With the rare chance to (maybe) see a leopard we changed our plans and headed to Tissamaharama (or Tissa for short!) to visit Yala National Park.
Off we set, this time in a more superior jeep, with high raised seats for an even better view.
Within moments of entering the park we saw buffaloes bathing in pools of water surrounded by sambar and spotted deer. As we drove through the park we saw crocodiles swimming or sunbathing by pools, wild boar in groups, peacocks roaming around and the odd mongoose dart into the undergrowth.
All the time our driver was on his phone to other jeeps checking for sightings of the leopards this park is famous for. Yala is reported to have one of the highest leopard densities in the world.
Then the call came and we went zooming through the park, to join a group of other jeeps, yes a leopard had been spotted, but it was well hidden behind some bushes sleeping. Each jeep took turns to be in the prime spot with only a little bit of argy bargy and an unwritten pecking order between the guides, and finally it was our turn. With binoculars you could clearly see the rosets on the fur, we could see a paw go in the air as he turned over or a tail flick up. Wow, this had been long hoped for, but we knew our chances of a sighting were still slim.
With big cat smiles all round we set off to explore the rest of the park until dusk. We saw so many birds including beeaters, hooie, storks, hawks, woodpecker and a lone elephant before leaving the park.
The journey back in the rain took a horrible turn for the worse, as we turned into a side road to the guesthouse we crashed into an oncoming three wheeler. The whole side of the solid jeep was buckled and the steps ripped off, the three wheeler lost its windscreen and the passenger had to be taken to hospital. This was another sobering reminder of the danger of being on the road here in Asia, you couldn't avoid it, but it became more and more difficult to endure the endless nerve wracking miles travelling around. We were informed and reassured the next day that there was no permanent damage to the passenger.
Back on another local bus it was time to head along the coast to the beautiful bay of Talalla. We spent a wonderful 24 hours in paradise sleeping in completely open rooms, eating gorgeous food, doing yoga, swimming in the pool and body surfing in the crashing waves until we were grazed from being dumped into the sand!
Time for more wildlife we headed further along the coast to Mirissa. We spent the evening eating a sumptuous fresh grilled seafood dinner whilst sat on the beach under the stars.
Bright and early at 6am we headed out to the harbour to board our whale watching boat. Greeted aboard with cups of tea and coffee we settled into the rolling rhythm of the waves. Some of the passengers didn't travel so well, but for those that did we were rewarded with gorgeous omelette and fresh fruit platter breakfast to while away the hours whilst we scoured the horizon for whales.
We saw a pod of dolphins, flying fish, sea snake and several turtles. Finally after about six hours at sea there they were, Bee spotting them before all ten of the staff on board, Bryde's whales. Huge but graceful forms in the water, swimming before diving down for about eight minutes, before reappearing blowing water through their blow holes. The wait had been worth it to see these epic mammals in their natural habitat, it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Our last couple of days in Sri Lanka were spent at Unawatuna. Eating by the sea and swimming in the rain at Jungle beach. Then it was time to say a sad farewell to our New Zealand travel buddies, at the same time we boarded our flight to Cochin in South India, they headed to Delhi.