FLY FOR A FROTHIE
Trust the Top End to deliver what just could be Australia’s most extreme pub crawl
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
Meet some of the Top End’s characters and enjoy spectacular scenery on a heli pub crawl that includes a croc encounter.