The rugged and spectacular Al Hajar mountain range forms an unbroken ridge along the length of Oman's Al Batinah coastline. Despite their initially inhospitable and arid appearance, some of their valleys are surprisingly verdant and have been remarkably well cultivated by local villagers. Accessing these communities used to be done on foot or on a donkey and while it is now possible to drive to most of them, the journeys are still largely offroad and challenging.
This particular trip has always been a firm favourite of mine, as it makes for a much more interesting journey from Muscat to places like Jebel Shams and Nizwa and takes in some really cool sights along the way.
Starting at the mouth of Wadi Bani Awf, where a road was recently built (sadly, my view), you will drive through the wadi into the open central bowl by Al Rakah. From here, your journey takes you up and into the mountains to the picturesque village of Bilad Sayt and then over the unnamed peak that then leads down to Al Hoota and Al Hamra, which is itself a great staging post when visiting other places.
- Do not attempt this trip unless you have experience in off-roading and mountain driving and you and your passengers are okay with heights.
- Use the gears to slow your vehicle when descending. Do not rely solely on your breaks, as you risk burning them out.
- You will need to engage 4WD low at times.
- Ensure you have adequate water, fuel, and provisions and that you have planned for emergencies.
- Phone reception is intermittent.
- Avoid running your air conditioning as much as possible and don't switch off your engine during short stops.
- Never enter a wadi (canyon) in rainy conditions (this includes the drive to the starting point), even if you believe the rain might be falling elsewhere. Sudden storms and flash floods are common during Oman's rainy season and result in a number of fatalities each year.
Tips and hints
- Your start point is 67.5 km from the junction on Muscat Expressway/Highway 15. This translates to about 45 minutes. Look out for signs to Nakhal, Al Awabi, and Rustaq.
- From Muscat itself, the overall drive to the start point is 126 km or about an hour and a quarter.
- Note: The last available petrol station is the Oman oil on the right of the roundabout as you enter Al Awabi.
ParkingYou can stop wherever you want. Just don't block the track.
For your vehicle:
- Enough fuel- 3/4 of a tank at minimum is recommended at the start.
- Jumper/booster cables appropriate to the vehicle (though a spare battery is also useful)
- Spare tyre, plug/repair kit, wrench, and either a scissor or bottle jack with sand plate
- Tools, safety gloves, and lubricants.
- Enough water for you, others, and- if required- your vehicle.
- A comprehensive first aid kit plus a snake bite kit
- Sun protection - hat, suncream, sunglasses