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Oman Travel: Explore Masirah Island
December 7, 2016 | 9:41 PM
by Felicia Campbell
 
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Located 500km south of Muscat, and accessible only by ferry, many are detoured from exploring the wild island of Masirah, but for those willing to make the land and sea journey, a world of tranquillity and natural wonders awaits.

I’ve long been intrigued by the 95km long, roughly 14km wide island off the coast of the southern-most part of Sharqiyah. Inhabited by a mere 9,000 locals, and a few thousand expatriate workers, it is known for three things: kite-surfing, an airforce base, and bird-watching. These things in-and-of-themselves might not sound like much of a draw for a place that requires a five-hour car journey followed by an hour-long ferry ride to reach. It certainly wasn’t enough to lure me down over my first few years in Oman. But stories of abandoned stretches of uninhabited beach, spectacular sea views, rugged terrain, and an edge-of-the-world-like isolation peaked my curiosity. To go explore a place such as this, with rocky inclines, sandy beaches, and many unknown factors, I wanted a vehicle that I felt confident could handle anything we threw at it. I also wanted comfort, as we were about to embark on a 1,000km trip over a single weekend. After my great experience with the Ford Explorer, which comfortably got me and my family around Oman during another whirlwind adventure, I felt confident in the driving comfort of the Ford family of vehicles. I’d heard about the off-road prowess of the F150 series, but had yet to experience it for myself. So we arranged to take the 2016 F150 Lariat on our expedition.

The F150 is absolute designed and built for hardcore conditions, whether rock climbing, for which it has greater torque with the 3.5L V6 Ecoboost than the previous V8 conventional engines, to safety features like a neutral tow mode, which allows a driver to completely deactivate the automatic transmission in situations in which the truck needs to be pulled out, thereby protecting the transmission from damage. It also has an anti-overheating technology, which cuts the airconditioning and reduces the number of active cylinders in the case of a hot engine or transmission so the driver can safely make it to a service station, even if he or she is out in the middle of nowhere, without any damage to the inner-workings of the truck. We thankfully didn’t need to make use of those two particular features.

Our trip began at 3:00am on Friday morning. The ferry only runs from the port at Shannah to Masirah at 9am, 12pm, 3pm, and 5pm on the weekends, and we wanted to get an early start to maximise our exploration time. We headed out before the break of dawn, and as we drove through the city, we sat above all the cars and SUVs around us, thanks to the towering height of the vehicle, and the LED lights illuminated the darkest of roads once we got out of Muscat. The great visibility, heated seats and steering wheel, and great sound system made cruising around super comfortable, and as we drove into the darkness of the interior, it felt like we were making an escape.



Be warned, there are almost no petrol stations open in the interior regions before 6:30 or 7:00am. The Ecoboost engine allowed us to make the entire round trip in just under a tank each way, so we weren’t terribly worried, but by sunrise, we were ready to top-up (and use a bathroom).

After finding a petrol station an hour south of Sinaw, the sunlight was beginning to break over the horizon. The road was thick with fog, our windows streaked with moisture, and as we turned seaward along the border of Wusta, the flurry of sand and morning mist was softly illuminated by the delicate light, giving the surrounding area an other-worldly glow. The sun eventually won its war, burning away the fog to reveal a sharp line of royal blue dotted with the silhouettes of dhows in the distance.



Signposts marked the way to the port, so I stopped concentrating on the GPS. Then, along our final approach, we saw something odd. The flat desert seemed to be covered in a light frosting of snow. Men hunched over picks were pulling the white substance into pyramid-shaped piles, stacks of full plastic bags nearby. They were harvesting sea salt, something I’d never before had the pleasure of seeing.

The morning drive took around four and a half hours, but it felt much faster. This was in part thanks to the way the changing light gave a new face to the landscape as we drove, as well as to the comfort of the vehicle we were travelling in, which had all the amenities of a luxury vehicle, from heated and cooled multi-adjustable seats (and pedals, and steering wheel) to a fantastic entertainment system, climate control, driver assistance technology, and a massive sunroof.

We had pre-booked our passenger tickets and vehicle ticket in Muscat, so we took our receipt to the National Ferries Company office, which was just to the left of the entrance to the port. They handed us boarding passes and sent us down the pier to the awaiting ship.

After manoeuvring the truck onto the ferry, we went upstairs to the airplane-like seats. After embarking, the sundeck was opened and we went to the roof to enjoy the warm sun and cool ocean breeze. The trip lasted less than an hour and we arrived fully pumped to go check out the tiny island.

From the port, we made a left, heading through the “downtown area”, a collection of small shops, a petrol pump, and small villas and flats. We passed the water treatment plant, which we later learned is a great place to spot migratory birds, like European ducks and bright pink flamingos. As we neared the entrance to the military base, we spotted a gravel path that veered right, running along the barbed wire fence of the air base. We left the asphalt and started down the dirt road. To our left and right were rolling hills marked with tyre tracks, a seemingly endless stretch of off-road playgrounds. We continued down the path, keeping to the left in an attempt to reach the sea. A few bumpy turns later, and the turquoise green of the ocean came into view.



The beaches along the east coast are home to giant sea turtles and signboards warn against disturbing them, though the tyre tracks told us that many ignore these signs. For fear of injuring a turtle or any other wildlife, we stuck to the well-worn path that took us through drifts of golden sand, passed rows and rows of small fishing boats, and kilometre after kilometre of azure sea. Though you would most certainly get stuck on this track in a regular vehicle, for our monster truck, it was about as smooth as driving on the highway. We continued on, both on the solitary paved road that makes a loop along the entire coast of the island, and off-road to explore rocky ledges overlooking crashing waves, deep sand stretches between the jagged mountains and the sea, and basically, detouring to check-out any path that looked interesting. In the F150, it was almost too easy, the truck climbing effortlessly (and without a single instance of shooting gravel) up steep, rocky inclines, and absolutely ploughed through both soft and hard-pack sand.

We stopped on the beach to have a soda and enjoy the view. We stopped along a rocky outcropping just off the side of the highway where we discovered an army of crabs darting in and out of the rocks. We pulled off the side of the road to follow a goat path to a hidden rock beach where we watched the tide come in and ate a picnic lunch. No matter where we went, it was just me, my husband, and our F150. Not another soul in sight. On the main roads, we passed less than ten other vehicles during our two-hour drive around the island, and we found only two groups picnicking on any of the beaches. It was surreal. It felt like we were the last two people on earth. As we began making our way up the western coast of the island, we realised that we had been driving for over 12 hours and it was time to go find our hotel.



The island has only a few humble options for accommodation (aside from camping), the nicest of which, by far, is the Masirah Island Resort. While it is not a five-star, gold-leafed resort, the property offers beach-facing rooms, two executive suites (they have a sitting area, bedroom, and two bathrooms), as well as four family-sized villas. The views from every room are stunning, from the reds and purples of the sun rising over the ocean and distant mountains, to the stretch of white sand and pale blue that accompany the rhythmic crashing of the waves both day and night. The restaurant offers an international selection of Arabic, Western, and Asian dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A very good thing, unless you pack your own provisions, as the island doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants. And the staff are some of the friendliest and most accommodating I have come across in Oman. They may not have everything on the menu available at all times. As they explained with a laugh, it is an island afterall, but they will accommodate you in any way they can, from special off-the-menu orders to sightseeing advice. One of the long-time staff members, Derrel Pinto, is a semi-professional wildlife photographer who, in his off-time, takes other photographers and nature-lovers around the island to find rare birds, turtles, and even whales to photograph. He also knows all the best (and safest) places to snorkel, and the gear is available to rent on-site. They also know the people who run the kite surfing school, and can help you arrange a class.

Herein we discovered the catch-22 of this remote island escape — on holidays the tranquillity is disturbed by the hordes of people who descend on the place, creating haphazard queues at the ferry ports and overrunning the usually quiet beaches, but on a short weekend, you will be left with so much more you will have wished you’d done. Oh how we wished we had time for a half-day kite surfing lesson, a whale-watching excursion, some snorkelling adventures, a remote beach barbecue, or just one-more hair-raising off-road challenge.

Masirah is an island worth experiencing, whether for a surreal pre-dawn day and overnight weekend trip or an adventure-packed week. It might have taken me several years to make my first trip to Masirah, but it most certainly won’t be my last. [email protected]

What to do on Masirah?

• Kite Surfing

Kiteboarding Oman

+968 9632 3524

kiteboarding-oman.com


• Nature Photography

Masirah Island Resort (ask for Derrel)

+968 2550 4274


• Snorkelling

Bring your own equipment or rent from Masirah Island Resort (ask the locals about safe places to snorkel)

• Boating, Whale-Watching, and Fishing

Arrange through Masirah Island Resort or with individual boat owners at the port

• Off-roading and On-Your-Own Exploring

Just get in your 4x4 and drive. There are plenty of great places to see what your beast is capable of. (But be sure to respect the turtle sanctuaries marked by signboard)

Where to stay on Masirah?

You can camp if you like, but after a long drive, it is nice to be able to just check-in and relax at the Masirah Island Resort.

Masirah Island Resort

+968 2550 4274

masiraislandresort.com

[email protected]

Room rates start at OMR75 per night


How to get to Masirah?

Drive

Drive from Muscat to Shannah Port, either via Route 32 through Sinaw which takes 4.5-5 hours, or via the coastal route through Sur and Al Ashkharah, which takes 5.5-6 hours.

Ferry

Take the NFC Shannah-Masirah ferry from Shannah port. The journey takes one hour and costs OMR10 per car plus OMR3 per passenger one-way. The tickets can (and should) be purchased ahead of time here in Muscat. NFC tickets can be purchased at the port, but there is no guarantee that seats, or car space, will be available. There are also privately-owned, older ferries at the port that can be booked on the spot for about half the cost, but be prepared for a longer journey (about 1.5 hours) and longer queues. For NFC ferries, be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure so you have time to pick up your boarding passes from the port office and get your car loaded onboard.

NFC

nfc.om

+968 2449 5453


Ferry Schedule (Thursday-Friday-Saturday)

Shannah-Masirah and Masirah to Shannah

9am-10am

12pm-1pm

3pm-4pm

5pm-6pm


Masirah journey travel tips

• Book your ferry ahead of time in Muscat to avoid queues.

• Leave early and take the first ferry to avoid crowd and traffic (watching the sunrise as you drive is an added bonus).

• Take a 4x4 so you can really explore the far reaches of the island.

• Bring a jacket. It gets cold on the island at night.

• Pack a cooler. Though there are shops on the island, but the offerings are limited and you’ll have a much better selection of food and beverage if you purchase in Muscat.

• If you want to change-things-up on the way home, take the longer coastal drive back to Muscat and stop in Sur for lunch or dinner.

• Ask the residents (especially the staff at the Masirah Island Resort) about what to discover on the island. The people who have made this place their home have plenty of great suggestions on where to go and what to do.

• Keep it clean. This island has a major problem with garbage, as some locals and visitors discard their waste on the beaches and outdoors. Any visitor to this beautiful, natural place has a responsibility to leave the island better off than he or she found it by cleaning up after the areas in which you picnic.



What to drive to Masirah Island?

Ford F150 Lariat

This vehicle has the comfort of a luxury sedan with more muscle than almost any other vehicle on the road. While the size might seem intimidating at first (it does tower over the rest), once inside, you’ll soon forget about everything else. The second row seats are more spacious than the second seating in most sedans and includes comforts like heated seats and climate control. If you don’t have any passengers, the seats fold flat against the back wall of the truck, providing a huge bonus of in-cab storage for your luggage, leaving the bed empty for your camping or BBQ gear. This is a shockingly nimble, fun truck to drive, and be sure that it can handle literally any terrain, while offering a comfortable highway drive as well.

Highlights

• Engine: 3.5L V6 EcoBoost, twin turbo 385 HP @ 5000 rpm, 464 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm

• Transmission: Automatic 6-speed with tow/haul mode

• 4x4 Electronic-shift-on-the-fly (ESOF)

• Neutral Towing capability (so you don’t spoil your automatic transition when pulled)

• AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control (RSC)

• Aluminium body (military grade, super-strong body that is rust-resistant and lighter than steel)

• 20” Chrome wheels

• Chrome angular step bars

• Foldable Pick-up box extender

• Twin panel Moonroof

• Heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescope

• Leather, heated, cooled 10-way power seats

• Remote start and remote tailgate release system

• Auto high beam and rain sensing wipers (the former came in really handy on the back roads of Sharqiyah)

• Awesome sound system

• Great-looking LED lights

• 360-degree cameras

• More cup-holders and around-seat storage than you’ll known what to do with (our mini-cooler fit INSIDE the centre console. Totally awesome.)

• Great ground clearance that absolutely dominated every terrain we took it on without so much as a whimper

• Great gas mileage (we went about 500km on less than one tank of petrol)

Starting Price: OMR15,400

(Vehicle also available in the XLT Trim)


Oman Dealer: Arabian Car Marketing Company

Ford Showroom, Wattayah

+968 2457 9719




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