Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

One of the most iconic structures in Sydney, it’s 134 meter high Harbour Bridge has been taking people over Sydney harbour, from North Shore to downtown Sydney by foot, train and car since 1932. A record breaker in many aspects the bridge is a stunning piece of engineering. And if you are looking for great things to do in Sydney, climbing the Sydney harbour Bridge should be high up on your list.

Why climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

Probably the easiest question – “because it’s there” of course!
OK, this is the reason used by most mountaineers for climbing big lumps of rock!

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is an iconic experience, on an iconic structure with iconic views!

Climbing the bridge offers you stunning views of the City scape of Sydney, the Sydney Tower Eye (which also gives great views of the Sydney harbour Bridge by the way),its other most iconic building the Sydney Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, Luna Park and of course Sydney Harbour itself to name just a small part of the scenery on show!

The experience of being up there on top of the bridge, learning more about its history, taking in the fresh air and the stunning views, and with a little exercise thrown is not to be missed.

So what it like climbing the bridge?

I will answer this in more detail in the paragraphs below, but I’ll start with a brief overview. It’s an amazing popular activity. Granted, we were there at Christmas time which apparently is peak time, but from dawn to dusk, and beyond, there were numerous groups hiking to the top throughout the day.

Which leads me to my second discovery.
Without doing much research (any!) I had visions of a small operation, running from maybe a portacabin at the side of the bridge. But no, I was happily proved wrong – this is a big and very slick operation, servicing this number of clients demands good organisation.

Finding BridgeClimb Sydney

You roll up at a large and professional ‘shop’, which nicely fills one of the impressive arches of the bridge on the east side of the bridge, of the southern city side, near the Rocks. It’s easy to find, at 3 Cumberland Street, and walk to, from the Circular Quay ferry stop which is serviced by all of the main Sydney ferries.

Here in the shop, as well as being able to buy the obligatory souvenirs, you book and check in for your experience. At the time of our visit BridgeClimb Sydney offered 3 experiences:

1) the quick 2 hour Express Climb
2) the 3.5 hour more technical Discovery Climb
3) the favourite 3.5 hour Bridge Climb.

We took the 3.5 hour Bridge Climb option.

Getting Kitted Up

As stated above I was pleasantly surprised with the professionalism and how slick the operation runs. I guess living in Spain helps most things look really slick – but this was really slick! A few things to note here, before getting out onto the bridge:

Meet your gang – You are encouraged to get to know your fellow climbers during the warm up intro. Which helps to share the experiences. Although we had people from all over the world on our tour, the global geographic spread was not too huge. Two local Aussie girls from Sydney, two girls from London and a family from the West Midlands (one of whom lived 3 miles from our old house in the UK). A good bunch!

Don’t worry about what to wear – everyone from Usain Bolt to Bill Gates and yourself climbs the bridge in the same gear. A fetching one piece overall, which you wear over your clothes. In summer this tends to be over your underwear to keep things comfortable in the heat.

Do worry if you are pissed (drunk for our Yank readers!) – all climbers are breathalysed prior to getting out on the bridge for obvious reasons! As well as signing to say you are in good health, etc.

Changing rooms and lockers are provided. And you need to leave most you stuff here – the exception being sun glasses and prescription glasses, which are attached to you with some provided special straps. Real shame here in respect of cameras, but I can understand why, a camera dropped from the top could easily cause a death below!

You are well kitted up – as well as the overalls you are provided with a radio, rain jacket in a pouch (if necessary), and headset to be able to hear your guide, a ‘take home and keep’ baseball cap and your safety belt.

Getting Started

Your guide, as well as adding some fun to the experience, thanks Bianca, talks you through each step, what’s happening etc and gets you started. Prior to getting out there and yomping up the bridge there is a simple practice set of steps inside the bridge. You clip yourself in and climb a few flights of steps and then come down the other side. I guess this helps them weed out those who are over ambitions with their ‘no fear of heights’ statement.

Then it’s out and onto the Bridge

You clip yourself to the bridge, head through the door out into the sunlight, and you are off. Prior to getting to the sexy bit,
the huge arch, you have a bit of walk through the basement of the bridge in the arms heading out to the pylons. This is the tightest and gnarliest bit, with a few stories worth of stairs to climb up, in order to get up onto the arch.

I say tight and gnarly but don’t let this put you off. My wife is a claustrophobia sufferer and at no time did she feel in a ‘tight space’. There are few guys helping out at the steps and again this is not an ‘iron man’ tough climbing task.

At the top of the steps you reach the arch! The real sexy part of the bridge with stunning views. From here it’s a gentle climb to the top with a few stops on route, to learn, enjoy and take photos!

Your guide is constantly entertaining you with you more facts and amusing history about the bridge, what you can see in the great views on offer and ensuring everyone is at a happy pace.

Your guide is also the team photographer, taking plenty of
shots, and video along the route. A framed team shot, certificate and free video clip is included in the ticket price. Other shots can be purchased after the climb.

It really is a breath taking experience, to be out in the open air with the wind in your face, looking down at all the iconic views which you have seen numerous times in films, news clips and books. En route you will have plenty of time to take in the views, and chat and get to know the others in the group.

Once at the top, at an awesome 134m above the harbour’s water, again you have plenty time to take in the 360 degree views, and have your photos and video taken, before you
cross to the other side of the bridge (the western side of the bridge) to make you way down and back to base.

More great views out to the west!

And all too soon its over and you are back at base, ready to change, do a spot of souvenir and photo shopping, then leave BridgeClimb and head across the road to the pub for a celebratory drink (I think this bit is optional but there are several great bars in the Rocks nearby!).

Is it tough physically?

I saw on the literature it described the work required as being about the same as mowing the lawn (cutting the grass). I did not notice how big the imaginary lawn was, or if you had an imaginary petrol mower, but I would say this is not far off the mark! It’s not really hard work. The climb up the steps to the arch is probably the toughest bit, and this is like walking up 4 or 5 flights of stairs. Once on the arch it’s a long set of steps to the top, but these are very gentle, and there more than enough stops to enjoy the views. I never felt anywhere near out of breath.

Is it safe?

Easy answer here is yes - it's very safe.
We were going with our daughters so obviously this was a concern. As stated above this is no small 'fly by night' operation. On your safety belt you have a clip. This clips onto the bridge before you step onto the bridge, and remains clipped to the bridge until you step off the bridge. There are no points where you unclip and clip to the next part – it’s one continuous connection.

In addition, when you are up on the arch of the bridge it’s a very wide path you are walking up. Metres wide, so you are not tip toeing across narrow beams and the like.

A good experience?

Yes – its one of the best unusual things to do in Sydney - for us from the other end of the earth this was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Its an iconic experience – another ticked off the bucket list! I can think of few people arriving at the pearly gates wishing they had not climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

1 comment:

Edward Thirlwall said...

I could not imagine doing this. Climbing up so high, it's almost as bad as being encased in a pod when you have claustrophobia for me. And then to lift both of your arms off whatever support you have to take a picture on your mobile. DEATH!

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