The Wadi lines through the Dhofar mountains from Mazyouna to the coast are deep, spectacular and deserted. We followed this part of Route 14, the Oman Empty Quarter to the coast road. Happily, a new, but short section of tarmac road has been constructed and this obviates having to pass through the nearby military checkpoint, which you now bypass.
As we neared the coast the landscape colour changed from white and brown rock to green grass-covered slopes. We’d caught the end of the Shareef wet season and the coastline vegetation was just beginning to turn. Our target was the beach a Fazayah.
Thankfully we found a beach to ourselves, set up camp, swam in the warm waters of the Gulf of Oman and even managed a small bit of deep water soloing in Crocs on a stack just off the bay. On the way out the next day Mark spotted a chameleon and Adam, Campbell and him persuaded it to hang out with us for a while. The main road then descends and climbs and descends again to Mughsayl beach via a stunning piece of road engineering that crosses precipitous Wadi sides. The coastal road West of Salalah is truly spectacular and must rank as one of the most scenic roads in the region. If you’re in the area, you’d be missing a treat not to go.
On arrival in Salalah we re-provisioned and continued along the coast, stopping at the fort in Mirbat for a small pilgrimage and a tour of the old, crumbling town. On we went via brief stops at the beach at Sadah, the fantastic limestone curtain cliffs and waterfalls near Hasik and then onto the spectacular new road towards Shuwaymiyah. This road truly is a world-class engineering feat. We spotted what looked like a suitable sea inlet, which we hoped would allow us to get to the beach. We turned in and drove as far as we could, eventually coming to a stop amongst a forest of palms (N17 36.113 E55 15.363). There was no drivable or walkable track to the beach, we were on the wrong side of a sea lagoon but we could see the spotless beach beyond. We’d need to swim across the lagoon and then walk towards the beach and, if we’d had time, it would have been worth it. Sunset was approaching and we were heading to a camp spot I’d used 4 years before.
The road climbs to a plateau and eventually comes to a section that skirts what can only be described as a Grand Canyonesque Wadi; it is immense and apparently impenetrable because it’s protected on all sides by precipitous cliffs. It seems you can only stare and wonder at the enormity of it. Colin led us to an isolated spot on the edge (N14 44.070 E55 19.737), we set up camp and were then rained on for the only time during the trip. This is one place I am desperate to come back to and to explore on foot. The descent would certainly be tricky and the terrain is arduous but once you reached the Wadi floor, the route out to the coast would be a fascinating line to follow. I can only imagine how pristine it would be and how unlikely it would be to find rubbish.
The coast drive continued via a brief diversion to the signposted ‘Pink Lagoon’, which was not worth the effort. The amount of litter that was strewn along the beach line was horrendous and totally disfiguring. As a ‘signed’ tourist spot it was rubbish. However, a later lunch stop at the fisherman’s beach at Ras Markaz was definitely worth the diversion: (N1912.165 E57 45.271).
We were hoping to get into the ‘sugar dunes’ just South of Al Khaluf to a camp-spot that Adam had used before. Turning off to the salt factory on the coast we deflated and headed along the beach before Adam took us on a short play diversion into the ‘sugar’. Fortunately, common sense took over and after a series of stucks in these nasty dunes we headed for the hill, the campsite and a spectacular sunset (N20 25.120 E57 57.239). The drive out of the campsite and along the beach towards Al Khaluf was, again, horribly blighted by litter. There needs to be a concerted effort to remove and then prevent this disgusting pollution.
Shortly after Al Khaluf, Colin and Mark headed back to Dubai but Adam, Dave and I headed towards the Wahiba. Dave had not been though the area and Adam had a previously recorded route which he promised would not take long. I was a little skeptical. The first time I’d crossed the Wahiba a decade earlier, from North to South, it had taken two days. Adam promised us it would take less than three hours! We arrived at the turn off point in to the Wahiba at about 10:30am. We’d had lunch en route and had finished the crossing by 13:30. Adam was true to his word but I could scarcely believe it! The tracks running along the line of the dune valleys were huge, well-travelled and clearly fast. Whilst impressive it was also a little disappointing; the mystique has been lost. Adam’s guiding duties done, he left us and headed back to Dubai. Dave and I were heading to Wadi Shab.
We needed to get to Wadi Shab by about 4:00pm so we’d have enough time to get to the end of it before dark. Dave, motivated by a lack of time, drove very well indeed! We arrived at the car park and were on the 1 Riyal ferry across the lagoon by 4:15pm. With unattractive haste we stormed up the line of the Wadi, in the face of many others coming back, having been told to be back for the last ferry by 5:30pm. The Wadi is stunning, huge cliffs, and plenty of running water. Our aim was to get to the point at which you have to swim to get further up the Wadi and reach the famous collapsed cave and waterfall. With some shouted directions and encouragement from some returning Frenchie’s we reached the target. The water was deep and beautiful to swim in; we then came to the key point. A very narrow runnel through the rock for about 6 or 7 metres, with just enough room to fit your head and to keep it above the water line. We passed through this and into the collapsed cave and waterfall. We were the only ones there and were so pleased to have made it. We both climbed the rope along the edge of the waterfall and up to the next level but were now running short of time and had to return.
We hoofed it back down the Wadi and arrived at the lagoon crossing point at about 5:45pm, assuming that they really didn’t mean 5:30pm but it seems they did. We shouted in the hope of attracting any remaining boats but gave up and resigned ourselves to swimming across the lagoon. We entered the water to find that, at its deepest, it only came up to our thighs. Ha! During my short stay in the region I’d hoped that I would be able to meet up with Marina Bruce and her husband Neil, who were then living in Barka, on the outskirts of Muscat. A quick call elicited an invitation to come and stay the night, so again, we hit the road, and with unseemly haste managed to get to their house by 9:30pm. A good chat and some hot tea was a lovely way to end the day.
The 10 day, trip had been superb. We’d covered 4,500km, some favoured old ground but had also been to places new to us all, many of them of world-class scenery. I owe a great deal of thanks to Colin for inviting me, to Adam and Dave who had to put up with me as a passenger and to all for such great company during the trip. Oman has so much to offer but, like the UAE, development is moving fast and the possibilities of true remoteness and adventure are lessening. Make the most of your time in the region and get to these places before the tarmac and fences and familiar brands render them ‘normal’. ■
Words by: Mike Nott
Photos by: Colin Campbell, Mark White, Adam Davidson, Dave Shennan & Mike Nott