Khaluf Beach and Qarn Aswad

October 2006 (English only)

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Simple beaching at Khaluf and exploring a very old volcanic plug at Qarn Aswad (Ashwad). 

Three days traveling, two nights camping.

The second half of the 2006 Eid holiday we joined the Kruif, Maarseveen, Wassing and Welling families that had been camping at Jabal Madmar and at the rudist 'reef' in the Huqf. We would meet them at Khaluf, which is a stiff 4 1/2 hour drive from Muscat. Leaving at around 8:30 from Muscat we drove onto the beach by 13:00 hrs, catching-up some time avoiding the soft sand by driving on the beach. The rest of the group had been digging through the low coastal dunes, which is fun for some.
Muscat, BidBid, Sinaw, Hayy, Khaluf.

 One way distance about 450 km.

How to get there: take motorway from Muscat in direction of Nizwa and turn-off at BidBid (towards Sur). At Roda Shell Petrol station (22 54 44.29 N - 58 15 48.58 E WGS84) turn right, to Sinaw. At Sinaw roundabout (near Shell petrol station, 22 30 17.22 N - 58 1 58.83 E) turn south (left) and drive through the centre of the town (straight across all small roundabouts). Enjoy the scenery as it will get dull driving from here onwards. Jabal Madar (the whaleback to your left) is the last bump before the flat gravel plains. The road follows wadi Andam, the longest wadi in Oman, and crosses it several times. That's where you will find a few trees and shade to have a picnic, but only after a monotonous drive south. On a clear day you will see the Wahiba sands to your left. There are no petrol stations for about 125 km south of Sinaw, but after that they come within 30 km. The one closest to Khaluf is at Hayy, at the crossing of the new road coming from Ghaba and the road to the Masirah ferry. From Hayy it is about 31km to the junction to Khaluf (which is clearly signposted @ 20 39 8.78 N - 58 1 50.15 E). The road to Khaluf is now completely Tarmac, which makes easy driving compared to only a few years ago. The route is scenic crossing white areas with small sand dunes. To get to the beach in Khaluf is not straightforward and that's why you will find a small sketch map below, describing the main tricks.

Detail satellite image, junction to Khaluf at 20 39 8.78 N - 58 1 50.15 E (WGS84)

Detail sketch map Khaluf. To get on the right track in Khaluf is simple if you know which track to take, otherwise you will have to enjoy a bit of scenic driving between the many huts and boats. Follow the tarmac road into Khaluf. It ends in front of the school but you should turn right before reaching the school (point 1 on map: 20 28 20.62  N - 58 3 50.06 E WGS 84). The tarmac road runs-out after a short distance. Follow the graded road that winds its way between the huts. You pass an area with many wells. The track gradually turns south. The trick is to keep close to the hills at your left side. The track forks many times and if you turn right before reaching the beach you will have to dig through soft sand. If you hit the beach at point 2 (20 26 59.54 N - 58 2 45.31) you will be able to drive to your camping spot between soft beach and soft dune sands. Otherwise good luck.

Approaching Khaluf it gets sandier and sandier

The wide beach at low tide makes for great golfing training as Sander is showing-off in the blazing sun.

Bertram Thomas on Khaluf in 1929

"Khaluf is an unprepossessing collection of mud huts on a bare repellent plain with a sea-front of perhaps half a mile, off which a few fishing badans may be at anchor. The plain runs back a mile in depth , surrounded by low  flat shale hills. Fishermen sit everywhere making nets and smoking a short clay pipe, for the Western Janaba, being Shafis, may use tobacco. The fish they catch are chiefly shark and 'qanad'. The fins and tails of the former are sent to China, where they command a high price and make an epicurean soup: the flesh of the latter is salted and exported to the interior, to Zanzibar and to Mukalla.

My camels arrived on the 16th, and also Luwaiti, a Harsusi 'rafiq'. The following day we left Khaluf by the back of the town, the shaik's brother giving me his camel to ride, and crossing a ridge behind Ras Khaluf (R. Abana of charts), descending to the seashore on the far side. Under a strong sun we continued thus for two hours, low white sand-hills coming down close to the beach. Our progress was slow......"

Except for some modern buildings, the school, a new housing area, and of course the satellite dishes on some huts, this description is very much the same today. The white sands along the beaches beyond Khaluf still make slow progress, even with powerful 4WD cars.

Without trees it is important to shelter for the sun to avoid being roasted. Our sunshelter consist of the standard mesh with on top a large cloth which protects against most of the UV

A beach popular with hill-building crabs. The conical sand-dumps are almost perfect circular a shaply pointed. Plenty around, keeping a few metres seperate

Qarn Aswad

A volcanic plug in the middle of extensive sand flats not far from Khaluf. There are two other plugs in the area but this is the nicest one to visit.

From the junction to Khaluf it is only 25.5km south to get to the start of the track leading to Qarn Aswad (the black hill). Roadbuilding has erased wide zones along the road and you have to carefully check the start of the track @ 20 28 36.02 N 57 52 51.59 E WGS84. Definitely use the track as most of the flat area is covered by a layer of soft sand and part of it is a sabkha as you can see from the photographs below. The shortest route is not the fastest! The black hills of Qarn Aswad are clearly visble as balck spiky cones in the middle of the yellow sandflats ahead. The ridges to the left have nice regular cycles of the Precambrian Shuram Formation and the massive cliffs behind the Shuram consists of carbonates of the Buah Formation. Follow the track for about 7 km. By then you should be very close to Qarn Aswad. Turn left following some tracks and avoiding the sand dunes that drape around the black cones.

Qarn Aswad. Photograph taken towards the east. Notice the rim of black rocks with a low centre. Along the northern rim one can see the black igneous rocks in contact with rocks of the surrounding Shuram Formation

Black rocks partly below a yellow blanket of sand. Exploring this area is like walking in fresh snow.

Sander on the rim of Qarn Aswad, looking south over the vast sandy sabkha plain beyond.

Qarn Aswad: a bit of geology

Qarn Aswad consists of dense black mafic rocks that form a roughly elliptical ridge measuring some 300 m by 150 m around a low central area in which there are few rocks and mostly draped with sand. The discordant contact between the bedded shales of the Precambrian Shuram Formation and the black igneous rocks can be seen along the northeastern part of the ridge. There is also a narrow zone of contact metamorphism where the shales have been baked by the heat of the igneous rocks. At the edge of the central low area one can also observe volcanic breccia. Where exposed, dips of the contact are shallow to moderate and appear to be radial to the core of the structure. From these observations the shape of the igneous rock body is inferred to be lensoid, with local updoming of the Shuram rocks by a rising plug of mafic magma accompanied by lateral intrusion into the updomed sediments.

Mineralogically the rocks consist of abundant microphenocrysts of lath-like, red-brown sieved and castellated phlogopite, euhedral laths of colorless clinopyroxene, and olivine microphenocrysts partly or completely altered to a pale-colored serpentine. The groundmass contains lath-like K-feldspar, abundant granular ilmenite and colorless glass. The rock also contains euhedral to rounded pseudomorphed phenocrysts of brown amphibole locally in reaction relationship with clinopyroxene.

Geochemically the rocks are undersaturated (SiO2: 44.42 to 46.67 weight percentage [wt%]) and alkaline, with total alkalis ranging from 6.65 to 7.60 wt%. K2O values range from 3.63 to 5.02 wt% and Na2O from 2.51 to 3.45 wt%. K2O/ Na2O ratios range between 1.31 and 1.94 (mean 1.51). They are nepheline normative (range 4.51 to 9.10%) and strongly enriched in large ion lithophile elements (LIL) such as Sr, K and Rb. MgO ranges from 5.12 to 6.31 wt% and the Mg number (100 (Mg/Mg + Fe)), from 48.73 to 50.27. Cr and Ni range from 55 to 103 parts per million (ppm) and 68 to 92 ppm, respectively. The high total alkalis and high K2O/Na2O ratios indicate that the rocks are potassic.

Mineralogically and chemically they can be classified as Minettes.

Absoulte age dating (K/Ar) indicates an 461 2.4 Ma, which would put the intrusion in the Mid Ordovician (Llandeilian).

The potassic intrusives have been interpreted to be associated with rift shoulder uplift and extension associated with the breakup of eastern Gondwana (Oterdoom et al, 1999). They could just as well be older as K/Ar dating is prone to resetting, and may be associated with development of the South Oman Salt Basins in the Late Precambrian to Early Cambrian.


  • Bertram Thomas, 1929, The South-eastern borderlands of Rub' Al Khali, The Geographical Journal, vol 73, no 3, p 199.
  • W. Heiko Oterdoom, Mike A. Worthing, and Mark Partington, 1999, Petrological and Tectonostratigraphic Evidence for a Mid Ordovician Rift Pulse on the Arabian Peninsula, GeoArabia, Vol. 4, No. 4, p 467-500.

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@ J. Schreurs October 2006