Wildlife and Adventure in Sri Lanka - Q&A with our head Naturalist Aravinda Rathnayake

Ashburnham estate is the perfect place to explore untouched Sri Lankan landscape. Our head naturalist, Aravinda, give’s us a sneak peek into his daily life and his love of all things natural. 

lizard sri lankan wildlife green exploring things to do near knuckles mountain range

JBW: Tell us a bit about your background and role as a naturalist at Ashburnham Estate, what does ‘a day in the life’ look like?

 

AR: I’m Aravinda, the head naturalist at Ashburnham estate. I previously worked for three years with Wildlife Conservation Sri Lanka - as part of an elephant complete mitigation project. My hometown is Matale, just a stone’s throw away from the Knuckles mountain range. I was lucky enough to grow up hiking and being surrounded by nature. My love for the knuckles and all the surrounding jungle landscape inspired by career path so far.

 

Every day looks a little different as a naturalist. I usually start early in the morning when the birds start to sing. We have a little organic vegetable patch where we grow ingredients and spices for our kitchen, which I look after. I also make take a walk around the grounds to take care of any other plants or flowers which need some attention. As well as the gardens, I make sure our lovable but silly dogs - Racko & Ash are well fed!

 

After my morning routine, I normally head out on nature walks, hikes, bike rides or other activities with our guests.

 

Racko

Racko

JBW: What kind of activities do you offer? 

AR: We have an incredible range of activities thanks to Ashburnham being set on a 100 acre estate. We offer short nature walks around the property, where families can learn about some of the flora and fauna in our estate – as well as take a dip in the waterfalls.

Some days we go on long hikes through the Knuckles cloudforest tea villages, and other days we take shorter routes and combine ‘High tea’ with a walk to a beautiful viewpoint which is perfect for couples. All of our hikes offer an opportunity to learn about nature, and some even take us on a journey through the tea fields. We get to learn about tea and the history and nature, as well as meeting the friendly and smiley tea-pickers.

As well as the spectacular views of the knuckles and surrounding area there’s lots of nature and wildlife to be seen. The birds of Sri Lanka are so diverse and you’ll likely see Preston Serpent Eagles, Sri Lankan Hill Minors and Sri Lankan white eyes. You might be lucky enough to see barking deer, rabbits and troup macaques (monkeys). As well as wildlife, there’s a chance to see the cardamom plantations amongst the environment.

monkeys sri lanka explore knuckles wildlife adventure walking hike ashburnham estate

 

 JBW: Favourite place to hike and explore nature?

AR: My favourite hike is up Hunnasgiriya mountain, taking around 8-10 hours of hiking and 24-5km, to an elevations of 1500 metres. As well as the great achievement, this hike is the best place to see the leaf nosed horn lizards – endemic to Sri Lanka! There’s also incredible scenery with views of Kandy, Matale and all around the Knuckles range.

 

where is best to hike in sri lanka knuckles mountains for families and couples

JBW: Which method of exploring is your favourite? Hiking / cycling etc?

AR: I definitely prefer hiking, but also love cycling around Ashburnham. I love the downhill cycling tour that we do to Strathisla - you get to experience a lot of scenery without too much energy! The uphill cycle to Sembuwatta lake from Ashburnham is worth the pedalling for the beautiful views at the end.

tea estates sri lanka adventure and exploring sri lanka

JBW: Do you have a favourite secret spot in nature?

AR: The serenity pool at Ashburnham feels like a complete hideaway where you can immerse yourself in nature. The Banyon trees are beautiful and it’s a really peaceful spot to relax in.  

 

A little further afield is on the Hunnasgiriya mountain hike, there’s a place where we stop to eat lunch on top of a waterfall with a 100ft drop, the view and the sound of the waterfall makes for the perfect getaway.

The main waterfall at Ashburnham Estate

The main waterfall at Ashburnham Estate

JBW: How does being out in nature enrich the experience of Sri Lanka for tourists?

AR: Most of our guests come straight from the city life, working 9-5. Exploring the nature that Sri Lanka has to offer allows people to really get away from the hustle and bustle. It’s rare in everyone’s busy lives that the get a chance to escape all the noises. On some of our hikes the only sounds you can hear are the birds, the wind and the trees. Everyone loves exploring nature and can find peace in the mountains. As well as this, the benefit of going with a naturalist means the kids (and adults) can learn a lot about the species and environment, keeping the hikes interesting and engaging.

Image from Safari Sri Lanka - Black Eagle

Image from Safari Sri Lanka - Black Eagle

 JBW: What is so unique about Sri Lanka’s wildlife? Do you have a favourite animal?

AR: I always say that Sri Lanka is the size of Tasmania, with the population of Australia, and more diversity than both! For such a small island, Sri Lanka has the richest diversity and most the endemic animals - compared to almost anywhere else in the world (for its size). You’ll come across the largest Asian Elephants, Leopards, humongous Blue Whales and much more! Even more surprising, is this great diversity despite the large population of this country. It is testament to the love that Sri Lankan people have for nature and the natural environment. My favourite animal being the black eagle – sometimes you can even spot this beautiful creature at Ashburnham estate. It is such a slow, graceful and powerful bird.