Dramatic sawtooth cliffs plunging from 2000 metres into turquoise, sparkling fjords, teeming with marine life. It sounds like Scandinavia but in fact, I’m sailing in the Musandam Peninsula, through some of Oman’s most surprising scenery.
It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country, often dubbed “the Norway of the Middle East”, but least visited due to its isolated and remote situation as an enclave of Oman within the United Arab Emirates (it’s most easily accessed from Dubai, rather than Muscat).
The region is characterised by the mighty Hajar mountains, a terrain so inhospitable and with so few roads that many villages are only accessible by sea. The best way to explore, then, is from the water on a traditional dhow boat.
We set sail from the dock at Six Senses Zighy Bay, an ultra luxurious far flung resort reached by crossing the mountain range and jumping off a cliff. Yes, that’s right – arrival by paraglide to your five star villa is the preferred mode of transport, swooping on the air thermals past rocky crags, towards a two mile strait of creamy sand shoreline and the azure sea stretching ahead.
From the air to the water and after a smooth landing we board the hotel’s Dhahab dhow boat, designed to reflect the traditional Omani sailing dhows famously used in the region centuries ago. We cruise the iconic routes of ancient Arabian mariners who sailed through the Gulf of Oman and the strait of Hormuz (a curve of water separating the UAE and Iran), seeking trade and fortune.
After struggling through some initial swells past the jagged coastline – at times rather bleak and almost martian in nature – the dhow makes its first turn into Haffa Bay, one of the many fjords on the route. Sheltered by towering honey-hued cliffs, the region’s natural beauty begins to shine, the still waters shimmering in a rich aquamarine. The silence is only broken by the splash of sea birds plunging head first towards the shoals of mackerel and parrot fish that populate the coral in the waters below.
Unlike Norway, the fjords are balmy, only ever dropping to about 23 degrees in the winter. This is prime territory for snorkelling and diving – with divers waxing lyrical that the coral of Musandam is among the best in the world, with its caves and reefs, and opportunities to spot bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, eagle rays and reef sharks.
The dhow stops at remote fishing villages on the way which are so well camouflaged that they are almost indistinguishable from the water. Goats reside on the crags, clambering upon every surface, even climbing up trees to eye those on the water below. Most villagers are out on their own dhows, floating past to attend their lobster traps and fishing nets.
Having returned to dry land, a fish eagle is perched on one of the crumbling honey-hued cliffs that frame the resort. As I watch it preside over the guests with its other-worldly gaze, the bright lights and fast cars of Dubai feel a million miles away.