Beyond Al Hoota Cave lies the start of the spectacular descent of the Western Hajar down a sheer escarpment through Wadi Bani Awf, widely considered the most memorable off-road drive in the country. This is Oman at its most dramatic, with stupendous scenery and a rough, vertiginous track which challenges the skills of even experienced off-road drivers – not to be attempted lightly, and best avoided during or after rains.
The entire off-road section between Shorfet al Alamin and the main road at Awabi takes around 2–3hr.
The track is regularly graded but gets very churned up after spells of bad weather. It’s also possible to tackle the route in reverse, driving up from the Nakhal, although the driving is easier and the views generally better heading downhill.
This truly spectacular road over the Western Hajar Mountains affords some of the best views in Oman. It can be accomplished as a long round-trip from Muscat or as a more leisurely outing from Nizwa to Rustaq. Although the mountain part of the route is only 70km long, it takes at least four hours to drive and a 4WD is essential to negotiate the sustained, off-road descent into Wadi Bani Awf. This route passes through remote, rugged country and you should take the necessary precautions. Check weather conditions before you leave and do not attempt the journey during or after rains.
Follow the signs for Al Hoota Cave from the Nizwa–Bahla road. You’ll see a brown sign, just before reaching the cave, indicating Bilad Sayt. The road, zig-zagging up the mountain in front of you, is sealed for the entire ascent. Look out for wild palms and clumps of aloe. After about 23 odd kilometers you will come to the Shorfet al Alamin viewpoint, on the saddle of the ridge: this is the highest point in the road. It’s worth spending time here to enjoy the scenery and to look for wolf traps before the long descent into the village of Hatt. This traditional mountain oasis is best explored on foot or, to avoid being intrusive, admired at a distance.
After Hatt, the road continues skirting past Bilad Sayt, which is off the road to the left. The village is well worth a detour. With its picture-postcard perfection of terraced fields and sun-baked houses, it’s one of the prettiest villages in the area. The road passes the entrance to aptly named Snake Gorge, a popular destination for adventure hikers and climbers, and through the middle of a football pitch. From here the main track meanders around the mountain to the exit of Snake Gorge, signalled by a neat row of trees.
Continue along the main track into Wadi Bani Awf, that runs through a magnificent canyon, with limestone cliffs towering above the wadi bottom. Plantations of dates, lemons and mangos cling to the wadi’s edge providing a livelihood for small settlements that lurk in the perpetual shadow of the jebel. Along the way, you will pass through the small wadi village of Al Teekah from where an under-construction tarmac road leads eventually to the main highway. Turn left for Rustaq, or right for Nakhal and Muscat.
Since this will be a very long journey make sure to take care of the following, and it is always advisable to carry some of the below mentioned to make your journey as smooth as possible.
- Check weather forecast on the same day of travel, do not attempt the journey if rain predictions.
- Top up fuel at any given point cause no pumps in the mountains.
- Try and travel in group if not at least with a second driver.
- Carry a flotation device (You never know where it may come handy)
- Towing rope
- Battery Booster
- Check overall vehicle health
- First Aid kit
- Warm Clothing
- Sturdy footwear if you plan trekking
- Sufficient drinking water
- Enough food to keep you going
Wadi Bani Awf has 2 routes, one through Nakhal and the other through Nizwa. Here are the details through Nizwa. From Muscat to Wadi Bani Awf is about 269 kilometers after which you can come out through Awabi rather than taking a U turn. The complete journey is 400 kilometers. From Burj Al Sahawa roundabout head to Al Hoota caves crossing Nizwa and Bahla. From there on follow the directions to Bilad Sayt(Bait Bimah). Stay on the course all the way and enjoy the view. 4×4 is a must for this journey. Refer map below.
Have a safe journey and do share your experiences.