THE FIRST OF MANY FORTS // Nizwa, Oman

Our first night on the road in Oman was spent in Nizwa, a city located less than two hours away from Muscat. It was easy to get to by the main freeway, even with a short detour.

Nizwa has plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, hypermarkets (a novelty for us), and is a good base for exploring the mountain regions of Oman. You can easily make a day trip to Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) for some hiking from Nizwa, but as we had a night booked in the mountains we spent our afternoon exploring the city.

The main sites of Nizwa are the fort and the souq. Somehow we managed to completely stuff up the opening hours of the souq and never managed to experience the market in full swing, but we were able to wander the lanes and eat some delicious (and cheap) shwarma and fresh juice for lunch (look for the dodgy plastic tables under a tree near the gate into the souq, I no idea what the cafe was called!).

Within the walls of the souq is the entrance to Nizwa Fort, and dates back to the 1650s.

After reading the Lonely Planet we were under the impression that entry would only be a few dollars. However, apparently the price has since increased and it now costs 5 OMR ($16 AUD) per person to visit. If you are on a budget, I would honestly recommend skipping Nizwa Fort and heading on to the nearby town of Bahla to visit the fort there – it was a tenth of the price and far more beautiful.

Sure, the Nizwa Fort was nice, but it did feel very renovated and was full of tacky souvenirs and outdated museum exhibits.

At least the views from the top of the fort walls were worth it! Those mountains are just the beginning of what was to come.

We ended up having a little bit of time to kill before we could check into our accommodation, so after some frantic googling we drove to another site in Nizwa – the Falaj Daris Park. The park is quite small, but offer the opportunity to see a traditional falaj, which is a UNESCO world heritage listed irrigation system. The park itself was quite small, but it was interesting enough for a short stop.

An afternoon looking around Nizwa was plenty of time, but it would be a good base location for exploring the surrounding region. Our accommodation had information about various day trips and hikes and I left wishing we had more time to explore! But the mountains were calling…

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DESERTED VILLAGES & DATE PALMS // Birkat al Mouz, Oman

One of the greatest benefits of hiring our own car for our trip on Omani was having the freedom to detour to smaller sites and explore lesser known areas at our own leisure. This does take some additional planning, it is totally worth the effort. One of our first stops on our road trip was the oasis town of Birkat al Mouz, where we were able to explore a ruined village and walk among some date plantations.

A few notes on finding the ruins:

  • Getting there: Birkat al Mouz is located off the main freeway, between Izki and Nizwa, around 1.5 hours from Muscat. The town is signed (note the variations in spelling – Mouz/Mawz/Mauz), but the ruins are not. We went to Birkat al Mouz Ruin 2 on Google Maps. The back streets are narrow, but we were able to find a side lane to park on.
  • Entry: there is no signage for the ruins, but you are free to explore as you please. We were able to climb to the top tower, however proceed with caution as some buildings are not safe to enter.

I also found this blog to be a great resource for visiting the town.

Admittedly I did no know about the google map location for the ruins when we drove into Birkat al Mouz, but after pulling over and some frantic googling we managed to work out where we had to go. Pro tip – buy an Omani sim card!

If you can see the above, you have come to the right place. This is the view of the ruins from the laneway we parked on. There was a small entrance just to the right.

There was no clear path through the village, but rather a maze of crumbling staircases and narrow walkways. We popped our head into some of the buildings but avoided walking through them – some had second stories that were on the verge of caving in, whilst others had suspicious piles of rubbish in the corner. We figured it was safer to follow our way up towards the top.

Our destination was the crumbling watch tower at the top of the village, which you can see above. From there we were treated to stunning views of the surrounding valley, date plantations, and the village itself.

We only encountered one other person whilst in the village, and they appeared to be living in one of the less run down buildings. Otherwise we had the place completely to ourselves.

There was another watch tower in the distance, which is located near another ruined village. I struggled to find the information about how to visit it, but I think this post has some details.

Another stop worth making in Birkat al Mouz is at the date plantations just before turning off to the village ruins – you can see a large plantation to your right as your enter the town from Izki. We parked on the side of the road and had a short walk under the palms.

From Birkat al Mouz, it is a short drive to Nizwa, a larger city with further attractions, food options and accommodation. It is definitely worth the detour to visit this village!

– Reanna

THE GRAND MOSQUE // Muscat, Oman

Even if you are short on time in Muscat, like we were, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is definitely worth visiting. Located just off the busy Sultan Qaboos Street, the mosque is a gift to the nation from none other than… Sultan Qaboos. Finished in 2001, the mosque is a great deal newer than others we encountered on our travels, but it is a beautiful piece of architecture.

A few notes on visiting the mosque:

  • Opening hours: the mosque is open to non-Muslims every day from 8am to 11am, except Friday. Plan to get there early to avoid the crowds – we arrived around 9am and there were quite a few tour bus groups arriving.
  • Entry: is free, and cameras are allowed. We were free to walk the grounds and explore the buildings by ourselves.
  • Dress code: You will need to dress conservatively, otherwise you will not be allowed entry. We saw quite a lot of tourists turned back at the entry for wearing shorts. Wear a long sleeve top and pants/long skirt. Women are also required to wear a headscarf (it is always handy to have a scarf tucked in your bag when traveling!). If you do not come prepared, there are some skirts and scarves available for hire at the gift shop, however these are expensive (about 3 rial, or $10 AUD). Shoes need to be removed when entering prayer halls, so slip on sandals are a good idea.
  • Getting there: Oman is not very walkable, so the easiest way to get there is via car or taxi. There is a parking lot out the front.

There is very limited signage inside the mosque, so we mazed our way through the buildings and made our best guesses about where to go. Occasionally we over heard a tour guide explaining something in English.

There are two main buildings that can be entered – the above being the women’s prayer room. Whilst beautiful, it was substantially smaller and less elaborate than the main prayer hall. You will see the difference below!

I really love the arches of Islamic architecture. Here are some of my attempts at being artsy! Maybe I really should just take some photography classes…

The mosque is an active place of worship for Muscat, and is able to accommodate some 20,000 worshippers! Perhaps not all in the ablution room above.

Throughout this holiday I started to actively attempt to take more photos actually featuring Chris and/or I. As you can see, Chris puts his heart and soul into taking photos for me. We will have to work on his #instagram skills.

And of course, the main prayer hall! The level of detail inside was next level, from the tiled ceilings, to the giant Persian carpet, to the giant chandelier.

I only took photos of the chandelier from 20 different angles in attempt to display its true glory. Not pictured: Chris rolling his eyes next to me.

The above photo is possible one of my favourites from the day – Muscat is surrounded by rocky hills and I love that you could still see them from the mosque itself.

We probably spent about half an hour or so exploring the mosque, and that allowed for plenty of photo taking. If you want to avoid the crowds, arriving at 8am would be your best bet.

– Reanna

EXPLORING MUTTRAH CORNICHE // Muscat, Oman

Whilst traveling through Oman we were often asked why we had decided to visit in the first place. Thinking back, I honestly think it was because Chris found an article about driving through Oman in the travel section of the Sunday paper (which we buy, like, twice a year when we want to appear slightly educated). I remember Chris showing me the photos and being blown away by this country that I knew nothing about, let alone how accessible it was for travel. Fast forward six months, and we were flying in Muscat, the capital of Oman!

We spent six days, six nights in this wonderful country and it was a good amount of time. A few more days would have meant we could have packed in a few more things to our itinerary, but there is always next time!

We only really had one day in Muscat, and after some research decided it was best to spend our time in Muttrah, a district of Oman that features a picturesque bay and bustling souq. If you look at a map of Muscat you can see it almost split into distinct ‘cities’, and with the limited public transport options, it can be quite hard to explore the city on foot (our usual preference). Hence, we made the decision to stay in Muttrah and loosely follow the walking tour from the Lonely Planet.

After checking into our hotel, we set out towards to water, stumbling across Muttrah Fort (below) along the way. We climbed up the stairs, only to discover that the entry was blocked for work, but the climb up was worth it for some stunning views back towards the corniche.

As you can tell, there are no high rises in Muscat! All buildings are required to be built in a traditional manner, with domed roofs and curved windows. I even heard that the colour of the buildings is regulated! Either way, it makes for a beautiful looking city, particularly with the rocky hills framing the pale stone buildings.

We followed a (very immaculate) path along the coast through some (very immaculate) gardens.

Eventually, or I should say, after a few kilometres, we reached the Muscat Gates, which mark the beginning of Old Muscat, another district of the wider city. This area houses a number of museums, forts and the Sultan’s Palace.

The Sultan’s Palace. Quite an eclectic combination of buildings, looked out across the water towards an the island fort Al Jalali.

After stopping for some fresh juice we decided to walk back the way we came so as to check out a few places we missed on our walk in. One of them was the below watchtower, one of many such buildings dotted throughout the hills surrounding Muscat. We were able to climb up to this one and take in some views of the surrounding area and the corniche in the fading light.

Eventually we set foot on the Muttrah Corniche, and made our way towards the souq. We had timed our walk to ensure we arrived during opening hours – most shops close for trade between 1:00pm and 4:00pm, so we always had to plan ahead!

The main part of the souq was quite touristy, however if you slip away from the main alley ways into one if the significantly smaller side streets you will find the souq alive with local trade. Many of the stores are full of gold jewellery, whilst others sold frankincense and local spices.

For dinner we went to Bait Al Luban, a restaurant with amazing decor and an interesting menu that service traditional Omani food. Most food in Oman is more Middle Eastern – think kebabs and shwarma, with the odd Indian curry floating around – so finding ‘traditional’ Omani food can be difficult. We were treated to an amazing sunset view over the corniche from the restaurant, and ate some very interesting food – I had what I can only describe as chicken porridge with date sauce!

Whilst I do wish we could have had a bit more time in Muscat, I found Muttrah to be an excellent area to really get a feel for the city and some of its history.

– Reanna

MORE MOUNTAINS // Mount Buller, Australia

I am back to catch up on my last outstanding collection of photos, as this time next week Chris and I are going to be in Oman! We can hardly contain our excitement – every time we come home from work at the moment our greeting is usually along the lines of “X days left” or “holy %$& I am ready for a holiday”. So close, yet so far.

These photos are from a hike on our second day in Mount Buller. We were treated to picture perfect weather, to make up for our disastrous hike in the rain the day before.

We took on the 16km return hike from Mount Buller to Mount Stirling, via Cornmill and Howqua Hut. The tracks were easy enough to hike along, being predominately 4WD and fire tracks, but what we missed in technicality was made up for in ascent – it was a long, arduous climb up from Howqua to Mount Stirling!

At least the views 100% made up for it. We had unobstructed 360 degree views of the surrounding alpine region and it was pure magic.

Looking back across to Mount Buller resort – and realising that we had to walk all the way back!

We didn’t encounter many other hikers on our walk, however we were overtaken by a couple of trail runners, who apparently ran up Mount Stirling like it was nothing.

Photo out takes – this is real life! Obviously Chris is still working on his “instragram husband” game and I am just very uncoordinated.

Having been to Mount Buller and Mount Buffalo in recent months I am truly inspired to see more of the Alpine region. I should probably visit in winter and see what all this skiing business is about (or so my brother keeps telling me), but I would love to hike up Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong as part of my 52 hike challenge. If you have done these hikes, do you have any hot tips?

In the mean time, I am off to pack my bags and dust off my passport – I will be back with a truly ridiculous amount of photos from our travels soon!

– Reanna

LAST MINUTES PLANS // Bells Beach, Australia

Okay, I swear this isn’t intentionally becoming a hiking blog… it just so happens to be a few posts in quick succession! More exciting adventures will come soon (maybe).

But in all seriousness, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting outside more this year and hiking is such a fantastic way to spend the day and explore more of your own backyard. Chris and I have seen so much more of Victoria this year through day hikes and camping, and I am looking forward to getting outside even more this summer. With extra sunscreen, of course.

A few weekends back I joined a group hike with some lovely women down along Bells Beach, at the start of the famed Great Ocean Road. All the photos are from my phone, and the weather was constantly changing, so apologies for the poorer quality! Maybe one day I should consider taking a photography class!

I recently joined a facebook group for local Melbourne women who organise semi-regular hikes. The group is relatively new, but has gained immense popularity, and as a consequence I had been unable to join any hikes due to capped numbers. On a Friday morning one of the leaders announced a last minute plan to hike a circuit around Bells Beach, and before I could consider it too deeply I jumped at the opportunity. For an introvert like me who tends to anxiously mull over decision making, joining a hike with a group of women I had never met with 24 hours notice felt like quite the achievement, and it was definitely worth it.

It ended up being a small group of six who joined the hike. Despite the grey looking weather and attempts at rain, we took to the beach and followed the cliffs to Point Addis, where we stopped for a snack before following the trail inland. The hiking notes for the trail are here.

The weather eventually cleared, and despite my pre-planning and packing sunscreen, I did not apply any due to the overcast skies and ended up extremely sunburnt on my return home. Alas, when will I learn.

It was great being able to chat freely to a group of women I would never normally have met. I am useless at making small talk (see above: introvert who tends to anxiously mull over decision making everything), but ended up having some laughs and sharing stories.

This last minutes decision has inspired me to challenge myself more to go outside my comfort zone, plus continue hiking as often as I can get out of the city! I am sure many more will be on my horizon in the coming months.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful festive period, if you celebrate Christmas. My food coma is slowly but surely subsiding!

– Reanna

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER HIKE // Cape Schanck, Australia

Summer has finally begun in Australia, though the weather changes so frequently in Melbourne it can seem as though we are heading back to Winter at any moment. At least it keeps us on our toes (‘always carry an umbrella’ – Melbourne proverb) and breaks up the hot days.

A few weeks back Chris and I took advantage of some of the warmer weather and went down to the Mornington Peninsula to do the Bushranger Bay to Cape Schanck hike. It isn’t an area we have explored much, but given its proximity to Melbourne it makes for a perfect day trip.

We followed the directions for the hike from the Trailhiking web page. I don’t know where this website has been all my life, but it has fantastic reviews of hikes around Australia, with detailed trail notes and additional information.

We started at the Bushranger Bay carpark and followed the trail towards to coast for a couple of kilometres, before continuing along past the turn off to Bushranger Bay itself and following a track along the coastline. I had no idea what to expect from the hike, but the views were absolutely stunning, particularly the contrast between the bright blue water and the dark cliffs.

After another five kilmetres we reached Cape Schanck. Neither of us knew anything about the area, but turns out that Cape Schanck is quite the tourist attraction. The carpark near the lighthouse was filled with cars, and the trail down to the tip of the Cape was crowded at times.

We followed the boardwalk as far as it went, then clambered over rocks to Pulpit Rock, the pointed formation in the above photo. I was surprised that we were allowed (and even encouraged!) to climb the rocks and venture out towards to water, as often this is discouraged due to the danger of slipping or a rogue wave.

The views back along the coastline were pretty bloody great as well.

After a bit more exploring around the rocks we found this perfectly still pool, which was quickly disturbed by another hiker jumping in for a swim.

Eventually we turned around and followed the same track back to Bushrangers Bay. The entire hike, including walking out to Pulpit Rock, was about 13km and took us around 3 hours. Apart from a few small hills it was fairly easy going, and there were toilets and a cafe to grab more water at Cape Schanck.

I think it is safe to say I was completely blown away by this hike as I had no expectations, and we were treated to amazing weather and fantastic views! Cape Schanck itself was beautiful, and easily accessible by car for those who don’t want the extra 10km hike from Bushrangers Bay.

– Reanna