The tiny coral island sits way out in the Palk Strait. Locals know it as Neduntheevu. The Portuguese called it Ilha das Vacas (“Island of the Cows”). The Dutch named it Delft. The flat 8 x 6 km island is home 5000 hardy souls and herds of wild ponies
We went to Delft Island in northern Sri Lanka in August 2018. July and August probably are the best months to visit – it is dry but cool and the sea is calm. There is a somewhat erratic twice daily ferry service run by the Sri Lankan Navy from Punkudutivu Fisheries Harbour, about an hour’s drive (49 km) from Jaffna town over causeways that connect the mainland to Kayts Island and then to Punkudutivu Island. The sea is shallow here and fishermen were busy at their traps with Great Egrets watching them and Brahmini Kites hovering overhead. We had to hire an old, ramshackle wooden fishing boat for the trip to Delft and back as the ferry was having engine trouble and was unlikely to sail for several hours.
The boat creaked and the waves tossed it about. Some sat in its belly hugging their life jackets and others stood on its roof. It took about an hour for us to reach the tiny harbour in Delft.
Delft is a flat, arid and bleak windswept coral island littered with tall palmyra palms. A single bus serves the whole island but there are Tuk-tuks. Women used bicycles to get about. We managed to prebook a small minibus which took us along dirt tracks past houses with endless walls made of coral rocks and palmyra leaves, to the only quality hotel on the island – Delft Samudra, for mid-morning tea.
There are a number of colonial remnants of interest but the top attraction remains the herds of wild horses that roam the planes. They are said to be the descendants of horses brought to Delft by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Today there are about 500 of them, roaming wild but mingling with domestic cattle to feed and drink during the drier months. It is prohibited to take the horses out of the island.
Baobabs are not native to Sri Lanka but have found there was to the north of the Island from Africa with the help of Arab traders centuries ago. They are different from the Baobabs of Madagascar, not tall and thin with a cluster of branches at the top which look like roots – an upside down tree.The tree on Delft, a protected archaeological monument, is shot and stumpy with a large hollow at the base big enough for several adults.
Delft Island fort was built by the Portuguese of limestone and coral and was later used by the Dutch. Today, only a few ruins of the original structure remain. Next to the fort, beyond the little cemetery, is one of the most attractive beaches of Delft.
Homing pigeons were used by the colonial powers for communication and there is a well preserved dove court in the garden of the old hospital. A little kiosk across the road from the hospital sells sweets made with palmyra treacle for which the island is famous.
Delft is not a tourist hotspot but is a pleasing enough place for a day trip and even for a stay of a few days at the Delft Samudra Hotel even though the packed lunch they gave us was of poor quality. The hotel has its own speed boat to ferry visitors from the mainland.
We took our minibus back to the pier and risked the old fishing boat again to sail towards Nagadeepa.
The trip to Delft Island was arranged and led by Padmini Hussein of Flamingo Tours.