Melanie Smith takes the plunge and journeys to Hatta to explore the famous Rock Pools.
We’d heard a lot of unflattering things about the Hatta Rock Pools. We weren’t particularly enamoured by the idea of wading in a fresh water pool littered with plastic bags and bottles against a backdrop of graffiti-sprayed rocks. But the idea of natural fresh water springs and waterfalls forming deep pools within the crevices of rocks that we can swim through is far too alluring to let the negative press put us off. We simply had to see it for ourselves.
So my buddy and I packed our bags and headed off to Hatta, the sleepy town flanked by the Hajar Mountains. The exclave of Dubai on the Omani boarder is an hour’s drive from Deira or two hours by bus. Hatta Fort Hotel organises expeditions to the rock pools, and our guide, Shetty, who has spent more than 20 years in the region, picks us up in a trusty 4x4.
A lonely, unsignposted road crosses through the town centre on our way to the pools, and our guide points out key sites along the way. Hatta, he says, is home to about 5,000 people, of which, about 1,000 are expats. It’s also home to the Juma mosque, which is the oldest building in town and we zip along the smooth roads through the mountains towards the natural springs, which are the sources of Crystal and Jeema mineral waters. Shetty points out Jeema Village, where the water is bottled and where banana, date and mango farms flourish. We pass Hatta Dam, where a lake of emerald green rainwater has formed and it is stunning against the backdrop of the muddy brown mountains, making for many great photo opportunities.
The rock pools themselves are in Oman, so you’ll need your passport or Emirates ID to cross the border. It’s a smooth drive to the pools for most of the journey, which surprises us. We expected a bumpier journey with more off-road sections. Shetty tells us that just two years ago, the road from the border to the pools hadn’t been built – putting vehicles to the test. Part of me wants to experience being flung around in the car as we navigate towards our destination. There is still a small section of off-road driving, so a 4x4 is certainly necessary though.
When we finally reach our destination, the scene is magnificent. A stream of fresh water flows between narrow openings in the rocks. You’ll see a couple of graffiti tags scrawled on the rocks, but in my opinion, it doesn’t mar the spot. Rubbish is an imposition and it’s a shame that people care less for this picturesque place of natural beauty. Empty bottles, crisp packets, sweet wrappers and plastic bags form small clusters at the edges of the water and as we swim deeper into the rocks, we meet more floating in the water. Although the rubbish isn’t in huge amounts and doesn’t spoil our swim, it is still disappointing to see.
Shetty tells us that staff at the Hatta Fort Hotel voluntarily head down to the pools in groups every so often to spend a few hours cleaning up the rubbish. But he says there needs to be a more concerted effort to do this daily in order to keep the area clean. An awareness campaign to encourage people to take their litter home with them at the end of their trip could also work wonders.
As we wade further through the rocks, the water becomes incredibly deep. But it’s crystal clear, allowing us to see the fish that share the pool with us. As I continue in my journey to the other side of the pool I look down and it feels otherworldly. At the deepest section you can see through the clear water and how the rocks form below, getting closer together forming crevices, where the pool goes deeper still. At the end of the pool, a mini waterfall forms over the edge of the rocks. Climbing out onto dry land can be difficult as the rocks are so slippery, but it’s worth walking through the rock passage that eventually becomes too narrow to squeeze through.
On the whole though, exploring Hatta Rock Pools is ultimately an inspiring experience and with it being so easily accessible from Dubai, it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Hatta Fort Hotel, Hatta, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 809 9333).