We have been heading to the hills (aka The Hajar Mountains of Oman) this summer whenever we had a free weekend; firstly we visited the cities of Nakhel and Rustaq as part of the Five Forts Drive; our second foray was driving Wadi Hawqayn in its entirety with friends Barbie and Rosemarie and their hubbies (downloadable route published by Outdoor UAE website and magazine (September 2017 edition); our next trip took us through Wadi Sahtan and to the towns and villages nestled into the foothills of Jebel Shams; finally, last weekend we did a full-on mountain road trip covering part of Wadi Bani Auf and returning via Wadi Sahtan. You can read about journeys one and two in the embedded links and three and four are featured here.
For those of you who are new to Oman, a wadi is a dried up river bed, subject to flash floods after even small amounts of rain. Raging torrents of water can appear in just a few minutes, even if it is not raining locally, and sweep away everything in its path. I don’t know which wadi the video below was taken in but I am sure you get the idea. Check the weather forecast before your wadi excursion and if rain is forecast in the area seriously consider postponing your trip.
Wadi Sahtan is accessed from the turning signposted “Wadi Bani Auf” on the main Nakhel-Rustaq Road (Road 13). The start of the trip is on blacktop and although the driving is boring, the scenery more than makes up for it. Seemingly huge rock massifs tower on either side of the road – I say seemingly as at this point of the day you will think they are huge, however as you travel deeper into the Hajars you will see that they are mere foothills. Cruise past an old watchtower on the left and lush plantations on both sides of the road, until you reach a small village and this sign, somewhat stating the obvious!
The Wadi Sahtan Route is easy enough to complete with no prior offroad experience and if you are careful you could even tackle this one with an AWD or 4WD car . A 4×4 will give you more clearance which might be useful if there are rocks dotted around after rains. Starting at this sign, the track snakes its way up the wadi, through wide valleys with plenty of opportunity to stop and explore.
Once you reach this sign you should turn right for Wadi Sahtan (Wadi A’Sahaten). For Wadi Bani Auf, follow the signs for Al Zamah.
It is after this turnoff that the route starts to become even more interesting. Higher mountains surround you giving the illusion in some places that the road simply disappears; in reality there are some narrow splits in the rocks, some natural, others looking like they have been blasted.
The route is mainly on the flat, twisting and turning along graded wadi beds with the odd mountain to detour round, however there is one very short section where there is a steep drop to the right of the track. If heights worry you, don’t look down, just concentrate on the track and take it slow and steady and you should be just fine.
Soon the track joins up with a wide blacktop road which leads to many villages; the interesting driving may be over but there is still plenty to see if you switch off your 4WD and spend some time exploring. The main town, nameless on google earth, sports a supermarket, football pitch and a rather spendid mosque; small roads lead you to tiny villages, clinging on to the sides of wadis – my favourite one is marked on the route file “pretty village no name”. Is this the prettiest spot you can reach in Oman with only 2WD?
Once you have had your fill of villages, oasis and mountains, head back down the hill on the new road which will take you out to the west of Rustaq, the main city in the area. As well as a sanaiya (industrial area) you will find supermarkets (including a Lulu), banks, coffee shops and a huge renovated fort which is open to the public.
Wadi Bani Auf
The drive through here is considered one of the most scenic and beautiful drives in Oman, yet one of the most vertigious! I researched this on google earth before tackling it, however it gives you no inkling of just how steep the drop-offs are in places. I also referred to Weekend UAE’s excellent article on Wadi Bani Auf, starting at the end and working inwards.
We started our drive at the same point as Wadi Sahtan, eventually forking left at the junction following the signs for Bald Sayt. Photo opportunities abound; wadis, old settlements and stunning rock formations.
Soon you will find yourself climbing high above a small village through a series of switchbacks until the track skirts round the side of a mountain. Take a right, signposted Talha’a to head in the direction of Al Gubayrah. You are driving around 1000 metres above sea level and some 300 or 400 metres above the low points so needless to say that there are fantastic views to be had.
There are three sections of this road with particularly steep drop-offs to the side, marked by “Yikes” on the route map. This route is not for anyone scared of heights, or nervous passengers, or poorly maintained cars!
Eventually the road descends into a valley complete with village where you should turn left at the bottom of the hill then left again, followed by another climb and drop via a switchback into a beautiful wadi. This was the only place our tyres got wet – we drove the route mid-september.
We detoured on the way out to check out the exit point of Little Snake Canyon – it was a bit too hot for walking by this time but the views were lovely and we will definitely go back before winter.
KML file covering both routes can be downloaded here
Please read my disclaimer here
Note – Snake Canyon is a popular destination for serious canyoners and we recommend our friends at Twenty3Extreme to take you there.