One trip I've been wanting to do since discovering the Omani pastime of 4×4 driving, has been through Wadi Bani Awf, the route that systematically gains praise from most day trippers and locals alike. Wadi Bani Awf could be a long day trip in itself, what with the little villages and canyons to explore, but we decided to leapfrog from one wadi to another with the Western Hajars by our side and see the north side of the Western Hajar for what it really is.
Our plan was to start off near Rustaq at the entrance to Wadi as Sahtan, take one of the mountain passes over to Wadi Bani Awf, then finish off at some of the ruined villages in Wadi Bani Kharus, before heading back to Muscat, satisfied, exhausted, and sporting a wide grin! This is how we got on:
Wadi as Sahtan is quite a sprawling bowl of a wadi with tracks leading off in all different directions towards small villages tucked away in corners. Corners that saddle up to the vertical sides of Jebel Shams' north face. A face that towers over the bottom of the wadi over 800m below.
The main village that we passed through in Wadi as Sahtan was Umq (presumably pronounced as it is seen, sounding like you've just swallowed a large fly). From here, the views towards Jebel Shams were impressive and with the morning sunshine on the face of the mountain, it really set the scene for what we were to see today!
Although we had a destination in mind, over into Wadi Bani Awf, we took a diversion up to Wijmah village for a spot of lunch. Now, when I say “up” to Wijmah village, I really mean it. After switching the car to Lo-gear ratios, we started crawling up the winding mountain track. With only a small pile of rocks on the edge of the track, separating us from a heck of a drop off into the valley below on what was a crumbly dust track, some of the passengers in my car weren't in the happiest mood! No names mentioned. But, the views back down into the wadi from Wijmah were worth the trip up to this tiny village. On the way down, we met a German couple who realised their car would not move forward unless it was switched into 4-Lo; after giving them a bit of a tutorial on how to use the car (darn hire companies should do this kind of thing), I kindly advised them to get to the view point just above, and turn back! If you don't know how to use your car properly on this kind of track, you're going to run into some serious problems!
Once we were back at a safe elevation, and all passengers were happy (and recovered), we headed out of Sahtan and through the bottom of a wadi pass to Wadi Bani Awf. The start of this route was so different to Sahtan – reeds grew along the roadside, steep rocks surround us, and trees were green and luscious.
We soon found ourselves in the bottom of another wadi, that turned out wasn't Awf, but a smaller side-wadi that wasn't marked on our maps. After asking directions from an Omani man in his car with his ladies in waiting, he cheerfully directed us across the next mountain pass and through to what would be Wadi Bani Awf (every Omani that I've stopped to ask directions has been really happy to help, another point to prove how friendly Omanis are as a nation). Ending up in the wrong wadi definitely turned out to be a good thing; without misdirection, we wouldn't have seen Snake Canyon from above. Snake Canyon is a popular place for adventure Trekkers to drop their boots and start canyoning through the gorge, which has plunge pools and caves to transit to the other end (my time will come!). The scenery leading up to Wadi Bani Awf was stunning, especially given the mid-afternoon winter sun that was shining down from Sharaf al Alamayn.
The traverse over from Wadi Bani Awf to Wadi Bani Kharus was a touch easier, but no less spectacular mountain scenery. We ended our adventure drive in Al Hijayr, where an abandoned village is shadowed by Jebel al Hijayr and some ancient petroglyphs were etched into the rocks depicting man hunting on horseback and camels… got to love those camels.