After our terrestrial wildlife bonanza in Yala we headed north to Trincomalee on the north east coast, passing through the edge of the lusher and more mountainous hill country en route. We also made a stop at Passekudah for lunch with a great seaside view.
Situated on the east coastline, Trincomalee is most well known for its huge harbour, (the world's second largest natural harbour) which had an important role for the British during the second World War and is now very busy with freight ships. This region is also the centre of the Tamil language in Sri Lanka and has only fairly recently opened itself up to tourism, since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War.
The coastline here is beautiful and supports a very diverse and exciting marine life from large gatherings of krill, deep sea fish and cetaceans to the wonderful hard and soft corals, colourful reef fish, sharks and turtles of Pigeon Island.
It was the marine reserve of Pigeon Island we visited first of all where we enjoyed some superb snorkelling. The highlights were a hawksbill turtle, more than 20 black-tipped reef sharks, trumpet fish, huge numbers of five saddle parrot fish, a giant moray eel, sebae anemonefish, wedge-tailed triggerfish, pufferfish, white-spotted boxfish and soft coral
Black-tipped reef shark
White-spotted Boxfish (male)
Criss -cross Butterfly fish
Two-lined monocole bream
Shoal of parrot fish
Silver mono shoal
Giant Moray eel
Five-saddle Parrot fish
It was in the early 1980s that researchers discovered an important new population of blue whales feeding off the coast from Trincomalee. They were being attracted by the large blooms of krill in the underwater canyons in March and April in particular. Sperm whales also frequent the area on their migrations and Bryde's whales, spinner, Pantropical bottle-nosed, spotted and striped dolphins and pilot whales are also all regular visitors.
Unfortunately the year of our visit, coincided with a particularly strong El Nino which was affecting the sea temperatures, even in this part of the world and the krill and whales were scarce this year. We made fruitless boat trips each day in search of the mighty whales, but even though the sea conditions were ideal, with flat calm waters, there was no sign. The BBC were also out trying to get some underwater footage for their upcoming Blue Planet series too, but were also having a hard time finding any whales.
However finally perseverance paid off. Typically right towards the end of our last boat trip, as we were about to head back to land, we caught sight of a blow in the distance and another boat in the area. They radioed over to us that they had a Blue whale! The excitement began.
We all scanned the horizon and after little time, we began to worry that it had moved on already and we had missed our chance. Then out of the blue, it rose up giving us all a phenomenal view of the head, back and tail as it made a series of dives. It was a magical sight and even hearing the tremendous air blow, from the largest creature on the planet was enough to make us all gasp in awe. We nearly had the chance to get in the water with it, but the timings sadly just didn't quite work out.
We also had some great views of acrobatic spinner dolphins, white-bellied sea eagle and flying fish to keep us entertained during the journey.
From here we travelled to Sri Lanka's cultural Triangle staying in Habarana. Here we searched for the grey slender loris and chevrotains at night in Popham's Arboretum. We were unsuccessful with the loris, but did find a great small Indian civet. Birdlife included many dry forest species such coppersmith barbet and small minivet.
Small Indian civet
Blue tiger Butterfly
Indian brown mongoose
We also climbed to the top of the iconic 3rd century Sigiriya Rock Fortress, which gave incredible views over the dry forests. A highlight was also watching the antics of the endemic and very bold Toque macaques with their distinctive hair cuts.
We concluded the trip with an unforgettable hot air balloon ride over this landscape with views of Sigiriya in the distance.
Sigiriya in the distance
Hot air balloon ride.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Young monks at Dambulla.