Riding The Dunes

When a supercharged 4x4 meets sorching super-dune, it's one hell of a sandstorm. Shield your eyes...
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When a supercharged 4x4 meets sorching super-dune, it's one hell of a sandstorm. Shield your eyes...

After two days of swerving, sliding and speeding across the Wahiba desert in a Range Rover, you begin to wonder if these living-rooms on wheels aren’t exactly what all this sand was meant for. Is there a better purpose for such a vast expanse of arid, empty, sun-scorched and - most importantly - sublimely contoured terrain? OK, yes, to the Bedu this is home, as it is to an unbelievable variety of flora and fauna that flourish in the extreme environment. But, really, there’s just so much of it. Dung beetles can’t need all this space.

A V8 Supercharged 4x4, on the other had, not only needs space but relishes it, a fact that the adventurous bods at Land Rover Expeditions understand only too well. Having taken tours across Argentine mountain ranges and icebound Icelandic plains, the 2008 trip is to Oman. And, it is here, in the Waaaaa!hiba as it soon becomes known, that we put our mega cars to the test.
Our adventure had begun in the elegant and serene confines of The Chedi hotel in Oman’s capital, Muscat. Climbing into our pristine vehicles and heading off along immaculate new motorways it was hard to imagine that just a few dozen miles down the road we’d be deep in the wilds, without a track never mind a motorway, and with no landmarks even showing up on our sat-nav screen.
The 2009 model Range Rovers comes equipped with every bell and whistle imaginable: air suspension, ABS, terrain response, traction control, dynamic stability control... the list goes on. How many of these are involved in making zipping over sand possible, and so enjoyable, is open to question. Fortunately, it’s not something the driver needs to answer. Just turn the terrain setting knob to Sand and it all happens for you. One minute you’re in a car that feels built for motorway driving, the next you’re in a three-ton desert devil (reducing the tyre pressure by around half, the only mechanical intervention necessary).

What was the sharpest dune? Who had got the most “air”?

The rocky outskirts of the desert (“Grass/Gravel/Snow setting, everyone!”) had its own thrills. But it was after lunch in an anything-but-hastily-erected camp - leaving civilisation clearly doesn’t have to mean foregoing life’s luxuries - we headed into the sands and the real attraction: miles and miles of empty dunes, ripe for the taking.
Finally the beast is unleashed. Spinning across the sands, leaping up massive banks, coursing down the other sides. Guided through the unmappable landscape by Suliman, a native of the Wahiba who is able to read the ever-moving sands, we take on ever-steeper ascents, and more stomach-churning descents. Forget the rules of the road, this driving is lawless.

As daylight faded we headed for our camp, where over whisky, Bedu bread and hookah pipes, we compared notes: who had been dug, pulled or hoisted out of the sand most often? What was the sharpest dune? Who had got the most “air”? Fit for the Sultan, who himself surveys his country from the seat of a Range Rover, albeit stretch, bulletproof and sprayed his own shade of green, our home for the night was a glorious collection of safari tents complete with beds, dining table for 20, chill-out zone and showers. If I’d been told there was air-con, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
On the flight back to Heathrow, the land below took on a whole new meaning with one question repeating itself in the back of my mind: “Could I take that on in a Range Rover?”

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