The arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is made from straight steel beams. Some of you may not find this the most riveting fact (and I have facts about rivets to come too!) but this was just one of the many things I loved discovering on my Sydney Bridge Climb this morning.
I’ve stared at this icon for many months, have seen it in pictures for years, and yet knew so little about it. Have you ever noticed how the arch beams are straight? It becomes a lot more obvious when you’re standing on them!
Learning about the construction of the Harbour Bridge on the BridgeClimb appealed to the history geek in me but it’s the show-stopping views that attract tourists from around the world. On my climb this morning I met honeymooners from New York and holidaymakers from the UK, who had both saved this big experience for the end of their trip. After celebrating my birthday yesterday I was thrilled to be joining them for this uniquely Sydney experience.
First, though, I had to pass the breath test! The first hour or so of your BridgeClimb experience is spent getting kitted up and going through the safety procedures. If anyone is feeling unsure about doing the climb this opener will assure you you’re in safe hands. After taking the breath test to prove we’re all sober our group were decked out in safety suits/ Star Trek onesies, headphones, hats and cables to connect our sunnies. You can’t take anything up on the climb with you, even your watch and hair grips have to be left in the locker, and you’ll have to walk through a security gate as you would at an airport to prove you’re not smuggling a GoPro or similar contraband. (It’s too risky to have anything fall on the motorists below.)
At this stage we’re also taken through the procedure of hooking our belts onto the railing and there’s even a practise ladder so we can get the technique of ascending and descending. It was at this point that I had a minor wobble. The stairs are fairly steep and in my over-enthusiastic climb I found myself banging my knees on the steps above me. I was also pretty knackered after doing just 1 practise lap and had a vision that I was going to be climbing steep stairs for 2 hours and would never make it to the top. I needn’t had feared though.
The BridgeClimb is in fact suitable for all fitness levels and accepts children from aged 8 (if over 1.2 metres tall). For the most part you are either walking on flat walkways or gently steeping steps, there are just 4 steep ladders on the way up and 4 again on the way down. The full BridgeClimb (there are Express and Sampler versions too) has 1332 steps, so it’s a bit of a workout but nothing my lazy bum couldn’t handle.
These ladders I feared the most turned out to be one of my favourite parts. After strolling along the flat mid-section of the bridge, accessed directly from the BridgeClimb office, climbing the first 2 ladders popped us out in-between lanes 7 and 8 of one of Australia’s busiest highways. The ladders are broken up by platforms where you can catch your breath and soak in the view before making the final ascent to the top of the bridge. From there it’s a scenic slow climb, accompanied by 360 degree views of Sydney and insightful commentary from Lisa, our friendly guide.
I was a little worried about vertigo but this wasn’t a problem either. There is only a short section in the middle of the climb where you can see through the walkway to the water below. The majority of the time you are walking on solid steps and I didn’t experience any dizziness at all. With the railings on either side and harness attaching you to the safety cable you feel secure the whole way – you’re literally attached from the moment you leave the BridgeClimb Base until you get back inside again.
From the bridge summit (134 metres above sea level) the views of the harbour are outstanding. Lisa gives us an orientation, pointing out everything from Fort Denison to Bondi Junction and Manly Beach on the horizon. The wind provided a much needed breeze and our group chatted about our favourite spots in Sydney in-between posing for photographs. (A group shot is included in your ticket. You can buy extras taken by the tour leader back at the BridgeClimb Base.)
The descent is when Lisa took the chance to explain more of the construction of the bridge as well as answering some of our burning questions – like how many people got engaged up here (asked by me) and how many people died whilst making it (a few of the blokes). In answer to my question Lisa said they have at least 1 proposal a day, approximately 4000 in total, and that 25 couples have even got married on the bridge. She doesn’t answer the boys question until we near the end of the tour – a little too morbid for the walk perhaps – but later reveals the answer is 16, which is incredibly surprising after what she told us about how the bridge was made.
Constructed between 1923 and 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built by approximately 1400 men – including many Scottish and Italian stonemasons who moved to NSW for the project. The bridge was designed and built by British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd of Middlesbrough and 79% of the steel was imported from England. It’s held together though by 6 million (yes million) rivets which were made in Melbourne. (Told you there were more riveting facts!)
Unlike on our climb today health and safety was minimal then and the men built the bridge without any sort of safety harness or even rails to hold onto. There was only ever 1 worker who fell from the bridge and lived to tell the tale and that was a ‘lucky’ Irishman. When he was knocked off-balance by a faulty drill it was his quick thinking that saved his life. Realising he needed to protect his head he wrapped his arms around his eyes, nose and mouth to stop water gushing in and righted himself so he fell feet first. Sustaining just a few broken ribs and injuries from where his leather work boots ended up around his thighs, he not only lived to tell the tale but was back at work within 2 weeks. He didn’t receive the type of worker’s compensation we have now but his boss did reward his bravery with a gold watch!
It’s tales like these, intercepted with facts about the bridge and beautiful views of Sydney that make the BridgeClimb such a memorable experience. Not only did I get to stand atop one of Sydney’s icons but I learnt so much about it along the way. The whole group were so pleased they’d taken the time to do it and I am too. I can’t believe I waited this long already!
BridgeClimb Sydney starts from $228 per person. You can choose between dawn, daytime and twilight climbs.
For more info and to book visit www.adrenalin.com.au.
This post was written in conjunction with Adrenalin.com.au. Images thanks to BridgeClimb Sydney (except for those at BridgeClimb Base which were taken by me!)