Salalah Route Four: The perfect square circle (inc downloadable route)

There are many amazing places to drive in Salalah, and this is my favourite route.  It is a circular route totalling 348kms from downtown Salalah, we recommend a 4×4 or an AWD as 75kms of gatch is hard on the suspension, and also there is a climb out of a wadi which we found hard going until we engaged 4wd.  You can access the blowholes and the coastal sites with a sedan car. We based part of this trail on the “In Thesiger’s Footsteps” route to be found in the Off-Road in the Sultanate of Oman book (see below), but only did a small part of it, back to front, with add-ons at the start and end.

Road –dual carriageway to Thumrait, blacktop to Mudhai, good gatch heading southwards to meet up with coast road to Yemen, blacktop back to Salalah.
Places to see – Part of the frankincense trail, wadi, religious site, mountains, fossils, seaside, sinkhole, blowholes.
Caution required if low cloud  Salalah to Thumrait and along coast road.  High mountain road with hairpin bends on coast road – crash barriers in place.
Temperature inland will be 38-42C in summer, so take enough water, food and shelter for 24 hours in case of breakdown.

My friend Sheena flew down from Muscat to join us for a couple of days, and in hindsight it seems ironic that having promised her a break from the hot weather we then took her inland where we experienced desert temperatures!

From Salalah, drive to Thumrait on Road number 31.  On the way, take a detour to see a Frankincense forest  (FRANK FOREST – N17 20.379 E54 04.529) which is part of the UNESCO Frankincense trail.  At Thumrait, there is a good shell station (GAS STATION – N17 36.637 E54 02.134)  here with ice, drinks, snacks, toilets and of course petrol – fill up here, it will be about 200kms til you are near a service station again. 

Return to the 31 and at the first roundabout  turn left towards Mayzunah; this road will take you through some lovely countryside, with a couple of really spectacular wide wadis ( WIDE WADI – N17 37.845 E53 33.575).  If you have more than one car in your group these might be good to explore, and outwith the rainy season in the winter, possible camp sites.  Thesiger passed near here in the 1940s on one of his epic journeys through the empty quarter. Head to Mudhai ( MUDHAI – N17 29.321 E53 20.997), and at the roundabout, take the second exit SP Aydam.  Keep going straight, past some villas, a very scruffy looking “industrial” area,  and soon you will be on a wide gatch track.
There is an old tomb rumoured to be that of a Prophet, and I also read in the excellent book by Jenny Walker and Sam Owen that “according to tradition, this is the spot where Moses struck the rock for water”.

Moving on, you will soon be driving through what can only be described as a moonscape, but if you look you will see there is beauty everywhere in everything.  From time to time there is a patch of green and it seems strange to see Yucca plants growing in the wild, only seen them as houseplants in Scotland before!

Park up at ( LEOPARD – N17 14.785 E53 19.379) and walk 100m into a wadi, where we found Arabian leopard tracks (13th Jul 2012).  Just to the north of there, there are a series of interesting ancient graves just 20 metres from the roadside.

Further on there are many ravines worthy of photographs, and it’s worth stopping now and then.
It was while we were at this point, ( FOSSILS – N17 12.100 E53 20.342), recording the vista for posterity that we looked down at our feet and found many amazing  large fossils – at 800m above sea level!
The gatch is kept in tip-top condition because there are a number of Omani Army bases here – these camels didn’t seem too worried about being on the bombing range! It drops into a wadi at  (WADI CROSS –  N17 02.251 E53 21.091) and the drive out is quite steep, but it’s not too bad and this section is the only part of this route that could be termed tricky.
If you look closely at the above photo you will see the kareef coastal cloud = fog on ground level.  This means that there aren’t any more photos for the next 50kms.  Later in the season and over the winter there won’t be any cloud and I suspect the mountain and coast views as you travel along road 47 will be sublime.
Once you reach road 47, it is possible to do a detour (by taking a right at  RT TO RAKHYUT – N16 51.273 E53 24.249) to visit Rakhyut which apparently has beautiful old houses and a lovely white sand beach, but since visibility was about 50metres or less, we turned left to head back in the Salalah direction.
We also drove past the well-known Shaat Sinkhole (approximate co-ords  SHAAT SINKHOLE – N16 47.546 E53 35.312) since we were still driving inside our kareef clouds.
After about 40kms of tortuous driving – why won’t people put on their headlights in fog – we were relieved to see the sea, even though the drops were a bit high for my liking!  Since we left Salalah at sea level in the morning, we had been constantly climbing, and now we were at 1050m above sea level.
What goes up must come down, and there is a double switchback and some descents which drop you 400metres, followed by an amazing, kind of terrifying, series of switchbacks ( SWITCHBACK –  N16 51.517 E53 43.267) which drop 500metres in no time.  The road is pictured behind the car, can you see where it goes?
One of the iconic images of Salalah during the Kareef is of the Mughsail blowholes (BLOWHOLES – N16 52.690 E53 46.143). We had visited earlier in the week but came back to show Sheena this wonderful natural phenomenen.
It was then time to fuel up  (GAS STATION 2 – N16 52.886 E53 46.471) and head back to Salalah.
This route would work well all year round, and if we were to return in the winter months, we would drive it over two days and explore the wadis, visit Rakhyut and generally take it a bit easier.

Route can be downloaded here

Other Blogs in this series on Salalah – 

Route Five: Long Journey Home

Salalah: Bits I have missed

Picture blog: Camels and Coos
Picture blog: birds and beasties


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