Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

A few weeks ago we decided to spend the weekend camping at the stunning Wadi Bani Khalid. I had seen numerous photos of this wadi on Instagram and various Omani travel blogs, even before I left Sydney for Oman. It was at the top of my list of must see places in Oman since I arrived. The wadi is a lot further from Muscat compared to the other wadis we have visited to date, so we had been a bit hesitant to drive all that way. However, with the weather slowly heating up, we thought we’d better make the most of our weekends and visit Wadi Bani Khalid before it gets too hot.

You can reach Wadi Bani Khalid two ways – via the coastal road through Sur, or via the inland road via Ibra. We took the coastal road, as we have driven along this road a few times and really enjoy this route – the landscape is stunning and the road is well built and maintained. There are also some great spots to stop for a picnic lunch along the way, such as Wadi Tiwi or Finns Beach. But in hindsight after speaking to a few people since our trip, we should have taken the inland road as it would have cut almost an hour from our travel time. But it’s a good thing to know for the future, particularly if we plan a trip to Wahiba Sands, which is quite close to Wadi Bani Khalid.

The drive to the wadi from the turnoff is beautiful in itself. The road runs through a valley and then steeply up a mountain, before it continues down to the other side. And like many places in Oman, the landscape is stunning.

As you approach the wadi, you pass through a number of small towns and villages, many of which are encircled by lush green date palm plantations. Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the easier wadis to access, with no need for a 4WD to reach it. The wadi has a purpose built carpark for visitors, the majority of which visit on weekends. We arrived at about 4pm and the wadi was teeming with people enjoying the last rays of sunshine. Luckily for us we had decided to camp near the wadi, so we had the advantage of exploring early in the morning before the day trippers arrived.

We hadn’t really organised where exactly we were going to camp before we arrived. It didn’t look like rain was forecast, so we could have camped in the wadi. (Please note, it’s usually not a good idea to camp in wadis, due to the threat of flash floods). However, we decided against it and drive through one of the villages beside the wadi and found a great spot on the ridge looking Wadi Bani Khalid. There aren’t really any organised camp grounds in Oman and you can basically camp wherever you want, provided it isn’t in someone’s backyard. But we found a spot that looked like it had been set-up for camping by someone – there was fine gravel in the shape of a circle on the ground and remnants of a campfire. The site had a fantastic view over the wadi and was protected from the wind by a rock ledge, so we decide that this was the perfect place to set-up camp. After our dinner, which we prepared before we left home, we snuggled in for the night, without a sound or person in sight.
The next morning we got up early to explore the wadi before the day trippers arrived. We packed our tent and our belongings and headed back down to the wadi. The atmosphere was so different from the previous afternoon – it was so quiet and peaceful. And cool. One thing about arriving at a wadi early in the morning is that you can explore it without worrying about the heat. The walk along Wadi Bani Khalid is quite easy compared to other wadi  walks. But I would recommend you wear sneakers and not sandals, as the rocks can be quite slippery.

Wadi Bani Khalid is perhaps one of the most beautiful wadis I have seen on our travels through Oman so far. As you can see by the photos below, it is an absolutely stunning place. It’s almost difficult to describe how lovely it is – of course the photos don’t do it justice, and like many of these places, you have to visit to really appreciate its beauty. It has a number of deep pools of water, which are perfect for swimming. Just keep in mind that if you decide to swim in the main pool, make sure to cover yourself so you don’t offend the locals. But if you arrive early, like we did, and swim in the upper pools, you can swim quite freely. There is also a cave further along the wadi which you can visit, but the entry is rather dark and narrow, so we decided against it. Enjoying the wadi itself was enough for us.

After having a swim in one of the many pools, which we had to ourselves, and relaxing in the shade of the gorge, we headed back home to Muscat.

We’re heading to Kerala tomorrow, so stay tuned over the next few weeks for some posts from Fort Cochin, Munnar, Thekkady and Alleppey.

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Wadi al Abyad

We have been lazy over the past month or two, spending our weekends in Muscat rather than taking advantage of the cool winter weather to explore the country a bit more. It has been slowly starting to heat up, so we’ve decided to get off our backsides and squeeze in a few weekend trips before it gets too hot to do so.

So a few weeks ago we spent a Saturday afternoon exploring Wadi al Abyad. The wadi is about an hour’s drive south-west of Muscat, along the Nakhal-Rustaq road. The wadi can be reached from both ends – one at the village of Al Abyad (which is about 25km before Nakhal if coming from Muscat), or from the village of As Sibaykha (20km after Nahkal). We followed the Explorer Oman Off-Road guide and entered the wadi from As Sibajkha. Next time we visit, we’ll enter from the other end, as we got into a bit of a fix this time.

The road from As Sibajkha isn’t quite a road, but is rather a mass of loose pebbles and should only be attempted with a 4WD. Although we had a 4WD, we still got stuck along the track due to our low profile tyres which we really should replace. Luckily a local Omani man stopped to tow us out – the Omanis are always more than happy to help whenever you’re in trouble. After finally being able to move the car again, we drove to the end of the track, jumped out of the car and took a walk along the wadi.

We were luck that the weather was overcast and a bit windy – it made the walk much more pleasurable than if it had been hot and sunny. Wadi al Abyad is translated to English as Wadi White, due to the calcite deposits, which create stunning blue pools, as seen in a couple of the photos below. Although there is a lot of water in the wadi, many of the pools aren’t deep enough for a proper swim. Unlike those of Wadi al Khalid, which I will discuss in my next post.

Beside getting the car stuck in the wadi, it was an enjoyable afternoon and I would recommend Wadi al Abyad as a great half-day trip from Muscat.

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Misfat Al Abriyyin, Oman

If there is one place you have to visit in Oman, it’s the tiny village of Misfat Al Abriyyin. There is hardly a mention of it in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but I think it should be noted as one of the top 10 places to visit. We spent a night here, in an old home which has been converted into a guesthouse, and didn’t want to leave. The village and its surrounds are incredibly picturesque, unlike any other place I have seen in our travels through Oman so far.

The old part of the town, in which now only live a few families, is set on top of a mountain and is surrounded by green terraced gardens. The old homes, some of which are thought to be about 200 years old, have unfortunately been left to crumble. It is interesting to wander around the narrow dust covered paths which lead through the villages, but the nicest walks are found in the gardens at the lower part of the village.

We did two of these walks – one which went down and south of the village, and the other which led north and wrapped around the village. There are painted markers on rocks, which look like small red and yellow flags, to guide you and to lead you away from private property.

The first walk we did early in the morning. We followed a path which lead through the gardens on the lower end of the village and veered south. This walk let us down a long set of stairs and into a wadi and then up another set of stairs to the new part of the village. From this point we looked back and had a wonderful view of old village of Misfat Al Abriyyin, which looks as though it is emerging from the rocky mountain and date plantation beneath.

Later that day, we followed the falaj (irrigation system) towards the north. As we walked along the falaj, we wandered through gorgeous date plantations and lush green gardens. Many of the locals were tending their crops, but hardly noticed as as we walked by. The sound of the following water and the crocking of frog, many of which we saw floating though the water, made us feel as though we were in another world.

In the few sentences that refer to Misfat in the Lonely Planet guidebook, it is mentioned that the village is a tourist destination. As much as I urge people to visit, as it is so beautiful, you do not get the sense that the village is much visited by outsiders. We bumped into perhaps 10 visitors at most during the day we spent there, all of which were staying at the only guesthouse in town. There is no sign of tourism, expect for the signs leading to the guesthouse, so it really does feel as though you are visiting an authentic Omani village, which you are.

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Essentials

Getting there:
As there is no public transport throughout Oman, you’ll have to hire a car. The road to the village is seal and can be reached in a regular sedan. However, I would always suggest you hire a 4WD during any road trip through Oman, as there are a number of places you might like to visit which can only be accessible with one.
Misfat Al Abryinni is located about 35km north of Nizwa, along the Nizwa Bahla road. Once you reach Nizwa, follow the signs to Jebel Shams, Al Hoota Cave and Al Hamra. The nearer you get, follow the signs to Al Hamra. Once you are in Al Hamra, there will be signs to Misfat Al Abriyyin, which is a 7km  from Al Hamra. Park your car outside the village, as you can only enter on foot.

Stay & Eat:
The only accommodation and restaurant is Misfat Old House, which can be booked via bookings.com. It is a traditional home, which has been renovated and converted into a guesthouse. The rooms are very simple, but it is a beautiful place to stay. As most places in Oman, it is expensive for what it is, but it’s worthwhile staying in the village and taking your meals on the terrace which overlooks the date plantation and the mountains beyond. If you’re only doing a day trip to Misfat Al Abriyyin, you can also stop by for lunch.

Remember:
You are visiting an Omani village which has been untouched by modernisation. The people are still very traditional, so please be respectful. Wear shirts which cover your shoulders, and skirts and shorts which cover your knees. Always ask to take photos of people and never take photos of the local women.

Wadi al Arbiyyin, Oman

We had a friend from Sydney visiting us about a month ago, so we decided to take him on a day trip to one of the wadis close to Muscat. The lucky guy is taking a year sabbatical to travel around the world. He has already travelled through South America and Europe, and is now spending time in Asia. He had a week stopover in Dubai, so decided to visited us for a weekend.

Travelling through Oman is all about going off-road to visit wadis and travel through the mountains and the desert. A must buy book when planning any travel through Oman is Explorer Oman Off-Road. The current 2015 edition has 38 scenic and interesting routes to take through Oman. The book can be bought at Muscat airport, bookshops and a few supermarkets.

Wadi al Arbiyyin was our first real off-road experience in Oman. Prior to visiting Wadi al Arbiyyin, we had only driven on sealed roads. But the road, even though unsealed, was an easy drive with absolutely stunning landscapes, as you can see from the photos below. Oman, unlike its neighbour the UAE, is very mountainous. And luckily, roads have be made and maintained, so that visitors can enjoy visiting the mountains and the wadis.

Wadi al Arbiyyin has many small pools along the road, some of which you have to drive through. The pools are shallow, but I would recommend taking a 4×4. The most stunning of the pools is at the village of As Suwayh. This turquoise pool is wonderful swimming spot, and a lovely place to stop after the dusty drive through the mountains. After a dip at As Suwayh, we stopped for lunch at the side of the wadi, on our way towards the highway and the town of Dibab. Packing a picnic lunch and finding a shady spot beneath a tree, is the way to lunch on any day trip. Our small esky has become an essential item.

There are so many wadis to visit in Oman, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to visit a number of them while we’re in Muscat. Wadi al Arbiyyin is a must if you’re after somewhere to visit close to Muscat, with stunning landscapes and a swim in a beautiful wadi pool.

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Essentials:

Getting there:
The entrance to the wadi is along the Muscat-Sur highway, about 125km or a 1.5 hour drive from Muscat. There will be a sign to the wadi, not too far after the town of Quiryat. I’m quite sure that the sign says ‘Wadi al Arbeieen’ rather than ‘Wadi al Arbiyyin’. Like many places in Oman, the name of the wadi is spelt in different ways.

Raz al-Jinz, Sur & The Sinkhole, Oman

In search for sea turtles, we headed down the coast to Raz al-Jinz, stopping by at Sur and the Bimmah Sinkhole along the way. There are a number of day and weekend trips you can do within an easy drive from Muscat, with many things to see and do. There aren’t any famous landmarks or tourist centres in Oman – it’s all about getting outside and enjoying nature and the wonderful landscapes. And it’s not only tourists who enjoy exploring Oman – many Omanis also spend there weekends outside of the city, having barbecues and picnics by beaches and wadis, or hiking in the mountains.

Even though it was towards the end of the turtle hatching season, which lasts from July to September, we still headed to Raz al-Jinz in the hope of seeing turtles. Raz al-Jinz beach is a government protected turtle reserve, where green turtles come to lay there eggs. It is believe that over 20,000 female turtles come to the beach each year. We were lucky enough to see one female turtle laying her eggs and a couple of young hatchlings making their way to the ocean. I was unable to get a good photo of the hatchlings – they move incredibly fast and along with the dawn light, the photos turned out rather blurry.

On our way back to Muscat, we stopped by Sur to stretch our legs and take a few photos. Sur is known for its fishing and boat building industries, as well as it’s beautiful forts and corniche (a seaside promenade). The bay, which is hugged by the old town Ayjah, is guarded by a lighthouse and contains beautiful clear turquoise water, which sits as a contrast to the rough orange rock of the fort outposts. Whilst walking though Ayjah you will notice some of the old wooden doors which Omani villages are famous for.

Another must see during any visit to Oman is Bimmah Sinkhole, which is located in Hawiyat Najm Park, just off the Muscat-Sur Highway. It’s a great place to stop for a swim – the water is wonderfully clear and the temperature is refreshing, but not cold. Be weary of the small fish which inhabit the sinkhole – they will nibble at you, which can be rather ticklish, if not annoying. However, if you keep moving they will keep away and you can enjoying bathing in this stunning natural pool.

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Essentials

Getting There:
Raz al-Jinz, Sur and the Bimmah Sinkhole can all be reached by the Muscat-Sur Highway. Raz al-Jinz is 300km south of Muscat and almost a 3 hour drive, Sur is 200km and just over 2 hour drive, and the sinkhole is 125km and a 1.5 hour drive south of Muscat. Again, you will have to take a car, as there is not public transport along this route.

Stay:
We stayed at Raz al-Jinz Turtle Reserve in their new eco glamping tents, which overlook the beach. The accommodation isn’t cheap, but most decent places in Oman aren’t. The tents were comfortable and clean, and well worthwhile staying at if you wish to see the turtles at night and at dawn. The turtle reserve offers complimentary night and morning turtle tours for those staying at the reserve.
Oman doesn’t do budget accommodation well yet, but as tourism increases, I’m sure there will be more good budget options available in the near future.

Wadi Tiwi & Wadi Shab, Oman

So this is why I have revived my blog. We moved to Oman a few months ago, and I’d like to share with family and friends, along with anyone else who is interested, our lives and travels through Oman and elsewhere. Hopefully it will also be a good point of reference for those planning to visit Oman.

My partner was offered a job in Muscat and we decided to make the move to the Middle East. Although it is quite different from Sydney, we have been enjoying it so far. And it has been a lot less of a culture shock than I expected before arriving.  Aside from work, high on our agenda is to travel throughout Oman, as well as take advantage of being so much closer to Europe, Africa and Asia. In Oman we get 30 days annual leave (that’s 6 weeks), plus 15 public holidays (there are two lots of 4 days of public holidays in a row for Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha). So we have a lot more free time to travel too.

One of our first, and hopefully the first of many, weekend trips was to Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab. We didn’t venture too far up these wadis this time around. The road through Wadi Tiwi turns from a paved road into a harsh dirt track, which we weren’t confident enough to tackle, and at Wadi Shab we didn’t realise that the walk to the main pools was so long and we didn’t take enough water with us, nor did we have proper footwear. But we plan to visit Wadi Shab again, and next time be better prepared. These two wadis are very close to each other, so it’s easy to visit both in one day. And they are quite different too, so it’s worth visiting both if you have time.

Most people ask me, ‘what is a wadi?’ Well, a wadi is an Arabic term to describe a ravine, or a narrow valley between mountains, which is usually dry, but can turn into a river during the rains. Most wadis in Oman are dotted with small, or occasionally large, pools of water. There are some villages which are located in wadis, which are usually surrounded by pleasant date palm plantations.

Wadi Tiwi is known as the wadi of nine villages, as there are a number of villages which dot the road through the wadi. We were amazed at the beauty of the wadi, with its imposing mountains, and pools and date palms lining the road. We had a picnic lunch by one of the pools and walked around one of the villages. When travelling through Oman, make sure you take food and water along with you. There are no fast food outlets outside the city and it may be difficult to find a supermarket.

Wadi Shab was quite different to Tiwi. To start with, you cannot drive into the wadi – you have to take a small boat over the pool of water which is at the entrance of the wadi. Then there is a rather long, and hot walk, along pebbles and then along the side of one of the cliff faces, to reach the main pools. We started walking along the cliff face, but decided to turn back, as thongs weren’t quite the appropriate footwear. But we do plan to visit again, perhaps when the weather cools down a bit.

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Essentials

Getting there:
A car is a must when you’re in Oman. There is hardly any public transport in Muscat, let alone outside the city. Oman is all about the landscapes and going off-road, so I’d recommending hiring a 4×4.
Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab are located about 200km along the coast south of Muscat. To get there, follow the signs to Sur until you reach the Muscat-Sur Highway. Continue south along the highway until you see signs for Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab. The entrance to these wadis are just off the highway.

Jaffa, Israel

So sadly this is my final post from my trip through Jordan, Israel and Turkey. And what a fantastic place to end it off with – the quaint little port town of Jaffa.

Jaffa, located in the southern-most part of Tel Aviv, was once its own quite town, but has now become almost a suburb of Tel Aviv due to the urban sprawl. Although it is only about a 45 minute walk from the centre of Tel Aviv (and a lovely walk too, along the beachside promenade), it still retains its old world charm. Jaffa is very small and can easily be explored in half a day. Stroll through the cobblestone streets, see the men fishing at the port, enjoy a lovely lunch in one of the many cafes and restaurants, or take a seat by the seaside and take in the sunset…

We stumbled across great area in Jaffa, just behind the flea markets, near Nahman Street. Here we found a handful of streets, sprinkled with bars, cafes, restaurants and boutique stores (I wish I had more time so I could have gone back and made a few purchases). We spent the afternoon relaxing with a few drinks in hand, until the sun went down over Jaffa.IMG_6950 Untitled-3 IMG_6962 IMG_6966 IMG_6973 IMG_6976 Untitled-4 IMG_6988 IMG_6989 Untitled-5 Untitled-6 IMG_7004 IMG_7022 IMG_7034 IMG_7044 IMG_7046 Untitled-7 IMG_7054 IMG_7055 Untitled-8 IMG_7063 IMG_7064 IMG_7067 IMG_7068 IMG_7069 IMG_7074 IMG_7078 IMG_7081 IMG_7085 IMG_7089 IMG_7093 IMG_7101

Essentials:

Getting There:
You can get to Jaffa from central Tel Aviv by taking a leisurely stroll along the beachside promenade, heading south. This takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, just jump into a taxi.

To do:
Check out the food markets (a very up-market market) near the port – there is some amazing food to be had here and the atmosphere is great, although a little noisy with the many weekend day-trippers trying to get some lunch. If you are after a more chilled out atmosphere away from the tourists and with the locals, find these streets behind the flea market, sit down in one of the many outdoor bars and cafes and listen to some tunes whilst enjoying the sea breeze