Island hopping in….Abu Dhabi

Think of Abu Dhabi and endless desert comes to mind. That and a goldmine of oil fields.

What comes as an unexpected yet welcome surprise is the Emirate’s in fact booming hospitality industry, cultural development and rich wildlife.

With nearly 200 islands lying off its shores, Abu Dhabi is the latest and certainly most glamorous destination for island hopping – without the monotonous cliché of just sand, sun and sea at every stop.

Take Yas Island, home to the new Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In true Emirati style, this circuit is destined to be the Monaco of the Middle East, with everything bigger, better and oh-so-decadent. The island also offers numerous adrenaline rushes, with a Ferrari Theme Park, a water park, several world-class golf courses and polo grounds. About 130km west of Abu Dhabi lies Bu Tinah, part of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, the first in the region to be recognized by UNESCO and a contender for the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’. With a rich marine ecosystem and towering mangroves, Bu Tinah is home to a number of rare species, including the endangered hawksbill sea turtle, over 800 dugongs and the occasional Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.

For those in search of safari adventures, Sir Bani Yas Island offers a unique experience: originally the private sanctuary of the late ruler and founder of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the island now offers those in search of the novel the chance to explore, with game drives, guided walks and mountain biking through the desert hinterlands as well as luxurious accommodation at Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara.

With over half the island devoted to a wildlife reserve as well as a bird sanctuary, visitors will encounter a myriad of free-roaming animals – different sub-species of rare gazelles and antelope, herds of spotted deer, the strange Barbary sheep (a species of goat-antelope native to Africa), mesmerizing flocks of white flamingos at sunrise and the prized Arabian oryx, found only on Sir Bani Yas.

With the Emirate’s latest project – the massive, multi-billion dollar development on Saadiyat Island – already underway, Abu Dhabi is set to become the art centre of the East, with a planned Louvre and Guggenheim Museum, again the masterpiece of Frank Gehry. With so many gems to offer, a relatively untouched archipelagic haven surrounded by turquoise waters and unrivalled in decadence and luxury, Abu Dhabi is well on its way to becoming the destination – the new playground of the adventurous elite.

Maddox G. Raphoya is a travel writer based in Thailand and writing about luxury resorts, hotels and travel worldwide.