Unless you’re related to Indiana Jones and don’t mind trashing your 4x4, dune-bashing in this city is generally reserved for desert safari tour providers (and those local guys often spotted tyre-deep in the sand, shovel in hand). But for those who want to get behind the wheel and conquer the dunes, off-roading companies such as English-owned Nomad 4x4 provide one-day and five-day courses for owners of 4WDs to hone their skills.
In an effort to test my driving prowess (and the patience of the instructors), I decide to head out one afternoon to join Nomad 4x4 on an off-roading trip through the dunes.Upon reaching the petrol station near Dragon Mart at the agreed time of 1.30pm, things get off to a rocky start: the convoy I’m supposed to be following leaves without me. Nevertheless, I soon catch up to the vehicles on the highway and we zip along to a small village near Big Red, where we’ll leave our cars (and our trepidation) behind us.
If you’re worried about safety, you’ll be pleased to know that Nomad 4x4 is kitted up with all the latest gear and vehicle recovery equipment: think winch cables, walkie-talkies and tyre gauges that automatically release the air in the tyres to the desired level. Once the technicalities are out of the way, I hop into the pilot’s seat and we’re off. Having attended an off-roading course in Dubai many years ago, I find that on this occasion, there’s little in the way of a ‘lesson’ or direction given – this is more of a trial-and-error situation. At one point, I find myself mid-slope pointing straight into a ditch – I freak out before being told not to steer on declines, instead letting the car do all the work.
Nasty surprises aside, we glide through the dunes in the Toyota FJ Cruiser like a hovercraft, dodging vegetation and small trees. I approach a sideways incline with hesitation and end up stopping the car and getting us bogged down in half a metre of sand (which, it seems, is the wrong thing to do). The reaction of my instructor is somewhat discomforting, but, along with another 4x4, he manages to recover the vehicle like a pro by employing the winch cable. I’m a little rattled, but the instructor assures me the only way forward is to ‘jump back on the horse’.
All in all, the off-roading course is a fun, unusual experience – you’ll enjoy it if you like to live on the edge. I’m no wimp, but I think at this stage I’ll stick with the professional desert safaris until Nomad 4x4 has polished things up a touch. Dhs750 for a one-day course; Dhs2,500 for five-day course. Nomad 4x4 (04 450 2429).
Dubai dune-bashing with the pros
Nervous about taking the wheel yourself? Try a desert safari with one of these local operators…
Desert Rangers Sit back and enjoy a rollercoaster ride as you cruise the dunes at break-neck speed. The Desert Rangers fleet boasts top-end Toyota Land Cruisers, each are equipped with a roll cage for added peace of mind. Dhs295 per person. Desert Rangers (04 357 2233).
Arabian Nights Tired of the Dubai scenery?Take a Hatta tour instead, which will see you drive past the Hajar Mountains and into the wadis for some bashing, before visiting the Hatta rock pools. You’ll then stop off for lunch at the Hatta Fort Hotel. Dhs320 per person, minimum four people. Arabian Nights (04 321 6565).
Arabian Adventures A less hair-raising experience than that of its rivals, this family-oriented company offers a sundowner desert safari package that includes the usual dinner and belly-dancing combo. Dhs350 per person. Arabian Adventures (04 303 4888).