Georgina Wilson-Powell hits the rocks to check out this spectacular landscape The pastime of swimming in rivers – ‘in the wild’, so to speak – has been enjoying a huge revival in Europe of late, enabling people to escape the crowds at the beach or the chlorine of public pools. Despite being an arid and mainly desert country, the UAE offers its own version of the pastime, which you can enjoy in Hatta.
The Hatta rock pools are a series of crevices amongst the volcanic rocks, millions of years old. You’ll need to set off early to make the most of them, as even in the cooler months there’s little shade out of the water. I opt to try the tour organised by Hatta Fort Hotel, and after an early leisurely breakfast I clamber into the 4x4, which takes me on a scenic route into the mountains as the driver explains the area’s past (you’ll need your passport as you pass through two Omani/UAE border points). We explore a couple of dry wadis on the way – these wadis are home to foxes and other wildlife and, in winter, are popular with local campers looking for an adventure.
You’ll need a 4x4 to navigate these roads, and there are few signposts out here – we pass no other cars and there’s certainly no signs indicating the rock pools themselves. We park and look down on what looks like a lunar landscape of fractured stone, with the odd puddle. Strangely, it’s the apparent absence of life that makes these pools quite beautiful – and eerie. I really wouldn’t want to be here after dark. My guide leads the way down to the pools, which are hidden from view from the road.
Suddenly a crevice in the rocky landscape widens to reveal a shallow beachlike cove full of water, which extends back between some rocks. Graffiti and rubbish are unfortunately part of the landscape too, but once I’m in the crystal-clear water, hidden from the harsh sun between two rock faces, I forget about it. The water’s pure, cold, refreshing and teeming with little fish, whose very tiny nibbles I like to think of as being friendly. Well worth a visit.
Getting there: Head straight on the E44 (the Dubai/Hatta road). Be sure to take your passport as there is now a mini border check. Dhs675 for a three-hour trip for five people, including soft drinks, water and towels. www.hattaforthotel.com (04 809 9333)
Fish spotting in Fujairah
Georgina Wilson-Powell goes for an ocean dip
With my flippers and snorkel securely fastened, I’m ready to venture into the Indian Ocean with Dubai-based diving company Al Boom, which offers snorkelling trips from Le Méridien Al Aqah hotel in Fujairah.The boat zips through the waves up the coast towards Musandam’s Dibba Rock. For about 20 minutes we whizz past many new hotel development projects and I notice that despite all the construction, most of the coastline here is still unspoilt. And with the dramatic Hajar Mountains in the distance, it’s a stunning sight.
Although there are several areas in which to dive and snorkel in the area, Dibba Rock protects swimmers from the currents and acts as a haven for many aquatic species. It’s not uncommon to see turtles, black-tipped (and harmless) reef sharks, whale sharks and rays, while seahorses, clown fish, barracuda and snappers also make the area their home.
As the ship anchors, the captain directs us to the good spots; he knows this stretch of water like the back of his hand and is happy to answer any questions. Even for an inexperienced, not-so-keen-on-the-sea snorkeller such as myself, the water is calm and warm, and although the visibility isn’t as clear as in more tropical climes, within minutes I spot shoals of beautifully coloured fish with neon fins. It’s remarkably relaxing drifting around watching the fish go by, and much less terrifying than I remember.
After 45 minutes the ship’s crew gather us up and we bomb back to shore. A trip out to sea reminds me what a fantastic part of the world we live in: the salty smell and the fresh air leave me pleasantly tired.
Getting there: Drive north from Dubai on Emirates Road (E311) until you reach the E88 towards the east coast. Drive east past Dhaid, then continue for about 46km until you reach the Dibba/Fujairah area. The hotel is well signposted from the E88. Snorkelling trips Dhs150 per person (or two sessions for Dhs250 per person). A 1.5-hour bus transfer from Dubai to Fujairah is Dhs150. Al Boom Diving, Le Méridien Al Aqah, Dibba Road, Fujairah (04 342 2993)
Kayaking and flamingos in Umm Al Quwain
Vineetha Menon takes on the elements with a sturdy paddle Although I had to wake up at 4am to get to Umm Al Quwain for my tour of the archipelago with Noukhada Adventure, the sight of mangroves in the distance and the flamingos doing a hop in the water right ahead make it worthwhile. I’ve never been kayaking so I’m not sure what to expect. The thin banana-like boats don’t seem too sturdy, but Pete, my guide for the day, shows me how to hold the paddle and use it to move (simple: push back the water to move forward). Trust me, even if you’ve never tried kayaking before, you’ll master the moves in less than a few minutes. Pretty soon, we’re out on the water moving between the low lying islands with Pete explaining the flora and fauna around us.
The water is crystal clear, so I’m lucky enough to see coral, fish and rays below the surface. Sometimes it’s even possible to spot a green turtle or two, and black-tip reef sharks can be seen on the seaward side. After some more paddling, we stop by an island to look at some snails – or what is left of them. Apparently, they’re the staple diet of discerning flamingos: the birds eat live snails and leave the shell, and judging by the amount of shells I see, I’ve reached flamingo paradise. In the distance, we notice a sizeable colony chowing down and move a little closer for a better look. The ones we spy are a beautiful pink hue, looking regal despite balancing on only one leg.
Paddling back, quite wet from my novice moves, I find myself falling for Umm Al Quwain’s raw natural charm: floating on natural clear waters with the mangrove and the flamingos behind me and far from the city, this is a day I will remember.
Getting there: When you book, Noukhada will send you a detailed location map and can offer assistance with directions. It’s about an hour and a half from Dubai. Dhs200 for a two-hour archipelago tour. Noukhada Adventures, www.noukhada.ae (02 650 3600)
Petrolhead paradise in Sharjah
Chris Anderson investigates the Sharjah Old Cars Club & Museum As museums go, the Sharjah Old Cars Club & Museum hasn’t actually been open that long – it was founded in 2008. It was Sharjah ruler HH Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi who recognised the need for a dedicated facility.
The museum contains 100 vehicles, with the oldest dating back to 1917. This date is significant, as it predates by 20 years or so the arrival of the first car in Sharjah. The story goes that the car was the gift of choice from the ruler of Saudi Arabia to the ruler of Sharjah during the ’30s. A young man, Yusuf Jassim Al Dhooki, was tasked with the responsibility of driving the car, a Chevrolet saloon, across the desert to Sharjah.
His journey must have been tricky, as back then there would have been hardly any roads, let alone petrol stations. Petrol was imported from Iran and Bahrain, then sold in cans and put into the cars using a hand pump; the first petrol station, a BP garage, did not open until the ’50s, in Al Jubail. One of the first forms of public transport between Sharjah and Dubai was a Ford car converted by a carpenter to include a wooden frame and seats. The first actual bus arrived later, driven to the UAE from Mecca.
When I read these stories via the information hanging on the walls, I wonder what must have become of those vehicles. I eventually find the oldest car, a 1917 Ford Model T, in black with gold paint around the tops of the doors, and ponder how it coped in the desert back then.
While the museum lacks high-powered sports cars or exotic brands, it offers a glimpse of how highly regarded even the most humble of cars are in the region. Their arrival during the Bedouin era granted UAE people the ability to cross deserts and transport goods – ultimately changing lives, perhaps more so than anywhere else.
Getting there: Follow Emirates Road (E311) north, then join the E88 east towards Sharjah airport. The museum is between interchange four and five, and is about half an hour from Dubai. Dhs5 per person, Dhs10 per family. Open Sat-Thu 8am-2pm, 4pm-8pm; Fri 4pm-8pm. Next to Sharjah Airport (06 558 0058) For more ideas, grab a copy of Time Out Short Breaks 2011/12, available at Borders, Kinokuniya and other good book stores.