Exploring The Emirates » Sir Bani Yas Island home to Arabia’s largest wildlife reserve

Sir Bani Yas Island home to Arabia’s largest wildlife reserve

Baniyas4 jpgThis month, we start a new series of articles regarding different places to explore in the UAE. I personally had warm nostalgic pangs of revisiting Sir Bani Yas Island in the western region of Abu Dhabi. The island was originally home to Arabia's largest wildlife reserve and was established in 1977 by HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.


I last visited the island around 20 years ago as part of a educational scheme initiated by HH Sheikh Zayed the UAE President at that time which was taken up by Fujairah Private Academy to teach students about the history of the UAE and to promote ecological projects.


The changes are quite remarkable although the memories were good of the past visit, it was nice to see Sheikh Zayed's vision still being followed after to decades of conservation work and ecological investment. It is now home to thousands of large free-roaming animals and several million trees and plants and it now has a bird sanctuary.


The journey itself was quite straight forward and the use of Google Maps or Waze apps are invaluable now that the infrastructure around Abu Dhabi has changed so much.


Plan your own trip but to keep it simple head towards Abu Dhabi and veer off at old Shahama in the direction of the Saudi Arabia border on the E11. Keep following the coast/truck road which is currently being upgraded and the signs for Jebel Dhanna jetty which is about 20 kms after the Al Ruwais oil fields. From there you take a boat ride


The waiting room was a pleasant air conditioned room and the check in process is completed here. You leave your vehicle in the undercover parking and your bags are taken to the boat for you. The air conditioned ferry is extremely comfortable and you should check the website for the times and days you are travelling. The trip itself is a comfortable 4½ to 5 hours. The ferry ride is approx 20 minutes and is included in the price of the hotel stay. Once the ferry has docked and you have disembarked, the first thing everyone must do is walk through a wet area sterilize your shoes, to prevent disease reaching the wildlife. We were then whisked away by a 4x4 to the north side of the island where luxury awaited us in the form of the Desert Islands Resort.


We booked the trip through Desert Island Resorts & Spa by Anantara website which has the choice of staying in their hotel or booking their private lodges. Anantara is a Abu Dhabi Government scheme and is sensitive to the Islands ecological principles.


We used a discounted offer as we visited in the hot summer months whereby the costs are  considerably lower but we did benefit from and less visitors and with air conditioning it was all  very enjoyable.


The hospitality side of the trip is five star excellence and all services provided are professional. A variety of restaurants and some very romantic dining options.


After check in we were asked to chose from some amazing activities, literally there is something for everyone with history and culture tours, kayaking, diving, snorkelling, horse riding, archery, nature walks, wildlife safaris and mountain biking and much more. It was part of our special offer from booking on their website to have a heavily discounted activity included. 


I was quite keen to try the kayaking through the beautiful mangroves that were planted many years ago as they looked amazing and they are teeming with marine life. Maybe my next visit!


To explore the island we chose the Wildlife Safari and purposely chose the early morning drive at 6.30 am because it would be cooler but also to because all the wildlife would be more active and with over 15,000 animals from 30 different species, we wanted to spot as many as possible.


Baniyas1 jpgAnd wildlife is literally everywhere on the island, and even before venturing behind the gates of the wildlife park we saw plenty of Sand Gazelles and Arabian Hyrax to name only a couple and once you go beyond the gates, you're surrounded by thousands of beasts including Arabian Oryx, Barbary Sheep, Mountain Gazelles, Giraffes and Cheetahs.


Many will wonder what animals like cheetah and giraffes are doing on such an island in the UAE, but as explained on the tour, and there’s even a conservation tour for those who are specifically interested in more of the details about the work being done here. Often animals are presented to Sheikhs as a goodwill gift from another country, and some of them have been homed alongside of the indigenous animals as part of the conservation project of the island.


What's great is that these animals are extremely content with the Bani Yas environment and are on breeding on the island. As Haleem told us that 4 donated giraffe have become 38.


Haleem our guide on Wildlife Safari was extremely knowledgeable and friendly and even extended our the safari in order to find the cheetahs who were lying around in the undergrowth like cheetahs do. He offered so much information about the animals but he was also told us of the history of Bani Yas and we felt like we had had the cultural tour at the same time. Among the thirty-six archaeological sites that have been discovered throughout Sir Bani Yas Island is an ancient Christian Monastery dating back to 600AD and is currently being carefully preserved. 


It is worth researching Bani Yas Islands history yourself, you will be amazed of the links with the ruling Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi and also the Al Maktoums of Dubai. 


Sir Bani Yas Island is 17.5 kms long 9 kms wide totally 87kms. All efforts for sustainability are on view from solar panels for the staff quarters to the large wind turbine at the ferry post which generates 850 kilowatts of energy to contribute towards but not all the islands needs but a substantial amount but Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy company Masdar and Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) has declared plans to raise wind production capacity to 30 megawatts which will increase the amount whereby the island will be self sufficient.


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The planting of a millions of trees under Sheikh Zayed’s vision have provided a safe haven for all wildlife on the Island early visitors the British and Venetians spoke of an amazing amount or pearls around the island and large self deposits which is not surprising has the island is literally a salt dome in the sea, this no doubts to why the ruling Baniyas tribe used it commercially and also as a safe haven of tranquility.


The largest island in the UAE next to Dalma island it is place worthy of a visit and if you don't want to stay overnight there are options for day visits, although that's still a very long drive from Fujairah but there are much cheaper hotels on the mainland close to the ferry port such as Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort and Dhafra Beach Hotel.


If you really want to splurge, or don’t have much time, there are daily flights from Abu Dhabi with Rotana Jet or Seawings do a Private Charter flight which takes a little over an hour.


Find out more about the island: http://www.sirbaniyasisland.com/


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