November 2018


Tea in the Jungle: a daytrip to Akuressa
November 2018




The jungle-fringed Maramba Wewa, just north of Akuressa

This island isn't called Serendib for nothing, and is adept at providing the unexpected. Akuressa, just inland from Matara, is one of those serendipitous discoveries.


Words and photography: David Blacker


My short break "Down South" had been rudely interrupted that morning by some unseasonal rain. Peering out of the window, Unawatuna Bay was soft and grey, the horizon a blurred sponge; the sun, sand and surf I had been enjoying would have to be postponed for a day. I decided that if I was going to be chilly, I'd rather be chilly in the hills, sipping a piping hot cup of tea.


But an eight-to twelve-hour round trip certainly wasn't my cup of tea. The Central Highlands, with its carpets of fragrant tea, seemed impractically far away for a daytrip. What to do? I dug out my well-worn travel map (actually I just flicked open Google Maps on my well-worn phone) and began looking for accessible places inland.


Sri Lanka's coastal plain is at its narrowest at the very south of the island, and the terrain begins to rise in low hills an hour or so inland. The name Akuressa popped up from the map, and vague childhood memories of a school holiday spent splashing in a jungle river called the Olu Dola floated in through the mists of time. Akuressa it would be.


In short order I was fighting my car past a cacophony of tuk-tuks and buses on the quick drive to the E01 expressway. Racing down its open bliss towards Matara, my meditations were soon interrupted by the Deniyaya exit.


The morning drizzle seemed to have halted at the coast, and I was soon cruising through swooping curves on the road to Akuressa, thick jungle on both sides of the road broken by broad expanses of freshly harvested paddy fields. The road was soon rising, and as I approached Akuressa, the hills began to reveal their cloaks of lowland tea. Still fortified with my breakfast, I resisted the temptation to stop at a roadside kadé for a "plain tea" and pressed on, determined to find the Olu Dola of my childhood. I had no idea where it was.


Stopping regularly for directions, I was met by blank stares each time, and I was soon wondering if this Lotus Stream was an imagination of my boyhood, like hefty cricket scores and five-cent peppermints. Finally, however, just beyond Akuressa Town, inquiries from a group of tuk-tuk drivers struck gold. They pointed up a narrow road that ran into the forested hills west of the Deniyaya Road, telling me that my fabled Olu Dola was just a few kilometres along. They then instructed me that the road was impassable to cars, but it could be managed in a tuk. Of course.


Leaving my car at the "tuk stand", I commandeered one of their tin chariots, and we headed off into the jungle. As predicted, the blacktop road soon turned into a cart track that the tuk driver manfully took without any perceptible reduction in speed. The jungle crowded in close, vines and creepers reaching out to slow us down, to my gratitude, for we were now travelling along the side of a steep hill. A drop down into the jungle below the track awaited us if we were to miss a bend.


Eventually even the cart track petered out. Abandoning his tuk in a hedge, my driver led me on foot along a trail that wound its way alternatively through stands of dense jungle and broad fields of tea bushes. Then, before I knew it, we were upon it. The Olu Dola; flowing cheerfully along a deep riverbed between the hills, the jungle shading the water. Sweating like a horse from my hike I splashed straight in. I was ten years old again.


There hadn't been much rain upstream and the stream was shallow, only knee deep in places, and never rising above my waist even in the deepest pools. In the dry season it would serve as a passable hiking trail, cutting through otherwise impenetrable rain forest. I paddled and floated happily in the clear flowing water, lying on my back and watching the shafts of sunlight spear down through the jungle canopy high above. Birds chattered in the vault, and hunted butterflies.


Satisfactorily refreshed, I dried off on the walk back to the tuk, and we headed back down the hill to the main road. There are several tea plantations clustered around Akuressa, both traditional and organic, and as I steered my trusty steed back south, I also noticed a spice garden and a snake farm. Not being in the mood for a chat with Kaa, and preferring tea to spices, I swung off the road into the grounds of one of the factories. This, and other plantations in the area, offer guided tours of their fields, the factory, and the process of manufacturing Ceylon Tea. They also offer a great cuppa, which is the perfect way to round off a morning of hiking and swimming.


So if you're anywhere in the Deep South between Galle and Matara, and fancy a day trip into tea country, or a hike in the jungle, Akuressa is barely an hour's drive away.

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    Low hills are useful to get a few more crucial metres' altitude for the tea

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    Seemingly impenetrable jungle often hides a path or a hamlet

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    The tranquil Olu Dola flows amidst the dense forest

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    Narrow trails wind through tea plantations and thick jungle

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    Jungle-covered hills remind that the Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve isn’t too far away

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