The Outback’s Airborne Pub Crawl

Mj 618_348_the outbacks airborne pub crawl
David Hancock / Alamy

Darwin, Australia’s northernmost major city, has two seasons: hot and dry and hot and humid. So when Airborne Solutions‘ helicopter pilots open the aircraft doors at 2,000 feet, the cool air distracts passengers from the terrifying fact that they’re flying above the Outback, one of the most barren spots on Earth, while several beers deep.

The bar scene in the Northern Territory is heavy on scenery and light on convenience. Hundreds of miles of lunar, terra-cotta-colored plains–marked by giant termite mounds and snaking, intertwining rivers–separate human watering holes. The only way to go on a pub crawl is to hire a chopper and set out on the 217-mile journey line connecting the five establishments operating outside of the city limits. The sweeping views of ruggedly scenic Kakadu National Park and the Katherine Region offer a break from the not-quite-scenic decor of these anything-goes bars. Besides, breezily banking over the Beagle Gulf and sailing over Charles Darwin National Park trump going on a walkabout down below in 100-degree heat.

At bohemian pubs like Mandorah Beach Hotel and Crab Claw Island Resort, civilized mango-flavored brews chill the palms of folks kicking back in the leafy shade. The water looks inviting, but the beaches are punctuated with signs warning all and sundry about voracious saltwater crocodiles and deadly box jellyfish. There are great white sharks as well, but they don’t even register as dangerous for the locals.

Farther inland, countryside pubs flaunt photo boards of bearded fishermen in overalls and local denizens play Australian Rules Football games on televisions mounted next to fine examples of taxidermy. Regulars shout and boo and buy each other pints. In Humpty Doo, a miniscule town named after buffalo shooting station Umdidu, 30 Aussies plant their 4x4s outside while they down Victoria Bitters by the fistful. And that’s before noon.

Most locals have at least one story about croc encounters. Kai Hansen, the Airborne Solutions tour’s most lauded character and the bartender at Goat Island Lodge, shows off a dented frying pan he once used to club resident crocodile, Casey, on the nose during one of their frequent squabbles. As for the croc skeleton on his living room table, he’s not ready to talk about that just yet.

More information: For $850, Airborne Solutions‘ heli pub tour visits five pubs in five hours. The price includes flights, fishing gear, and non-alcoholic drinks. The helipad is a 20-minute drive outside Darwin center, so rent a car or taxi in advance for this jaunt.

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