The Corniche is a sight to behold. Walking down the perfectly combed beach along its 8km waterfront, several spectacular landmarks are in full view.
It’s almost 6pm and a loudspeaker on the embankment blares loudly, informing bathers that it is time to get out of the water.
It seems there is a beach curfew in these parts.
Abu Dhabi is a city that’s sprung up practically out of nowhere, owing to the vast oil reserves discovered here half a century ago.
Today the city, which was recently but a desolate desert, combines the old and the new, traditional and modern, to form a truly world-class city.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is the richest of all the emirates with roughly 10% of the world’s known oil supply.
Evidence of its rapid urbanisation is clear from the construction work being undertaken throughout the city.
On our drive from the airport to Park Hyatt Saadiyat Island Hotel, there seemed to be construction men and women everywhere, working on various building projects.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful, our guide explains, making moving around the city relatively simple. The city is also easy to get around by foot or by bicycle, which you can hire through bicycle sharing.
The Park Hyatt, our hotel for the opening night of our tour, is a majestic and luxurious hotel. After settling into our rooms, we’re taken on a tour of the premises.
A lounge area near the lobby is a popular place for guests to relax and indulge in some high tea while playing chess or reading a book. The hotel also has a spa area, a free gym for guests and, of course, free wi-fi.
The pool area is vast and elegant, and the beach, a short walk from the hotel, is a serene place to hang out and enjoy some downtime.
Arabella, the hotel’s marine biologist, talked us through the gulf’s marine eco-system. Its shallow waters, which is an average depth of just 35 metres, is home to some endemic marine life, including the hawksbill turtle, a critically endangered sea turtle.
On our second day, we visited the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which offers visitors an experience of the world of the falcon, the UAE’s most prominent and symbolic bird.
Our interactive tour, led by a charismatic guide, gave us insight into its mechanisms and some background on the importance of the falcon in this region.
Then there was the massive Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the iconic Italian brand’s first theme park. It boasts the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa - it reaches speeds of up to 240km/* - and several other interesting rides. I was too scared to try any.
Abu Dhabi holds several other silly and quirky architectural distinctions.
These include the roundest building in the world, the Aldar headquarter building, and the farthest man-made leaning building, Capital Gate.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of Abu Dhabi’s most important buildings.
Built in memory of the founding father of the UAE and its first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, this formidable architectural wonder is truly spectacular.
It has a capacity of over 40 000 and was largely constructed using marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.
The sun gleams off the marble floors and walls, making the entire building shimmer during the day. Sunglasses are a useful accessory here.
During our kayaking experience in the mangroves the following morning, we got to experience the region’s unique marine eco-system, as well as several different bird species flying about.
It’s a punishing journey down the mangroves by kayak.
The cuisine of Abu Dhabi was a highlight of our trip. The food was fresh, colourful and full of flavour, the portions were generous (perhaps too generous) and the diversity of the dishes was incredible.
Our final day in Abu Dhabi was perhaps our most epic.
After we dropped our bags off at the Southern Sun Abu Dhabi, we went on a 90-minute drive to Al Ain, a Unesco World Heritage Site which is known for being one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements.
Visits to the Al Ain National Museum offered some insight into the region’s rich cultural history. To cap off a memorable trip after we were done in Al Ain, we took a detour and drove up a winding road to the peak of a hill straddling Oman.
Here, we took a moment to enjoy the breathtaking view of the landscape down below, the city centre on the horizon and the extraordinary sense of peace that seemed to shelter the city.
The perfect end to a perfect trip.