I am often asked for alternative ways to reach the Liwa area from Al Ain; this one is mainly blacktop – very remote and quiet – with a 28km gatch track section near the end of the route.
If you use this route you can avoid Abu Dhabi completely and the scenery is better too!
DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS WITH 2WD VEHICLES; MINIMUM TWO CAR CONVOY RECOMMENDED. THERE IS NO DUNE BASHING ON THIS ROUTE – YOU ARE ON ROAD/GATCH TRACK ALL THE TIME BUT 4×4 OR AWD/4WD IS ESSENTIAL.
The southern part of the route is extremely remote so ensure you have at least 6 hours food and water with you, and also that you fuel up at one of the ADNOCs at Al Wagan or Al Qua’a. There is full Etisalat mobile phone coverage over the route and if you are a subscriber you will pick up a good 3G signal for most of the way. DU users may get patchy coverage here.
The route is near to the UAE-OMAN/KSA borders and you should refrain from taking photos of the border fence and also of the cameras which monitor it. Similarly do not photograph oilfield operations or army vehicles, and put your camera away as you go through the Army Base at Umm Al Zamool, near AALWP05.
Please download the route to a program like Garmin Basecamp or Google Earth – the route description will make more sense if you do!
This is near Ain Al Fayda/Wadi Adventure roundabout and from here take the 6-lane streetlit highway south to Al Qua’a. Very soon you will start seeing “Starfish” dunes – pyramidical sand structures which have been formed by winds from various directions and when viewed on google earth appear star shaped.
Note that compared to the barren desertscape on the Omani side of the fence to your left, there are many farms and lush greenery on the UAE side, due to the agricultural programmes.
This is the last ADNOC OASIS for 200kms – there is an old style ADNOC at Al Qua’a, some 36kms further down the road, but this is your last chance for a café latte until the end of the route! There is also a Baskin Robbins outlet a few streets back, as well as a moderately sized industrial area where you can get tyres fixed as well as minor car repairs. You will find the co-ordinates for these on the route file.
Note – there is a crossing to Oman behind the industrial area but it is only for specific GCC Nationals who have a permit to cross.
New roundabout, go straight
Old Style gas station dispensing petrol, air, water, ATM. You will pass some small supermarkets and a good fruit shop on the service road which returns you to the main highway. This is your last opportunity to stock up on water and provisions until you reach Himeem, over 150kms away.
Roundabout, go straight
Roundabout, take first exit. You are now leaving the multi-lane highway for a two-way unlit road. It is not particularly busy but you should be aware that it is used by heavy trucks, although there are plenty of straight sections of road to pass them. The road is extremely remote and if you get into trouble and cannot receive a mobile phone signal it may be worth stopping at one of the security guard huts which are positioned each gateway in the fence to your right. Be on the lookout for drifted sand – especially on the blind summits.
Umm Al Zamool – the last civilisation before you reach Himeem. Note no shops, no gas station or services – just an army base and some plantations. Just south of here the road will turn a corner and head due west.
Start of gravel track. Engage 4WD.
This 28km section of gatch is frequently maintained but after a sandstorm you may find the going rather soft. If this is the case, reducing your tyre pressures to 25psi (or even lower) may make the driving easier.
The track alternates between dune crossings and sabkha (salt flat) and will afford you the chance to drive over some spectacular dunelines, from the relative safety of a gatch track.
Just a few years ago this track was seldom used and it was not unusual for days to pass without a vehicle using it. However nowadays, with the development of the Qushawira Oilfield the traffic has increased making it safer to drive here. Keep your eyes open for Oryx behind the fence to the right!
End of gravel track. Turn right here and follow the two-way tarred road to the E90. En route you will see the majestic Qasr Al Sarab Hotel; turn left at the end of this route and you will see the sign indicating the u-turn to reach the hotel driveway in under 1km.
ADNOC Himeem which is on your right immediately after turning onto the Liwa-Himeem Road. It is an old style gas station which dispenses petrol and water. If you have had to deflate your tyres to make it through the gatch section you will be able to reinflate them here.
I always call in and have a coffee at the Qasr Al Sarab Hotel when I am in the area – although the room prices are high, a cup of coffee will only set you back 26aed++.
It is possible to camp just off the gatch section – one or two vehicles will likely pass through but the traffic is unlikely to be heavy. The solar powered security cameras I am told have a very long range and you should not camp beside them. Do not camp next to the border fence.
One final thing – there is another blacktop road which follows the border fence; this is for military use only and expect to be intercepted if you use it.
Distance from Al Ain to Himeem via this route – 312km
Distance by road (Abu Dhabi) – 283km