Each year in Liwa, there is a month long festival that kicks off with two days of petrol inspired mayhem featuring one of the tallest sand dunes in the world.

The Liwa Oasis consists of a series of villages lying just north of the Rub Al Khali desert. It’s two hours thereabouts from the city of Abu Dhabi. The area, famed for date farming, contains the southernmost settlements of the UAE.

Driving there from the city will see you cross the Tropic of Cancer. The highway narrows down to two lanes surrounded by wind scoured dunes, so splendid, they were used as the location for Villeneuve’s film version of, Dune.

The Moreeb Dune lies about fourteen miles south of Muzayri, the economic centre for the region. Two lane highway takes you all the way there through some tremendous scenery.

We turned up with little or no knowledge of the event and were soon laughing at the ordered chaos we encountered. Happy bikers were pulling wheelies as they passed us. Lads on neon lit quad bikes swooped in and out of the traffic lanes. Monster dune buggies ripped alongside the tarmac on the sand verge. The sight of Moreeb dune from the road ( Tel Moreeb in Arabic, roughly translated means dune of horror) was a’ whoa’ moment.

The incline is somewhere between forty and fifty degrees. From sea level it climbs to around 300m or 980 feet. Measured from the valley floor, estimates vary. There is an easier path to the top along one side, allowing people to reach the summit for picnic purposes, but the real blades jostle to take on the steepest ascent adjoining the road.

Opposite Moreeb, rows of tents stretched up the neighbouring hills and across the valley. You can camp here if you like, just don’t expect a quiet night under the stars, as the dune bashing goes on long into the wee hours. An entire pop up village with parking and pavement sits at the centre of the valley. Throughout the summer months when temperatures can reach over fifty degrees centigrade, only the road, tiled pavements and power hookups remain, often smothered by shifting sands. Each winter, for the month long festival the sand is swept and a village of trailers and assembled huts appears, offering everything from laundry, and haircuts, to seafood, served on a classic Routemaster bus. Next to the dune there’s a row of temporary garages able to fix your sand scorcher, or sell you a luxury SUV. Some of the dune buggies like this Buckshot X6, complete with LS2 or LS3 engine are $100,000- plus machines.

My favourite was the classic Toyota lurking outside one of the garages.

As night fell, fireworks bloomed over the valley. Those on Moreeb turned on their lights and kept sand plugging. We headed past the coffee stalls to a mini drag strip, joining the crowds on a convenient sand berm to watch the free drifters, featuring insanely happy locals beating the living snot out of their tuned and enhanced cars and trucks. Aided by skinny tyres, bouncing off the rev limiter, they put on a flame spitting, rubber shedding display that could be compared to violent dressage, for cars. One chap smoked his tyres for the length of the track before making the return journey in reverse, conducting multiple J turns. 

The sand next to this arena was full of vehicles waiting their turn for a bout of manic peacocking, Car transporters and trailers sported raggedy, rubber splattered JDM classics. and deafening. modded SUVs of all descriptions. We wandered amongst the cars in the dark tripping over jackstands and dodging mad lads on speeding quadbikes lit only by under glow, Health and Safety? No thanks, we’re having too much fun.

A big thankyou to these guys, who gave us a demo of their ear splitting truck, popping flames.

I should have a picture of that, but I wasn’t expecting just how far those flames went, and was forced to backpedal until I landed on my derriere. I have a lovely close up of some sand, if you want to see it.

Parked at a pavement cafe on the boulevard, we became mesmerised by the lights and neon of the dune buggies and quads charging the dune above us. A constant flow of 4x4s and sand raiding ATVs slowly paraded past . Snatches of Arabic music and rap, pulsed from the vehicles. Hanging out of the windows and sunroofs, excited kids and exuberant ‘youfs, waved flags.
Along the valley road the illuminations were turned on. Blackpool in the desert, with derestricted motors, spinal tap decibels, and happy, friendly people, burning octane and rubber in a carnival of off- road delights. Long may it continue.

images Steve Swanson

About The Author

Steve Swanson

Steve turns any opportunity to write about cars into a roadtrip. It's seen him ride shotgun in a Bentley Blower with Clive Cussler, and cross paths with automotive YouTubers in Canada and the US. His work has been published in Magneto, Classic Cars, Classic American and some magazines that no MotorPunk reader has ever heard of. When he's not writing or driving you can find him kicking tyres at seedy auctions and hawking junk optimistically described as Automobilia

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