FLY FOR A FROTHIE

Trust the Top End to de­liver what just could be Aus­tralia’s most ex­treme pub crawl

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION NORTHERN TERRITORY - NIGEL HUNT

When pi­lot Jesse Mor­gan in­tro­duces you to his shiny R44 he­li­copter, you re­alise this is go­ing to be a pub crawl with a dif­fer­ence. For the next seven hours Jesse will hop be­tween half a dozen iconic des­ti­na­tions up to 90 min­utes south of Dar­win. The tour is, per­haps, Aus­tralia’s most deca­dent pub crawl.

Run by North­ern Ter­ri­tory char­ter com­pany Air­borne So­lu­tions, the ini­tia­tive is one of its most pop­u­lar of­fer­ings – along with heli fish­ing and the more tra­di­tional Dar­win scenic flights. While Jesse, 23, might give the im­pres­sion he is a bit ca­sual, the vet­eran chop­per pi­lot has flown ex­ten­sively in New Zealand, NSW and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory in jobs as di­verse as crop dust­ing to cat­tle mus­ter­ing. His fly­ing skills are as honed as his lo­cal knowl­edge.

Af­ter com­plet­ing the in­tro­duc­tory safety checks Jesse gen­tly lifted the R44 off the pad at the avi­a­tion mu­seum and climbed to 2000 feet as we headed south­west over Fan­nie Bay. With the doors re­moved, it was an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

First stop was a spec­tac­u­lar beach lo­cated on the north­ern side of In­dian Is­land. The 2km stretch of pris­tine sand was idyl­lic. Af­ter land­ing above the high tide mark, Jesse dis­ap­peared into the thick rain­for­est and emerged with a cou­ple of beach chairs – fol­lowed by an Esky from the chop­per crammed with icy-cold beers. Even though it was only 10am, the tem­per­a­ture was al­ready in the low 30s and the hu­mid­ity in­tense. On the north­ern hori­zon thun­der­storms were mak­ing their way closer. The first beer went down very well.

While the mag­nif­i­cent beach is the first stop on the heli pub crawl itin­er­ary, Jesse says the com­pany also takes cou­ples there for ro­man­tic sun­set din­ners by ar­range­ment.

Af­ter tak­ing off again, he scoots the chop­per along the beach for a lowlevel flight for a few kilo­me­tres to a ti­dal flat that holds a sur­prise. Cov­ered with sand un­til a year ago are the re­mains of a fighter plane – a re­minder of the bomb­ing of Dar­win by Ja­panese forces in 1942. The wreck is in­stantly recog­nis­able, with its air­frame, cock­pit, huge ra­dial en­gine and even two of its three pro­pel­ler blades in­tact. Af­ter 20 min­utes of fly­ing we reached stop two – Crab Claw is­land re­sort. Perched on the wa­ter­front, the re­sort is stun­ning. A mag­nif­i­cent deck fac­ing north­west over­looks the sea and a vol­ley­ball court dou­bles as a he­li­pad. The bar is char­ac­ter-laden with walls that are adorned with guests pos­ing with their catch – in­clud­ing some im­pos­ing mud crabs. It is the first bar I have seen that has a tackle shop!

Stop three was the Dar­win River tav­ern, op­er­ated by owner Scott Olive. Im­pec­ca­bly pre­sented, the pub is 45 min­utes south of Dar­win off Dar­win River Rd.

It boasts one of the best sports’ bars imag­in­able, a kid-friendly area and it even has its own res­i­dent fresh­wa­ter croc­o­dile whose en­clo­sure over­looks the restau­rant. A foodie, Scott says the busi­ness is based around food – par­tic­u­larly his week­end trade with the tav­ern be­com­ing a des­ti­na­tion for Dar­win res­i­dents. While the menu is ex­ten­sive, it is hard to go past the freshly caught bar­ra­mundi – beer bat­tered of course.

Scott, who first came to the North­ern Ter­ri­tory for a hol­i­day 25 years ago, says he bought the tav­ern “on a whim’’ 17 years ago. A decade ago he closed it for a year for ren­o­va­tions. A mini zoo for res­cued an­i­mals, that al­ready in­cludes wa­ter buf­falo and wild pigs, is open­ing soon.

With lunch still set­tling, Jesse had his chop­per hurtling to­ward stop four, Goat Is­land Lodge on the Ade­laide River. Cov­ered in a dense for­est of bam­boo, a he­li­pad is the only ac­cess point un­less you fancy a 90-minute boat ride. Goat Is­land Lodge is owned and op­er­ated by Dutch­man Kai Hansen, who bought the is­land 14 years ago. De­spite be­ing a work in progress, it is a com­fort­able des­ti­na­tion favoured by an­glers chas­ing big bar­ra­mundi.

Be­sides be­ing recog­nised for its fish­ing, the Ade­laide River is renowned for its croc­o­diles. Goat Is­land’s bar is named af­ter one such lo­cal – Casey. The four-me­tre saltie has been a res­i­dent for the past 30 years and be­lieve it or not, comes for lunch when Kai calls.

Then, once Casey has eaten her chicken car­cass for lunch, Kai’s ter­rier named Pippa promptly chases the croc back to the wa­ter – even latch­ing onto its tail for the last few me­tres.

The fi­nal stop on the heli pub crawl was the iconic Humpty Doo Tav­ern. Crammed with locals in high-vis gear en­joy­ing a cold beer af­ter work, its open-air bar area was brim­ming.

But a word of warn­ing to those tempted to cool off un­der the sprin­klers run­ning on the front lawns. Don’t. The pur­ple pipe is a hint.

It might not be an ideal fam­ily day out, but for those keen on see­ing some of the NT’s trademark des­ti­na­tions, sam­pling their ice-cold beers and en­joy­ing some mag­nif­i­cent scenery for a few hours, Air­borne So­lu­tions Heli Pub Tour is just the trick.

THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF NT TOURISM AND AIR­BORNE SO­LU­TIONS, AIRBORNESOLUTIONS.COM.AU

PIC­TURE: NT TOURISM

Meet some of the Top End’s char­ac­ters and en­joy spec­tac­u­lar scenery on a heli pub crawl that in­cludes a croc en­counter.

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