Raz Al Jinz
By Cassie Hipkiss-Hicks
Turtle nesting season is again upon us. Between June and October is the best time of year to see these magnificent beasts heave themselves out of the sea, painstakingly crawl up the beach to lay their eggs, and then drag themselves back into the water; all in the name of procreation. If you’re very lucky, you may even see the newly hatched baby turtles erupting from the sand like a volcano and making their bid for survival as they race down the beach and into the sea.
Unless your child is extremely well-behaved or you have means with which to drug or bribe him/her/them, then it is probably best to undertake this trip with some form of child-minding reinforcements, either that or take it in turns to go on the tours alone. Turtle watching tours take place at around 9pm and 4am, so you can alternate as to who stays with the (hopefully sleeping!) children, and who goes to see the turtles. We did look into the possibility of taking our child down to the beach to look at the turtles with us, but we were told that it is very important that observers watch the turtles in absolute silence (flash photography is also not permitted) as any disturbance can deter the turtles from laying their eggs. Besides, who wants a sleep-deprived toddler roaming around in the dark? In all, we thought the best thing to do was to wait until the grandparents were visiting before we undertook the trip, which was in early December last year.
Considering we went outside of prime turtle nesting season, I don’t think we fared too badly. My parents went on the evening tour (we did it this way round as we thought we’d save them from having to get up before the crack of dawn, and we also knew that there was no way on this Earth that the child would settle in a strange place with the excitement of grandparents on hand to play with). Unfortunately, on their tour, my parents waited in the visitors centre for an hour before being told that there were no turtles on the beach that night. I still quite guilty about this!
My husband and I headed down to the visitors centre at some ridiculously early hour the following morning (3:45am I think it was). It was a subdued, little party that we met down there. Obviously no-one was used to being up at this ungodly hour! We took a mini bus down to the beach, and from there stumbled in torch-lit silence amongst small sand dunes.
We saw two turtles: one was in the process of digging a hole in the sand in which to lay her eggs. As we all gathered around (I was hit by the soft, flying sand as the turtle scooped out a burrow for her eggs), it was a magical moment to view nature at her gentlest and best – a mummy turtle creating a safe haven for her offspring. We left her in peace and went further along the beach to observe a turtle who had finished laying her eggs and was on her way back into the sea, leaving huge, train-like tracks behind her. The sun began to rise and we could see the tracks in the sand from all of the previous night’s turtle activity. It was a truly, beautiful sight.
Feeling somewhat overwhelmed and privileged at having been witness to such a lovely spectacle, we returned to our tent to discover that the child and the grandparents were already up and playing on the ornamental turtle in the middle of our circle of tents.
We stayed at the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve in one of the family eco tents, which consisted of two double beds and ample space for our travel cot. ‘Tent’ is perhaps a misleading description. ‘Hotel room covered with canvas’ would perhaps be more apt, seeing as our tent had air conditioning, a fridge, a huge wooden table with chairs, a kettle and a small bathroom attached. My only complaint would be that there is not much distance between the tents, and with so many nocturnal comings and goings to go on the tours, it is far from the quiet and peaceful experience that one would perhaps like!
The main advantage of staying at the turtle reserve is that the two turtle watching tours (evening and morning) are included within the cost of the accommodation so you don’t have to worry about booking the tours separately. Guests staying at the reserve are given priority over those who aren’t should there be any issue with over-booking on the turtle watching tours. Wherever you stay and whatever time of year you choose to go, it is advisable to reserve tours and accommodation well in advance as places can get booked up quickly.
Once we’d returned from our morning tour and all partaken of the buffet breakfast, my parents went for a look at the turtle nesting beach in the daylight to see the turtle tracks for themselves. The reserve permits tourists to wander onto the turtle nesting beach until 1:30pm, after which it is prohibited unless you are part of a tour. My husband and I stayed in the camp area with the child as the beach is a fifteen minute walk away from the visitors centre over non-pushchair-friendly rubble.
We had lunch at the turtle reserve just before we left, which was a very pleasant and quiet experience as most of the other tourists had already gone, and combined it with a visit to the museum there. The child enjoyed looking at the large pictures of turtles and playing hide-and-seek around the various displays. We didn’t see anywhere to buy supplies at Ras al Jinz, so it’s probably best just to take everything with you for picnics on the way to and from Muscat.
Ras al Jinz is about a four-hour drive from Muscat. We broke the journey up on the way there with a stop-off at Bimmah Sinkhole (signposted Hawiyat Najm Park). This is about two hours from Muscat so it makes an ideal stopping point. There are toilets in the car park and a few rusty swings and shaded picnic areas on the way to the sinkhole. The sinkhole itself is a steep climb down lots of steps with a rather alarmingly blue handrail. This would be perfectly manageable for supervised toddlers, and a lovely place to cool off in the clear, blue water after a couple of hours in the car.
Although there are picnic areas at the sinkhole, it was quite busy so we decided to drive a short way along the old coastal road towards Fins village. We stopped off at a random stony beach to have our picnic. The beach was deserted with a nice view of the mountains and was a lovely place to stop for lunch.
On the way back to Muscat from Ras al Jinz the following day, we called in at Ras al Hadd, as we were so close by. In contrast to Ras al Jinz, this was a rundown hamlet which looked as though it had never seen foreign tourists before in its life. After a slight disagreement with a small boy pushing a wheelbarrow into our car, we stopped off at the beach. It felt like we’d reached the ends of the Earth. This is one of the Eastern most points of Oman and it is where the Indian Ocean meets the Gulf of Oman. It was an odd place, and interesting to see Omani life away from the cities and tourist areas, and it was a good location to let the child run off some steam on the long, white, sandy beach before getting in the car again.
We drove through Sur, a picturesque maritime town, before making our final stop-off at Wadi Tiwi. Wadi Tiwi is truly spectacular – beautiful date plantations set amidst stunning, craggy cliffs and clear, freshwater pools. The big advantage of visiting Wadi Tiwi as opposed to neighbouring Wadi Shab when you’re travelling with children is that you can drive into it, so there are no long walks involved to get to the water. We had a small picnic whilst the child paddled happily in one of the shallow pools.
In all, it was a lovely weekend. Although the child couldn’t take part in the turtle watching, I think she did enjoy the ‘camping’ experience (there were plenty of stones to play with outside our tent and the ornamental stone turtles that she spent most of her time climbing on were a big hit) and I think she also enjoyed the various stops that we made – Bimmah Sinkhole, the beach near Fins, Ras al Hadd and Wadi Tiwi. Although there is quite a lot of car time, there’s enough to see along the way to regularly break up the journey to keep little people amused and fed.