Welcome to our first post from our 2018 trip!!
This one will just be a quick wrap up of the highlights from the two weeks we spent in Singapore and Sri Lanka with Zev's family to kick off our trip.
Our first visit to Singapore
Despite having spent six months in close proximity to Singapore on our honeymoon in 2015, Zev and I never actually made it to Singpore, so we started off our new adventure by visiting our first new country.
After waving goodbye to our friends in Auckland, and Sam's family at the airport, we landed in Singapore 10.5 hours later, jet lagged and ready for bed. Singapore Airport certainly lives up to the hype - even the arrivals terminal is lush and green, with trees everywhere and plant filled walls. After a pain-free immigration and customs experience, we jumped on the train into the city, walked the block to our hotel, and hit the hay.
We caught up with Zev's family, with whom we had organised our next two weeks of travel, at breakfast the next morning. Knowing that we only had one day in Singapore, and an early flight the next morning, we deliberately kept our to-do list short.
Gardens By The Bay
Our first stop was Gardens By The Bay, a must-see attraction in Singapore according to everyone we know who's been there. A 101 hectare (250 acre) nature park in central Singapore, this place is beautiful. While the rest of the family went to check out the children's garden, having already visited the day before, Zev and I went to explore the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.
The Cloud Forest is a large conservatory, with an artificial 'cloud mountain' in the centre, complete with 35m waterfall. The dome is kept warm and moist (sorry), with mist being produced from the top of the mountain. After catching an elevator up to the top of the mountain, we walked back down through the orchids, ferns and bromeliads, feeling like we were in Jurassic Park.
Next we headed to the Flower Dome, home to seven different 'gardens' from hot, dry climates.
Sadly we only got to see the Supertrees from a distance, but they're jaw dropping regardless of your proximity. Ranging from 25-50m in height, these artifical 'trees' are home to ferns, bromeliads, orchids and vines, and contain solar panels which power the lighting on the trees, and collect water to sue in the fountains and for irrigation in the gardens. On our way back to meet up with the rest of the family for lunch, we even got to see some otters playing in the water!
Our next stop was lunch, which was a definite highlight for me - we went to a pizzeria in the Marina Bay Sands, and I ordered the brussel sprout and bacon pizza. It was one of the best meals I've eaten in my life, and I'm still thinking about that pizza nearly 3 weeks later.
Singapore Night Safari
Another trip highlight was our incredible night safari in Singapore. In the interests of keeping everyone happy, we booked a Safari Adventurer Tour, a private tour that included dinner. Let me tell you, it was worth every penny! The Night Zoo itself was heaving, so it would have been worth it just to skip all the queues, but our guide was fantastic. After dinner, we headed to the Creatures of the Night show, where some of the keepers showcase the talents of their... friendlier animals! From binturongs sniffing out ripe grapes to otters sorting out recycling, this show had it all. The rest of the evening was spent on a tour of the zoo on a private golf cart, or wandering the paths with our very own guide. As a special surprise, we even got to hand feed the elephants! Sadly jet lag was catching up to us, so some of our party departed early, but Zev, Josh and I hung on to the bitter end, and were rewarded with sightings of fishing cats and slow lorises - well worth it!
An early morning flight had us arriving in Colombo, Sri Lanka by mid-morning to meet Ajith, our driver for the next week. We were immediately leaving Colombo to head to Kandy, a cool mountain city 133km away. Imagine our shock when 133km took us 3.5 hours to drive!! The traffic in Sri Lanka, but especially around Colombo and Kandy, is insane. While infrastructure has improved recently, especially with the introduction of expressways in some areas, many of the roads are two lanes (one each way) in varying states of disrepair. Add in hundreds of cars, vans, buses, tuk tuks and trucks, and you've got a recipe for horrific traffic and some white knuckle driving.
We spent 6 days in Kandy, with big plans to see the surrounding areas with Ajith's help. Sadly, the aforementioned congestion put a dampener on many of those plans. When you look at something 30km away from your lounge room in NZ, it looks close, but realising that 30km might take us 1 - 1.5 hours to drive quashed our enthusiasm somewhat.
Nonetheless we made the most of our time in Kandy, visiting an elephant rescue centre, the Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic, a cultural dance show, the botanic gardens, and a local park for some walking.
In all, Kandy was a pretty cool, laidback town, and a great place to get acclimatised to the Sri Lankan heat!
By far the highlight for Kandy though (possibly for the trip) was the flight out! About a day before we were due to leave, we found out that our domestic flight was actually on a seaplane! We arrived fashionably early (in Sri Lanka, you never really know how long it's going to take you to get anywhere, and it's better to be early than late), so we hung out on the banks of the reservoir, reading and playing cards. Eventually, we heard the plane approaching before landing smoothly on the water. Without even switching off the engines, we were loaded into the tiny plane and taking off into the sky. The next 45 minutes were without doubt some of the most amazing flying I've done in my life. The view out the window was stunning - high enough that you could see for miles, but low enough that you could still see details. We landed on tarmac at Weerawila Airport, which seemed to be the airforce base, ready to begin our next adventure - Yala National Park.
Yala National Park
The first exciting thing about this place was our breathtaking accommodation. It felt miles from anywhere, and was just steps from a rugged and desolate private beach. Most of the house had pull up plastic shades for walls, so it really was like being outside all the time. Despite the fact that there were three separate bedrooms, we all elected to sleep in the dorm-style 'outdoor' bedroom, with giant fans, mosquito nets and the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach.
An 0430 wake up had us piling into 2 jeeps to head to Yala National Park in search of leopards. At 979km2, Yala is the second largest and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. We spent a couple of hours bumping along in our jeeps, spotting deer, crocodiles and birds, but desperately searching for the elusive leopards. When the heat became too much for the youngest of our party, some elected to head back to the accommodation, but the intrepid trio of Zev, Josh and I decided to stay on to see what we could see. After spotting plenty more deer and birds, and marveling at the scenery, we found ourselves in a truly stunning spot - a watering hole filled with lily pads and flowers, with incredible rock formations in the background. Minutes later and just around the corner, we discovered a herd of 8 elephants, including some babies, wandering through the bush to the watering hole. A quick u turn later we were back at the watering hole, watching a family of elephants splash and play before carrying on their merry way. After seeing so many elephants in Sri Lanka (and worldwide) in horrific conditions, often as a result of tourism (honestly people, stop riding elephants, you're not stupid enough to not know it's cruel), it was pretty exceptional to see them in the 'wild' of a national park.
After a break for lunch from 1-2pm, during which time no jeeps are allowed to drive in the park to allow the animals to cross roads safely, we spent another couple of hours bouncing around on the dirt roads hunting (so to speak) for leopards. At 5pm, 12 hours after being collected from our accommodation that morning, Zev, Josh and I collectively agreed that the leopards had beaten us. We headed back to our accommodation, agreeing that it was really better this way, now we have a reason to come back.
On the drive home, just metres from our driveway, a wild elephant crossed the road right in front of us. What a magical place.
We spent the next night at a guesthouse in Mirissa, while we waited for our Air BnB in Weligama Bay to be ready. While it was a flying visit of only one night, the lovely family who ran the guesthouse were fantastic, lavishing us with delicious local food, and even giving us a cooking lesson.
While we were sad to say goodbye, our arrival in Weligama Bay was met with huge smiles. Our accommodation was a big house with a gate to the beach, and was everything you could possibly ask for as our last real stop as a family in Sri Lanka. We spent 5 days relaxing, reading, swimming, snorkelling, surfing and eating up a storm, even finding time to have some new friends from our guesthouse in Mirissa (also from New Zealand) over for dinner and another cooking lesson.
Again, with heavy hearts we waved goodbye to our beach house, and headed back to Colombo for a final night before the rest of the family began their journeys home. On the way, we stopped off for lunch in Galle, a Portuguese and Dutch influenced town on the the South coast of Sri Lanka. A funky little town filled with quaint architecture and shops filled with colourful art and clothing, it was a great place to spend a couple of hours, and if we were to come back to Sri Lanka, it would definitely be on the itinerary for Zev and me.
A few short hours after our lunch stop, we pulled into the airport hotel that Anu had booked for our last night together in Singapore. She did good. Somehow, we managed to get two of the rooms upgraded to suites, which were bigger than our apartment in Auckland. Zev and I took the 'executive' room, which was still enormous. After showers and a bit of relaxation, we checked out the pool briefly, before heading to a massive dinner for our last supper. After dinner, we said our goodbyes to the rest of the family as they were flying out early in the morning, and headed back to bed.
At this point, we'd like to say a massive thank you to Zev's family for their participation in this trip. It took a huge amount of planning and co-operation from everyone to make this trip a reality, and it's certainly one we'll never forget! Thanks team!
Once everyone had left, we spent another couple of days in Colombo figuring out what we're going to do with our remaining couple of weeks in Sri Lanka. We started by dropping our passports off and applying for our Indian visas, then spent some quality internet time, planning our travels. More on that later!
Lots of love,
S & Z