stop and pick up passengers at the next corner.

The villages all looked similar in terms of shops and it seemed quite easy to be able to pick up a new car bumper, car seats, timber, wine and even plants. The most interesting to me where the fresh fruit stalls selling pineapples, coconuts, bananas and watermelon and the Bake House tuk-tuks playing an ice-cream van tune when stopping to sell their freshly baked bread.

The vegetation was thick and green with mainly coconut and papaya trees, now and again breaking away to reveal large rice fields. Rice being one of the main food staples in Sri Lanka.

It was about 2 hours into the drive when we started to make our ascent towards Kandy, which is in the middle of Sri Lanka amoung the forest hills. We took a short break at the Susantha Spice and Herbal Garden to use the toilet facilities and get a mini tour around the garden. The spices and herbs each having their uses for medicinal purposes or in Sri Lankan cooking. You can either give a donation or buy something from their shop – we did purchase some citronella oil for the mosquitoes and some spice tea (comprising cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, coriander and hill-country tea). We were rather tired when we visited the garden so were under no illusion that this is really a tourist trap and you could probably find the same items cheaper elsewhere.

The remaining 3.5 hours of the journey continued on a steep single track, zig zagging all the way up the mountain where you were able to spot the Knuckles mountain range in the distance. I am not entirely sure when the vegetation started to change from mainly mountains and forests to tea plantations as it was starting to get dusk. We travelled the remainder of the way in the dark with the bright moon shining in the sky, it had been the super moon phenomenon the night before so it was still larger than normal and created more light on the road.

Settled in the middle of the Uva Mountains we reached Nuwera Eliya in the mist before driving about 40 minutes to the hotel, climbing higher and higher as we went. We were understandably exhausted by the time we reached the hotel at 9pm and rather hungry.

We feasted on chicken coconut soup and an array of different curries including pressed banana flowers curry which was rather tasty but too spicy for my palate. The manager also kindly took me around listing all the food that was gluten free and safe for me to eat which made things far less stressful.

Now our hotel – the Heritance Tea Factory was rather impressive. The original tea factory has been converted into a hotel. They have done this really well, explaining with different colours where the original structure still stands and where they have made enhancements making the interior a ray of green, red, yellow and silver. All employees were dressed very smartly from the bygone era taking you back to the days of the oriental express.

The views the next morning from our room were certainly amazing and we found ourselves floating above the clouds looking towards the Uva mountains and luscious green tea plantations.

Our exploration of the tea area was slightly delayed due to Prince Edward and Sophie visiting one of the charities in the area but once the Royals had finished their special visit we were on our way to the Pedro Estate and the Lover’s Leap Ethical Tea Boutique. Greeted by a cup of tea our visit took us through the factory and the tea making process. I was genuinely surprised how antique the equipment looked but still in perfectly good working order. Only 4% of the tea made on the premises is sold at the tea boutique and the remaining 96% goes to the auction for export. The vistas of the tea plantations are very impressive and every so often you will spot a tea lady picking the young leaves, their quota for the day is to collect 16kg of tea leaves every day – earning them a minimum of 800 LKR per day.

From here we travelled by tuk-tuk up the mountain to see the Lover’s Leap waterfall. There are a few  of waterfalls in this particular region but this one is accessible from Pedro’s Tea Estate. You can walk direct from the estate but due to limited time we caught a bright red tuk-tuk halfway up before climbing the remainder of the way. The waterfall is 30m high and is situated on Sri Lanka’s highest mountain range, Piduruthalagala (2524m). Lover’s leap is quite an unusual name and legend says:

A prince living in Nuwera Eliya had met a beautiful girl in the nearby village and fell in love with her, but the King did not allow the Prince to pursue the relationship. The disheartened Prince on one full moon evening climbed to the top of the rocks with his love and jumped off the rock fall. Therefore naming the waterfall Lover’s Leap.

The town Nuwara Eliya is quite busy with some colonial buildings still standing along with Victoria Park and a racetrack. It is also known as Little England due to its greenery and cooler climates. We had lunch at the Calamder overlooking Gregory’s lake. It had a lovely setting overlooking the lake which was populated with big white swan pedlos. The food however let it down with very little suitable for those with a gluten intolerance – which was a pity as the pizza’s looked very good.

Our day ended by going back to the hotel to sit by the warming fire as the mist had once again rolled in. Dinner was once again spectacular and we got to try the local Sri Lankan dessert: Watalappam. The dessert is very sweet and is made out of coconut milk, cashew nuts, eggs, jaggery and spices including cinnamon and cardamom.

It was one more cosy night spent at the hotel before we woke up to another morning view above the clouds.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before starting the long journey to the south west coast.

Trip booked through Travel Counsellors. Petra was very efficient and knowledgable in helping us plan our trip and providing accommodation and route options.