ISLAND HOP

Oman 2015 | TOURISM | FOCUS: MASIRAH ISLAND

Oman has a hidden treasure that lies just off its eastern coast. Getting to the Island of Masirah is a fulfilling journey in and of itself and once you arrive the island rewards you with some of the best recreational opportunities and rare wildlife.

If you are up for a bit of an adventure to a part of the world less seen by others, then Oman still has places to offer the inquisitive traveller. One fine example is the tiny, windswept island of Masirah off the east coast of Oman that is rich in marine and bird life, and is graced with a pleasantly cooler climate than the mainland.

The 649 square kilometer island, which is a mere 14 kilometers wide, has a diverse and colorful history including copper mining, fishing, and traditional boat building, and it still plays host to a Royal Air Force of Oman base. In 1835, the USS Peacock ran aground on Masirah's coral reef in the middle of the night. The crew had to jettison a number of the ship's guns to refloat her, and fight off marauders before they could continue on their voyage. And there is plenty of other evidence of vessels that have come to grief on the rugged island. As you walk along the beach, numerous wrecks of local dhows can be seen poking out of the sand.

It is not surprising that Masirah remains a well-kept secret. In 2010 The Guardian reported that Oman Air was considering scheduling flights from Muscat to the island, but these have not materialized to date. For now, the only way to get to Masirah is by road to Shannah, followed by a one-and-a-half-hour ferry ride to Hilf township on the island. Luckily, the journey down through Oman is an enjoyable part of the experience. Most overseas tourists fly into Seeb International Airport in Muscat, and that is in fact the closest airport. From there, it is a spectacular 350 kilometer drive down to the ferry past the Hajar Mountains, the Sharqiya sand dunes, and some beautiful beaches, and coastline.

Wind and kite surfers are drawn to Masirah for its steady 20 plus knot winds in the summer months, as well as its warm waters. Surfing and kayaking are other watersport options, and you can camp on the island if you wish. But if comfort is more your style there are now three main hotels to choose from on the island, as well as a few cafes and restaurants.

For many people though the real draw card of Masirah will be the opportunity to see some spectacular, and in some cases rare, marine and bird life up close. First and foremost, the island is famous for the four species of turtle that come to lay their eggs on Masirah's beaches during the year. Of these, the Loggerhead turtle nesting population is one of the largest in the world and comes ashore in the summer and autumn, as does the Green turtle. The other turtles that can be seen are the Hawksbill and Olive Ridley species that visit the island in the winter and spring according to research information from Marine Turtle Newsletter. If you go out in one of the islands many boats, you can also see bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, and flying fish. If bird watching is more your thing, Masirah hosts over 328 species of bird, including the Crab Plover, Little Egret, and Greater Flamingos. Bring your camera, there are some great shots to be had.