Only a quick 14 hour flight from Los Angeles, is the truly amazing city of Sydney Australia. Sydney is the most populous city in Australia, but allows the visitor so many opportunities for intimacy that even if you are one that normally avoids cities, it is definitely a must see.
Sydney was established in 1788 as the site of the first British colony in Australia. Part of the reason, was Britain seemed to like to export its criminals, and with lengthy sentences for even petty crimes, instead of filling prisons in Britain, why not ship the prisoners some where else and let them build their own prisons. You’ll notice that 1788 is after the date of American independence. Britain could no longer sends its criminals to North America so it had to find a new location: Australia.
Sydney had a lot of issues like any new colony would, but by the 1820’s it improved from its basic beginnings into a much more cosmopolitan city. British (and Irish) convicts had been busy constructing many roads, wharves, bridges and buildings. The city now had banks, markets, and a police force (or more correctly – constabulary). Now it is worth noting the convicts did not stay prisoners forever. Once their sentence was up they could either go home or stay and assimilate into Australian society. To go home however, meant many months on a ship at sea and the government would not pay the return fare. So, they typically stayed. In the 1850’s they were also joined by folks from all around the world as the first of several Australian gold rushes began.
Everything was going great, but in 1929, the Great Depression hit Sydney bad. Being extremely dependent on exports of agricultural and industrial items, means Australia was one of the hardest-hit countries in the world. Unemployment reached 29%. Work was hard to come by, except for some of those lucky folks who had jobs building the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bridge was built to connect the Sydney city center to the north shore. The southern end is in The Rocks section of Sydney (watch for blogs on our pub tour of the rocks). Here is how it looked when finished in 1932
According to the good folks at Guinness (good book for records, great beer), it is the world’s widest single span bridge. It carries rail, pedestrians, bicycles and 6 lanes of cars. The bridge measures 3770 feet long and is 440 feet high measured from the very top to the water level. Construction began in July of 1923 and the bridge was opened for business in March of 1932. For more details on the bridge history you can go here
Here’s a few views of the bridge we took on our recent trip to Australia.
What’s particularly amazing is the bridge is now open to public for climbing! Starting in 1998, the company BridgeClimb has made it possible for millions of tourists to climb the southern half of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Climbers are provided with protective clothing and safety gear. After a brief orientation, they are secured to the bridge by a wire lifeline and they simply go for a supervised 3 hour walk. I was recently in Sydney and had to give this a try. A friend of mine from Down Under Answers made arrangements for me to be a part of a night climb. Her words were it would be scary yet exhilarating. I am not a big fan of heights, but also don’t want to miss out on truly momentous tour opportunities. Let it be said, I am not a mountain climber, not a bungee jumper, and have never strapped on a parachute in my life.
Here is a close up
First you have to take a breathalyzer test to be sure you were not hanging out in the local bars just before your climb. This is a tough one, because the BridgeClimb office from where you begin is in The Rocks area of Sydney and has lots of great pubs. If you pass the breath test (yes I did!), you then lock up all your valuables and change into the Bridge Climb Suit. You are not allowed to take any personal items on the climb – no phones, no cameras, no emergency beers. Here is the last picture from my blackberry – all suited up and ready to orient. One Facebook friend remarked that I looked a criminal caught in a security camera. It’s true – I was a bit nervous.
During orientation they give you all the safety gear, show you how to use it and walk you through a mock-up climbing section. Just to be clear, there are steep stairs, but most of the BridgeClimb is walking. Walking up and walking down, but not what you typically picture if you think of mountain climbing.
It is high. It felt high and it made my earlier snack of a greasy empanada want to jump out every now and then. Probably just nerves and bad grease, but still.
However, I did climb to the top. I loved it every step of the way. I really wanted to do it to prove I could and to be able to tell people I did it. There was one particular area I did not like. I was not a big fan of where you cross over from the span you came up, to the one you go down. It’s a narrow walkway looking down at 7 lanes of traffic, but with railing and of course you are cabled in. I don’t think I ever felt that I was not safe, I was constantly however just a little bit apprehensive. The fear of heights is not the fear of falling and dying. It’s just the fear of the fall. You know while it will be fast it will still take a second or so, just long enough for you to realize what a stupid thing you did and now you’re going to make the news, but you won’t be able to see it yourself. As far as I know, nobody has ever fallen from the BridgeClimb and that now includes me.
Here I am – at the very top! Honestly, no photo shop involved.
You can do it to. Sue and I are both Aussie Travel Specialists, and can help you plan your trip to Australia (and the BridgeClimb if you want). This is really a bucket list type trip, so whether you use our agency or not, be sure to find an Aussie specialist to work with to help maximize your experience.
Next time I promise to blog about other options in Sydney that will definitely make you fail the breathalyzer test.