Passport to Dubai: Inside the world's desert-metropolis

It’s one of the world's greatest megacities - a place where giant man-made structures punctuate the skyline and culture stands just as tall.

Dubai, on the Persian Gulf's southeast coast, is the largest of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates. Each emirate has its own set of laws and are governed by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Known globally as the business hub of the Middle East, oil revenue developed Dubai from a small shipping port and turned it into a desert-powerhouse. It’s a place where innovators and architects are considered gods.

Dubai's out-of-this-world construction projects often grab the world's attention - including the glittering marvel that stands at the heart of Downtown Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, a space rocket shaped building towering above the citadel.

Rising over 800m into the sky, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure that's ever been built in the world. It's two-and-a-half times taller than Auckland's Sky Tower.

Witness a city the grows right before your eyes on the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa.
Witness a city the grows right before your eyes on the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa. Photo credit: Newshub./Brin Rudkin

It's an understatement to say Dubai doesn't do small. Everything here is exaggerated.

Located in Downtown Dubai is The Dubai Mall, the largest shopping centre in the world. It houses more than 1200 stores, an underwater aquarium full of sharks and rays, and even an indoor theme park.

Transportation also breaks records here - the Dubai Metro is the world's fastest driverless train.

In 2020, in time for the World Expo hosted in Dubai, Burj Khalifa will lose its world’s tallest structure title. Yes, the city is already working on a building to succeed the record it already holds, with a structure that will entitled 'The Tower'.

It's no wonder they say more than 50 percent of the world's cranes are in Dubai.

There's a saying in Dubai - the only constant here is change, which I think is rather fitting for this place.

If you could go back in time, only less than 50 years ago, you would find a city that barely existed - well, at least not as it stands today. Back then, it was nothing more than just sand and a dream waiting to happen.

To see just how far this place has come since its dawning, take a tour of the old city at Dubai Creek.

It's also home to some incredible spice markets and gold merchants.

Spice up your visit by taking an excursion to the famous spice markets at Dubai Creek
Spice up your visit by taking an excursion to the famous spice markets at Dubai Creek Photo credit: Newshub./Brin Rudkin.

But in spite of changing ways, culture remains stitched in Dubai's foundation.

The people who live here have held onto their traditions and beliefs, while also accepting change and evolution. The city wants to be the number one place in the world for humanity, representing more than 200 cultures.

To experience Muslim tradition, you can take a trip to Jumeirah Mosque - it's the only mosque in the city open to non-Muslims.

We just happened to visit during the month of Ramadan. Observed by Muslims around the world, Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year in Islamic culture, in which practicing Muslims fast.

In Dubai, there are strict rules to follow during the fasting period, like the restriction of eating or drinking in public, including water consumption. Those caught breaking the rules could face a hefty fine or penalty.

But Dubai, being a multicultural ecosystem, has to be tolerant.

It provides space for non-Muslims to go about their daily lives during Ramadan. If anyone wants to eat during the day at a restaurant or food court, large screens and barriers are put up to prevent Ramadan observers from peeking in. It’s a sign of respect to the tradition.

If a visit during Ramadan puts you off, don't let it bother you.

During the month there's virtually no one on the roads during the day and Dubai Mall is practically empty. You've got the whole of Sephora, H&M and Forever 21 to yourself, just to name a few.

There are many luxury hotels and resorts in Dubai Marina.

At Palm Jumeirah you'll find Atlantis The Palm resort jutting out on a giant palm tree shaped sand bar. We stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Dubai, a luxurious 5-star hotel and resort at Dubai Marina, along the JBR walk.

The UAE's centre of commerce, Dubai was once reliant on its oil production as its major source of revenue, bringing huge wealth to the city.

Now, the economy is assisted strongly by a growing tourism and aviation industry.

Dubai is home to the world’s fourth largest airline - Emirates
Dubai is home to the world’s fourth largest airline - Emirates Photo credit: Newshub./Brin Rudkin

Dubai is also a major transport hub for travellers, and is home to the world's fourth largest airline - Emirates.

The airline flies to 140 cities in 81 countries across six continents, including New Zealand. Recently, Emirates launched a new Auckland - Dubai service, via Bali.

More than 8.2 million passengers have flown Emirates between Auckland and Dubai since 2003, when it first started flying to New Zealand.

The people I met in Dubai were very welcoming and accepting - Kiwis are favoured among the locals. Most of them have heard of the All Blacks and may ask for an impromptu haka performance. They're also followers of our America's Cup-winning Team New Zealand - which Emirates is a major sponsor and supporter of.

Emirates chief commercial officer, Thierry Antinori, told Newshub Travel that the airline supported Team New Zealand in Bermuda, where they won in 2017, and even felt our emotion when the Kiwi team missed out on claiming the Auld Mug in San Francisco in 2013.

"The commitment to New Zealand - we were following here [in Dubai] all the time," he said.

"After [the loss in San Francisco] we were sad - we're all Kiwis [supporters] here - and last year we were so happy in Bermuda."

Dubai is miles ahead of New Zealand's government in terms of investing in a modern future. Many of the people of Dubai are so forward-thinking, with ideas revolving around future planning and proofing. Many here are determined to take risks and turn extravagant ideas into a piece of work that defines innovation.

New Zealand should take note of this. We have some of the best innovators in the world, who may be silenced because their ideas are perceived to be too bold or risky. Dubai takes risks, and they make it work. I can think of multiple projects New Zealand should be working on that Dubai invested in decades ago.

To quote John Campbell's favourite expression, Dubai is marvelous. It exceeded all my expectations - not that I'm really sure what those expectations were.

Dubai showed me that cities can be courageous, adventurous, and take risks. It proves that no matter how out-of-this-world an idea can seem, with motivation (and lots of money) you can turn an isle of sand into an oasis of luxury.

Thanks to Emirates, it's now even easier to get to Dubai. There are two flights that depart from Auckland daily - one direct flight onboard the flagship Emirates A380, the other via Bali on the airline's Boeing 777-300ER.

My final words are for the city of Dubai itself: keep doing you, because it's marvelous.

Brin Rudkin travelled to Dubai courtesy of Emirates for Newshub Travel.