Down South – en route to Matara

There are times that you wake up on a Sunday morning and think to yourself, what do I do today? Do I take it easy and relax a little? Do I find a quiet spot and lose myself between the pages of a book? Or do I hit the road and go for a drive? It just so happens that on this particular Sunday morning, the last day of the year 2017, my wife and I decided that we should hit the road and go somewhere that we’ve never been before. Having decided to spend New Year’s Eve in Galle, our choices were somewhat limited, but, we unanimously picked Matara as the destination for the day.

They say, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” and the journey to Matara from Galle is a living testament to this statement.

About 5 km into the drive, you come to Unawatuna. There’s no question as to why this is a tourist hot spot; the turquoise water complemented by the sandy beaches lined with coconut trees can only be described as paradise. One can of course find his way to the more secluded Jungle beach. Though it is separated from the main strip, this stunning beach is sadly no longer secluded. On a good day it may be less crowded than the main strip, but don’t get your hopes up for a quiet day on the beach. For you to get to Jungle Beach you must first make your way to the Japanese Peace Pagoda. This beautiful Buddhist shrine gives you access to a breathtaking view of the ocean. If you’re visiting this landmark in the evening, stay back and catch the sunset, it’s just amazing! Just remember to dress accordingly by covering your legs and shoulders, as you would at any Buddhist temple.

Continuing along the Galle road, after passing Talpe and Habaraduwa you will  arrive at the home town of the legendary novelist Martin Wickramasinghe, Koggala. The house in which this illustrious writer was born has now been converted into a folk museum complex by the Martin Wickramasinghe Trust. The museum expertly displays an array of artifacts depicting Buddhist culture, rural technologies belonging to the fields of agriculture, fishing, pottery and items used in folk dances and religious ceremonies. If you’ve read the escapades of Upali and Jinna, exquisitely woven into the landscape of Koggala in the pages of the children’s novel “Madol Duwa”, you’re in luck! You can turn off from the main road and visit this iconic island in the Koggala Lake. Alternatively, you can go on a boat ride around the island that encompasses a few other sights and activities in the vicinity. The islands around Madol Duwa are rich in bio diversity. The lush mangrove swamps found in the islands make them the perfect location for bird watching.

The Sri Lanka Air Force Base in Koggala, is yet another significant location. “The Savior of Ceylon”, Air Commodore Leonard Joseph Birchall of the Royal Canadian Air Force took to the skys on his Catalina from Koggala on a routine patrol mission when he spotted a large Japanese fleet heading towards the island of Ceylon during WWII.The air attack that ensued, the Easter Sunday Raid, was executed with carrier-based aircrafts belonging to the Imperial Japanese Navy against Colombo on Easter Sunday: 5th April 1942. When driving on the Galle road, you won’t miss the Air Force base, because of the shiny blue Hawker Siddeley HS-748 parked by the side of road on the sea side. The runway is visible on the land side, opposite the aircraft. This also happens to be the only place in Sri Lanka where you will find an aircraft runway, a railway track and main road side by side!

Stilt Fishing Panorama

Have you seen images or video of fishermen perched on a single pole erected in the sea? This technique, known as“Stilt Fishing” and immensely popular in Koggala, is where the fishermen cast their bamboo fishing rods a few meters away from the shore to catch small fish.This may not be a thriving industry that rakes in a large amount of fish, but Stilt fishing is just lovely to watch. While there are a few fishermen who make their living off fishing, it is a sad to see that there are certain places where the fishermen climb the stilts in order to put on a show for tourists who are willing to pay money.

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Next stop,Weligama! Remember the subject called Geography that you learnt in school on the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere? If you paid attention to your teacher you would know that this lively fishing town is home to a huge natural bay. The Weligama Fisheries Harbor is located on one end of the bay, while the Mirissa Fisheries Harbor is situated on the other end. Weligama and Mirissa are two major surfing locations in the South. Weligama Bay is referred to as one of the best places to learn to surf in Sri Lanka. The surf season here is from October to April, but the consistent beach breaks are perfect for beginners all year round. Similar to any other surfing hot spot, the beaches are littered with tourists and locals alike who are either catching a wave or getting a tan.

Whale watching has now become synonymous with Mirissa. There are many establishments that provide ferry services that cater to Whale watching. Whilst Blue Whales and Dolphins are common, there have been sightings of Bryde’s Whales, Sperm Whales and even Killer Whales (also known as the Orca).  The Whale watching season falls between November and April during which time the Ocean is warm and calm. Tours start early in the morning and take about 3 to 5 hours. The packages generally include refreshments i.e. breakfast, but watch out for sea-sickness!

Panorama Weligama Bay

Panorama of the Weligama Fisheries Harbor

“Life is a series of waves to be embraced and overcome.”
– Danny Meyer

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