Located in the Arabian Gulf off the western coast of Abu Dhabi, just two and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi, you will find a collection of eight islands that is storehouse of natural beauty, historic aritifacts, exciting adventures and serene landscapes. Desert Islands or Jozor Al Sahra’a in Arabic encompass of Sir Bani Yas Island, Dalma Island and six Discovery Islands. These islands witnessed the birth and the growth of Abu Dhabi and were esteemed by the former president and late founding father of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Sir Bani Yas Island, is the biggest natural island in the United Arab Emirates, located few kms away from the shore of the Western region of Abu Dhabi. The reserve was set up in 1971 by the late ruler and founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It was under Sheikh Zayed’s patronage, several millions trees were planted and many animals species introduced to the island, like gazelle, oryx, llama, rhea, giraffe, and ostrich. Many thanks to decades of thorough conservation work and ecological investment, it is now abode of thousands of large free-roaming animals and several million trees and plants, also it has a fantastic bird sanctuary and wildlife reserve. Apart that, some new developments are planned for the Desert Islands, consisting of new lodges and activity centres. Work in going on with the aspiration of conservation and improving these islands for next generations.
On establishing this reserve it turned to become one of Arabia’s valued natural treasures. Sheik Zayed desired to share this endeavor with the world, and hence it was opened for tourists in the weekend in 2007. There are many ways to experience this park; you can explore it along with activities like adventure safaris, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, hiking and snorkeling, go on board on a nature & wildlife drive and see some of Arabia’s distinctive native animals, kayak through spectacular mangrove-filled waters or snorkel through the protected waters abundant with marine life. Now the government has gone further in realizing Sheikh Zayed’s legacy by establishing what is today known as the Desert Islands. Novel new plans brought together Sir BaniYas Island, and the neighbouring Dalma Island, along with six surrounding sandy outcrops into one striking destination. Development is going on and it is scheduled to be launched by 2015.
The origin of the name Sir BaniYas Island came from BaniYas tribe who was the original inhabitants of Abu Dhabi. The island is said to be created millions of years ago due to act of natural geological forces to create the ‘salt dome” island present today. Here the first human settlers set their foot several thousand years ago, long before people landed on what was soon to become the United Arab Emirates. There are considerable number of historical sites that consist of relics of Late Stone Age and early Islamic structures. It is also the site of the only pre-Islamic Christian site to be found in the UAE The 7th –century Christian Church; it was opened to the public in 2010. The site was discovered in 1992 and ever since it has received much attention as a place of archaelogicl investigation. Throughout Sir BaniYas thirty six archaeological sites have been discovered throwing light into the island’s history. Among it the oldest site is the remains of a Nestorian Christian monastery which dates back to the year 600 AD. These sites are now protected ones and when right time comes it will be part of the destination experience. The whole complex of the monastery consisting of a sanctuary, nave, chapel and tower, is now open to the public. Meanwhile excavation on the site will continue for several years. According to the latest estimate eight houses have unearthed and the archaeological team has recently started excavation a new structure adjacent to the main monastery building.
Located on the northwest reaches of Sir BaniYas Island, near to a lagoon, is the Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara with 64 rooms including six private lodges. There are also three restaurants, a spa, health club, and kid’s club and business facilities. You can visit the island on your own by chartering a boat from one of the rental companies; to stay overnight you are required to book in the hotel.
If you wish to drive, take the E11 highway directly from Abu Dhabi in the direction of Tarif and Mirfa. Go further until you pass Tarif, Mirfa and Baynoona. Follow the exit marked Al Ruwais( Exit 142) and travel further until you pass Al Ruwais, then follow signs to the right for Jebel Dhana and then for Sir Baniya Island. Next turn at the second U-turn from Jebel Dhana road and take the first right turn. At the end of the road there will be a round about. Pursue the Sir BaniYas/Desert Islands sign that will lead you to Jebel Dhana jetty. The guests will park their car in a safe covered area before embarking the water taxi for a 10-15 minute crossing to Sir BaniYas Island. It is given as complementary for guests of Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara. The timings are subject to day to day weather changes.