When I visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – I expected some of the things to do in UAE to include visiting the Liwa desert and the bright city lights of Dubai, but I definitely never expected to be able to go mangrove kayaking in Abu Dhabi.
In hindsight, it seem a bit silly given that Abu Dhabi’s coast facing the Persian Gulf aka the Red Sea – most of the UAE’s northern territory is coastline, and Abu Dhabi is home to thousands of hectares of mangrove swamps. I took a kayaking tour to get a closer look at the mangrove swamps for myself.
In Abu Dhabi, the closest mangrove area is the Eastern Mangrove Swamps, and that’s where I headed to get an up close look at some of the mangroves. I booked a kayaking tour with Noukhada Adventure Company for 150AED (about S$55) and headed down to the meeting point at the Anantara-run Eastern Mangrove Hotel and Spa.
There was quite a big group for the 11am tour, about 20 people, all Caucasians except for me, ranging from families with older children to couples and other older folk . When everybody arrived, we were given a short briefing on kayaking and how to go about it. After that we were helped into our kayaks and set off for the mangroves.
I had a single kayak to myself, and it was pretty easy to maneuver and paddle. The group had two guides, both originally from Philippines and had lived in the UAE for awhile. One lead the group while the other kept watch on the stragglers behind. We paddled into the main channel, an artificial one created as a passage by the Sheikh’s orders, but unfortunately there’s some erosion going on so the water was quite murky and the channel has expanded quite massively from its original width of 6m.
We turned into a smaller natural channel, and you could see the change in the water quality – it became so clear you could see the schools of little fishes in the water darting around! The water also became shallower and we had to be careful not to get marooned on sandbanks here. It was nice being able to paddle right up to the aerial roots and have a closer look around – you had the occasional egret and other bird sighting as you paddled.
You could see lots of blackish things scuttling between the mangroves as well – our guide told us these were mangrove tree crabs and they had a symbiotic relationship with the mangrove trees – they dug holes that aired the roots while the mangrove provided them food and protection.
Kayaking can be tiring though! The whole tour took around 2 hours in total – we paddled until it was just too shallow to continue before paddling back, and from the front of the group I gradually lagged till I was near the back… I was quite happy to see our end point.
Overall it was quite a fun experience – I wished we could have had even more explanation on the animals and plants that we were seeing in the mangrove, but I guess it’s also dependent on what you see on your tour – we saw lots of crabs and some passing egrets but not much more. I think it’s a great way to see a lesser-known side of Abu Dhabi, take in some nature and get a bit of a work out too.
WHAT TO WEAR
One thing I didn’t realise going into this trip was that the kayak was open top – I was thinking of those where your legs were covered up. I wore fitting knee length shorts which got pretty soaked from all the water being tossed up from the paddle, and a really terrible tan line above my knees from the sun exposure so my shorts.
I suggest wearing loose long pants to protect your legs from the sun and a long sleeved windbreaker as well for your torso, make sure it’s stuff you don’t mind getting wet. I’d also consider slippers or sports sandals and maybe a hat too.
And bring a spare change of clothes. I had a spare dress to change into but really soaking wet underwear…