Getting Up High in Sydney- The Amazing Bridge Climb

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

When I got to Sydney, Australia to visit friends and finally explore that land down under, one of the first thing my friends told me was I HAD TO do the bridge climb.  The Sydney Harbor Bridge climb.  I was immediately mesmerized at the thought.  Normally, I try to go up any structure that allows me birds eye view of a city.  The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Christ Redeemer in Rio, the medieval towers in la rossa Bologna, St. Paul‘s in London, Sacre Coeur also in Paris, the Peachtree Westin in my hometown, … you get the point.  Nothing like being high up and looking down at man’s urban creation.  I had crossed the bridge on foot and snapped a photo I really liked looking at the Sydney Opera House (and you are already high from the bridge level) but a higher vantage point… THAT would be awesome.

So the Sydney Bridge climb was right up my alley.  Of course, I had to be OK parting with a good amount of dough, well north of US $100 (truth be told, around $200…).  But WHEN would I return to Sydney to do this?  I am not scared of heights when I feel secure and being on a walkway was good enough for me (vs. walking out on some diving board-like piece of something hanging of a needle or other such skyscraper structure).

A friend of mine who is also a travel blogger (Erin, from The World Wanderer) was telling me she wanted to do the climb.  I encouraged her to do it and she encouraged me to write about my experience (it was on the long to-write-about list).  The bridge climb is a fairly recent offering having been started in the mid 1990s or so.  They claim over 3 million participants so far – become one, like Erin will some day, and help them get to 4 million!

The prep

So I made my way to the place where they brief you on the entire process and suit you up on this very not glamorous attire.  The important thing, though, is that you part ways with ANYTHING that could POSSIBLY fall off you during the climb.  It is not only that you would lose the whatever-it-is.  It is that there are likely cars right under you that could be hit by anything falling off!  If it is not covered completely by the suit – it comes off.  Your sunglasses, mercifully, are given a contraption so you can keep them and they won’t fall off – whew.  They go through some instructions and -voilà- off you go!

Modeling the jumpsuit used in the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb

Notice all the gear on the model

The hike

Once you are ready to go, the first step is to hook yourself up to the “cord”.  This cord thing runs the ENTIRE route you will walk and you will be hooked to that cord the ENTIRE time you are out there either UNDER the bridge or climbing up.  Yes, that is why you should not fear doing the hike.  You are tethered to the bridge.  The only way you are falling to your death is if the bridge falls into the harbor hundreds of feet below.  And then it does not matter if you are climbing the bridge, on a bus crossing the bridge, or a pedestrian on the sidewalk on the bridge.  So no fear!

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

Notice how I am strapped to the bridge

Once you start climbing, yes, the effort could be significant for some.  I exercise frequently so the physical effort was not extraordinary.  But I think you don’t have to be in great shape to go up.  Just don’t have serious heart issues or other serious illnesses.  Oh, and don’t be intoxicated.  They check and won’t let you go up!

The guide will make stops along the way but she/he is explaining things along the way.  The headphones you get are AWESOME.  They don’t go in your ear but over the rear of your cheek close to your ear – the sound vibrations emitted by the thing get to your eardrum and you hear perfectly fine – how cool is that?!  Our guide was phenomenal – great explanations, great humor (I am sure the same jokes he  and his peers say every tour but nevertheless funny), and great Aussie attitude and friendliness.

Say cheese!

As you hike the bridge, they will be taking photographs.  Remember the bit about not being able to bring a camera?  (You leave your stuff in a locker.)  Well, they know you want a picture or two.  And they know we will buy them so they won’t be cheap.  But since you already dished out a couple hundred buckaroos, what’s another limb, right?  The photos will be great – admire mine but do not laugh at the suit cause you will be wearing one too!

Climb of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia with Opera House in the background

One of the worst smiles I’ve given in a photo but, overall, I can’t complain!  And it’s windy up there if you can’t tell!

“Closing arguments”

If I ever return to Sydney, I am likely to splurge again – but this time to do the night climb which I hear is also phenomenal (and cheaper!).  Hopefully, I’ve had enough time by then to save up for the cost of another climb.  But one thing I know, it will be WELL worth it!

I give this a completely certain thumbs up even if it feels gimmicky.  Gimmicks like this, though, have to be gone for (here is where English teachers cringe).  They pay you back with an incredible view of this great city by the water!  Did I convince you to do it??

Photo of the Week – Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Bridge

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge, in Sydney, Australoa

I loved the opportunity that arose unexpectedly a couple of years ago to make the long trip to Australia and New Zealand.  It is not often I take more than 2 weeks off work at a time so having a month to go Down Under was pretty special – and yet not enough time by 200%!

One of my favorite discoveries was the incredible natural setting combined with man-made structures that is Sydney Harbor.  Though I could not take a camera up when I climbed the iconic harbor bridge, I did strive to take pictures from the bridge.

The picture here takes me back to that visit and to the incredible setting that is Sydney Harbor.  Here is to returning some day!

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge in Australia

Photo of the Week – A Piece of Great Architecture

“You may normally see me in bathrooms but here I am among friends in this spectacular piece of architecture with a slightly different coating than my bathroom brethren.  I hear the blogger will be re-issuing some writeups about our site, our host town and the neighboring area.  You will see me and my buddies in all our glory!  Stay tuned!”

– Tile

Close-up of the Sydney Opera House's architecture

 

(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel)

Of Mountains, Caves, and Wine – Leaving Sydney Is Hard to Do

So today I leave Sydney.  I have greatly enjoyed seeing friends and getting to know this awesome city.  I am actually sad at leaving it and wish I can come back some day soon.  But I am off to see other friends in Melbourne and that is helping me depart.  I have packed all the stuff I brought plus all that I acquired here (souvenirs).  It all fit so now let’s see how I do taking the bus and then the train to the airport.  It will save me like $50 so I am willing to do a little work.  Fortunately, the bus stop is very close to my friends’ apartment.

Of course Sydney has a Chinatown

One of the final explorations of the city itself started with a trip to Chinatown where, after enjoying a stop at a Chinese bakery :), we went shopping for souvenirs.  Paddy Market (not to be confused with Paddington) has an incredible amount and variety of stuff for sale, including souvenirs, the same you find around town but much much cheaper (thanks Kelly for the tip!).

I got to do some good shopping which, of course, wore me out (I really do not enjoy going shopping) so we went to the Lowenbrau restaurant at The Rocks to recover by sampling their pork knuckle and enjoying some beers.  It was a great place to sit outside on a beautiful afternoon, relax, and soak life in.

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Awesome a city and a setting as Sydney is and has, beyond the city proper are some really neat things to see.  I explored those before wrapping up visiting this corner of Australia

A quick getaway to wine country!

How could I let Sydney end without seeing wine country??   Sunday we went to the nearby wine country:  Hunter Valley.  We visited 4 wineries and enjoyed sampling wine (oe swallowed; well, except the driver – thanks Dave for taking one for the team!).  It wasn’t  a bad drive heading over though we did face some roadwork traffic delays.  Folks at the wineries were very pleasant and eager to talk about the wine – and pour for free. The most common wine as Semillon, which is fairly unfamiliar to me.  It seemed a good summer wine or good for fishy fish (salmon comes to mind).  We did also sample Pinot Noirs, Cab Merlots, Cab Sauvignon and Moscato.  The latter was my favorite!

Tyrrell’s Wines in Hunter Valley

I felt like a tree hugger… This is a fat tree!

And leaving Sydney to see mountains and caves

Tuesday I visited the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves.  I went on a tour since the places would be about 3 hrs away.  Unfortunately, though, we did not get to spend enough time doing the hikes around the Three Sisters area which I would have loved – I only got to spend like 45 minutes walking around the tropical forest near the old mines. Having now explored it, if I get to return to Sydney, I will plan to spend way more time in the Three Sisters area!

Driving on the Blue Mountains gave me a good view of the local mountain towns and I also wish I had gotten to spend time in these small towns.  They look like a delightful place to live.  The Jenolan Caves were pretty spectacular (we visited the Lucas cave; I liked the “slide” cave).

The tour we took was 1.5 hrs which was about the right amount of time to spend in caves.  The temperature inside, as in any cave, was in the 60s which was extremely nice given it was much colder outside where I wore a cap and gloves!  The Jenolan Caves also deserve more time so one can explore other caves (though I am told usually in this time of year there is only one cave open per day).  Some other day…

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My final night in Sydney

My visit in Sydney ended with a dinner at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Harrington St. in The Rocks.  A former school dining hall, it has a lot of charm and you can see the ruins under the building which probably date to close to the founding of Sydney by the British.  There we enjoyed good Belgian beer as well as kangaroo loin, and mussels in white wine and cream sauce.  The kangaroo meat was quite tender (cooked medium rare) and the sauce was delicious.  I highly recommend it!

Now, I will wrap up my writing and posting of pix so I can head to the airport to my next stop in this great trip:  Melbourne.  I close this post with one of my favorite pictures of Sydney…

View towards Harbor Bridge and the Opera House

Thanks to my Sydney friends for a truly memorable time and for the hospitality.  Til next time!

A Perfect Day with Friends – Human and Animal – in Sydney

Saturday was a perfect day.  Blue skies without a single cloud and a nice temperature neither too hot nor too cold.  Just right for a day at the zoo with friends!

The Taroonga Zoo on Sydney Harbor

The Taroonga Zoo is blessed with a location like no other zoo that I have been to:  it sits sort of on a slope on the north shore of the Sydney harbor looking towards the city center, the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.  It has a magnificent view that, by itself, is worth the visit to the zoo (the giraffe exhibit seemed to have the best view).  Of course, the zoo has great displays of all sorts of animals including the native ones (koala, kangaroo, etc.) which are worth seeing.

Amazing view for these zoo residents! Rough life!

I went with friends whom I had not seen in years and their 4 kids aged 12 to 2.5.  The little ones (twins), of course, made the visit even more fun as I got to live the excitement of seeing the animals through their eyes.  Oh, and the excitement at taking the sky lift!  The zoo goes to show that any destination can have something for everyone if one is willing to look for them!

Balmoral Beach

After the zoo we visited a small beach called Balmoral close to where they live.  It seemed a very local place which was nice after days of having been doing the “tourist thing”.  We had ice cream and sat at the pier enjoying a gorgeous day with no other care (except making sure the twins didn’t jump in the water!).  This is exactly the type of place us tourists need to get out and see:  where real life is happening, areas of town different that the more central ones.  A charming place, Balmoral Beach!

Balmoral scene

At the pier in Balmoral Beach

The End to a Great Day with Friends

That evening we got together with another friend and headed into the city for dinner.  It must have been night out for many as it took several attempts to find a place that would take a reservation.  As with the night before, the meal, the wine and the company did not disappoint!

It was neat to get to see my friends (who are American) and hear about their experience living in Australia.  One has been here about 5 yrs and the other about half that time.  It made me a little jealous they had gotten to live in such a magnificent place but I was glad they got such an opportunity!

So, a perfect day ended in Sydney.  Let’s see what the next one brings!

Getting to High Places in Sydney – The Harbor Bridge

Alright, so I didn’t really rough it or suffered, but I did climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge today (134m from the top to the water). A pricey outing, but well worth it if you can part with the money!

10 years ago, this landmark bridge was opened to visitors who wanted to climb it.  The RTA (local agency that manages many things including the bridge) apparently was very reluctant to allow this venture to be carried out but local businessmen addressed all the obstacles raised (e.g., where would people walk, how would you keep things from falling onto cars below, etc.) and launched this unique experience for those inclined to go up and get good views of this beautiful harbor and city.

They prep you well including a mock climb indoors.  You also need to leave in a locker most everything you have on you:  watch, wallet, items in your pocket, jackets, hairpins, etc.  It is imperative nothing falls out from you.  Sunglasses are allowed and they provide you a thingie that pins them to your suit.  Oh yes, you just don’t go dressed as you are.  They give you a jumpsuit you are to wear over your clothing that zips up completely.  As far as caps, gloves or cold-weather headgear, they provide them to you and they also hook up to your suit.  You may ask, “what if I need to blow my nose?”   I am glad you ask:  you can’t bring your little baggie of tissue either.  They issue you a handkerchief that, you guessed it, hooks up to the sleeve of your very sexy (not!) jumpsuit.  Cameras are also not allowed but they will take your picture (and your money) at a few spots along the route – but the pix are worth the money.

All dressed up and making my way up!

The climb, I found, was not terribly difficult but there are plenty of warnings for people with health issues, etc.  I personally think you do not have to be in the best of shapes to do the climb but if you feel you are really out of shape, perhaps do a couple of days of walking around the city to get yourself stretched before the climb.

The views from up there are just magnificent.  You could also go up the telecom tower (I forget its name) which is taller but you don’t get the same angle to view all of the harbor as you get from the top of the bridge. It was definitely weird looking down at 6 lanes of traffic plus extra lanes for buses, cycles and pedestrians!

The climb really drives home the beauty of this natural harbor and the impressive city that has grown up around it.  For that reason, I highly recommend it!

Atop with the incredible Opera House behind me!

How to Explore Sydney’s Outlying Areas

Day 2 of my Sydney visit began with many options on things to do.  However, my legs felt like they needed some rest after all the walking on day 1, and it was alternating between rain, drizzle, and no rain.  So I opted to get on the Explorer buses that go on two different routes and that allow you to pay one fare and get on and off the bus at any of the designated stops along the way.  I love taking buses get acquainted with a city (since you can observe things vs. an underground train, for instance) so I went for it. While the red route stays close to the city’s center, the blue route heads to the outskirts towards Bondi Beach (the most famous of the Australian beaches).  See this link for more info.

The bus has a recording which highlights key city sights/sites along with some history and such things so one really does get good value from taking them (the bus drivers usually add more commentary as well).  For me, the Explorer bus rides helped me identify areas of town that I definitely would want to explore more during my stay.  The bus tours also allowed me to get out of the rain for a good bit of time (each route runs a 2-hr circuit)!  So I went off on the blue route.

First Stop – Watson’s Bay

Along the way to Bondi, I got off the bus at Watson’s Bay to have lunch at Doyle’s, a famous fish and chips place on the waterfront (Doyle’s website ).  It was very good and I had been hungry for a bit so the combination was a success.

I did a short hike from there along the cliffs in that part of the coast which was good because 1.  it was not raining, and 2.  I got off the bus and got to stretch my legs… From this vantage point, one can see the entrance to Sydney Harbor from the ocean. This ships look puny next to the cliffs on the far side!

Entrance to Sydney Harbor, Australia

Bondi Beach and Surfers

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Once I got to Bondi Beach, we were told there was a scenic trail connecting it to the next beach town over (where I could catch the next Explorer bus) so I decided to get off the bus again though it was drizzling (I was wearing a rain jacket).  The coastline was beautiful and the waves were roaring due to the weather.

Of course, surfers were out in full force.  I have never really paid attention to surfing before.  It does seem a lot of fun if you don’t mind waves thrashing you about.  However, by watching I realized surfers spend a lot of time just hanging out waiting for the right wave.  As I was trying to take some action pix, it seemed to take forever for them to get on a wave.  It seemed to me like it could get boring.

I stood on the roadside above one of the beaches (like 50 – 75 feet high) and I noticed how cars would slow down as they approached where I was standing.  After a few of those, I realized those were surfers checking out the conditions of that beach to see if they would surf there.  Some parked and changed right by their cars and some just kept going (I assume the conditions weren’t up to par for them).  It was about 2 PM on Thursday so I wondered if these guys just take a break from work to surf, if they are on vacation, or if they just don’t work.

End of Day 2!

So it’s the end of day 2 and my impressions of Sydney have gone from architectural & engineering awe after seeing the the Opera House and the Bridge  to awe at the beauty of the city and its natural setting.  The architecture can range from ultra-modern (Renzo Piano’s famous building) to the quaint buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century that you see not only in The Rocks area but elsewhere.

Typical homes in The Rocks area

The neighborhoods due east of the Central Business District all the way to the beaches all have distinct characters and unique charm.  How would one choose where to live??  (Of course, property prices would take care of that as many of these seaside areas are quite pricey, precisely due to the seaside location and charm”.)  I was expecting Sydney to be a modern city that was made pretty by its seaside location but my perspective changed dramatically today as I got a broader view at the different parts of town and realized there is a lot more to the beauty of the city than the seaside aspect to it.

The Trip to Sydney and My First Day of Exploring

View of the Opera House and the Central Business District from the Harbor Bridge

My visit to Sydney started well – after a long trip from my home in Atlanta.

Modern travel delivers

Modern travel is something amazing.  Maybe as people will say 50 years from now.   To think that I traveled all the way around the world in about 24 hours when in ages past this trip would have taken months…  Just getting to LAX from Atlanta by car would have taken as long or more.  Fortunately, it was around 4 hrs for me by plane.  The beginning leg of 3 legs I was to complete.  A long layover in LAX (which was pretty bad as there is really not much to do in Terminal 2) and then the longest leg – the flight to Auckland which took about 12.5 hrs.

Flying Air New Zealand (as opposed, say, to United) was definitely a very good experience.  The 747, workhorse of long haul flights for the last few decades, flew and you could barely tell there were engines on (yes, this could feel concerning to some).  The food was actually quite good.  Really.  And the service, impeccable.  For instance, flight attendants would walk up and down the aisles all throughout the flight with pitchers of water and cups not just during drink and meal services and not just once.  Now that is service.  American airlines (all of them) have a lot to learn from this airline.  It seems airlines from this part of the world have figured out how to best treat their customers…

I slept about 6 hrs on the flight.  I read.  I got to watch movies like Pink Panther 2 (not top on my list but funny; “amburger”), The Reader (fantastic!) and another that escapes memory right now.  The flight actually did not seem as long as it was.  Oh, and was it a smooth flight!  Loved it.

In Auckland, the connection was pretty short by comparison (1.5 hrs).  The airport was very manageable and efficient.  We had to fill out a form stating we didn’t have cold/flu symptoms and even put down the seat we used and our contact info in case there is a need to contact passengers should someone develop H1N1 symptoms.  Australia did the same thing when we landed.  The flight was on a 767-300 that seemed sparkling new.  The non-upholstery part of the seats was black which made the cabin feel pretty slick (still on Air New Zealand for this leg).  Once again, great flight, great service.

From Sydney airport to my friends’ place

Finally, I landed in Sydney!  As my friend told me, you had to declare even medications you were bringing into the country.  But the whole process of immigration and customs was smooth and fast (not the slow lines experienced at other airports that I have traveled to).  Once done with that, I proceeded to get a local SIM card and a recharge card so I could use the phone locally and not pay outrageous fees for calls or texts.  Just as my friend said, it was a very simple transaction.

Then I took the airport train line to the city center and switched trains to the North Shore Line which would take me to North Sydney, where my friends live.  I followed the very good instructions my friend gave me to walk through a mall and then a couple of streets to get to their building.  Mind you, I am carrying a large backpacker backpack and a small carry-on backpack.  I was exhausted by the time I made it to their apartment!!

And, finally, I get to explore Sydney

Sydney Harbor Bridge from the north shore's Luna Park

Sydney Harbor Bridge from the north shore’s Luna Park

So, after a shower and a quick lunch, I had to explore!  I made my way to Luna Park which has some of the best views of the Opera House, the Central Business District (CBD), and is right under the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  I then walked across the bridge which provided great views of the harbor area.  Tons of runners out jogging as it was around lunch time.

I decided to go see the Opera House after walking past Circular Quay.  I took the one hour tour which allowed us to see the interior of the two largest halls for $35 Australian (about $28 US).  It is not always guaranteed you can see the halls because there could be a show going on or a rehearsal.  Luckily for us, one of the halls did have a rehearsal but it was for lights so we were allowed to sneak in and see the hall.  The main hall itself was being used by someone rehearsing in the main organ (which is one of the largest in the world).  The tour guide told us we were very lucky as the main organ is not used frequently (he said he has seen it in use 10 times over the last 4 yrs).  It was very much a treat to see the hall with music actually playing.  I took off one side of my headset (through which you hear the tour guide) so I could take in the music playing…

A tourist in the midst… (Sydney Opera House)

Outside the main hall at the Opera House

In the evening, we went to watch a key rugby league game (Queensland vs. New South Wales; I missed the “league” in the original posting and was called on it; this is serious stuff!  🙂 ) at a local place.  It was a good local experience for sure, I got to understand the game better (I have to say, more fun than sports back home), and it kept me up until 10:30PM, which considering the jet lag I had and no nap, made for a wonderful night sleep…

I have not decided where I am going today.  That is the next step for me after posting this.  Cheers from Sydney!

Trip Planning – Ready. Packing – Not so Ready. About to Go Down Under!

My route

So I sit here writing this entry when -perhaps- I should be starting to pack…  I am less than 48 hrs away from departure but my packing list (serving me faithfully since 1997…) serves as my security blanket.  I proceed writing here not too preoccupied with my packing slackness.  Of course, packing will also be interrupted by a Mexican dinner with friends tonight and, I am sure, by other things tomorrow!

I will leave Monday and the trip will, for sure, be long.  But not as long as my trip to Tanzania which had 2 very long layovers in London and Dubai…  I found a great fare to/from LA in the US with Air New Zealand taking me to Sydney, then including the leg from Melbourne to Christchurch, and finally bringing me back from Auckland.  To and from LA from Atlanta, I used frequent flyer miles.  (Sadly, I had enough miles with Delta for a first class seat all the way but the partner airlines serving Oz and NZ did not have availability EVEN FOR COACH!  Frequent flyer miles are becoming more and more valueless with time.)

My route

So what am I doing?  After a lot of research online (websites, Twitter, etc.) and in travel guidebooks, here is the plan I settled on:

–  Starting on June 3rd for short of a week:  Sydney and vicinity.  I have friends in Sydney so a longer stay is nice.  I hope to visit the Hunter Valley, the Blue Mountains, the Jenolan Caves as well as all the key sites in Sydney proper.

–  2nd week of June through June 18th:  Melbourne and, maybe, a short hop to Tasmania (I know, should spend more time there…).

– Then I go to New Zealand where I will spend 11 days visiting:  Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier, Milford Sound, Te Anau, Queenstown, Auckland, Rotorua, Waitomo, and Taupo.  It was hard deciding whether to focus on one of the two main islands or how to divide my time between them.  Lots of good advice but usually with differing suggestions.  In the end, I read about what there was to see and just chose based on what drew me the most (glacier, fjords, geysers were tops).  I will be taking an independent tour for part of this itinerary.  I had not heard of independent tours before but it fits me very well as I didn’t want to drive on my own (plus it is winter and I don’t know the roads or the likely conditions) and I also didn’t want to be trapped in a guided tour.  The independent tour arranges all transportation and accommodations and some key activities but, in general, they leave you on your own so you can choose what you want to do at the various places you go.  I like that a lot.

I am very excited at seeing friends in Australia and at FINALLY getting to visit Australia and New Zealand!  I know I leave other things unexplored but I will hope I get to return someday to go more off the beaten path and explore other parts of these countries more in depth.

Any recommendations on good places to eat (“hole-in-the-wall” types) or lesser-known but outstanding sightseeing jewels in Sydney, Melbourne, Christchuch, Queenstown or Auckland??

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