Take a winter trip to this little island off the coast of Oman to see it in the best light, says Jerzy Wierzbicki
There is something special about Masirah Island, which beckons me back every year. In particular, the rocky, eastern side is my favourite with its rough coastline and craggy hills.
It’s a landscape that I never tire of seeing or photographing.
And the best time of year to visit is definitely during winter, when the mild temperatures allow for more exploration. The weather is one of the most important factors I consider when planning where to take my next trip. Mainly, I have to take into account the heat. But mostly, it’s the light conditions that influence my choice.
Winter is the time when I do my best landscape or wildlife photography. Some destinations need to be visited at the ‘perfect’ time, otherwise the whole trip is wasted and the effort spoiled.
Masirah Island is one of the places in Oman where the finest shots can only be taken in the cooler months, when the climate and light are just right for photographs. Every winter since 2009, I have made the journey to Masirah, located off the east coast of the Sultanate, about 19km from Barr al Hikman. And every trip has been unforgettable.
So I had high hopes that my latest venture there last week would be just as memorable. I left Muscat on a Wednesday night and made slow and solitary progress on the road to Mahout, where we took a short break. My ever faithful dog, Trop, was with me (as always).
The night was clear, crisp and refreshing as we headed towards the ferry pier at Shannah. We arrived in the middle of the night and took a moment to look out from the pier. The visibility was fantastic and I could see the lights on Masirah Island twinkling in the distance. The island is only around 95km long and 14km wide. Around 12,000 people live there, spread out in 12 villages.
As the night closed in, I settled down to sleep in the car, exhausted by the 400km trip from Muscat.
Early in the morning I was woken up by the chugging of the huge diesel ferry as it pulled alongside the pier. We then left the mainland at around 6am. The sea was calm and the surface almost flat, and within an hour we had reached the shores of Masirah and the small town of Ras al Hilf.
The morning light was so marvellous that I wanted to start taking photographs straight away. As I had hoped, visibility was perfect. I could make out details from a great distance. As the water in the port was very shallow at low tide, I could see the top of a few wrecks breaking the surface of the sea from their watery grave. Masirah’s rugged terrain and rocky coastline has claimed many dhows over the years and the remains can be seen on the beaches and inlets, well preserved by the salt water and intense heat.
I stood for a while taking in the silence around me, broken only by the tweets of a few birds and the muted sounds of the town beginning to wake up.
We then headed off into the southern part of the island, called Ras Abu Rasas, where I make my campsite every year on the white beach sandwiched between the warm turquoise water and the black rocky hills.
Before reaching Rasas, I pulled my car over and reduced the tyre pressure. The sand on the beaches here is much softer than most deserts. As we approached the beach, we passed several rickety wooden shelters built by fishermen. On these simple structures, I glimpsed a variety of vultures (some seemed to be Egyptian) that seems to be a dominant species on the island.
As the weak morning sun broke through, I noticed a lot of seagulls circulating around the fishing harbour. A massive part of the shallow sea bottom had been uncovered and I could see the birds scavenging for food, such as small shellfish. I installed my long 500mm lens and approached as close as possible.
In the early afternoon, I headed to my favoured east coast to watch the open ocean’s waves crashing on the shore. This part of Masirah reminds me of the landscape described in Alexandre Dumas’s novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. I really love this part of Masirah. The wind was not very strong and only a couple of clouds floated in the sky. The contrast between the dark hills, the clouds and the shoreline, was the perfect combination and I got some great photographs. Trop was busy hunting crabs.
While chasing crustaceans distracted him, I made a small bonfire under a dark rocky overhang and cooked up a small meal of beef and rice, with hot coffee. Sleepy, I stretched out for a short nap but was awoken by Trop barking at a small creature between the rocks. We packed up and headed north.
The afternoon light was even better than the morning and visibility was absolutely magnificent. I could see far away parts of Masirah. The colours of nature – the blue of the sky and sea, the whiteness of the sand and the chocolate brown hue of the rocks – were so vivid.
I found a shortcut across the island through a wide stony wadi and reached the western part of the island again as sunset neared.
Near the iron tower, located a few kilometres before Ras Abu Rasas, I saw grey herons wading in the shallow water. Driving slowly onto the beach, I hid my car behind a big stone and, armed with one camera and a super telephoto lens, crawled towards the birds. I stopped around 40m away and waited, ready for the moment the birds took flight. It was one of my best shots of the day.
After sunset, we moved back to Rasas and went to sleep in my usual camping spot.
The next morning was so beautiful. Everything was quiet and illuminated by the gentle rays of the winter sun. After breakfast and a short walk with Trop, we made our way back to the ferry pier. Before leaving, I managed to take several shots of the fishing boats moored alongside the ferry station.
Without doubt, this, my tenth trip there, had been the best.
As we sailed back to the mainland, I watched the island of Masirah recede in the distance and vowed to return again very soon.
Getting to Masirah is very easy. Go to Sinaw (and be sure to refuel there). After Sinaw, drive to Mahout and turn left towards Shannah, which is around 90km away. In Shannah, you will find the ferry port. The cost of a one-way trip to Masirah is RO10 a car.
GPS location of Ras Abu Rasas: 20°10’1.26”N 58°38’15.06”E
A 4×4 is not compulsory as a tarmac road stretches along the entire island. However, if you do wish to explore the beaches or the rocky parts of Masirah, a sturdy 4×4 is required.