A flock of pink flamingoes took flight as our seaplane skimmed over the crystal clear waters of Ajman’s tidal lagoon. Nestled between lush green wetlands lies the nature reserve of Al Zorah, home to one million square metres of the emirate’s ecologically rich mangrove forest.
The area, we’ve been told, had been shut off from human interference for nearly seven years to allow the protected wetlands to thrive into a rich biological ecosystem. Today, you can find nearly 58 species of birds and over 100 types of flora flourishing in the diverse environment.
However, unbeknown to most, the area is also mushrooming into an adventure destination for thrill-seekers. Water sports, including expeditions into the mangroves, allow UAE residents to explore activities that take them beyond the concrete jungle. With a spurt of adrenaline, Gulf News tabloid! took the plunge to explore Al Zorah’s many exploits.
Kayaking/canoeing through the mangroves
For those of you who haven’t gotten their feet wet in a while, this little adventure glides you through the shimmering waters of the tidal lagoon, allowing you to explore its diverse flora and fauna up close.
A two-to-three-seater canoe or kayak will ferry you deep into the mangroves, as a nature guide takes you on a tour of the inhabitants of the forest.
A kayak is perhaps a better option for those of you who prefer to explore deeper into the forest, with the low and high tides giving a different feel to what the landscape and its rich treasures have to offer.
Wakeboarding in the lagoon
If the kayaking experience appears a bit tame for thrill-seekers, then the wakeboarding challenge turns things up a notch — or three. For those not in the know, the sport is a lot like water skiing, with the only difference being the skis are replaced with a board. However, the Wake Park lagoon at Al Zorah sees the boys and girls at Quest for Adventure employ a cable pulley system to make things a little more user-friendly and controlled and to allow novice wakeboarders to ease into the sport.
Don’t think wakeboarding is quite what you bargained for? Stand-up paddleboarding is another fun activity that allows you to get your feet wet — figuratively and literally — as you paddle across the lagoon balancing yourself on a surf board while watching the majestic flamingoes in the distance.
Step aboard the Jalboot and plunge into a tradition that has withstood the test of time for nearly 7,000 years according to historic records. The Ajman Pearl takes the curious and the adventurous on a sailing expedition, where Arabian hospitality and traditions are brought to the fore. As you sail past the mangroves, a nature guide takes you through the history of the UAE’s courtship with pearl diving, before an oyster-opening demonstration. You also have the opportunity to cut open an oyster yourself and keep the pearl nestled within.
For the less adventurous
Not sure if plunging into the water is quite your thing? Try teeing off on the green at the 18-hole Nicklaus Design championship golf course, which looks over the mangroves and gives you a feel of the nature reserve without chartering a kayak to get you there.
The Oberoi Beach Resort also offers a luxury break with a day at the beach or the pool with service on standby.
Otherwise, rent a bicycle and explore Marina 1, which Imad Dana, CEO, Al Zorah Development Company describes as an “idyllic waterfront destination with a unique blend of leisure and entertainment facilities, plus a collection of restaurants and lounges.
“Additionally, the 37-metre luxury yacht, Nordic Star is available for charter for a variety of purposes, from dockside business meetings to full-day excursions, or weekend cruises.”
Wakeboarding in Ajman: A first-person account
Plunging into the icy cold waters of Al Zorah’s lagoon was not exactly how I had planned on spending a calm and peaceful excursion into Ajman’s lush nature mangrove reserve. Neither was coughing up nearly a gallon of salt water.
Yet there I was, standing on the pier of Al Zorah’s Wake Park, trying to lift my dropped jaw off the sun-kissed tarmac as I attempted to understand the basic intricacies of wakeboarding.
How I got there is anybody’s guess, but as Quest for Adventure’s Brian Parry explained: “Wakeboarding is actually quite a simple sport and we guarantee by the end of a session you will be flying.”
Twenty minutes later and resembling a drowned rat, I wasn’t so sure. Wakeboarding as a sport has a pretty basic premise: strap your feet into a board’s harness, lay back in the water with a rope in hand and let the (in this case) cable pull you into a standing position as you gradually start skiing over the surface of the water. Practically flying if you may.
The trick here is to carefully follow instructions and time your crouching tiger, launching cheetah moves down to the precise second. Unfortunately for me, timing — as I discovered — was not my strongest point. Nor was balance, for that matter.
Shy off 30 minutes and half of Ajman Creek cradled in my lungs, I finally had lift off… for all of five seconds. Yet, that feeling of elation was enough for me to call this mission a resounding success and signal for my extraction.
With the sun overhead and the body still in the dark for the pain that was to come 24 hours later, we scrambled into the canoes that would ferry us into the mangroves where our kayaks awaited for the journey ahead.
The species of mangrove found in Al Zorah is called the Avicennia marina, commonly known as the grey or white mangrove, we are told. The trees grow to a height of three to 10 metres and eventually becomes a home for a large variety of rare or migratory birds — close to 58 different species inhabit this ecosystem.
Even as the herons and egrets were animatedly pointed out, the eyes craned for the evasive flock of flamingoes that we had spotted from the plane ride over. However, due to the nature reserve’s strict diktat towards sustaining the ecosystem, tours aboard the kayak are limited from venturing into the waters that are considered a safe zone by the majestic birds.
The straight course across the waters soon took a turn, as we guided our kayaks deeper into the mangrove trees, with the low tide allowing us to look down to the very floor of the lagoon and discover the thriving marine life.
While you can have a pick between embarking on this tour during low or high tide, we would recommend the hour close to sunset that gives the landscape an almost surreal appeal.
There, in those quiet moments out over the calm waters of the lagoon, it was hard to fathom that the bustle of Dubai’s stressful pace was just a short drive away.
For those who want to have a go at the kayak tour of the mangroves, busy season lasts until May. Although, the rising mercury these days could make that April this year.
No previous experience is required to head for a kayaking adventure, but be advised that some upper body strength does come in handy when embarking on a 90-minute adventure with just an oar to guide you along.
Mangrove tours are priced at Dh150 for adults and Dh130 for children under 12 years. Each trip, including safety instructions, lasts two hours. Wakeboarding lessons start at Dh100.
Fly to Ajman
Al Zorah has tied up with Seawings to extend the adventure with a seaplane flight that takes off from Dubai Creek, offering a 20-minute aerial tour of the emirate’s glittering skyline and its traditional trading route, before banking north towards Ajman.
Pro trip: Opt for the rear couple seats, which offer an unobstructed view of the vista from both sides of the plane. And do keep those cameras handy, especially when the seaplane flies over the mangroves. The opportunity to see those flamingoes in flight can never be more perfect.