During a recent family getaway I took advantage of a three-day stopover in Dubai to see what all the fuss is about.
The Middle East is now packed with rapidly expanding modern cities that are boosting tourism. However, Dubai undoubtedly reigns as the crowning achievement. This unique metropolis has overcome cultural barriers and difficult climes to establish worldwide popularity.
It didn't take me long to find out why.
Before landing, I was treated to an arresting view of the Middle East's fascinating weather conditions. High winds throughout the region shake up desert sands, creating a faint low-level fog that diffuses the sun’s rays and provides fantastic photographic lighting.
After construction completed in 2010, the Burj Khalifa tower has taken over as Dubai’s most iconic tourist attraction and architectural achievement.
'Unmissable’ is the word that immediately comes to mind, because as you drive around the city you literally can’t miss it!
The tower's 830 metres of steel and glass are visible from almost every angle. Many find themselves drawn to it, as we were on our first afternoon.
A short walk from the base of the Burj Khalifa is Dubai Mall, the second largest of its kind in the world. My favourite part is at The Waterfall, a 24-metre-high fountain featuring athletic fibreglass figures in diving poses.
Another key attraction is Madinat Jumierah, a sprawling 5-star resort comprised of two boutique hotels, numerous waterside summer houses and over 40 restaurants and bars.
The resort’s dining district and shopping mall are open to the public. We arrived at the perfect time to see the warm Arabic architecture coming to life under a late-evening sky.
While the resort's canals are usually only accessible for guests, hourly boat tours offer a glimpse at the luxurious life reserved for the rich and famous.
The above shot, featuring the famous 7-star Burj al Arab hotel, lined up perfectly as we drifted back towards our departure dock (and the real world).
More inspiring travel photography
Our second day was reserved for Ferrari World, a theme park located closer to Dubai’s sister city, Abu Dhabi. The 45-minute drive and huge lines of excited tourists were worth the biggest adrenaline rush of my life on the park's Formula Rossa roller coaster – the fastest in the world.
The above photo shows off the huge length of the acceleration zone to the right where riders are propelled up to an incredible 240 kilometres per hour in five seconds!
Returning to what felt like a snail’s pace on the highway back to Dubai (still a tidy 130 kilometres per hour), we took a detour via a locally-run camel farm. I used a long lens to capture a cosy scene between two of the farm’s friendliest camels.
Our last day included one of the most popular Dubai holiday experiences: a sunset sand dune tour, followed by traditional Arabic dancing and cuisine in a large campsite.
After a rough-and-tumble ride out of the city in a powerful four-wheel drive, we stopped atop one of the largest dunes to take in the glorious twilight colours as the sun disappeared below the horizon.
Vibrant scenes greeted us on arrival into camp. We claimed a table right underneath the colourful spectacle of local dancers called 'whirling dervishes'.
Our plates filled with delicious Arabic cuisine, we sat back and soaked up the action. I took advantage of long exposure photography to exaggerate the dancers' eccentric shapes and skillful movements.
Later that night I carried my tripod up to the outskirts of camp and shot the above frame of a starry sky above the warm light of nearby Dubai. Amidst all the noise and action of the trip it was lovely to find such a peaceful spot to reflect on everything I’d experienced.
Although I'm typically a backpacker-style traveler, it was impossible to ignore the allure and stark beauty of Dubai's flashy wealth and contrasting local flavour.
A common stopover destination for Australian's travelling to Europe, Africa and Asia, it's easy to treat yourself to a few extra days in the Middle East's incredible capital city.