Dubai to Liwa - from sandy to sand dunes

January 11, 2013

November 23, 2012

If you are like my son Kalel who frequents Google Maps and plays around the satellite view of the UAE, you'll notice the change of topographic colors of the country's different areas. Dubai has some cream sands, Fujairah has brown mountains, and towards Abu Dhabi near the Saudi border, the sand has orange tinge. And further to Liwa, the orange sands is specked by white sabkhas. This has caught our fancy and motivated our drive.

Now, one major long drive plan ticked off our list – near the Saudi border 450kms away from home, and to one of the world’s tallest and biggest sand dune, to Liwa and to Moreeb Hill. Total mileage in two days from and to Dubai: 1000 kms. Accomplished: saw why Liwa oasis looks like this as seen from space. Intriguing and amazing, isnt it?

The line that arcs out forms the Liwa Oasis located south of Abu Dhabi. Cupped in the arc are high sand dunes while sabhkas (salt flats) create silvery flat dots. Meanwhile the green dots are the thousands of date palms lining the crescent. You could imagine how many cultured date palms there are to be visible from space.

We left Dubai at 10am on a Friday to Abu Dhabi on E11. We continued towards Tarif along E11 and turned left to Madinat Zayed. If you check the map to Liwa below, Madinat Zayed is at the middle of three roads branching out of the Liwa crescent. From the busy E11 highway, the road turned into a quiet and smooth drive, tempting a speed up until the sand starts turning from cream to orange hue and until some oil pipes catch one's curiosity. Then it gets better as clusters of palm trees color the roadsides green. After awhile, a budding mini-city welcomed us at Madinat Zayed. There were banks, shops, a nicely and neatly landscaped park, buildings under construction, and communities. It was lunch time by then and we pulled over at the other side of the road for a KFC chicken meal.
The route we took for our Liwa drive, entering from the middle,
ark-ing on the crescent and  left through Hameem Road. The crescent line is where
the communities are.
Getting back on the road, more palm trees waved at us. Twenty or so minutes later, we slowed down at a roundabout with Mezaira Castle atop a widely greened hill at the right. It was already 2pm and we decided to settle our things first at Liwa Hotel, perched on the hill opposite the Castle.

It was by then 4pm. The Moreeb Hill is on top of our list, followed by seeing the whole stretch of the Liwa crescent. It was almost evening so we agreed on going first to Arada, west of the crescent. It is about 50 kilometers from the hotel and heading near the Saudi border.

Date farms, telecom towers lined the roads with orange sand dunes providing the backdrop. We were approaching the Saudi border when our sights were invited by flocks of black camels down a vast sabkha.  This is yet on my record of the most number of black (!, or make that dark brown, not the usual colors seen around the city) camels I saw at a single time. After some camel photo ops and as it's getting late, we headed back towards the hotel. While we skipped dropping by the famed Fish Farm, we were tempted to get on the road to Moreeb Hill. There were no light posts and a few cars on the road that we turned back midway. Our six months old Riane was with us hence there was no risking of driving on to a dark un-known place to us.

With the Liwa Castle at the opposite hill

At the hotel, Kalel and his Dad took a swim while I tucked Riane warm with me to the reception to reserve a sandboard for 5 am. We hit the bed and set our alarms for 5am. The plan was to drive to Moreeb Hill at dusk to watch the sun rise among the sand dunes. However, the kids slept late that the next morning, we called off going to Moreeb Hill early, we instead walked outside the hotel down the dunes. The sound of Landcruisers cruising the dunes can be heard from the distance, and got louder as one stuck 4X4 revved its engine while pulling the tyres out of the sand. Of course, Kalel did not miss running up and down and rolling over on sand dunes.

Sunrise outside Liwa Hotel

As light started peeking out, the sky flashed and painted a mix of purple and orange. The sun soon turned the sand into reddish orange rolls of dunes.

We had breakfast and left the hotel by 8am for Moreeb Hill. It was supposed to be around 10 kilometers away, but I called the hotel four hours later to request a late checkout by 1pm.

Liwa Hotel, Tilal Liwa, or Qasr Al Sarab?

Liwa Hotel is the cheapest we could grab from Groupon at some AED 250/ night with breakfast. It is an old hotel situated at the center of the crescent and is the nearest base to drive towards Moreeb Hill and to Saudi border to the left of the crescent. Tilal Liwa and Qasr Al Sarab are less than an hour drive away from Moreeb Hill. Qasr Al Sarab is located to the right end of the crescent.

Moreeb Hill

The place holds joins the record of the world's tallest dunes with up to 358 ft. It's an endless view of amazing orange sand hills with the hues changing depending on the time of the day.
Moreeb Hill
More than the sand dunes, there's also sabkhas, camel and sheep farms and campers -- to see or meet.

A sabkha at Moreeb

I've read of sabkhas before and had not actually understood what is until we went to the Moreeb dunes.
These sabkhas are usually made home to camel and sheep farms. And there are the shepherds who know the desert so well, giving company to the animals.

Along the way early in the morning, campers gathered outside their tents, some putting their tents down, and others sat in circles with their coffee mugs.

Indeed, the serenity of the place and the quiet life of the rolling hills provide a perfect break to settlers from the fast-paced city life.

Liwa, the community

Liwa is generally a quiet community, and even within the 100 kms stretch of the crescent, we’ve came across more trucks than we had with personal cars. Both the oil fields the construction of the Etihad Railway here (a network that will connect UAE to both Oman and Saudi) get the road busy with trucks.

The government investments to sustain and cultivate greenery in this oasis is just amazing, with the thousands of date trees being distinctly visible from space.

Way home

From Liwa Hotel at the middle of the crescent, we drove east of the crescent and reached Abu Dhabi via Haneem Road. Most parts of Haneem road has no electrical posts, with solar panels providing energy to the few structures along the way. The road is a single carriageway of 80 KPH and it’s mostly trucks and trucks giving company on the road.

Before one gets back to E11, the Emirates National Auto Musuem is along the way. We've visited the museum earlier so we did not drop by this time. Having already seen Haneem  Road and the museum, I guess the Madinat Zayed Road will be better for us to use the next time we visit.

The Princess Experience

And yes, we were too glad to have Riane get her longest rod trip yet. Indeed, there's nothing as too early when it comes to starting babies at getting through long road trips. A toast to Baby Riane who at almost seven months, joined us in one of our dream drives!

Liwa Part 2

If there's a reason for me to drive back to Liwa, it will be to re-take photos and give justice to the amazing creation it being is. I remain bad at photography, but really, who would not want to capture and share a great experience?

Meantime, here are photos of our Liwa trip that I uploaded in the Gremliness Facebook page :

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  1. Moreeb's sands look sunny reddish! Amazing. I like how I am "driving through" UAE through your posts.

  2. Liwa is a very nice place, pero ang layo ha! Kudos to Riane, she's the youngest road-tripper I know! :)

  3. Wow na wow! Gusto ko tuloy bumalik sa Liwa! Your photos are nice lalo na yung may nag-iisang tumubong damo. Pag babalik ka at kung balak mo ulet kumuha ng photos sa sunrise, I suggest na magdala ka ng graduated polarizing filter (gamit sa sunrise and sunset yun). Or kung meron kang ND filter(ND2 or ND4), pwede mo syang gamitin sa sunrise lalo na kung masyadong maliwanag. There are times na mahirap kumuha ng maayos lalo na pag tirik na ang araw pero try mo sa aperture priority with ISO at 100. Kung gusto mo makuha ang background and foreground all together, try mo ang f/8 to F/14 and then adjust ka na lang sa shutter speed mo.

    I've been to Liwa way back 2008 and wala pa akong camera noon. Year 2011 nakabalik ako with camera but my JM was so cranky. We ended up staying at Madinat Zayed after we spent more than 4 hours Al Dhafra Festival.

    Thank you for "taking us" with your trip Bevs.

  4. Liwa is indeed a great place, glad to know you've set foot in this sleepy but beautiful town. It reminds me of good old times, makes me want to drive back there again.

  5. and oh you've got an award

  6. Wow, the golden sand is looking awesome! And long drive to Liwa is always pretty special for me because I love its quiet community.


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