A few minutes earlier we were in Abu Dhabi, a noisy, bustling metropolis of high rise concrete, fast cars and muezzins. But here among the mangroves it was calm and peaceful, and there was no sound apart from the gentle swish of paddles.
Learning to Paddle
Five minutes after setting off I started to wonder if this was a good idea. I was wet through and I was discovering muscles I never knew I had. “Don’t forget to push as well as pulling,” said my daughter Victoria, who was paddling vigorously in the back of the double kayak. To my surprise, this made it much easier.
Once I had found my rhythm I relaxed a little and started to enjoy the scenery. Leaving the towers of Abu Dhabi behind us, we moved out to sea and towards the mangrove swamps. A heron flew past, and then another. The guide paddled up to us and pointed out little black crabs climbing up the sand banks and fish of all sizes swimming beneath our kayaks. The mangroves are a perfect environment for animal life, he told us, and 70% of all Abu Dhabi’s fish species originated here.
A striated heron was sitting under a tree. “It fishes like a human,” said the guide, explaining that the bird chooses its bait according to what it wants to catch. Sometimes it uses a fly and sometimes one of its own feathers.
Paddling into the Swamp
It was time to go into the swamp. “Hard or easy?” asked our guide. “Hard means narrow.” Perhaps rashly, we opted for hard and paddled through the mangroves. We tried to navigate a way between the tangled roots, and when we got stuck in the branches of a tree I found myself using the paddle like a punt pole, pushing the kayak away from the edge. But then we paused for a moment and glided through the quiet waters. I leant back, feeling the early morning sun on my face, and I was overcome by a sense of peace.
A Desert Island
We left the mangroves and headed back to the open water, towards an island in the middle of the lagoon. We climbed out of our kayaks and on to the sandy bank, glad of a brief respite from paddling. This is a strictly controlled environmental area, with wildlife including foxes and turtles as well as fish and birds, although all we saw was a blue crab which wiggled wildly in the guide’s hand as he picked it up.
We wandered around the island and the guide stopped to pick a sprig of the samphire which grows everywhere. We nibbled it cautiously; unsurprisingly it tastes salty. Some of the other kayakers had taken the opportunity to swim in the clear water, but we returned to our boats. It was time to head back to the shore and find something to eat. For once, I really felt I had earnt my breakfast!
Kayyaking Through the Mangroves: A Few Practicalities
- Both single and double kayaks are available. A double kayak may be preferable if you have never kayakked before – it allows both of you to have the occasional rest. The stronger person should sit in the back.
- Beginners are given a brief demonstration of paddling technique before setting off.
- It can get very hot so try to go as early in the morning as possible. Make sure you have sun cream and a tight fitting hat.
- Valuables can be left at the jetty before you set off. You will get very wet, so wear old clothes and shoes and, if you take your camera, carry it in a waterproof bag.
- Double kayaks have a small seat in the middle which a child can sit on, but children do not paddle.
- Kayak tours can be booked through the Noukhada Adventure Company, and leave from a jetty near to the Eastern Mangroves.