Mushrif Park has an unusual charm. Located off the Khawaneej Road, past Mirdiff, between the Emirates and Dubai bypass roads, it is literally a surprise.

Firstly, it is the only park in Dubai that is so big that you need to drive through it, so car lovers are very welcome. Secondly, at first glance there is little difference between the park and the scrubby desert that surrounds it.

On my first visit to the park, I stayed in and around the picnic areas, which are filled with trees and wild plants native to this region. How nice it was to park the car and feel like I was going for a walk in the desert wilderness.

Some might look at it and see nothing special. But for me, used to walking in big outdoor spaces, an area free of concrete and signs of man, was a real treat. I spotted at least a dozen different species of birds on my walk and all sorts of desert flora.

My second visit was in the capacity of photographer, so I explored a little more widely, easily finding the miniature
international village, housing child-sized traditional structures from all over the world.

Beside the village is a large aviary housing fancy pigeons, a peacock and various other birds which I recognise but can't name. They share their home with fluffy rabbits, a delight for children.

There are a couple of large children's play areas, including a fun park with amusement rides, though they didn't seem to be open to the public when I was there.

Full of surprises

It is out behind the amusements that the surprises of the park begin to show their face. Though not signposted, I discovered lovely sculpted rock gardens with little rivers running through. One led to another as I walked for kilometres through the park.

Eventually I stumbled upon a petting zoo and a stable, where children were taking part in riding lessons, riding Arabians
around in a paddock as they practised their trotting.

Who knew how much Mushrif Park had to offer? After filling up my memory cards with photos from the massive area, I began the long walk back to my car, past a Malik Burger restaurant to feed hungry bellies and two 25-metre swimming pools, separated into men's and women's areas and hidden from direct view if you crave some cooling off away from the eyes of the opposite sex.

It costs Dh10 per car to enter the park.