It’s 5am and the tents scattered throughout the 1000 Nights Sharqiya Sands Camp in Oman are just shadowy shapes in the darkness. There’s no moon and, oddly for somewhere so remote, not as many stars as you’d expect.
There’s a small light on in the main foyer but that’s about it, the rest of the camp is silent and dark. I am, it seems, alone in the desire to climb the huge sand dune behind the camp to watch the sunrise.
Using reception as a lodestar I follow a faint path through the resort and quickly find myself at the base of the dune. In the pre-dawn penumbra it looks sombre and somewhat daunting, rising abruptly upwards like the side of some featureless pyramid.
Oh well, I’m here now.
* Muscat, Oman: The perfect destination for first-timers to the Middle East
* Ask an expert: A week in Oman
* Camping out in the Omani desert
The sand is cold from the night-time temperature plummet and falls away easily underfoot, making the ascent harder than it looks. Before long I realise that the easiest method is just to plug away on hands and knees, crawling awkwardly up the face of it like some big toddler.
Halfway up I stop to rest. It’s hard work, this dune climbing lark, but there’s a faint glister of light in the east so I’d better get a wriggle on if I don’t want to miss the dawn.
At the summit I come across a family of four from the Netherlands, and two women from my own group, but continue along the sharply defined ridge until I find my own little spot. Call me anti-social but this is one moment I want to myself.
The Sharqiya Sands desert – also known as Wahiba Sands – is just a three-hour drive from Muscat, the capital. The roads in Oman are impeccably modern but once you hit the desert all that changes and, suddenly, you’re bouncing up the sort of dunes that would make Lawrence of Arabia green with envy.
The desert here is about 180 kilometres north to south and 80 kilometres east to west. Apart from a few tourist resorts such as the 1000 Nights, there are no permanent settlements, only temporary Bedouin camps (one of which we had lunch in yesterday on the way here).
There are several types of accommodation at the camp, from luxurious two-storey Sand Houses with airconditioning to glamping “tents” and on down to simple four-metre-square Arabic-style tents with shared bathroom. There are early evening camel rides available, and 4WD trips out into the desert to watch the sunset, which we did with our guide Said al Salti.
Somehow this feels more real, as if by struggling up the dune, alone, in the early morning chill, I deserve it more.
When the sun does finally poke its head over the dunes opposite, it’s not just the sky that lights up – a breathtaking ocean of wave after golden wave is revealed, flowing right to the horizon in every direction.
I can only sit in silence, marvelling at this seeming infinity of magically unmarked dunes, shaped and crafted by overnight winds into ethereal shapes, colours and textures.
It takes me a long time to come down, in more ways than one.
Keith Austin travelled as a guest of Peregrine Adventures.
Emirates has daily flights to Muscat via Dubai from New Zealand. See emirates.com
Peregrine Adventures’ seven-day Taste of Oman tour starts and ends in Muscat and includes fishing villages, souks, the oasis of Wadi Bani Khaled, a night in Wahiba Sands and the Jebel Akhdar mountains. Prices from $3395 a person twin share. See peregrineadventures.com