Explore the wildlife in the waters of the eastern mangroves in Abu Dhabi or at The Creek in Dubai with an environmentally friendly Eco Donut tour. Liz Totton puts one to the test – with her family in tow.
When we first heard about Eco Donuts, we were curious – visions of floating pastries danced in our heads. But Eco Donuts have little to do with the sugary treat. Instead, they are the latest outdoor activity to be offered in the mangroves behind Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara. The circular boats seat six, have a table in the centre that doubles as a cooler box and a parasol to shade riders from the sun. They are powered by four large rechargeable batteries, which means they don’t emit fumes and they’re so quiet they don’t disturb wildlife.
Tour company Belevari Marine has been providing catamaran cruises, yacht rentals and speedboat tours for seven years. It now also offers Eco Donut tours and experiences. Captain Berend Lens van Rijn, CEO of Belevari Marine, says, ‘We wanted to offer visitors an economical way to get onto the water. The Donuts are easy to operate and after a five-minutes safety and boat handling tutorial, guests can take them out
for anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.’
Berend wanted to make the mangroves accessible to more people, since motorised boats with petrol-based engines are forbidden there. ‘Abu Dhabi has many hidden natural treasures, like the mangroves reserve. To date, only people in kayaks and canoes have been allowed to explore the eastern mangroves, but now Eco Donuts will allow residents and tourists of all ages and abilities to enjoy the area. Hopefully people will take a picnic basket out and spend an afternoon relaxing and taking in the scenery in a fun and affordable way,’ Berend says.
We decided to do just that with our family in tow, including kids who are aged ten and 13, reserving a late afternoon Eco Donut tour with Berend. The company has eight Eco Donuts, which are all named after species native to the region – we take the Flamingo for a spin. The Donuts move at a walking pace, around 4km per hour, so the tour is not suited to thrillseekers. Instead, it is ideal for those looking to unwind, connect with nature and get as far from the city as possible, which is easy given the expanse of the reserve.
We are on the water for 15 minutes before we feel completely lost in nature. Abu Dhabi’s iconic buildings no longer loom above us, giving way instead to the vast waters, the mangroves and an abundance of wildlife. Grey herons fly above us and the fish beneath us are unfazed by our cruise. Berend says that there are in fact more than 30 species of shark in the local waters, but that we’re unlikely to see any in the mangroves. ‘There are so many other animals to see here though,’ he adds. ‘The Eco Donuts are quiet, animals are not scared off, which means you may see flamingos, sea hawks, storks and shoals of fish.’
We return to shore utterly relaxed and our kids are keen on researching the wildlife we saw. They beg us to take a longer cruise on the Donut, and we agree – it is, after all, an activity that the whole family can enjoy.
Dhs200 (30 minutes), Dhs300 (per hour), Dhs200 (every additional hour). Daily 3pm-11pm. Advanced booking is required, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Eastern Mangroves Promenade, behind Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara, www.belevari.com (02 643 1494).
Where to cruise on a Donut in Dubai
Boardwalk BBQ Donut
Take a cruise along The Creek and grill up a barbecue at the same time. This unique dining and tour experience sets off from outside Boardwalk Mediterranean restaurant at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. The bright orange Donuts seat a maximum of eight people with a minimum requirement of two people per tour. On this cruise one passenger will be the designated cook for either lunch or dinner, while the other will have the responsibility of being the designated driver. Take in the iconic Dubai skyline as you peacefully sail along The Creek.
Dhs180 (30 minutes), Dhs300 (one hour), Dhs500 (two hours). Daily (depending on weather conditions) noon-9pm. Boardwalk, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira email@example.com (04 295 6000).