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A UNIQUE MONGOLIA HORSE FESTIVAL SHOWCASES IMPRESSIVE HORSE-RIDING TALENT (2023 Updated)

  No Trip to Mongolia is Complete Without Having Attended a Local Horse Festival and Witnessed Extraordinary Horseback Skills.   Dear Pip, Our trip to Mongolia is turning out to…

 

No Trip to Mongolia is Complete Without Having Attended a Local Horse Festival and Witnessed Extraordinary Horseback Skills.

Several me in colourful robes line up on their horses for the start of competition. They are carrying long poles with lassos on the end.

Mongolian nomads ready for competition with their uurgas (lasso poles) at a horse festival.

 

Dear Pip,

Our trip to Mongolia is turning out to be one unique cultural highlight after another. We spent the day sharing the excitement of a local horse festival in the Orkhon Valley, organised by Tsaidam Ger Camp, where we stayed for the night. The festival aims to preserve nomadic tradition and promote the talent and capabilities of Mongolia’s nomadic herders.

The Orkhon Valley is in Central Mongolia, about 360 kilometres southwest of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. The Orkhon Valley, a cultural landscape comprising 1,220 square kilometres, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Mongolia’s history, culture, and people are intimately linked with horses, with children learning to ride almost from the day they can walk. In a country with 13 times more horses than people, I can understand how Mongolia has become known as the land of horses. Throughout the day, I came to appreciate Mongolian nomads’ strong bond with their horses and to understand how Mongolians have long been considered some of the best horse riders in the world.

After Meg shared snuff with some local elders and our guide explained what the horse festival entailed, we found a spot amongst the locals to watch and photograph the men, dressed in traditional costume, compete in several events, including horse lassoing, grabbing a lasso pole from the ground, and riding a wild, bucking horse. These events are designed to show off the Mongolian nomads’ unique horsemanship skills and the strength of their horses.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the lassoing of stampeding wild horses. However, I learned it is an essential skill as nomadic households have many horses ridden infrequently and need to be re-broken in because they have been left to roam at will, becoming semi-wild. I needed to remind myself that this is their way of life and culture.

Being able to ride a bucking horse is par for the course with breaking-in horses, and this competition elicited shouts of encouragement from the crowd and laughter when horse and rider parted ways. One man who managed to stay on his horse delighted the crowd as he and his horse disappeared into the distance.

I particularly enjoyed watching the men grabbing an uurga (long pole with a lasso on the end) off the ground from a galloping horse. I was left in awe as to how they stayed on their horse because they would be well down the side of the horse, around its fast-moving legs. Their core strength must be remarkable! With all the rider’s weight on one side, how did the horse not topple over?

Some of the younger men had a competition on the side, grabbing a cigarette lighter off the ground from their galloping horse – some more successful than others. The control these young men and all other competitors had over their horses was genuinely impressive.

It was a most enjoyable, exciting day; I will take home unforgettable memories.

Love,

Joanna

Riders on horses with lassos on long poles rope stampeding horses.

Lassoing wild, stampeding horses at the Mongolian Horse Festival.

 

People stand around in front of a tent while watching a man fall to the ground off a bucking horse.

I bet that hurt! A competitor falls off a bucking wild horse.

 

A man in a colourful robe hangs on the side of his galloping horse as he picks up a stick off the ground.

Picking up an uurga (lasso on a pole) off the ground from a galloping horse.

 

A young man hangs on the side of his galloping horse as he picks up a cigarette lighter off the ground.

A young man picks up a cigarette lighter off the ground from a galloping horse.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in February 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

Would you seek out this type of experience when travelling? I love hearing from you. Leave a comment below.

 

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Men in colourful robes sit on a fence railing with their saddled horses behind them.

 

A man dressed in a colourful robe hangs on the side of his galloping horse as he picks up a pole off the ground.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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Meg fossicking for dinosaur bones

FOSSIL HUNTING AT THE FLAMING CLIFFS IN THE GOBI DESERT

The Flaming Cliffs are famous for the discovery of dinosaur eggs in 1922 and one of the world’s greatest dinosaur fossil sites. Go fossicking!

 

 

 

A nomad and his ger

HOW TO PREVENT CULTURAL ERRORS IN MONGOLIA

Cultural sensitivity when travelling is a sign of deep respect. Prevent social and cultural faux pas through ignorance. Know before you go!

 

 

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SEE 3 ASTOUNDING ENGINEERING MARVELS ON THE CANAL DU MIDI

Embark on an Unforgettable Journey on France’s Canal du Midi and Experience Extraordinary Engineering Feats That Are Works of Art.   What do you know about the Canal du Midi? …

Embark on an Unforgettable Journey on France’s Canal du Midi and Experience Extraordinary Engineering Feats That Are Works of Art.

 

What do you know about the Canal du Midi? 

Set against the picturesque landscape of southern France, the Canal du Midi is a serene waterway and a testament to human creativity and engineering brilliance. Prepare to be awe-struck by three engineering marvels that have stood the test of time and captivated all who encounter them.

In this travel blog post, I invite you to join me on a journey uncovering the stories behind the three remarkable wonders of human ingenuity I discovered when sailing from Marseillan to Salleles d’Aude on a hotel barge on the historic Canal du Midi: the masterfully constructed Orb Aqueduct that defies gravity, the intricately designed seven-step Fonserannes Locks that challenge navigation skills, and the mystical Malpas Tunnel that channels the canal through a hill.

I am not an engineering expert, but crossing the Orb Aqueduct, climbing the Fonserannes Locks, and traversing the Malpas Tunnel were extraordinary experiences and unforgettable highlights of my barge cruise on the Canal du Midi with European Waterways. They have left a lasting impression on me that I want to share with you, and I hope you get to experience them for yourself.

 

The Canal du Midi

A boat sails along a tree-lined canal.

Cruising the Canal du Midi

 

The Canal du Midi in southern France was constructed between 1666 and 1681 by the 17th-century canal engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet. It is considered one of the most significant construction works of the 17th century and is one of the oldest canals still in use in Europe. The Canal du Midi was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

The Canal du Midi runs for 240 kilometres from the Etang de Thau, a sheltered lagoon behind the Mediterranean port of Sete, to Toulouse, where it joins the Canal de Garonne – connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The Etang de Thau at Marseillan was the starting point for my barge cruise on the Canal du Midi with European Waterways.

I cruised the Canal du Midi on European Waterway’s first-class, eight-passenger hotel barge, the Adjodi. The section of the Canal du Midi we cruised included three impressive 17th-century engineering feats – the Orb Aqueduct, Fonserannes Locks, and Malpas Tunnel. But you don’t need to be an engineer to appreciate, enjoy, and be thrilled by these wonders of the Canal du Midi.

A sunset is reflected in the waters of a tree-lined canal.

The sun sets on another day on the Cana du Midi.

 

Orb Aqueduct

A boat sails through aqueduct - a water bridge.

Our barge navigates the Canal du Midi along the Orb Aqueduct at Beziers.

 

A photo of a barge navigating the Orb Aqueduct (Pont-Canal de l’Orbat) at Beziers in southern France has always been my ‘vision’ of the Canal du Midi and one of the reasons I wanted to do a barge cruise on the canal. No other image of the Canal du Midi was more iconic than the Orb Aqueduct.

The Orb Aqueduct is a one-lane bridge carrying the Canal du Midi over the Orb River. At 240 metres long, 28 metres wide, 12 metres high, and with seven arches, the Orb Aqueduct is one of the largest aqueducts in France and the largest on the Canal du Midi. Prior to the opening of the Orb Aqueduct in 1858, the Canal du Midi traversed a short, treacherous section of the Orb River that would sink boats or leave them stranded for weeks due to its unpredictable flow. Building the aqueduct allowed boats to bypass the dangerous Orb River safely.

The aqueduct carries the canal in a masonry trough sealed with a layer of concrete. The concrete seal was replaced in 1951; otherwise, the original structure still exists. You can walk the length of Orb Aqueduct as there is a towpath on both sides.

The Orb Aqueduct was classified as a National Historical Monument in 1962 and was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.

A water bridge carrying the Canal du Midi over the river below.

Six of the Orb Aqueduct’s seven arches.

 

A bridge carrying water over a river below.

The Orb Aqueduct carries the Canal du Midi over the River Orb.

 

Fonserannes Locks

The image shows the mechanisms on top of seven lock gates that climb up a hill.

The seven-rise lock staircase or Fonserannes.

 

Locks are an integral part of any barge cruise, and on the Canal du Midi, I got my gratifying fill of them. However, none would raise my excitement or sense of adventure as much as the seven-rise lock staircase of Fonserannes (also known as the Fonserannes Locks or the Fonserannes Staircase) near the town of Beziers.

When the Canal du Midi was constructed in the 17th century, Pierre-Paul Riquet had to overcome the problem of crossing the Orb River, which was 48 metres higher than the natural course of the canal waterway. The answer was the Fonserannes Lock Staircase, a staggering feat of engineering and very impressive, even to my untrained eye. It is one of the features that led to the Canal du Midi being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Fonserannes Lock Staircase is a 312-metre-long water staircase, allowing boats and barges to negotiate a 25-metre gradient by passing through seven oval-shaped lock chambers and eight gates. There is an eighth chamber, but it is no longer in use. Boats are raised (or lowered) 21.5 metres over a distance of 300 metres, with the deepest rise (or drop) over six metres.

A boat is in a lock chamber on the Canal du Midi. This is a staircase lock system of which there are seven ovoid chambers and eight gates.

A boat climbs the Fonserannes Staircase Locks.

 

We approached the Fonserannes seven-rise lock staircase from the Orb Aqueduct and travelled up the lock staircase. Our barge captain took over 30 minutes to negotiate the boat’s climb through the seven chambers. The force and speed at which the water rushes into the chamber when a gate opens is astounding.

A boat moves into the rushing waters of a filling lock chamber.

Our barge navigates through Fonserannes Locks.

 

One lock chamber must have been particularly challenging because going under the bridge that spanned the gate dislodged the height indicator pole (a red flag on a pole on the boat’s bow). As I understand it, the lockkeeper allowed too much water to enter the lock, making the water in the chamber higher than it should have been. Our captain had to duck very low to ensure his head didn’t connect with the bridge.

A boat travels under a low bridge as it enters a lock chamber with water starting to rush through the opening gate into the next lock chamber.

A low bridge knocked over the red-flagged height indicator pole.

 

We stopped for the night at the top of Fonserannes Staircase Locks. So, I took the opportunity to walk the towpath back to the Orb Aqueduct, an easy, flat 20-minute walk.

Malpas Tunnel

A boat approaches a tunnel in a hill with the canal passing through the tunnel.

Our barge approaches the Malpas Tunnel on the Canal du Midi.

 

The Malpas Tunnel, between Bezier and Capstang on the Canal du Midi, was the first tunnel ever dug for a canal. The tunnel was excavated in 1679 in secret by the canal’s chief engineer, Pierre-Paul Riquet, as the Prime Minister had stopped the plan to dig a canal tunnel through Enserune Hill because initial excavations revealed the tunnel was liable to collapse due to the hill being brittle sandstone. Over 300 years later, the Malpas Tunnel is still navigable! And there is now even a railway tunnel ten metres below the canal tunnel, built nearly 200 years later!

Local folklore has it that after the completion of the Malpas Tunnel, one of the workers built a small nook inside the tunnel’s ceiling and lived there as a hermit. When barges passed through the tunnel, the crew threw bread into the opening for the hermit. Barge crews still sometimes throw a piece of bread into the opening of the nook as a “gift for the hermit”.

Our captain did not throw bread into the opening in the ceiling, but he did play the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (at least, I think that was what it was). I did not fathom the relevance of this, but the music sounded incredible and very dramatic as it echoed off the tunnel walls.

A boat exits a tunnel that carries the Canal du Midi through the hill. A man is steering the boat.

The hermit nook in the ceiling of Malpas Tunnel.

 

Canal de Jonction

I want to leave you with my favourite photo I took on the Canal du Midi barge cruise. It is not the Canal du Midi per se but taken when we stopped for the night at Salleles d’Aude on the Canal de Jonction. The Canal de Jonction is a shortcut from the Canal du Midi to the Canal de la Robine. It was early morning, the water was milk-pond still, and the reflections of our barge and the trees lining the canal created an unforgettable image.

A blue and white barge is tied up to the bank of a tree-lined canal. The barge and trees are reflected in the still waters of the canal. A lock can be seen in the distance.

The Adjodi reflected in the still waters at Salleles d’Aude on the Canal de Jonction.

 

Reflecting on my journey along the Canal du Midi, I am in awe of the ingenuity and determination that brought these three remarkable engineering marvels to life. The Orb Aqueduct is a testament to the courage of human vision, carrying the canal over the valley below. The Fonserannes Locks remind us of our ability to conquer and harness the raw forces of nature. And then there is the Malpas Tunnel, a hidden passage shrouded in history and mystery carved through solid rock.

As you traverse the tranquil waters of the Canal du Midi, it’s impossible not to be humbled by the visionaries who conceived these extraordinary structures. Their dedication to crafting a passage that conquered natural obstacles while blending with the landscape continues to inspire admiration centuries later.

Whether you’re a history buff, an engineering enthusiast, or a traveller searching for unique experiences, the Canal du Midi’s engineering marvels promise an unforgettable journey.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

Leave a comment below. I look forward to reading and responding to your comments on the Canal du Midi and its engineering marvels.

 

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The image shows two photos. One photo is of a boat reflected in the waters of a tree-lined canal. The other photo is a boat sailing on an aqueduct (a water bridge). These are engineering marvels on the Canal du Midi.

The image is two photos - a boat entering the swirling waters of a lock chamber and the other is a boat, steered by a man, exiting a tunnel.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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An image of a castle within a medieval citadel.
CARCASSONNE CITADEL – The Best-Preserved Medieval Town in France
Carcassonne Citadel is a medieval treasure in Southern France. It is the most complete medieval town in existence today and is worth two to three days to explore.

 

 

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CARCASSONNE CITADEL – The Best-Preserved Medieval Town in France

Carcassonne Citadel is a Medieval Treasure in Southern France.   Dear Ryan, One of the highlights of my Canal du Midi cruise with European Waterways was a morning in the…

Carcassonne Citadel is a Medieval Treasure in Southern France.

A medieval fortified town

Carcassonne Citadel entrance gate

 

Dear Ryan,

One of the highlights of my Canal du Midi cruise with European Waterways was a morning in the Citadel of Carcassonne. The barge captain was surprised I had not heard of Carcassonne Citadel as it is one of France’s premier tourist attractions. But, as you know, I have only been to France once before, and that was to a different region.

So, here is what I learned about Carcassonne Citadel…

  • It is the most complete medieval fortified town in existence today and the largest in Europe.
  • It has about 2,500 years of history and was occupied by the Romans, Visigoths, and Crusaders at different periods.
  • Three kilometres of double walls interspersed with 52 watchtowers surround the citadel.
  • It is a lived-in citadel with houses, schools, shops, restaurants, hotels, basilica, and museums.
  • The citadel is open 24/7 and is free to enter. However, there is an admission fee to visit Carcassonne Castle and its ramparts.
  • Carcassonne Citadel was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

European Waterways took us on a two-hour guided walking tour around the walls, through the citadel, and into the Basilica Saint Nazaire. We were given admission tickets for the castle and ramparts, but I didn’t see them. After going to the toilet and watching the visual display at the entrance, I had to leave the castle as it was time to meet our guide to leave Carcassonne.

A gothic church facade with shrubs and flowers in front of it.

Basilica Saint Nazaire

 

Our visit to Carcassonne Citadel was too rushed and deserved so much more time. I could have spent 2-3 days there instead of the few hours allocated to the visit.

  • I would stay within the citadel. From my view of its exterior, the Hotel de la Cite next to the basilica appealed to me. That it is a 5-star hotel probably added to that appeal, even if it is beyond my budget.
  • Exploring the castle beyond the toilet block would be a bonus. And I am told the views from the ramparts are stunning. But I would want to walk them to see for myself.
  • I would like to eat at the many restaurants, buy lots of nougat, and shop until I drop. The clothes and leather goods shops were of particular interest.
  • Three days would give me time to visit some of the museums within the citadel and Carcassonne city, for example, the School Museum, the Museum of the Inquisition, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Perhaps I need four days!

Did you know there is a Carcassonne board game? Apparently, it is one of the most beloved and well-known board games in the world. I have never heard of it. Just something else to add to my ignorance about Carcassonne!

Next stop, Spain.

Love,

Joanna

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

Have you been to Carcassonne Citadel? What would you recommend I include on my next, more in-depth visit? Leave a comment below.

 

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A photo of an entrance gate to a medieval fortified citadel.

An image of a medieval castle in a fortified citadel.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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The image shows three photos of engineering marvels on the Canal du Midi - a boat crossing the Orb Aqueduct, a boat approaching a canal tunnel, and a seven-rise lock staircase.

SEE 3 ASTOUNDING ENGINEERING MARVELS ON THE CANAL DU MIDI

Prepare to be awe-struck by three extraordinary engineering marvels on the Canal du Midi that are works of art – the Orb Aqueduct, Fonserannes Staircase Locks, and Malpas Tunnel.

 

 

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NEW ZEALAND’S FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK – Discover 3 Spectacular Sounds

Join Me on a Visual Journey Through the Awe-Inspiring Sounds of Fiordland National Park, a Place Where Nature’s Grandeur and Serenity Intertwine.   On two recent trips to New Zealand…

Join Me on a Visual Journey Through the Awe-Inspiring Sounds of Fiordland National Park, a Place Where Nature’s Grandeur and Serenity Intertwine.

 

On two recent trips to New Zealand (Aotearoa), one by land and one by sea, I was fortunate to have cruised three spectacular sounds (fiords) in Fiordland National Park – Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound. New Zealand is one of only a few places where you can see the spectacular sight of glacial-fed fiords.

My land trip involved a convoluted journey to the included overnight, scenic cruise on Doubtful Sound. But my sea trip was a cruise on a large ship, where we sailed in and out of Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea.

In this post, I focus on my photographs of the three sounds because, as the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. I feel no amount of words will do justice to the breathtaking natural beauty I experienced of Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound.

 

Fiordland National Park

The Māori name for Fiordland is Te Rua-o-Te-Moko.

A partial map of New Zealand's South Island showing the fiords in Fiordland National Park

Map of the sounds in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park (beautifulworld.com)

 

Fiordland National Park is located in the southwestern corner of New Zealand’s South Island. At over 1.2 million hectares and covering nearly 13,000 square kilometres, it is New Zealand’s largest national park.

Fiordland National Park is a place of extraordinary beauty, and it is home to glaciers, majestic alpine ranges, lakes, rainforests, unique flora and fauna, and 14 sounds (fiords). Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound are three of the park’s most significant fiords.

You will have noticed I jump between ‘sound’ and ‘fiord’, and both terms are correct. However, Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound are actually fiords as they are glacier-carved valleys filled by the sea rather than river valleys flooded by the sea. British explorers misnamed them as sounds, and the name has stuck!

Dusky Sound

The Māori name for Dusky Sound is Tamatea.

A photo of rays of light, clouds, mountains, and a body of water.

Rays of light stream through the clouds over Dusky Sound

 

Dusky Sound is remote and accessible by air and sea only. It is the largest of Fiordland’s 14 sounds at 40 kilometres long and eight kilometres wide at its widest. Several islands lie in the sound.

Dusky Sound is an area of stunning landscapes, with craggy mountains and hundreds of waterfalls cascading into the sound during winter (June-August) when there are higher rainfalls. It is a wildlife wonderland with seals and dolphins often sighted in the sound.

We sailed into Dusky Sound at 8.30 in the morning, with the clouds still rising above the mountains. Dusky Sound was my favourite of the three sounds as I found it to be the more dramatic. That it revealed itself only slowly added to the drama.

A visual journey through Dusky Sound

Tall peaks with low cloud cover reach a body of water

Low clouds drape the mountains of Dusky Sound.

 

A body of water surrounded by mountains and low cloud cover.

Dusky Sound, Fiordland National Park

 

Mountains line a body of water with small islands

Dusky Sound – mountains and islands

 

Doubtful Sound

The Māori name for Doubtful Sound is Patea, meaning “the place of silence”.

Mountains surround a body of water with small islands in the still morning

Untouched Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park

 

Doubtful Sound is the deepest (421 metres) and one of the longest (40 kilometres) of South Island’s fiords and has three arms. Doubtful Sound is a pretty waterway with its rugged landscape, verdant rainforest, and cascading waterfalls. Wildlife includes fur seals and penguins, and it is home to a permanent pod of about 70 bottlenose dolphins.

Doubtful Sound is remote, and there is no direct road access. Your only way of getting to Doubtful Sound is a bit of a journey but an adventure in itself. Starting at Pearl Harbour wharf in Manapouri, you take a cruise across Lake Manapouri to West Arm (about 50 minutes), then travel by coach over Wilmot Pass (671-metre-high) to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound, where you board your scenic day or night boat cruise. On the drive over Wilmot Pass, the coach stops at a vantage point for a magnificent view of Doubtful Sound below. The total time travelled from Manapouri to Deep Cove is nearly two hours. There is no settlement at Deep Cove, but it is home to a small fishing fleet.

View from above of a fiord with mountains on both sides.

Looking down on Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass

 

I first experienced the remote wilderness of Doubtful Sound on an overnight cruise on the three-masted Fiordland Navigator, taking the journey described above to get to the ship. On our second day, the ship stopped the engines for 10 minutes of silence to honour Doubtful Sound’s Māori name and listen to nature.

A three-mast passenger ship docked at a wharf, with mountains in the background.

The Fiordland Navigator docked at Deep Cove Wharf in Doubtful Sound.

 

My second trip along Doubtful Sound was aboard a cruise ship, entering the fiord from the Tasman Sea.

A visual journey through Doubtful Sound

Mountain peaks tinged blue in the early morning light surround a body of water.

The blue tinge of early morning light on Doubtful Sound

 

Mountain peaks rise above a body of water

The shadows and light of Doubtful Sound

 

A body of water surrounded by mountains and wake in the water created by an unseen boat.

The ship’s wake creates a path through Doubtful Sound.

 

Milford Sound

The Māori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi.

Tall mountain peaks surround a body of water

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park

 

Milford Sound is 16 kilometres long, with sheer cliffs and waterfalls to rival some of the world’s tallest. It is the only fiord accessible by road (around 5-6 hours from Queenstown and about three hours from Te Anau) and the most popular. You can stay in Milford Sound, with accommodation options ranging from Airbnb to a public lodge.

Milford Sound is known for the towering Mitre Peak, so called because it resembles a bishop’s mitre. The fiord is home to dolphins, fur seals, and penguins.

The naturalist onboard the Fiordland Navigator commented that Milford Sound is the most touristy of Fiordland National Park’s fiords but the most beautiful. You be the judge! Perhaps the lack of tourists in Dusky Sound and Doubtful Sound appealed to me the most. Somehow, they felt more untouched. But who am I to say? The British writer Rudyard Kipling visited Milford Sound in the 1890s and declared it ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.

A visual journey through Milford Sound

A small boat cruises through water surrounded by tall cliffs.

The cliffs of Milford Sound dwarf a boat.

 

Sheer mountains dwarf a waterfall and boat.

Milford Sound has many waterfalls.

 

A photo of a mountain shaped like a Bishop's mitre

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

 

No trip to New Zealand is complete without exploring Fiordland National Park and the spectacular sight of glacial-carved fiords.

I hope these photographs have transported you to a land of untamed beauty, leaving an indelible imprint on your senses with a desire to discover for yourself. Fiordland’s sounds are a testament to the power and harmony of the natural world.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

If you could only visit one of New Zealand’s sounds (fiords) in Fiordland National Park and getting there was no barrier, which sound would you choose and why? Leave a comment below.

 

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A collage of two photos of mountains reaching down to a body of water. One photo shows a mountain shaped like a Bishop's mitre. The other photo shows the wake of an unseen boat.

A collage of two photos. One photo shows a river-like body of water with mountains on both sides, looking from above. The other photo shows a mountain reflected in the water.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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ULTIMATE SRI LANKA ITINERARY – The Best of Sri Lanka in 20 Days

Use This Comprehensive Trip Planner To Create Your Sri Lanka Itinerary.   Sri Lanka is a land where history and culture are inseparable, with breathtaking landscapes from the beaches to…

Use This Comprehensive Trip Planner To Create Your Sri Lanka Itinerary.

 

Sri Lanka is a land where history and culture are inseparable, with breathtaking landscapes from the beaches to the hills and wildlife said to rival Africa. Discover the best sights and things to do in Sri Lanka with my comprehensive 20-day travel itinerary. Encounter the wildlife found in its national parks and wetlands, discover the natural beauty of the Hill Country, explore six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, wander through untamed gardens, and so much more.

 

About Sri Lanka

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka for short, and formerly called Ceylon – is that teardrop-shaped nation lying at the bottom of India in the Indian Ocean and is often referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

For a small country, Sri Lanka packs a mighty punch for the traveller with a fantastic combination of diverse landscapes, pristine beaches, ancient culture, historical and religious temples and buildings, and unique experiences.

“Within a mere area of 65,610 kilometers lie 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1,330 kilometers of coastline – much of it pristine beaches – 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, to a culture that extends back to over 2,500 years.”

https://colombo.embassy.qa/en/sri-lanka/tourism

Sri Lanka offers something for every type of traveller, no matter what your desired adventure or experience. There is no shortage of things to do in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has a long history of colonisation by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. These external influences have left their mark on Sri Lanka, building a country with many ethnic groups, languages, and religions. Buddhism is the main religion of Sri Lanka (70.2% of the population), followed by Hinduism (12.6% of the population). Muslims (9.7%) and Christians (7.4%) comprise the last two major religious groups.

Overview

I toured Sri Lanka in 2017 with my sister and brother-in-law. Our 20 days in Sri Lanka were on a private tour, with a customised itinerary we developed in conjunction with Insider Journeys, an Australian-based specialist tour operator. Coordinating it all was our travel consultant at Helloworld Travel Professionals in Albury.

Insider Journeys organised our accommodation, vehicle and driver-guide, and additional guides, such as the Naturalist in Bundala National Park.

In Sri Lanka, you must pay for the driver-guide’s accommodation on a private tour.

Much of what we did and saw resulted from our pre-tour research when developing our itinerary. Once in Sri Lanka, we included additional activities based on further research and suggestions from our driver-guide.

Note: From here on in, for convenience and reading ease, I will refer to our driver-guide simply as our guide.

Our itinerary covered Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, Cultural Triangle, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, national parks, magnificent gardens (formal and wild), and beautiful coastlines.

Twenty days in Sri Lanka gave us a comprehensive tour at a relaxed pace.

A map showing a road route taken around Sri Lanka on a 20-day itinerary

Sri Lanka Itinerary route map (Google Maps)

List of places to see in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka itinerary overview

 

Detailed Sri Lanka trip itinerary

The itinerary starts with an international flight into Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city, and ends with the flight home (Australia) from Colombo.

The itinerary focuses on our personalised trip and is written from my perspective as I experienced it. While based on having a private guide for the duration of the journey, the itinerary is adaptable and works just as well for travellers using trains, buses, and taxis, which are available throughout Sri Lanka.

As well as being there for us on pre-determined trips, excursions, and activities, our vehicle and guide were also available for 80 kilometres per day for anything else we wanted to include at the last minute.

The reviews of the hotels listed in this itinerary are my opinions as written in 2017. If I was to stay at the hotels today, my thoughts might be different.

Sri Lanka is one of those countries where foreigners pay a higher entrance fee to sites and museums than that paid by Sri Lankan residents.

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo

Day 1 was purely an arrival day for us. Our flight arrived in Colombo just before midnight.

Our guide met us at the airport and drove us to our accommodation, where we stayed for the next two nights – Galle Face Hotel (see review, Day 2).

Day 2: Colombo

  • Discover the city of Colombo

Colombo is a new capital city, having only been Sri Lanka’s capital since 1815. It is a dynamic city with a multicultural community encompassing the past, present, and future. Colombo is known for being one of the best places in Sri Lanka to splurge in fashionable boutiques, sample a wide range of cuisines, and enjoy its vibrant nightlife.

Our day began after a leisurely breakfast, with our guide taking us on a one-hour orientation drive around Colombo. Returning to the hotel, we left our guide for the day and immediately headed out again to explore Colombo in more detail on foot. Colombo is flat and easy to walk around, but the heat and humidity can be tiring. We covered two districts: the historic Fort district, where modern office blocks rub shoulders with Colonial-era buildings, and the Pettah, the bustling bazaar district and home to Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque.

We let our feet provide the direction, starting at our hotel, which fronted onto Galle Face Green, past Old Parliament Building and Old Colombo Lighthouse in Fort, and into the Pettah, where shops are organised in a bazaar-style layout, with each street dedicated to a particular trade. On Sea Street, you will find gold jewellery shops.

The bustling Pettah district is a chaotic, vibrant melting pot of different ethnicities and religions. Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque opened in 1909 and is known locally as the Red Mosque due to its distinctive red and white exterior. Located on Second Cross Street in Pettah, it is one of the oldest mosques in Colombo and a popular tourist attraction. Non-Muslims are allowed in the mosque, and women may also enter to look around, but you must cover your hair, arms, and legs.

A multi-storied red and whit brick building

Jami Ul-Afar Mosque

 

A cityscape of old and modern buildings in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Colombo is an intermingling of modern and colonial buildings

 

Old Colombo Lighthouse (featured in the photo above) is a clock tower and was a lighthouse. Initially built as a clock tower in 1860, the lighthouse was added in 1865. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1952. However, it is a functioning clock tower and is the only lighthouse in the world that doubles as a clock tower.

A colonial building with columns has a highrise modern building with rows of windows behind it.

Old Parliament Building with Hilton Hotel as a backdrop

 

The modern Hilton Hotel forms a backdrop for the neo-baroque-styled Old Parliament Building, which houses the offices of Sri Lanka’s President.

In the early evening, stroll along Galle Face Green to view the sunset over the Laccadive Sea and mingle with the locals. Galle Face Green is a large grassy area with the Indian Ocean on one side and the busy Galle Face Centre Road on the other, and a promenade stretching along the ocean side. Laid out in 1859 by the then governor of British Ceylon for horse racing, nowadays, it is a gathering place for locals to meet, eat, fly kites, stroll along the promenade, and just enjoy themselves when the heat of the day has faded.

Where we stayed

Galle Face Hotel > 2 Galle Road, Colombo 3

Galle Face Hotel is colonial grace and luxury. Situated right on the seafront and bordering Galle Face Green, the hotel is a lovely old colonial building, beautifully restored with an aura of elegance. It has well-appointed, comfortable rooms, and the service was excellent. Buffet-style breakfast and lunch on the long wide veranda were enjoyable and relaxing. I recommend a hopper for breakfast, and you can’t go past the chocolate croissants.

Hoppers are traditional Sri Lankan food and are generally served at breakfast. They are typically bowl-shaped pancakes made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk filled with egg, vegetables, curry, or whatever your tastebuds desire. They are delicious.

Day 3: Colombo to Galle

  • Visit traditional mask makers in Ambalangoda (83 kilometres south of Colombo).

The drive from Colombo to Galle, where we stayed the next three nights, took about four hours. We took the coast road rather than the expressway because we wanted to stop in Ambalangoda to visit the traditional mask makers, Ariyapala & Sons, whose museum, showroom, and workshop came recommended by Insight Guides Sri Lanka:

“The town of Ambalangoda … is most famous as the centre of the island’s mask carvers … Two mask museums stand opposite one another at the northern end of town. The larger and more interesting of the two is the Ariyapala and Sons Mask Museum.”

Travelling the coast road was a pretty drive as it hugged the coast, passing through village after village. According to our guide, a much more interesting route than the expressway.

The Ariyapala & Sons Mask Museum provides an insight into the history of masks in Sri Lanka and their role in storytelling and medicine. Traditionally, the masks, made from balsa wood, were used in Kolan dances performing folk stories and exorcism ceremonies to frighten off evil deities (bad spirits). The Sanni masks, of which there are 18, are distorted and disturbing. These masks are used in exorcism rituals, each representing a disease or ailment caused by yakkas (devils), such as vomiting, insanity, nightmares, and stomach diseases. Unfortunately, these traditions are being lost to modernisation.

Connected to the museum is the workshop where you can watch several artisans carving and painting masks. Above the museum is the showroom, where you can buy every mask imaginable at reasonable prices.

A wall of masks with googly eyes, open moths with large teeth, and big noses

Ariyapala Mask Museum

 

Ariyapala & Sons Mask Museum > 426 Main Street, Ambalangoda

Open 9.30 am to 5.00 pm daily.

Entrance to the museum is free.

Leaving the mask museum, we completed our journey to Galle – the most important town on Sri Lanka’s south coast. Galle comprises the old Dutch quarter – enclosed within the Fort – and the sprawling New Town outside the Fort’s walls. We stayed inside Galle Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Where we stayed

Fort Bazaar > 26 Church Street, Galle Fort

You can read my review of Fort Bazaar in my blog post on 24 Hours in Galle Fort.

Day 4: Galle

  • Explore Galle Fort

The Portuguese built Galle Fort in 1589. In 1640, the Dutch seized the Fort and extended its fortifications, which survive to this day. The British modified the Fort after Galle was handed over to them in 1796. The fortifications run for three kilometres, and the walls are over one metre thick.

Galle Fort is small (0.52 kilometres square), relatively flat, and easy to walk around. We spent the morning and early afternoon on a self-guided walk around Galle Fort. Walking around the Fort is an excellent way to take in the many sites of interest Galle Fort has to offer.

The Fort’s bastions allow views of the lighthouse, clock tower, mosque, and main gate, and you pass many wonderful colonial buildings and cafes. Our walk took longer than the 90 minutes suggested by guidebooks because we walked at a leisurely pace so we wouldn’t miss anything, and we kept stopping to take photos on our way around.

Rather than spell out the route here and all that we saw and did, I recommend you read my blog post on 24 Hours in Galle Fort. In the post, you will find the following:

  • Why you should visit Galle Fort;
  • How to get from Colombo to Galle Fort and our experience of how scary driving in Sri Lanka can be;
  • A detailed tourist map of Galle Fort highlighting places of interest;
  • A detailed description, with photos, of the route we took on our self-guided walk around Galle Fort;
  • A review of Fort Bazaar, where we stayed for three nights in Galle Fort;
  • Reviews of where we ate in Galle Fort; and
  • Information on the weather we experienced and its impact on me and our camera equipment.

A white house with a white church beside it

Library and Dutch Reform Church in Galle Fort

 

Day 5: Galle

  • Visit the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum in Koggala (16 kilometres from Galle Fort).
  • Discover the Kataluwa Temple in Ahangama (2.7 kilometres from MW Museum).
  • Watch the fishermen haul in their boats at Weligama (Weligama is 13 kilometres from Kataluwa Temple).
  • See the Peace Pagoda (25 kilometres from Weligama on the way back to Galle Fort).

With Galle as your base, spend the day exploring outside the walls of Galle Fort along Sri Lanka’s south coast to discover places and sites off the beaten path. Our route was a round trip of 65 kilometres over five hours.

Our first stop was the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum in Koggala, 16 kilometres from Galle Fort – an excellent museum that sees few tourists.

Martin Wickramasinghe (1890 to 1976) was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest authors and intellectuals. The central theme of his writings was that of the culture and life of the people of Sri Lanka. His books are still required reading for Sri Lankan school children.

Set in seven acres of gardens in the small town of Koggala, the Martin Wickramasinghe complex comprises the Folk Museum and the home where Martin was born and grew up. Part of his home is over 200 years old and survived being destroyed by the army in the Second World War because a female Royal Airforce officer fell in love with it and decided to live in it. Martin’s home was not handed back to the Wickramasinghe family until after Martin’s death, and Martin’s ashes are buried next to the house.

The Folk Museum, which opened in 1981, is a repository of artefacts depicting the history of Sri Lankan folk culture from ancient to modern times. The museum is home to a fantastic collection of masks and puppets. In the gardens, you will find exhibitions of traditional modes of transport.

Traditional Sri Lankan wooden fishing boats in a museum

Traditional fishing boats, Matin Wickramasinghe Museum

 

I recommend you take a guided tour, finishing in the museum shop where you can buy books by Martin Wickramasinghe.

Martin Wickramasinghe House and Folk Museum > Matara Road, Koggala

Open 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily.

The ticket price is 200 LKR (Sri Lankan rupee) (US$0.58).

A short distance from the Martin Wickramasinghe, at just 2.7 kilometres, you will find the 13th-century Buddhist temple, Kataluwa Purwarama Temple, in Ahangama. Fantastic murals cover the temple’s walls, many of which are thought to date from the 19th century. The murals include several unusual paintings of Kaffringha dancers with a troupe of Western musicians. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit in 2017, they were in the process of painting over the murals, which is probably why we couldn’t find the portrait of a lopsided Queen Victoria.

A painting of a man beating a drum while two bare-chested men leap in the air. A woman watches on.

Kataluwa Temple mural of dancers

 

A painting of Sri Lankan and Western musicians and two Western women

Mural of Western musicians in Kataluwa Temple

 

From Kataluwa Temple, drive 13 kilometres further along the coast to the village of Weligama, described as a sleepy fishing village. We had planned to walk around Weligama and find somewhere for lunch, but it looked so uninviting we passed straight through. Instead, take a walk along the beach, paddle or swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and watch the local fishermen haul their boats up onto the beach. This latter appeared to be no easy task. The progress was laborious, even with four to six men on either side of the boat.

Several men push their large fishing boat out of the water and onto the beach.

Fishermen hauling their boat up onto the beach at Wiligama

 

Before leaving the beach at Weligama, take some photos of Sri Lanka’s renowned stilt fisherman. The fishermen balance themselves on a crossbar on the stilt or pole as they fish and can usually be seen early morning or at dusk. But be warned! Those sitting on stilts later in the day are not fishermen but local people posing on the stilts for tourists and expecting payment for photos taken.

The best place to see the stilt fishermen is along the south coast from Midigama to Koggala.

Seven wooden poles with traingle-shaped sitting platforms stand in the surf

Fishing stilts (poles) at Weligama

 

Heading back to Galle Fort, stop at the Peace Pagoda, built by the Japanese as a monument to the victims of the 2004 tsunami. Perched on the side of a hill, the Peace Pagoda offers fantastic views of Galle Fort.

View of a town on a peninsula with colonial buildings and surrounded by ocean

View of Galle Fort from the Peace Pagoda

 

From the Peace Pagoda, it was 8.1 kilometres back to our hotel in Galle Fort.

Day 6: Galle to Yala National Park

  • Tour Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga garden in Bentota with lunch on the veranda (56 kilometres north of Galle Fort).

Finding things to do in Sri Lanka away from the crowds is an excellent reason to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s garden, as it is largely undiscovered by tourists.

Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003) was Sri Lanka’s most well-known architect and is deemed the most influential Asian architect of the 20th century. On Lunuganga Estate, Geoffrey’s country home, he spent 50 years creating a garden described as a controlled landscape of untamed wilderness.

The garden is spread over 23 acres and is cared for by 18 gardeners. Time your visit for a guided tour and lunch on the veranda of Geoffrey’s former home. Read my updated blog post for details, photos, and descriptions of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden.

A wall with a window and roof surrounded by green plants

Geoffrey Bawa’s garden

 

I recommend visiting Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga garden on the way from Colombo to Galle rather than backtracking like we did, making the trip to Yala National Park much longer than had we travelled to the park directly from Galle. We could not do this more direct route as Lunuganga Estate was closed for the Sri Lankan New Year when we drove from Colombo to Galle.

The drive from Geoffrey Bawa’s garden to Yala National Park took five hours. We had a two-night stay in Yala National Park.

Where we stayed

Cinnamon Wild Yala > Palatupana, Kirinda

Located at the periphery of Yala National Park, Cinnamon Wild Yala is a large commercial hotel lacking character. We stayed in Jungle Chalets, which were spacious, clean, and well-appointed. The chalets are individually situated but spread out over a large area. While this allows privacy between chalets, you could be up for a long walk to the main lodge for meals, a swim, or to meet your driver.

There was a focus on guest safety, with an escort required for people moving around the compound between 7.00 pm and 6.00 am.

The buffet dining area could do with ceiling fans to move the humid air, and the staff could show greater efficiency.

Day 7: Yala National Park

  • Look for wildlife on safari in Yala National Park.

Yala National Park is situated at the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka and is Sri Lanka’s most famous national park. It was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and a national park in 1938. It is best known for its variety of wild animals, especially for its large population of leopards, said to be the highest leopard density in the world.

The best activity in Yala National Park is a 3-hour safari drive around the park to spot wildlife. The safari drives are available morning and afternoon. But be warned! Yala National Park does not limit the number of vehicles entering the park or the route taken through the park. As such, your safari drive will end up in convoy with at least a dozen other vehicles.

We took a morning and afternoon safari drive and saw very few animals. We did spot two leopards on the afternoon safari drive, but it was difficult to make them out as they were well concealed by bushes. Other animals you may spot on your safari drive include sloth bears, jungle cats, mongoose, wild boar, deer, buffalo, and elephants.

On the morning safari drive, we saw a baby elephant concealed in the bush, a couple of mongooses, a few lone elephants, spotted deer, water buffalo, many birds, and a crocodile. The animals just didn’t seem to be out there. Disappointing! Our afternoon safari drive was no more productive than the morning.

A mongoose sits in the scrub

Mongoose in Yala National Park

 

Yala National Park is open from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm, year-round. The average park fee per adult foreigner is between US$31-36, depending on the number of people in a jeep.

Sri Lanka is supposedly the best safari destination outside of Africa. The three of us (my sister, brother-in-law, and me) agreed that if you have been on safari in Africa (which we have), where wildlife is diverse and bountiful, you will be disappointed with Yala National Park.

In truth, we cannot recommend Yala National Park. Don’t waste your time and money, as there is a better park – Udawalawe National Park (see Days 9 and 10).

Day 8: Yala National Park to Bundala National Park

  • Take a morning safari drive through Yala National Park.
  • Check out the birdlife in Bundala National Park.

There was the opportunity for a final safari drive in Yala National Park before travelling to Bundala National Park, about a one-hour drive along the coast west of Yala, where we stayed for one night.

Bundala National Park is a 62-square-kilometre ecotourism haven and birdwatchers’ paradise. It was first named a wildlife sanctuary in 1969, became Sri Lanka’s first Ramsar site (significant international wetland) in 1990, was redesignated as a National Park in 1993, and named a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2005.

  • Bundala National Park has over 200 endemic and migratory bird species, from the tiny bee-eaters to the painted stork.
  • The park is also home to 32 species of mammals, including elephants, spotted deer, water buffalo, wild boars, mongooses, monkeys, jackals, crocodiles, land monitors (they look like goannas), and fishing cats.
  • The park is the habitat of the endangered Star Tortoise.
  • The park’s coastal area is a breeding ground for five species of endangered sea turtles.

A tortoise with star markings on its shell drinks from a mud puddle

An endangered Star Tortoise in Bundala National Park

 

A crocodile approaches three birds on an island of reeds

A crocodile looking for dinner in Bundala National Park

 

Arranged by Insider Journeys, Bundala National Park’s resident Naturalist accompanied us on our afternoon safari drive. Having an expert point out the different birds (and the odd animal), provide detailed information about the birds being seen, and explain the link between the environment and birds and animals in the park made a huge (positive) difference to the safari experience – and one you should experience for yourself.

The sheer volume and variety of birds seen on our safari drive were staggering. My sister, an amateur bird watcher, was in raptures. The painted stork was my favourite.

Two birds with long pink legs, long orange beaks, and white, black, pink, and green feathers drink from a mud pool.

Painted Storks

 

Bundala National Park is open from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm, year-round. We stayed the night inside the park. The park entrance fee is US$10 per adult foreigner, plus a vehicle fee and VAT.

Where we stayed

Mahoora Luxury Camping > Bundala National Park

Mahoora Luxury Camping had set up our tents on the edge of where the sand meets the scrub vegetation, opposite salt pans where salt is mined. The setting was unspoilt, and the atmosphere was one of quiet solitude. To describe the tents as luxury camping required a massive stretch of the imagination. The tents were army tents. My tent came with a bed that was so narrow I feared falling off it should I turn over in my sleep. There was also a table and enough room to move around. At the back of the tent was an attached ‘bathroom’ with a shower (cold water only, but it came out hot because of the heat), toilet, and hand basin. My sister and brother-in-law’s tent was identically furnished, except they had two beds. Electricity only came on after dinner and went off when we went to bed. It was unbearably hot inside our tents.

What the tents lacked in luxury, the service, food, and safari drives with the Naturalist more than made up for it.

There is no permanent accommodation in Bundala National Park. But Mahoora Luxury Camping staff assured us they maintain an eco-friendly campsite, removing all evidence of our presence once we leave, leaving no footprint.

We were served lunch on the beach shortly after we arrived in Bundala National Park, consisting of a tasty noodle, vegetable, and egg soup was first up, followed by rice and various curries. The dessert was curd and treacle (a national dish) and was delicious.

Dinner that night was a bar-b-que on the beach. We could not fault the food and service provided by Mahoora Luxury Camping.

Before heading for bed, the staff told us there would be a wake-up call for our last safari drive at 5.30 in the morning. A 5.30 am wake-up call caused some concern for me because the tent was too hot to wear anything in bed. I overcame this concern by setting my alarm for 5.20 am to have some clothing on before a staff member appeared to wake me.

Day 9: Bundala National Park to Udawalawe National Park

  • Take a morning safari drive through Bundala National Park.
  • Look for wild elephants in Udawalawe National Park.

Our morning safari drive around Bundala National Park before heading to Udawalawe National Park proved just as fruitful as yesterday afternoon’s – seeing lots of birds, crocodiles, water buffalo, monkeys, and a lone elephant.

A brown and white eagle sits on a tree stump

Changeable Hawk-Eagle in Bundala National Park

 

After a leisurely breakfast, we left Bundala National Park, driving about 70 kilometres northwest to Udawalawe National Park, where we stayed one night.

Udawalawe National Park, covering almost 31,000 hectares, was established as a national park in 1972 to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. The park’s most common type of vegetation is dry grassland, peppered with light scrub, making game viewing easy here.

Being best known for its large elephant population (about 600) – our reason for visiting the park – Udawalawe is the best place in Sri Lanka to observe wild elephants in their natural environment. However, do expect to see other wildlife, such as water buffalo and sambar deer, to the more rarely sighted leopard and sloth bear. The park also supports a thriving population of water birds and birds of prey.

The afternoon game drive saw me in elephant heaven!

A group of five elephants of varying sizes

Elephant family in Udawalawe National Park

 

If you only have time to visit one national park in Sri Lanka, I recommend Udawalawe National Park over the more popular Yala National Park. The game viewing is better, more interesting, and more diverse. It’s a smaller park; therefore, you are not driving long distances before seeing wildlife. There are also fewer visitors, so you are not travelling in a convoy of dozens of vehicles all on top of each other but have a more personal experience.

Udawalawe National Park is open from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm, year-round. The park entrance fee is US$25.00 per adult foreigner.

Where we stayed

Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort > Udawalawe National Park

The Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort is a large, impersonal hotel with incompetent reception staff who move at a snail’s pace (things may have improved in the ensuing years).

My room was spacious, with a huge bed. It was clean, had all the necessary amenities, and there was a lovely private balcony off the room. In comparison to room size, the bathroom was relatively small but sufficient.

The food was ordinary but edible.

My preference would be for a much smaller boutique hotel.

Day 10: Udawalawe National Park to Ella

  • Take a morning safari drive through Udawalawe National Park.

Two water buffalos head but each other on a grassy stretch of land beside the water.

Male water buffalos vying for dominance in Udawalawe National Park

 

Make time for a morning game drive in Udawalawe National Park before travelling to Ella, 90 kilometres (about two hours) north of Udawalawe. However, the trip took us three hours as we stopped about six kilometres before reaching Ella to take photos of the 90-metre-high Rawana Falls. It is one of the widest waterfalls in Sri Lanka, where the water glides down the mountain over many ledges before bending into a stream that flows through the valley. At one point, the waterfall formed a natural pool that appeared to be a favourite swimming spot.

A waterfall cascades down the rocks. People are sitting on the rocks and swimming in a pool created by the rocks.

Rawana Falls near Ella

 

Ella is a small village on the southern edge of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. It is famed for its mountainous beauty, scenic landscapes, waterfalls, tea plantations, and lush vegetation. At an elevation of 1041 metres above sea level, Ella has a cooler climate than the surrounding lowlands. We stayed three nights in Ella.

Where we stayed

Mountain Heavens > Kitalella, Ella

Mountain Heavens is not centrally located and is inconveniently situated for getting to and from the village (Ella). While it is only 600 metres to the centre of Ella (where it is all happening), it is all hill and a very steep hill at that.

The rooms were spacious and well-appointed, with almost everything you needed. Glaringly missing was a means to communicate with Reception from your room, and the only option was to go up and down the stairs to speak to Reception face-to-face.

Breakfast was monotonous, and the evening meal (which had to be ordered by 4.30 pm) was ordinary. However, the view from the hotel was to die for, as its location meant you looked straight down Ella Gap (the valley between the mountains).

Mountains with houses on the slopes and covered in green vegetation

Ella Gap

 

Day 11: Ella

  • Walk the railway line from Ella to Demodara.
  • See the rock-cut figures at Buduruwagala (37 kilometres southeast of Ella).

In the morning, we decided to do something different and off the beaten track – to walk the railway line from Ella Station to Demodara Station. This is an easy 6.5-kilometre walk that takes you through the breathtaking scenery of mountains carpeted with tea plantations and over the famous, iconic Nine Arch Bridge. When you get to Demodara Station, catch the train back to Ella. For a complete description of this unique, fun walk, read my blog post on Walking the Railway Line From Ella to Demodara. Do as the locals do; walk the line!

Two people walk across a stone railway bridge with nine arches.

Crossing Nine Arch Bridge on our railway line walk

 

In the afternoon, we grabbed our guide for a drive to Buduruwagala Archeological Site to see the seven colossal 10th-century rock-cut figures carved in bas-relief in a rock that is said to look like a kneeling elephant with its trunk in its mouth. The shape of an elephant alluded me!

An image of Buddha and six other figures are carved into the rock face.

The seven rock-carved figures at Buduruwagala

 

The figures belong to the Mahayana school of Buddhism, which enjoyed royal patronage between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD, but no one knows why they were carved. The impressive 16-metre-high standing Buddha (the tallest in Sri Lanka) is flanked on either side by three smaller figures. The white central figure to Buddha’s right is thought to represent the Buddhist mythological figure, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. To the right of this white figure, in the thrice-bent posture, is believed to be Avalokitesvara’s consort, the goddess Tara. The third figure is said to represent Prince Sudhana.

The crowned figure in the centre of the group on Buddha’s left is thought to be Maitreya, the future Buddha. The figure to the left of Maitreya is Vajrapani, holding a thunderbolt symbol. The third figure is said to be Vishnu.

The site is open 24 hours. And tourist-free!

Day 12: Ella

  • Climb Little Adam’s Peak.
  • Have lunch at Bandarawela Hotel (15 kilometres southwest of Ella).
  • Discover Dowa Rock Temple (5.8 kilometres from Bandarawela).

We walked to the summit of Little Adam’s Peak in Ella this morning. The little sister of Adam’s Peak (in Dalhousie village), Little Adam’s Peak sits at 1,141 metres above sea level.

From my ascent of Little Adam’s Peak, I learnt not to believe anything I read in guidebooks. Described as a fairly gentle, mostly flat, easy walk, I found it anything but. To learn how my experience differed from that described in various guidebooks, read my blog post, What is the Missing Truth About Climbing Sri Lanka’s Little Adam’s Peak?

A path winds around and up mountains covered in green vegetation.

Climbing Little Adam’s Peak

 

After climbing Little Adam’s Peak, I deserved a special lunch, and this is what I got at Bandarawela Hotel, a short drive from Ella.

Nestled in the mountains at over 1,230 metres above sea level, Bandarawela Hotel, built in 1893, was a tea planter’s clubhouse. Having stopped updating the furniture some 80 years ago, the hotel is caught in a time warp.

My sister’s research had recommended lunch in Bandarawela Hotel’s Planter’s Bar, and we were not disappointed. We enjoyed a fusion of traditional classic and colonial Eastern and Western flavours while taking in the surrounding mountains’ panoramic view. A great atmosphere!

Before returning to Ella, at our guide’s suggestion, we drove to Dowa Rock Temple, about six kilometres from Bandarawela on the Bandarawela-Badulla Road. The site is open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, and entry is free.

Dowa Rock Temple is a heritage-listed temple famous for its partially finished 11-metre-high standing Buddha cut into the rock face of a granite boulder – the tallest rock-hewn Buddha statue in Sri Lanka’s hill country.

Be prepared to climb up a section of the boulder to get a good view of the Buddha.

An 11-metre image of Buddha is carved into the rock.

The 11-metre rock-carved standing Buddha at Dowa Rock Temple

 

Dowa Rock Temple was built by Great King Walagamba in the first century BC while taking refuge after an enemy invasion. The temple consists of several chambers carved into the rock. Inside, you will discover a couple of reclining Buddhas, many seated Buddhas, and walls covered with colourful Buddhist murals. At the rear of Dowa Rock Temple is a secret tunnel supposed to have been used by King Walagamba for his escape. The tunnel is said to extend from the temple to Kandy, but the entrance inside The Dowa Rock Temple has been cemented to stop intruders.

A cave with alow painted ceiling and a reclining Buddha behind glass.

Dowa Rock Temple

 

Day 13: Ella to Nuwara Eliya

  • Enjoy high tea at Heritance Tea Factory

The drive from Ella to Nuwara Eliya (where we stayed one night) took approximately two and a half hours, past tea plantations and breathtaking landscapes.

Nuwara Eliya is in a valley shadowed by Sri Lanka’s tallest mountain (Mount Pedro). The town and surrounding countryside have a definite European feel. Having been established by the British in the 19th century most likely accounts for this. In fact, Nuwara Eliya is often referred to as “Little England”.

Where we stayed

Heritance Tea Factory > Tea Factory Road, Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya

Nestled amongst tea estates, Heritance Tea Factory is a converted abandoned tea factory (hence its name) on the former Hethersett Estate. The hotel has kept the original exterior intact.

As our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived, we took a walk through the beautiful rose garden and visited the miniature tea factory where organic tea is produced.

High Tea at Heritance Tea Factory was an amazing, bountiful spread of savoury and sweet treats – an enjoyable, relaxing experience and a great way to fill the afternoon.

The reception staff were excellent, but some restaurant staff were slow to attend to us. After an exceptional High Tea, we found the buffet dinner disappointing.

My room was very comfortable but looked a little tired, and I showered with three cockroaches.

What has been achieved from an abandoned tea factory is impressive and a tribute to the hotel’s vision. It has been beautifully restored and converted. The hotel exudes an atmosphere of luxurious elegance and relaxation. I recommend staying here if money is no object or as a special treat.

Day 14: Nuwara Eliya to Kandy

  • Learn about tea production at the Ceylon Tea Museum in Kandy

Kandy, located in the Central Highlands, is the second-largest city in Sri Lanka. Our sole purpose for staying a night in Kandy (a 91-kilometre, three-hour drive from Nuwara Ellya) was to visit the famous Temple of the Tooth, which is said to house Sri Lanka’s most important sacred relic – Buddha’s tooth.

While my sister and brother-in-law visited the Temple of the Tooth with our guide, I took myself off to the Ceylon Tea Museum as I was keen to buy some quality teas.

The Ceylon Tea Museum occupies a former four-story tea factory. The ground floor exhibits include machinery from the 19th century used in tea production, which a guide explains in detail. The first floor was dedicated to two of Sri Lanka’s greatest tea pioneers – Thomas Lipton and James Taylor – and displayed other tea-related paraphernalia. On the third floor, eight shops sold fine Sri Lankan teas, each representing a different plantation (estate). And I got a free cup of tea on the fourth floor while taking in the views.

Allow a couple of hours for the Ceylon Tea Museum.

Ceylon Tea Museum > Hantana Road, Hantane, Kandy

Opening Times:

Tuesday to Saturday, 8.30 am to 3.45 pm

Sunday 8.30 am to 3.00 pm

(Closed Mondays and Poya Day falling on weekdays)

Ticket price: 1000 LKR (adult foreigner) (about US$3.00).

Unfortunately, visitors can’t see the sacred relic (Buddha’s tooth), only the gold casket which protects the tooth.

Where we stayed

Theva Residency > Theva Residency Road, Kandy

Overlooking Kandy from the slopes of the Hantana mountain range, Theva Residency is a lovely small boutique hotel with friendly, attentive staff.

My deluxe room was huge, clean, and modern, with a large terrace. While the terrace had a table and chairs, the room would have benefited from somewhere to sit other than the enormous bed.

The food in the hotel’s restaurant was excellent, with a menu that fused East and West. The staff were efficient and attentive, making our meal an enjoyable experience.

My only negative is that the hotel is a long way from anywhere.

Day 15: Kandy to Sigiriya

  • Explore the Dambulla Cave Temples (74 kilometres north of Kandy).
  • Learn Sri Lanka’s history through paintings.

Dambulla Cave Temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The site consists of five caves converted into temples dating back to the 1st century BC. Caves two and three are the largest and the most impressive, as they are full of Buddha statues of numerous sizes with different gestures or postures. The walls and ceilings in these two caves (temples) are entirely covered in paintings. The reclining Buddha in cave three is carved out of rock, as is the 14-metre-long reclining Buddha in cave one.

Opening hours are daily from 7.00 am to 7.00 pm, and admission is 1500 LKR (US$4.38).

A long white building is built into a rock, and people are walking around a paved area in front of the building.

Dambulla Cave Temples

 

A partial view of a reclining Buddha and sitting Buddha with frescos on the wall behind them.

Dambulla Cave Temples – Buddhas and frescos

 

Large stone feet that have been painted in multi-colours

The painted feet of a reclining Buddha in Dambulla Cave Temples

 

Please note: There are 364 steps to climb to reach the temple complex. Your knees and shoulders should be covered, and shoes must be removed before entering the temples. Beware, the rock can get very hot.

You can’t leave Dambulla without visiting the Painting Museum – formally called The Painting Conservation & Research Center. Located 100 metres from the Dambulla Cave Temples, the Painting Museum is a hidden gem. The paintings on display trace the history of Sri Lankan art from pre-historic cave paintings to the colonial era. The number of sites where frescoes and murals can be found all over Sri Lanka is staggering. The paintings are displayed in chronological order and excellently described. The last images depicting Buddhism hell came as a bit of a surprise.

The museum is open from 8.00 am to 4.00 pm daily. The entrance fee is US$2.00.

It was just 20 kilometres from Dambulla to Sigiriya, our base for the next four nights.

Where we stayed

Hotel Sigiriya > Sigiriya

Under no circumstances would I recommend staying at Hotel Sigiriya. My booking was for a superior room, but I was given a single room, which was tiny, dingy, dirty, smelt bad, and the air conditioner and house phone did not work. When I complained, I was ‘upgraded’ to a double room. This room was infested with ants, including in the bed, and the room safe was broken. When I rang for ant spray, it took 25 minutes for the spray to arrive and 30 minutes for staff to attend to the room safe. The first morning, I woke up with ants crawling through my hair!

I did go online to find alternative accommodation in Sigiriya. However, there were none with availability. Most unfortunate!

The staff were slow, inefficient, and incompetent, and their English was very poor.

The meals were buffet-style, and the food was ordinary at best.

Even our guide complained about the guides’ accommodation at Hotel Sigiriya.

Day 16: Sigiriya

  • Take a walk around the Royal Gardens at Sigiriya Rock.

We had every intention of climbing Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress and, today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the heat, high humidity, and 200-metre-climb (about 1,200 steps) put us off. Instead, we walked around the Royal Gardens surrounding Sigiriya Rock.

The beautifully landscaped Royal Gardens are divided into three sections – water, boulder, and terrace – and protected by inner and outer moats. The water gardens form an avenue leading to Sigiriya Rock, while the boulder and terrace gardens lie at the base of the rock.

In the boulder gardens, you can see the step-like depressions in the boulders where bricks once fitted to provide the foundations of buildings. Keep an eye out for Cobra Head Cave – so named because the overhang resembles a fully open cobra’s head.

A large rock with trees and lawns in the foreground

Sigiriya Rock and Gardens

 

Sigiriya is open from 6.30 am to 5.30 pm daily. The foreign tourist entrance ticket is US$30.00, which covers climbing the rock, the gardens, and the museum.

Day 17: Sigiriya

  • Tour the Sacred City of Anuradhapura (74 kilometres northwest of Sigiriya).

With Sigiriya as your base, take a day trip to Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura was the ancient capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BC to the 11th century AD, and it is Sri Lanka’s best-known ancient city. It is famous for its well-preserved ruins of ancient palaces, gigantic stupas, monuments, complex irrigation systems, and the Sacred Bo tree (Sri Maha Bodhi), said to be the oldest documented tree on earth.

A tree partly hides a large stone stupa.

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

 

All foreign travellers must buy a ticket to Anuradhapura Sacred City at US$25.00 per adult. Opening times are 7.00 am to 7.30 pm.

Day 18: Sigiriya

  • Discover the ruins of Polonnaruwa (57 kilometres east of Sigiriya).

Staying in Sigiriya, take a day trip to Polonnaruwa, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 under the name of the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa. It remains one of the best-planned archeological relic sites in Sri Lanka.

Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka between the 11th and 13th centuries after the destruction of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Its ruins are clustered together in various groups:

  • The Royal Palace Group is south of the entrance.
  • The Quadrangle (Terrace of the Tooth Relic) is north of the entrance and home to Polonnaruwa’s most important religious shrines.
  • Gal Vihara (the northern temple) with its four stone statues of Buddha carved out of the stone cliff face.
  • The Island Garden is close to the Polonnaruwa Museum.

The ruins of an ancient round building made of stone and brick.

The Sacred City of Polonnaruwa

 

Open 7.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, the entrance fee for Polonnaruwa’s museum and cultural sites is US$25.00 per person for adult foreigners.

Day 19: Sigiriya to Seeduwa

  • Relax by the pool at Wallawwa Boutique Hotel.

Leaving Sigiriya, we returned to Colombo for our last night in Sri Lanka at Wallawwa, a boutique hotel. Here we relaxed by the pool set in beautiful tropical gardens and were pampered by bar staff who responded to a buzzer in the pool’s gazebo for drinks orders.

Where we stayed

Wallawwa > Minuwangoda-Gampaha-Miriswatta Road, Kotugoda

Wallawwa is a luxury boutique hotel in an oasis of tranquillity, just 15 minutes from Colombo International Airport. Read my updated review of Wallawwa. After my experience with Hotel Sigiriya, my stay at Wallawwa enabled me to leave Sri Lanka on a high note.

Day 20: Depart Colombo

  • Depart Sri Lanka from Colombo

And so, the curtain falls on Sri Lanka as it is time to depart for home – in our case, Australia.

My top five highlights from our Sri Lankan trip were:

  • Exploring Galle Fort on foot.
  • Walking the railway line from Ella to Demodara.
  • The safari drive through Udawalawe National Park.
  • Discovering Geoffrey Bawa’s garden on Lake Dedduwa, Bentota.
  • Viewing Dambulla Cave Temples

When to visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka experiences two monsoon periods affecting different parts of the island at different times of the year. The southwest monsoon season is typically from May to September, and the northeast monsoon is from December to February. The split monsoon seasons make deciding the best time to travel around Sri Lanka tricky. I suggest checking the World Weather Information Service for the average daily temperature (high and low) monthly, the average total rainfall, and the number of rain days.

We travelled around Sri Lanka from mid-April to early May, at the end of what is classified as an inter-monsoon season, continuing into the southwest monsoon season. The country was hot and humid, but we got some reprieve, with cooler temperatures and lower humidity in the hill country. We only encountered one burst of rain on the whole trip – in Udawalawe National Park.

 

The itinerary for our Sri Lanka trip is a compilation of places to visit and activities to do in 20 days. The itinerary is based on pre-travel research and my experiences during our trip. 

A 20-day itinerary for Sri Lanka offers a unique opportunity to discover the island’s diverse culture, rich history, stunning natural beauty, and warm hospitality. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history buff, or just looking for a relaxing vacation, Sri Lanka is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.

The itinerary does not cover all tourist locations and every activity Sri Lanka offers. Still, it will be a good starting point for people who want to visit Sri Lanka and don’t know how to start or are looking for different ideas.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Stated opening hours and prices are correct at the time of publication. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Do you have any questions about this itinerary? Is there anything else you want to know or can I help you with? Leave a comment, and I will respond. Alternatively, contact me at joanna@justme.travel.

 

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An image of a mother and baby elephant and an image of blue and yellow fishing boats on a beach.

 

One image is of a wall of masks with googly eyes, a long nose, and an open mouth with huge teeth. The other image shows two people walking on a nine-arch railway bridge.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Sri Lanka? Then don’t miss these posts:

WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA

A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN, SRI LANKA

WALLAWWA – a tranquil boutique hotel in Colombo City

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK – See 3 Stunning Waterfalls on a Day Tour From Darwin

Breathtaking Waterfalls, Idyllic Plunge Pools, Iconic Magnetic Termite Mounds, and the Australian bush, Litchfield National Park Will Not Disappoint.   Litchfield National Park is one of the Northern Territory’s best-kept…

Breathtaking Waterfalls, Idyllic Plunge Pools, Iconic Magnetic Termite Mounds, and the Australian bush, Litchfield National Park Will Not Disappoint.

 

Litchfield National Park is one of the Northern Territory’s best-kept secrets and a must-see in Australia’s ‘Top End’. Home to spectacular waterfalls that plunge into crystal clear pools perfect for a swim and iconic magnetic termite mounds unique to northern Australia, visiting Litchfield National Park on a day tour at the end of 2022 was the highlight of my six days in Darwin. 

Read on to learn why Litchfield is my new favourite national park and why I recommend the day tour I did with AAT Kings. Hint: I love waterfalls, landscapes, the bush, and the unusual.

 

About Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory (Australia) is near the town of Batchelor, about 100 kilometres southwest of Darwin. The Park was named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, a Territory pioneer who explored areas of the Northern Territory in 1864. Litchfield National Park covers an area of approximately 1,500 square kilometres and was proclaimed a national park in 1986.

Litchfield National Park is an ancient landscape carved by water and is home to 15 waterfalls. The falls flow year-round but are particularly spectacular in the wet and early dry seasons.

As well as an abundance of waterfalls, Litchfield National Park is famous for its magnetic termite mounds and found only in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The Marranuggu, Koongurrukun, Werat, and Warray Aboriginal people consider Litchfield National Park an important cultural site.

A day tour from Darwin

I explored Litchfield National Park with AAT Kings on their Litchfield National Park Waterfalls day tour from Darwin.

I am drawn to waterfalls and the stunning landscapes in which they are located. Any tour that takes me to waterfalls will always grab my attention. So, with AAT Kings advertising a day tour visiting three waterfalls, I quickly grabbed my place.

The three waterfalls included in the tour were Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls, and Wangi Falls. As a bonus, we also saw the unusual magnetic termite mounds.

On a day tour, three waterfalls were an ideal number to visit as it allowed for a leisurely pace to see and swim at the falls. AAT Kings’ Litchfield National Park Waterfalls tour was well-planned, well-timed, and well-executed.

Florence Falls

A segmented waterfall (dividing into two branches) flows over rocks before plunging into the pool below.

Florence Falls photographed from the viewing platform.

 

Florence Falls was my favourite of the three waterfalls we visited. It is a cascade waterfall that becomes segmented before it plunges over the cliff into a crystal-clear plunge pool perfect for a swim and set in a pocket of monsoon forest (a tropical dry forest).

Take the 3-minute walk from the car park to the viewing platform to see Florence Falls in all its splendour.

From the viewing platform, take the 170 steps (135 steel steps, with the rest being stone steps) down to the picturesque plunge pool, where a swim is a must. Here Florence Falls plunges into the pool from a height of about 15 metres before the creek continues over rocks and through the ancient landscape.

Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. The waterfall with two streams plunges into the pool below.

Florence Falls drops into the plunge pool.

 

A swimmer wearing a hat swims in a plunge pool up to the waterfall at Florence Falls.

Florence Falls Plunge Pool

 

I was pleasantly surprised by the pool’s water temperature. Coming from a town that sits on a river that originates in the Snowy Mountains, I expected the water to be freezing. However, the water was warm, but not so warm that you didn’t feel refreshed from a swim in the pool.

I recommend you walk down the steps to the plunge pool at the bottom of Florence Falls and take the Shady Creek Walk back up to the car park.

Shady Creek Walk

The image shows a pathway through a tropical dry forest in Australia's Northern Territory.

Shady Creek Walk meanders through Monsoon Forest

 

From the plunge pool at the bottom of Florence Falls, walk back to the car park via Shady Creek Walk – a Grade 3 (moderate) walk of one kilometre one way. The well-defined path meanders through the monsoon forest at a steady incline. There are some rock steps to negotiate, which are not particularly challenging and at various points along the way, the path crosses Shady Creek.

A creek flows over rocks through a tropical dry forest

Shady Creek Walk crosses Shady Creek at various points.

 

A small plunge pool on Shady Creek is 50 metres from the car park. Take a final welcome dip before getting back on the bus.

Tolmer Falls

A narrow waterfall drops over the escarpment into a pool below.

Tolmer Falls

 

Tolmer Falls is an impressive plunge waterfall with two drops at a total height of about 40 metres into the pool below. Swimming is prohibited at Tolmer Falls.

It is a 400-metre walk on a steep, sealed path from Tolmer Falls car park to the viewing platforms. The first platform provides magnificent views over the gorge, while the lower platform is the one you want for the best view of Tolmer Falls.

A creek splashes over rocks making mini waterfalls and then plunges over the cliff.

The top section of Tolmer Falls

 

The final drop of a waterfall as it crashes into the plunge pool.

Tolmer Falls crashes into the pool below.

Wangi Falls

Two waterfalls cascade down a cliff before dropping into a pool.

Wangi Falls

 

Wangi Falls is a segmented waterfall with a drop of about 50 metres. It is the most popular in Litchfield National Park as its large plunge pool is the most accessible.

Walking 125 metres along an easy, flat path will take you to the viewing platform, where the falls and plunge pool create a stunning panorama.

There was no swimming for us at Wangi Falls as it had been closed for the season for safety reasons after recent rains. The water had risen over the rocks that form a natural barrier against saltwater crocodiles entering the plunge pool. As such, the Park Rangers could not guarantee there were no crocs in the pool. Therefore, they closed the falls. Good Plan!

Two waterfalls cascade down a rock face before dropping into a large plunge pool.

The large plunge pool at Wangi Falls

 

Our included lunch at Wangi Falls Café consisted of cold meats and salads, with fresh fruit to follow.

Magnetic termite mounds

Termite mounds are found throughout Australia, but magnetic termite mounds are found only in the Northern Territory. And Litchfield National Park has a most impressive sight of hundreds of magnetic termite mounds standing up to two metres high on a vast flat plain. They look like tombstones spread over a large cemetery, all facing in the same direction.

A flat plain with hundred of magnetic termite mounds that look like tombstones.

Tombstone-like magnetic termite mounds

 

Around 100 years old, these peculiar mounds are mysteriously aligned to the earth’s magnetic field. Their thin edges point north-south, and their broad backs face east-west. Thereby, according to current theory, magnetic termites keep their homes comfortable.

“Northern Australia gets extremely hot during the day and cool at night, and researchers believe termites have somehow harnessed the power of the earth’s magnetism to strategically climate-control their homes.”

https://www.amusingplanet.com/2014/01/magnetic-termite-mounds.html

An accessible boardwalk skirts the plain of magnetic termite mounds, giving uninterrupted views.

When to visit

The northern part of the Territory, including Darwin and Litchfield National Park, has a tropical monsoonal climate with two seasons – a dry season and a wet season.

The dry season runs from May to October, with sunny days and cool evenings. The humidity is low, and the average daily temperature is around 32 degrees Celsius.

The wet season runs from November to April. It is a time of spectacular thunderstorms and cyclones. The humidity can rise as high as 98%, and the average daily temperature inland can hover around 39 degrees Celsius. However, balmy evenings provide some relief.

I visited Darwin in late October, at the very end of the Top End’s dry season. As the photos attest, the waterfalls were still flowing strongly.

 

Litchfield National Park is best known for its waterfalls, and a day tour must be on any traveller’s itinerary to the Top End. This is where I recommend AAT Kings’ Litchfield National Parks Waterfalls day tour from Darwin. Their tour was well-organised and conducted at a leisurely, relaxed pace. For once, on an escorted tour, I didn’t find myself rushed to take my photos. However, the tour has whet my appetite to see more of what Litchfield National Park has to offer. After all, I still have 12 waterfalls to explore!

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

While Wangi Falls is the most popular attraction in Litchfield National Park, Florence Falls was my favourite of the three waterfalls the tour included. If you could only visit one of the waterfalls I have described and shown in this post, which would it be? Leave a comment.

 

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An image with two photos: a segmented waterfall (two branches) dropping into a plunge pool and a swimmer in the plunge pool.

The image shows two photos: a waterfalls dropping into a plunge pool and a flat plain of termite mounds that look like tombstones.

 

Are you looking for more waterfall destinations in Australia? Then don’t miss these posts:

SEE 3 OF THE BEST WATERFALLS IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, NEW SOUTH WALES

9 BEAUTIFUL BLUE MOUNTAINS WATERFALLS + PHOTOS

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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THE GHAN LUXURY TRAIN IN AUSTRALIA – GOLD VERSUS PLATINUM SERVICE

Which is For You – Gold Service or Platinum Service on The Ghan Train?   Luxury train travel is popular in Australia. It is not just about getting on a…

Which is For You – Gold Service or Platinum Service on The Ghan Train?

 

Luxury train travel is popular in Australia. It is not just about getting on a train and going from A to B, but about the experience. On The Ghan (as with other luxury train travel in Australia), your journey can be completed in Gold Service or Platinum Service. But which service do you choose? Read on to learn about the similarities and differences between the two services from my unique first-hand experience as a solo traveller on The Ghan train.

 

In October 2022, I travelled on The Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin – a two-night train trip up the middle of Australia from the southern coast to the northern coast.

For the first half of the train trip from Adelaide to Alice Springs, I travelled Gold Service. In Alice Springs, I transferred to Platinum Service for the second half of the journey. Moving from one service to another halfway through the trip was not by design but was my only means of getting all the way from Adelaide to Darwin on The Ghan train on my desired travel date. However, it has allowed me to provide you with an exclusive first-hand comparison of The Ghan’s service levels – Gold Service and Platinum Service – and answer the question is Platinum Service value for money.

About The Ghan luxury train

The Ghan train stopped in the desert to witness the sunrise. People are off the train taking photos.

The Ghan – Sunrise over the South Australian desert landscape

 

The Ghan (operated by Journey Beyond) is a luxury passenger train service in Australia that travels weekly from Adelaide to Darwin (or reverse), covering 2,979 kilometres over two nights and three days. It is considered one of the world’s great train journeys as it travels through diverse landscapes from the southern to northern extremes of Australia – from cityscapes and outback towns to endless red desert and the tropics.

The train is almost one kilometre in length and accommodates 258 Gold Service beds and 25 Platinum Service beds.

The Ghan’s name pays homage to the Afghan camel drivers who helped explore Australia’s remote interior in the 19th century.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: price

I paid AUD2,875.00 for the Adelaide to Alice Springs section of the train journey in Gold Service. This cost included one night’s accommodation in a sole occupancy twin cabin, three meals and all beverages, and two Off Train Experiences.

Had I travelled with a friend or partner and shared a Gold Service twin cabin from Adelaide to Alice Springs, the fare would have been AUD1,595.00 per person.

My Platinum Service cost for the second half of the train trip from Alice Springs to Darwin was AUD5,115.00. This price included one night’s accommodation in a sole occupancy cabin, three meals and all beverages, and two Off Train Experiences.

Had I travelled with a friend or partner and shared a Platinum Service cabin from Alice Springs to Darwin, the fare would have been AUD2,895.00 per person.

Dining, Australian wines, beers, base spirits, and non-alcoholic drinks are all-inclusive for both service levels. However, with Platinum Service, you can have Bollinger Champagne served with your meals.

My Platinum Service fare on The Ghan was almost twice as much as that for Gold Service with identical inclusions of accommodation, meals, beverages, and Off Train Experiences. So, what did I get for my money in Platinum Service that warranted the additional cost? What are the differences between the services?

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: cabin

My Gold Service cabin was a twin cabin, while my Platinum Service cabin was a double cabin, and I had sole occupancy in both cabins.

The Ghan’s cabins are as different in every way.

A train cabin with a three-seater couch. A bag and camera are on the couch. The door handle to the ensuite can be seen and there is a bag on the floor. Water bottles are on a small table attached to the cabin wall.

Gold Service twin cabin

 

My Gold Service twin cabin was compact with a three-seater, firm lounge and sufficient leg room. The cabin converts to a bedroom at night with narrow bunk beds. As I was the sole person occupying my cabin, the Hospitality Attendant only made up the comfortable bottom bunk. My only fear was falling out of bed if I turned over. There is a ladder to assist you in accessing the top bunk.

Storage was limited to a small, narrow shelf and a cupboard where you could hang two or three items. Unlike the space provided in a riverboat cabin, unpacking was not viable. Depending on the size of your cabin bag, it may be stored under the lower bunk or on the shelf above the ensuite.

The cabin’s wood panelling was dark, and the furnishings looked tired and outdated. There were reading lights and a night light, sufficient power points, in-cabin music channels, and journey commentaries broadcasted in the cabins.

My Platinum Service double cabin was spacious, almost twice the size of the Gold Service twin cabin, and more modern in design.

A train cabin with a two-seater couch with cushions. There are cupboards each side of the couch and two tables - one is in the middle of the cabin and one is attached to the cabin wall.

The Ghan Platinum Service double cabin

 

During the day, the Platinum Service double cabin was set up as a private lounge, having a comfortable lounge with cushions, a moveable table, and two ottomans. However, the cabin could no longer be described as spacious if the ottomans (stored under the table) were being utilised. At night, the Hospitality Attendant turned the lounge room into a bedroom with a luxurious double bed.

As with my Gold Service twin cabin, there were sufficient power points, in-cabin music channels, and journey commentaries broadcasted in the cabins. While unpacking was still not viable, there was more storage space in my Platinum Service cabin.

The private ensuite for both services warrants a separate mention.

The Gold Service ensuite was compact. It was, in truth, a toilet, shower, and handbasin in a closet. A curtain pulled around the showerhead prevents the toilet and basin from getting wet. Having said that, I did find it manageable, but you would never get two people in there.

The Platinum Service cabin had a full-sized ensuite; in fact, it was larger than my ensuite at home.

Both services provide complimentary Australian Appelles Apothecary toiletries. However, the bottles were larger in Platinum Service.

The Platinum Service cabin deserves the reputation of being luxurious. The Gold Service cabin, on the other hand, in my opinion, does not warrant a luxury label. Think XPT sleeper cabin without the bathroom closet!

Gold Service also offers single cabins, and Platinum Service has twin cabin options. However, I have not provided any details on these cabin types because I do not have first-hand knowledge of them.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: security

You can lock the cabin door when inside your Gold Service cabin. However, it is not possible to lock the door when you leave the cabin.

Platinum Service cabins are lockable inside and out with hotel-like key-card access.

Both services have in-cabin safes.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: lounge and restaurant

The Ghan has a dedicated lounge carriage (the Outback Explorer Lounge) and an exclusive restaurant carriage (the Queen Adelaide Restaurant) for Gold Service passengers.

A lounge train carriage with tables, leather and material seats and couches. People are sitting on the seats, and drinks are on the tables.

Gold Service Outback Explorer Lounge

 

The exclusive lounge and restaurant (the Platinum Club) for Platinum Service passengers were combined in the same carriage. The restaurant area comprised two-thirds of the carriage, leaving minimal space for lounge chairs to socialise with other passengers.

Gold Service’s Outback Explorer Lounge was the social hub of the train, and I found it to be more conducive to meeting and chatting with fellow passengers. Strangers played cards and board games, shared stories, and made new friends.

On the other hand, the setup of the Platinum Club carriage did not encourage passenger socialisation. If four people were chatting in the lounge area of the restaurant carriage, there was no space for anyone else, which I found quite isolating.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: meals

As mentioned above, all meals are included in the cost price.

Both Gold Service and Platinum Service provide hearty breakfasts and two-course lunches. However, Gold Service dinners are three-course affairs, whilst Platinum Service delivers four-course dinners. Did I really need that fourth course? Platinum Service also offers its guests an in-cabin continental breakfast on request.

I preferred the meals in Gold Service. I am conservative in my eating and enjoyed Gold Service’s choices. Unfortunately, I found the Platinum Service menus challenging. Not only could I not pronounce many menu items, but I found it challenging to decide what to eat because I did not know what I was ordering.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: off train experiences

Off Train Experiences included river cruises, cultural encounters, indigenous rock art tours, camel rides, and helicopter flights. All Off Train Experiences, including upgrade options, were available for all passengers regardless of service level.

The photo shows the end of a canyon overshadowed by towering red cliffs. Rocks, sand and water are evident in this section of the canyon. There are people sitting on the rocks.

Simpsons Gap Off Train Experience in Alice Springs

 

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: Hospitality Attendant

There is no denying the Hospitality Attendants on The Ghan perform multiple tasks. One minute they are directing you to your carriage at embarkation, assisting with luggage, or explaining the train’s operation and noting your selections for Off Train Experiences. The next time you see your Hospitality Assistant, they are serving your meals in the restaurant, drinks in the lounge, or accompanying you on off-train experiences.

I found the Hospitality Attendant in Platinum Service more attentive than that in Gold Service.

In Gold Service, the Hospitality Attendant introduced herself soon after I boarded. She explained the layout of my cabin and how the restaurant organises meals, noted my food allergy, and wrote down my selections for Off Train Experiences. Then I never saw her again except in the restaurant serving meals. Turndown service occurs while you are eating dinner. Luckily, I did not need her!

Platinum Service was a very different, more positive experience. My Hospitality Attendant still performed all the tasks of the Gold Service Hospitality Attendant. However, he was available and ensured my needs were met without being intrusive. Iced tea and biscuits waiting in my room upon my return from Off Train Experiences was a welcome addition. Would I have got this in Gold Service? Yes, if I had gone to the bar and ordered it, but in-cabin service did not exist.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: transfers

Journey Beyond does not provide transfer services for Gold Service passengers joining The Ghan in Adelaide or disembarking in Alice Springs. However, Gold Service does offer a complimentary shuttle bus service in Darwin to selected hotels in the city centre.

Complimentary private transfers are available for Platinum Service passengers at the beginning and end of their journey within 60 kilometres of the Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin rail terminals. As it turned out, my Platinum Service transfer in Darwin was not private but a shared transfer with other Platinum Service passengers in a minivan.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: checked luggage allowance

The checked luggage allowance for Gold Service passengers is 60 kilograms for two bags, with a maximum of 30 kilograms per bag.

Platinum Service’s checked luggage allowance is 90 kilograms for three bags, with a maximum of 30 kilograms per bag.

Journey Beyond recommend you pack an overnight bag for use on the train.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: summary

The image is a compilation of three photos: a drink and biscuits on a table, a menu, and a train

Refreshments served in Platinum, Gold dinner menu, and The Ghan at sunrise

 

There is no getting away from the fact The Ghan is very expensive, whichever service (Gold or Platinum) you decide on for your journey.

Platinum Service offers more luxurious and private cabins, with added amenities and a higher personal service level than Gold Service. But was it worth almost double the cost? In short, this solo traveller says no!

The Gold Service twin cabin was more than adequate, even with its closet ensuite.

On a two-night journey, I found Platinum Services’ additional amenities unnecessary and not worth the higher fare. However, everyone’s preferences are different, and you should choose the travel experience that aligns with your individual needs and desires. For me, Gold Service won out big time over Platinum Service.

  • I did not want in-cabin breakfast but enjoyed eating breakfast with other passengers.
  • I did not need an extra course for dinner.
  • I was more than happy to forego champagne.
  • Refreshments waiting for me in my cabin upon return from an Off Train Experience was a nice touch in Platinum Service. Nonetheless, I preferred having a refreshing drink after an Off Train Experience in the Gold Service lounge carriage, where I could chat about our shared experience with other passengers.
  • I am not into taking a nightcap alone as I believe a nightcap is more enjoyable socially shared.
  • I frequented the Outback Explorer Lounge, the social hub of Gold Service, but felt uncomfortable and intrusive in the Platinum Club. I found Platinum Service quite lonely.

I felt Platinum Service in-cabin amenities (breakfast, refreshments, and nightcaps) promoted social isolation – something I was not looking for. Quite the opposite! As a solo traveller, I enjoy social opportunities to meet new people.

I admit the inability to lock the door when leaving my Gold Service cabin caused some initial concern. However, locking my valuables in the in-cabin safe and in my bag if it was too large for the safe, for example, my camera, eased my disquiet.

I like my luxuries and attentive, discreet staff, but these were not worth the additional cost of Platinum Service on The Ghan.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: recommendation

The Ghan luxury train certainly offers an unforgettable experience in Australia, but it comes at a price.

Not everyone who reads this post will agree with me, but it is my judgement that The Ghan offers the same overall services regardless of cabin class. The answer to the question of “which service is better” will entirely depend on individual preferences and what you wish to gain from your train journey. However, in my considered opinion, Platinum Service was not value for money.

Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly recommend travelling Gold Service on The Ghan luxury train in Australia.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

If you were planning to travel on The Ghan, which service – Gold or Platinum – would you book and why? I hope this post helps you make that choice. Leave a comment.

 

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The image has two photos. One is of a train carriage with The Ghan sign on the outside. The other photo is of a lounge carriage on the Ghan train with chairs, tables and lounges.

The image is of two different cabins - Gold Service and Platinum Service - on The Ghan Train in Australia.

 

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A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN, SRI LANKA [2022 Updated]

Photos of an Astounding Untamed Garden by Geoffrey Bawa.   Geoffrey Bawa is still regarded as one of the greatest architects to have ever lived. But his genius was not…

Photos of an Astounding Untamed Garden by Geoffrey Bawa.

 

Geoffrey Bawa is still regarded as one of the greatest architects to have ever lived. But his genius was not confined to bricks and mortar. On Lunuganga Estate, Geoffrey’s country home in Sri Lanka, he brought together architecture, art, plants, and the odd cow to create a magnificent, controlled landscape of untamed wilderness.

Finding things to do in Sri Lanka away from the maddening crowds is an excellent reason to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s garden as it is largely undiscovered by tourists, being something different from the ‘usual’ tourist attraction.

 

I have my sister to thank for our visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden – not to be confused with Brief Garden, the former estate of Geoffrey’s older brother Bevis Bawa.

While researching things to do for our trip to Sri Lanka, that teardrop-shaped nation sitting at the bottom of India in the Indian Ocean, my sister discovered a reference to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden on his Lunuganga Estate. How could we not include a garden described as “the most seductive, passionate pleasure gardens of the twentieth century” (lunuganga.com) on our itinerary?

So, who was Geoffrey Bawa?

Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003) was Sri Lanka’s most well-known architect and is deemed the most influential Asian architect of his time. For those architect enthusiasts reading this post, he was one of the founding fathers of the architectural style known as “tropical modernism”. Geoffrey Bawa is probably best known for designing Sri Lanka’s Houses of Parliament.

Living permanently in Colombo, Lunuganga Estate, situated on the banks of Lake Dedduwa in Bentota (midway between Colombo and Galle), was Geoffrey Bawa’s country retreat. Here, on 23 acres, he spent 50 years turning this abandoned rubber plantation (and, before that, a cinnamon plantation) into eclectic gardens of multiple shades of green.

We explored Geoffrey Bawa’s garden with the Head Curator on a 2-hour private tour.

Don’t expect to find manicured gardens of colourful flowers, neat borders, and gurgling fountains. But expect an untamed but controlled tropical wilderness of sudden vistas, intimate groves, sculptures, and wide landscapes. I found Bawa’s garden a place of peace, tranquillity, and restfulness.

Lunuganga Estate – Geoffrey Bawa’s garden

Lunuganga Estate is about 500 metres long and 300 metres at its widest. There is no spot where you can view the garden in its entirety. Instead, it is a journey from one seemingly disconnected space to another that somehow Geoffrey managed to create a cohesive whole.

Take a stroll with me on a visual tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden.

The Hen House

A brick and wood hen house with tile roof set amongst tropical forest.

Geoffrey Bawa’s Hen House on Lunuganga Estate.

 

Geoffrey Bawa famously designed Sri Lanka’s Parliament House. He then created his hen house (chicken coup) on Lunuganga Estate in the same style. Take from that what you will!

Sandela Pavilion

A glass room with large black and white floor tiles, polished wooden table, chairs and coffee table.

Sandela Pavilion

 

The Sandela Pavilion, also known as the Glass House, is an open, airy space and served as Geoffrey Bawa’s office. From here, he had a lovely view of the lake and could see anyone who arrived at the main gate.

The Red Terrace

A flat red earth terrace with views of a lake. with a stone wall on one side and jar on the wall

The Red Terrace with views of Lake Dedduwa

 

The Red Terrace derives its name from the red laterite ground surface, produced by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.

With its views of Lake Dedduwa and the Water Garden at the bottom of the hill, the Red Terrace was a favourite spot for Geoffrey to have lunch.

The Water Garden

A pond surrounded by tropical forest

The Water Garden

 

The Water Garden is a tropical oasis. The pond is shaped like a butterfly and is filled with pink flowering water lilies. A bench seat takes pride of place beside the pond in the shade of trees. Here Geoffrey would sit and ring the garden bell for his gin and tonic to be brought to him.

The Water Garden incorporates ornamental rice paddies stretching along the banks of Lake Dedduwa, adding to the eclectic nature of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden design.

Rice paddies beside a lake

Rice paddies on Lunuganga Estate

 

Sculptures around the garden

There are several sculptures around the garden.

Rusty, blue metal sundial sculpture with the head of a dog

Sundial sculpture in the Water Garden

 

The rusted metal sundial sculpture in the Water Garden has an air of decline and abandonment.

A stone sculpture of the face of horned pagan god, Pan.

“Hindu” Pan sculpture

 

The sculpture of the pagan god Pan was sculptured by one of Geoffrey’s Tamil assistants and called “Hindu” Pan by Geoffrey. No reason has been given as to why he called it such. Perhaps because a Tamil sculpted it?

Metal sculpture of a figurine with four arms

Garden sculpture

 

The Plain of Jars

A large black jar sitting on grass is reflected in the waters of a pond

The Plain of Jars

 

In a setting of sloping grassy plains surrounded by forest, the Ming dynasty-style jars that dot this part of the landscape were added here by Geoffrey.

The jars are not confined to this area of the garden but were purposefully placed by Geoffrey throughout the garden. Geoffrey Bawa had a knack for controlling the landscape without taming it.

A large black jar on the ground underneath a tree

Ming dynasty-style jar on the hill

 

A large black jar on the ground under a tree

A Ming dynasty-styled jar under a tree.

 

Jackfruit

Two Jackfruits growing on the Jackfruit tree

Jackfruit in Geoffrey Bawa’s garden

 

Lunuganga Estate is set in Sri Lanka’s wet tropical zone, so tropical fruits, like the Jackfruit, are not unknown and grow to large proportions.

Cinnamon Hill House

A single story orange coloured building with blue doors.

Cinnamon Hill House on Lunuganga Estate.

 

In a forested area on the western slope, Geoffery used Cinnamon Hill House as a studio from where he created his architectural designs. It also served as accommodation for his guests and was the last addition to the Garden.

Geoffrey Bawa’s home

A single story White House with black and white painted doors and red tile roof, partially hidden by trees and bushes.

Geoffrey Bawa’s former home.

 

The tour ended with walking past a most unusual windmill before the gentle climb up Cinnamon Hill for lunch on the wide veranda of Geoffrey Bawa’s former home on Lunuganga Estate, now a boutique hotel. Lunch consisted of a set menu of delicious traditional Sri Lankan curries.

A multi-storey brick windmill that looks like a castle turret

A unique windmill on Lunuganga Estate

 

The veranda of a home set with tables and chairs ready for lunch

Lunch on the veranda of Geoffrey Bawa’s former home.

 

The home sits at the top of Cinnamon Hill, allowing breathtaking views over Lake Dedduwa. Lunch was a visual and gastronomic pleasure.

The gardens are open to the public, and the buildings on the estate operate as boutique country accommodation

Guided tours of the gardens run daily: 9.30 am, 11.30 am, 2.00 pm, and 3.30 pm. A reservation is essential if you want to have lunch whilst visiting the estate. Check the Geoffrey Bawa Trust website for garden tour prices and how to book lunch.

Guests staying on Lunuganga Estate can wander the gardens without needing a guided tour.

How to get from Colombo to Lunganga Estate, Bentota

The drive from Colombo to Lunuganga Estate will take about 1 hour and 14 minutes, for a distance of 83.9 kilometres.

But what if I don’t have a car? Can I still get to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden?

You have three options if you don’t have the means to drive to Lunuganga Estate: train, bus, or taxi. The train is the fasted option, taking 1 hour and 6 minutes and costing AU$5 – AU$7, including the taxi fare from Aluthgama Station to the estate. For a taxi from Colombo to Lunuganga Estate, the most expensive option, expect to pay AU$30 – AU$40.

Refer to the website, Rome2rio, for details on schedules, costs, routes, travel times, and operators.

 

Geoffrey Bawa’s garden is not a formal garden in the European sense. Nor is it a major tourist attraction. But that’s what makes it interesting and a bucket list thing to do in Sri Lanka.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in February 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Would you visit Lunuganga Estate and Geoffrey Bawa’s garden if visiting Sri Lanka?

 

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A pond surrounded by tropical forest. The writing on the image states, Visit Geoffrey Bawa's Garden in Sri Lanka.

A photo of a house veranda set with tables and chairs for lunch. The writing on the photo states, Have lunch at Geoffrey Bawa's Garden in Sri Lanka.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Sri Lanka? Then don’t miss these posts:

WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA

WALLAWWA – a tranquil luxury boutique hotel in Colombo City

ULTIMATE SRI LANKA ITINERARY – The best of Sri Lanka in 20 Days

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA [2022 Updated]

Do as a Local, Walk the Railway Line From Ella to Demodara in Sri Lanka’s Beautiful Hill Country.   When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say,…

Do as a Local, Walk the Railway Line From Ella to Demodara in Sri Lanka’s Beautiful Hill Country.

 

When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble. What, you might ask, is the connection between walking a railway line in the hills of Sri Lanka and a grandmother teaching her grandson how to get out of trouble? Read on to connect the dots and discover a path less travelled.

 

When staying in Sri Lanka’s pretty hill town of Ella with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister decided it would be an adventure to walk the 3 kilometres along the railway line from Ella to the iconic Nine Arch Bridge. From there, we would choose whether to walk back to Ella or continue a further 3.5 kilometres along the railway line to Demodara train station, catching the Kandy-Colombo train back to Ella.

With all in agreement and knowing the expected time the train departs Demodara, we set off at 8.20 am after an early breakfast for our possible 6.5-kilometre walk.

A man walks along a railway line which is surrounded by hills and tropical vegetation.

Walking the railway line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara.

 

Just after stepping onto the railway line near our hotel, we were confronted with the sign, ‘WALK ON THE RAILWAY LINE IS PROHIBITED’. I immediately decided that when stopped by the railway police, I was going to tell them, “The devil made me do it”. I wonder how well this translates into Sinhala or Tamil? If that didn’t work, I was going to blame my sister, the hotel manager, and guidebooks because they all suggested this escapade – a “must do” in Ella, to do as the locals do.

I stopped worrying about ending up in a Sri Lankan prison when about 5 metres further down the line there was a sign advising that walking the railway line was dangerous. Evidently, the authorities had given up telling people that walking the line was prohibited. I relaxed. ‘Dangerous’ I can handle, but ‘prohibited’ went against my ‘good’ girl nature.

However, ‘dangerous’ became a not-so-friendly companion again upon entering a tunnel that was impossible to see any light coming from the other end. Blindly feeling my way through the tunnel with my feet against the railway track, I wondered aloud what action should be taken in the event of a train coming whilst we were in the tunnel. Luckily, my brother-in-law had been thinking ahead and consulted with our hotel manager to find out when we might come face-to-face with the train from Kandy on the Nine Arch Bridge.

Feeling relatively safe in the knowledge I was not about to be squished by a train, the walk through the tunnel became a devil-may-care adventure filled with excess adrenaline running rampant through my body. I wasn’t convinced I was doing something entirely legal in a foreign country.

I may not have felt quite so safe and would definitely have run out of adrenaline had I known the tunnel exits right on Nine Arch Bridge.

Two people exiting a railway tunnel

Exiting the tunnel at Nine Arch Bridge

 

Two people walk along a bridge constructed with with nine arches. The bridge is in a tropical landscape.

Walking the railway line on Nine Arch Bridge

 

The Nine Arch Bridge, a popular tourist attraction, spans a deep gorge and is surrounded by a vision of green, with tropical forests interspersed with tea plantations. And so-called because it has nine arches or spans. Very imaginative! At 91.44m (300ft) long, 7.62m (25ft) wide and 24.38m (80ft) high, this railway bridge is deemed to be an engineering marvel as it is made entirely of rocks, bricks and cement without a single piece of steel. Not knowing anything about engineering, I must concur with the experts. The bridge’s height and all those arches, plus the environment in which it exists, make it an impressive bridge and worth plugging as a tourist attraction.

We had timed our arrival at the Nine Arch Bridge to watch the 9.15 am train from Kandy cross the bridge.

A blue train driving on a railway line through tropical vegetation in hills.

Here comes the train!

 

Everything you read about Sri Lankan trains advises you they rarely run on time. However, this one was on time and came down the line just after we crossed the bridge. Stepping off the tracks, I expressed our expert timing with an enthusiastic wave to the driver and all the passengers.

The Nine Arch Bridge is the midway point between Ella and Demodara stations. Having gotten this far, we decided to continue our walk along the railway line to Demodara to catch the 10.40 am train back to Ella. Now I was on a mission to reach Demodara in time to catch that train as I was not walking the 6.5 kms back to Ella.

Please Note: The Sr Lanka train timetable has altered since I visited Ella. The 10.40 am train I caught now leaves Demodara at 10.55 am, and the changed timetable impacts the arrival time of the earlier train at Nine Arch Bridge.

We made it to Demodara by 10.20 am but weren’t allowed to purchase our train tickets immediately, being told to wait until 10 minutes before the train was due. No explanation was forthcoming as to why this was so. However, as Demodara was such a pretty station, with its many potted flowering plants lining the platform, we were happy to wait to be ‘allowed’ to buy our train tickets. When I did front up to the ticketing window, I thought I had misheard when asked to pay 30 Sri Lankan rupees (the equivalent of 30 Australian cents) for three one-way tickets from Demodara to Ella (10c each). I was so impressed with how cheap the trip was that I also bought my sister and brother-in-law their tickets.

Two people sitting on a train platform underneath a picture of a steam train engine.

Waiting at Demodara Station for the train back to Ella

 

The train was practically empty. Not what I had expected, which made choosing a seat difficult due to too much choice. Which seat would give me the best view of the scenery as it passes by outside the window? Ultimately, I chose to stand in the doorway like a local.

The train ride, although short-lived, was fun and the highlight of my day. Anyone would think I have never ridden a train before!

A train on a bridge approaches a tunnel and people standing near the bridge wave at the train.

The train on Nine Arch Bridge approaches the tunnel we had so recently walked through.

 

Guidebooks publicise the walk along the railway line as a must-do activity in Ella. However, we came across no other tourists except at the bridge itself. Is it too far off the beaten track for most tourists? We were the only non-locals walking the line. I had to smile whenever we passed a makeshift stall by the rail tracks – Sri Lankans cater to people’s needs wherever they can!

To my surprise, the walk was effortless. It was flat all the way, and you get into a rhythm as you lope from sleeper to sleeper. The endless views of tea plantations, tropical vegetation, valleys, and mountains made for a pleasant walk. And the company was good too – not one disagreement!

Tea bushes growing on hills

Tea plantations are seen along the railway line walk

 

Visiting the Nine Arch Bridge is touted as a must-do attraction in Sri Lanka. You can get to the Bridge by taking a tuk-tuk from Ella or walking through the jungle. Or do as the locals do and walk along the railway line. Take the path less travelled.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in January 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Would you have walked the railway line given Ella station’s ‘prohibited’ sign?

 

Like this post? Save it for later!

An image with two photos. One is of three people walking on a railway line and the other is of a bridge with nine arches.

Three people walking on a railway line with flowers, bushes, and signs beside the tracks.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Sri Lanka? Then don’t miss these posts:

WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN

WALLAWWA – a tranquil boutique hotel in Colombo City

ULTIMATE SRI LANKA ITINERARY – The Best of Sri Lanka in 20 Days

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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HOW TO SEE HORIZONTAL FALLS AND EPIC TIDES, AUSTRALIA

Take An Amazing Scenic Flight And Awesome Sea Safari   Northern Western Australia has some of the best unique experiences you will find in Australia. Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer…

Take An Amazing Scenic Flight And Awesome Sea Safari

 

Northern Western Australia has some of the best unique experiences you will find in Australia. Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer full-day tour covers several bucket list activities in the Kimberley region. Be prepared for a scenic flight over the Horizontal Waterfalls and the stunning Buccaneer Archipelago, a visit to a hatchery managed by the Bardi-Jawi people, a pearling industry discovery tour and a fast boat cruise amongst giant whirlpools and standing tidal waves in the world’s largest tropical tides. So, where am I taking you? Read on to discover and learn more about your next Australian adventure.

 

Over the past 12 months, I have tried twice to join a tour over and through Horizontal Falls in Western Australia. However, on both occasions, the company cancelled the tour. The first cancellation in 2021 was because the seaplanes could not take off due to low cloud cover. The second cancellation (June 2022) occurred when a fast boat had an accident going through the Horizontal Waterfalls, and all fast boat tours through the falls were temporarily suspended.

When I recently found myself in Broome again, and my second-attempted pre-booked Horizontal Falls tour was cancelled, I was resigned to my disappointment. However, one day nosing around the resort lobby, I came across an Air Kimberley brochure. I discovered they did a similar full-day tour that included a flyover of the Horizontal Falls and a sea safari, not through Horizontal Falls, as I had wanted, but out to the giant tides off the Kimberley coast.

The Air Kimberley tour cost, at $985.00, was slightly less than what I was to be refunded from the cancelled tour. I figured, what did I have to lose? And I wasn’t returning to Broome for a third attempt at the Horizontal Falls tour.

Air Kimberley’s tour price covered hotel transfers, flights, morning tea and lunch, and third-party tours at Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery and Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

So, what did I find in that Air Kimberley brochure? Before I answer that question, you probably wonder why seeing Horizontal Falls was so important to me.

Last year, when organising my first ever trip to the Kimberley in northern Western Australia, Horizontal Falls was on my must-see list for several reasons.

  • Sir David Attenborough has described the falls as “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”, and I thought I needed to see this unique natural attraction that deserved such high praise.
  • The Horizontal Falls are created by a rare ocean phenomenon where powerful, fast-moving 10- to 12-metre-high tidal currents squeeze through two narrow gorges at an astonishing rate, producing waterfalls turned on their side (literally, horizontal). I love waterfalls but have only seen ones with vertical drops. So, I knew I had to see this wonder for myself.
  • Horizontal Falls is in the Buccaneer Archipelago, an untouched region of more than 1,000 islands off the coast of Western Australia. These largely uninhabited islands are known for their rugged terrain, areas of rainforest, and pristine, white sand beaches – a landscape I was keen to photograph from the air even though it would seriously test my camera skills.
  • Horizontal Falls is remote, accessible only by air or boat. I find ‘remote’ appealing – the more difficult it is to get to see or do something, the more I want to go.
  • And lastly, seeing Horizontal Falls came highly recommended by friends and Facebook groups.

Did my flight over Horizontal Falls meet all my expectations? You will have to read on to find out.

Cygnet Bay Explorer

And now, back to my question about what I found in the Air Kimberley brochure.

I found, booked, and went on Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer full-day tour, leaving from Broome.

“Enjoy an adventure packed day experiencing the best of the Kimberley – Overfly the Horizontal Falls, Buccaneer Archipelago, visit Ardyaloon Community and the giant tides and shimmering pearls at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.”

While you can check out the details of this tour for yourself by clicking on the link, there were two very different events I was eager to experience – the scenic flight over Horizontal Falls and the sea safari out to the giant whirlpools. But I am getting ahead of myself. What did the tour entail?

I was picked up from my accommodation at 6.30 am and driven to Broome International Airport, where Air Kimberley is based. Four other people (two couples) joined me on the tour. After our flight safety briefing, we boarded a small aircraft (eight-seater, including the pilot) for the 2-hour flight up the Kimberley coast for our flight over the stunning Buccaneer Archipelago and Horizontal Falls.

The Buccaneer Archipelago is a group of 1,000 small islands covering 50 square kilometres, located at the head of King Sound near the Kimberley town of Derby.

The archipelago is a magnificent raw landscape that you can only truly appreciate from the air. While boat tours around the islands offer visits to the beautiful coves and beaches, you would not get the perspective given by a scenic flight of the vastness of all those islands that seem to go on forever.

I must admit, I was underwhelmed with Horizontal Falls. I had read so much about the power of the tides running between the cliffs, causing the water to appear like a horizontal waterfall, but ‘power’ was not evident from the plane. Instead, what I saw was more like Class 1 or 2 rapids.

I suspect the wonder of Horizontal Falls and the power of the tides are best experienced from a fast boat through the waterfalls rather than a scenic flyover.

When we landed at the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre, run by the Bardi-Jawi people on One Arm Point, I asked the pilot if we were not allowed to fly lower over Horizontal Falls. I thought lower would give a better ‘feel’ for the powerful tides. Apparently, there is a height pecking order, with helicopters flying at the lowest altitude, seaplanes next level up, and light aircraft (our plane) flying the highest.

When I got home and reviewed my photos more closely, I felt the image below revealed the power of the running tide more clearly than my eyes could discern. What do you think?

Close up aerial view of a horizontal waterfall

Can you ‘feel’ the power of the Horizontal Falls in this photo?

 

I had joined a guided tour of Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery on a previous visit to Broome in 2021. However, on this occasion, morning tea of fruit salad, cake, and juice was provided by Air Kimberley.

From Long Arm Point, it was a short, six-minute flight to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, where the activities included the Pearl Discovery Tour and a Sea Safari. At Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, Air Kimberley’s involvement was limited to getting us to the pearl farm, seeing we joined the Pearl Discovery Tour, paying for lunch, ensuring we were on the fast boat for the Sea Safari, and flying us back to Broome.

Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer tour price included the tours at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

Pearl Farm Discovery Tour

My previous visit to Broome in 2021 included the Pearl Farm Discovery Tour at the family-owned Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. However, I continue to be fascinated by the history of pearling in the Kimberley.

Reading tip: If you are interested in learning more about a significant chapter in the Kimberley’s pearling industry, I recommend reading The White Divers of Broome by John Bailey, telling the true story of a fatal experiment.

The tour commenced with an information session on the history of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm and the pearling industry in what appropriately appeared to be an old school classroom. A live pearl harvest followed the history lesson.

A pearl in an opened oyster

I took this photo of the harvested pearl on my previous visit to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm

 

The tour concluded with an in-depth session on how pearls are graded.

The Pearl Farm Discovery tour was followed by lunch at the onsite restaurant.

Twice I lunched at the Cygnet Bay Homestead Restaurant with a tour group when the set menu was seafood. On both occasions, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm was advised of my seafood allergy, and, on both occasions, this information seems to have been lost in translation. The outcome was eating a meal after everyone else had finished because they had nothing prepared for me. I found the restaurant’s forgetfulness disappointing.

Sea Safari

After lunch, we climbed aboard the fast boat for our Giant Tides Sea Safari. During this cruise, we would “feel the power of the world’s largest tropical tides with giant whirlpools and standing waves” created by millions of tonnes of water squeezing between the rocky islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago.

Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm writes about their Sea Safari tour:

“Feel the power of the world’s largest tropical tides as you cruise amongst the giant whirlpools and standing tidal waves. Venture into Escape Passage, recently described by scientists as the fastest ocean currents in the world!

The tides on this section of the Kimberley Coast are particularly large due to the area’s geography. When the sun and moon align on a spring tide, the ocean is pulled towards the north-west of WA and Indonesia, gathering speed as it reaches the shallow continental shelf and bottlenecking as it passes between Australia and Indonesia, creating the exhilarating whirlpools and standing waves we see on the tour.”

My photos can’t express the sense of adventure experienced and don’t do justice to all you see. The whirlpools are probably best viewed from the air.

The Sea Safari was an experience I find difficult to describe as there just don’t seem to be the right words to express how I felt as we powered through the whirlpools and standing waves created by the forceful tides. But let me try. It was a thrilling, exhilarating, exciting, fun, and awesome adventure. To best sum up my feelings, I was disappointed when it was time to return to land. I immediately wanted to go back out again, but there was a plane waiting for me to take me back to Broome.

Beware: You will get wet. How much so will depend on where you are sitting in the boat. Two young girls sitting at the front of the boat got drenched. I was sitting at the back of the boat directly in front of the driver and experienced what I would best describe as several large, fat rain drops.

The flight along the Kimberley coast back to Broome took us over the magnificent red cliffs of James Price Point, famous for its 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints (but that’s another trip).

Aerial view of red cliffs meeting sand and sea. Forest lies behind the red cliffs.

Scenic flight with Air Kimberley over James Price Point

 

It was a long (approximately 11 hours), enjoyable, satisfying, and exhilarating day providing several unique experiences and so worth it. I can not fault Air Kimberley’s relaxed professionalism, guiding, and communication.

The tour was an excellent itinerary, well organised, kept on time without feeling rushed, and value for money. Without hesitation, I recommend Air Kimberley to readers.

Before our transfer back to our respective hotels, Air Kimberley presented each passenger with special gifts as mementos of our Kimberley adventure – a tour photo, a souvenir Passport & Tour Map to the Kimberley, an Air Kimberley stubby cooler, and a complimentary beer voucher from Matso’s Brewery in Broome. I am not letting out any secrets here, as Air Kimberley lists the gifts on their website.

 

In this post, I have shared my experience of Air Kimberley’s full-day Cygnet Bay Explorer tour up the Kimberley coast over the Horizontal Falls and 1,000-islands Buccaneer Archipelago and onward to a fantastic sea safari adventure in the world’s largest tropical tides. It was a chance meeting with a brochure that brought me to Air Kimberley – one that was to my benefit and yours.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Does Horizontal Falls deserve Sir David Attenborough’s description of “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”?

 

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The image has two photos of aerial views of a horizontal waterfall and red cliffs meeting sand and sea.

 

An image with two photos. One is an aerial view of horizontal waterfalls and the other is a whirlpool in the sea.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Western Australia? Then don’t miss these posts:

23 GREAT PHOTO SPOTS ON THE ROAD FROM PERTH TO BROOME, AUSTRALIA

7 TOP DAY TRIPS AND THINGS TO DO IN AND FROM PERTH, AUSTRALIA

15 PHOTOS TO INSPIRE YOU TO VISIT BROOME, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

SEE 7 BEAUTIFUL GORGES IN THE KIMBERLEY – the ultimate guide

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 6 SAFE SWIMMING HOLES IN THE KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

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