What are you doing this weekend? We can bet scaling a sheer rock face, hiking a mountain, swimming in natural hot springs, den-building with palm leaves or a spot of archery before you stoke up the barbecue by the campfire isn’t in the plan. Yet, you can do all of these things, with the kids, without even leaving the UAE.
Time Out Kids took a trip to Challenging Adventure’s outdoor activity centre in nearby Wadi al Baih, in Ras Al Khaimah, which is run by husband and wife team Lizzy and Mustafa Sahin. The duo’s passion for taking learning out of the classroom and into the wilds of the Hajar Mountains drove them to launch this unique centre. It’s a place where families can escape the city, reconnect and camp under the stars in a safe, secure environment. What’s not to love?
Lizzy explains: “Mountains and the great outdoors have always been a part of Mustafa’s life and we ran our own outdoor company in the UK, educating children on the natural environment, the importance of preserving it and experiencing it. Then, after being here for four years, we realised the UAE was missing this link to outdoor adventure activities and secure campsites.”
After two years of taking families and groups camping, they created the existing activity centre, which still retains that middle-of-nowhere feel to it. “We have a strong ethos that we utilise what nature has to offer. Rather than building a climbing tower, we use natural rocks. We kayak in the seas or mangroves instead of a pond,” she says.
Local history and heritage is also important to the couple. “We know our neighbours in our wadi, we listen to their version of history and pass this on to our clients to give them a greater understanding of the region. We let them explore their heritage and culture by taking them up into the mountains to visit the local majlis, which is a truly unique experience.”
Other than school residential trips or the odd desert camp, many families living here don’t have easy access to real nature, complete with uneven surfaces for little feet to tackle, unusual trees and rocks to climb or natural springs to swim in. “Here in the UAE you forget the fact that simple things like walking up hills are actually a key part of a child’s brain development,” says Lizzy. “Families tell us that they love the chance to push boundaries with their kids and reconnect with the more outdoor lifestyle they may have led before moving here.”
Families can bring their own tent, but camping newbies can simply turn up with an overnight bag (and a “let’s have a go” attitude) and try it out before buying all the kit. Tent hire is a package option, along with a buffet dinner and breakfast.
“We have many families return time and time again as they like the fact that our activities have been well thought-out, fully risk-assessed and planned using only British-qualified instructors who know the mountains of RAK well.
“They feel safe in our care and trust the knowledge that we have of these adventure activities that are available. Plus we have proper toilets and showers, an eating terrace, campfire area and two natural hot spring pools all within a gated camp, meaning that the children can run and play without fear of them wandering too far.”
Mum-of-two and Challenging Adventure fan Rachel Leslie agrees it’s the freedom for her children to run wild that really attracts her family to return.
“For the kids, they are in a natural, enormous playground, free to roam and explore without the need for modern entertainment. It’s playtime at its purest!”
So, what made this family want to head off into the mountains in the first place? “We wanted to do something ‘off the beaten track’, have a mini adventure away from it all and explore the lesser-known parts of the UAE,” she explains.
“Not being camping aficionados, we wanted to do this without the hassle of having to buy all the gear, and go with somebody who knew what they were doing, but that didn’t break the bank!”
Another major draw is the chance to try different activities. “All of our family is now more confident in rock climbing and archery. How many kids under the age of seven get that kind of opportunity ordinarily?”
And we’d agree with that. Which is why we can’t wait to go back...
Open to families from October to May with adventure packages available most weekends. Bookings must be made in advance. Dhs400 per adult, Dhs250 per child (aged 3-11) for two, three-hour adventure activity sessions, an overnight stay, complimentary standard dome tent, sleeping bag, roll mats and full use of the centre facilities. Wadi al Baih, Ras Al Khaimah, www.challengingadventure.com (04 453 8386).