An amazing choice: going for a helicopter pub crawl in Australia!


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“Right,” says Roy, looking me up and down as he takes us through the pre-flight safety briefing. “The good news is you're not so heavy that we can't take a full load of fuel.” I'm not sure whether I should feel insulted or relieved; either way, it's a suitably tongue-in-cheek start for a helicopter pub crawl.

An amazing choice: going for a helicopter pub crawl in Australia!

A Heli Pub Tour may sound outlandish, but Roy - a pilot with Airborne Solutions, the Darwin-based company behind this quirky day-trip - explains that popping out for a pint isn't always straightforward in Australia's Top End (the northernmost section of the Northern Territory). In fact, it's so sparsely populated up here that today we'll be covering 300km as we take in five of the region's characterful local pubs.

Roy powers up the three-passenger R44 aircraft, lifts off and away we go. As he steers us towards the pint-sized city centre, we pass Charles Darwin National Park's coastal wetlands and wartime bunkers before veering across Darwin Harbour to the empty and unspoiled Cox Peninsula. Below us, eucalyptus woodlands peppered with termite mounds stretch unbroken to every horizon. Re-joining the coast, we spy a huge crocodile lurking in the shallows; then follow a great sweep of beach to reach our first stop, the Lodge of Dundee – a pub with accommodation in cabins, some of which look like shipping containers.

The Lodge provides a social hub for Dundee's sleepy, frontier community. It's not yet 11am but already a scattering of locals are indulging in morning beers. “You're best to go for something mid-strength,” suggests Roy as we approach the bar. “Anything stronger really hits you in this heat.” I heed his advice and take my Carlton Mild to the waterfront terrace.

Given the hour, Roy's next tip (“One will get you yawning, so it's best to push through it by sinking a few”) seems considerably less sage, but it's such a pleasant setting that I don't hesitate to order another.

Job done - feeling pleasantly tipsy - we push on to our next destination. A 10-minute flight over wetlands and bays brings us to the remote Crab Claw Island Resort (its peaceful cabins are scattered in the woods), where Roy touches down on the beach. Mangroves and palms flank its sands and calm waters, but warning signs screaming “Crocodiles!” curtail any thoughts of a head-clearing dip. Instead, we hit the bar and order a round of Coopers pale ale with our barramundi-and-chips lunch, hoping that the latter might soak up the booze.

Sunshine, full bellies and a second round of Coopers make it very hard to leave this lovely spot, but soon we're en route to our next alcoholic appointment – and this one’s a proper dive bar. Scores of snow white cockatoos pour from the palms as we land at Darwin River Tavern, where we find a small crowd of locals whiling away the heat of the day. With several mullet haircuts and barely a full set of teeth between them, it makes for great people-watching as we knock back an ice-cold brew.

Moving on again, we follow the Adelaide River as it sweeps and snakes across flatlands of its own creation. During a “Big Wet”, the river fills this vast, 30km-wide floodplain; but by April, the wet-season waters are rapidly receding. Roy aims for a clearing in a riverside bamboo thicket, where a sign welcoming us to Goat Island International Airport (and warning of “body searches” for “young ladies”) gives us an idea of what the reception will be like.

“Not even [Prime Minister] Turnbull has it this good,” laughs Kai, the owner of Goat Island Lodge, greeting us on the deck of his waterfront property. An upbeat and jovial character who looks like he might well imbibe all his profits, Kai regales us with tales of opening his off-grid bar here in the back of beyond. And of course he joins us (as he does all his customers, apparently) for a beer – “just to be sociable”.

The pub crawl lets you drink with legends like Kai on Goat Island (James Litston)
I'd love to linger longer in his company, but a rumble of incoming thunder spurs a hasty departure. “We'll have to come again,” I tell him.

“I'll probably be here,” comes his deadpan response.

By now, feeling bloated from so many beers, we opt to skip our final pub (the Humpty Doo Tavern) and stay ahead of the storm by flying back to Darwin. It's been a rock star day of sightseeing, sunshine and all-day drinking; and now I'm looking forward to a very un-rock'n'roll early night.

Travel essentials
Getting there

Singapore Airlines has one-stop flights to Darwin from London Heathrow and Manchester, via Singapore from around £700.

Staying there

Palms City Resort has cottages in tropical gardens on Darwin's downtown waterfront, from A$109 (£65) per night, room only. To go all out, there’s exclusive glamping at Wildman Wilderness Lodge, two hours east of Darwin, from around A$615 (£365) per night, B&B.

More information

A full-day Heli Pub Tour costs A$790pp (£455) for three people or A$950pp (£550) for two. A half-day option (visiting three pubs) costs A$625pp (£360) for three, or A$750pp (£430) for two with Airborne Solutions

By: James Litston

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