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Today, as I was harmlessly enjoying my vacation, an alert reader pointed out to me that I have been severely slacking off in the website-update department. A quick check of the website revealed that – lo and behold – this appears to be true. In my defense #1) I am really bad at keeping up with the website when I’m travelling with someone else, and #2) I am on vacation. But, my friend Shannon headed home today so I’ll try to do better from here on out. Now, on with the Sydney update!
First of all, getting to Sydney from Atlanta is the hard part. For us, it involved a flight to San Diego, then to Los Angeles and finally a 15-hour marathon flight over the Pacific. (Could have gone direct to LA, of course, but the ticket was almost $200 cheaper thru San Diego. Go figure.) We left Atlanta on Saturday afternoon and – after crossing the International Date Line – landed in Sydney at 6:30am Monday morning. Luckily, we were able to get bulkhead seats on the trans-pacific leg so we both managed to get a little sleep. Overall, the flight wasn’t nearly as bad as expected.
Sydney greeted us with a chilly, morning rain – did I mention it is the middle of winter in Australia? By the time we got to the hotel and checked in (huge props to the Sheraton on the Park for having a room ready for us at 8am, a suite no less) the sun was starting to break through giving us a much-needed second wind. After showers and a trip up to the Concierge Lounge for breakfast, we headed out into a gradually-warming, sunny morning to explore the city.
I’ve been to Sydney once before (on RTW #2) but it was just for 2 nights, so though I had seen some of the city – there was still plenty left undiscovered. The big event on our schedule was Bridge Climb Sydney. The ultimate Sydney experience, it is the #1 attraction in the city and was completely sold out on my last visit. Lesson learned, this time we booked ahead. We’d scheduled the climb for the next morning so for our first day, the plan was simply to take in the rest of what Sydney had to offer.
So, we headed down to Sydney Harbour to wonder at the famous Opera House and get a look at the bridge we’d be climbing the next day. The weather warmed up into the mid-60’s once the sun came out and the day was actually shaping up to be quite nice.
After a leisurely walk through Sydney Harbour and The Rocks historic area, we decided to hop a bus out to Bondi Beach for lunch. It was the first of several times the weather would change on us in a matter of minutes. By the time we got off the bus, the temperature had dropped into the 50’s and it was beginning to rain. Not exactly beach weather but what’re you gonna do? It is, after all, winter. We found a great little place for lunch with a view of the massive beach and then walked down to the beach afterwards for as long as we could stand the cold.
By late afternoon that day, Shannon and I were both fading quickly. Our excitement at finally being in Sydney was quickly losing ground to the fact that we hadn’t slept since Friday night. And with the Bridge Climb looming the next day, it was time to call it a day. We headed back to the hotel for happy hour & hors d’oeuvres in the Concierge Lounge before crashing at 7pm.
Day 2: Bridge Climb Sydney!!!
We were super excited to awake to sunny skies since we were praying for good weather for our climb. For all that money (Bridge Climb Sydney is not cheap) we really wanted good pictures. Our climb time was 11am so we headed out early to try to see the Botanical Gardens and Mrs. Macquaries Point (great views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge) before then.
On the 30 minute walk from the hotel to the Point, the weather went from warm and sunny to cold and overcast – foiled again by Sydney winter weather. After taking some dreary pictures from the lookout point we started walking back toward the harbor to do a little shopping before reporting to the Bridge Climb Sydney office.
An hour later, while we were shopping for souvenirs, the clouds parted and the sun came out again. Hooray! If only this would hold out through our climb. We still had an hour before we needed to be there so we decided to make the long walk back through the Botanical Gardens to the lookout point. We barely had enough time to make it there and back but we did and got some great pictures.
Now, it was finally time for our Bridge Climb and we reported to the office right on schedule. Which was good because as it turns out, they run a very tight ship at Bridge Climb Sydney. When we arrived and checked-in, our climbing group (there were 9 of us) was quickly ushered into a briefing room where we signed our life away in a release, took a breathalyzer and were told what we couldn’t take up on the bridge (i.e. everything). We left all our belongings in a locker (watches, rings, cameras, etc) and changed into a very fashionable (if you’re in prison) grey jumpsuit. Next, we were introduced to our climb leader, Ash, and the assembly line of equipment began.
Moving efficiently from station to station, our first stop was the safety belt with line and D-ring that would connect us to a rail on the bridge as we climbed. Next, the optional equipment: hats, gloves, jackets…all with connectors to attach to rings on your jumpsuit or belt so nothing can be dropped onto the moving traffic below. Finally, we moved on to the communication station and were fitted with radios and headsets so we could hear Ash during the climb. Properly outfitted in enough unflattering gear to make Gisele look frumpy, we entered the building’s concrete tunnel directly onto the steel girders of the bridge.
There are several climb groups on the bridge at any given time. All are monitored by an “air traffic control-like” monitoring station that stays in constant communication with the climb leaders. This keeps them on schedule so that the groups stay a safe distance apart and the day’s schedule runs on time. The climb itself takes about 2 ½ hours roundtrip. As we ascend, Ash provides detailed commentary over the radio about the history of the bridge and surrounding landmarks.
After an hour or so of traversing narrow catwalks, climbing endless stairs and ducking under low-hanging steel beams, we make our final ascent to the top…and it is, without a doubt, worth the effort. The clouds had moved in and out during our climb but when it came time to take that once-in-a-lifetime picture at the top, luck (if not fashion) was on our side and the clouds parted. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking.
Ash took both individual photos and a group photo and Shannon and I somehow managed to power through the chain-gang suits and headsets to maintain some sense of windblown-glamour, LOL. After photos, Ash spent several minutes pointing out everything of interest in the harbor area and surrounding islands (from where the Queen stays when visiting Sydney to where Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban live).
After soaking in the panoramic view for a few more minutes, it was time to cross the top for the descent down the other side. The climb down, of course, goes much quicker and before I knew it we were ditching those sexy jumpsuits and being reunited with our wallets just in time to view our pictures at the Photo Desk on the way out. This is where the climb gets even more expensive – the pictures are so cool, you want them all. But they are also about $15 each, so you have to get ahold of yourself and make sensible choices (we each bought 3). Luckily, you do get one picture free – the group photo.
For the most part, the climb is not so scary and you feel pretty secure the whole time. The only times I was a little unnerved were when we had to walk on mesh-like surfaces where you could see straight through your feet down (way down) into traffic or water and while we were crossing the very top of the bridge. Other than that, it wasn’t bad at all. It is, however, very expensive – about $160 + the cost of photos – but it is definitely something you have to do when in Sydney. There is nothing else like it in the world. I did a similar bridge climb in Auckland a few years ago and thought the two would be comparable…I was wrong.
Not satisfied with having climbed only 1,400 steps on the bridge, we decided while we were in the area to climb to the top of the bridge’s south pylon where there is an excellent lookout point. Our Bridge Climb ticket included a free entry to the pylon lookout ($9 value) so we figured, why not? The weather was still gorgeous so we took full advantage knowing it couldn’t last forever (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
The pylon was also worth the climb and was a great place to take pictures of other groups climbing the bridge. Satisfied with our photos for the day, we headed back down to the harbor for a very late lunch. Later, we took a walk over to Darling Harbour before deciding we had now walked every square inch of Sydney and heading back to the Sheraton’s Lounge for post-climb celebratory champagne like sensible people.
Day 3 – Kangaroos, Koalas and Wallabies – Oh my!
For our final full day in Sydney, we wanted to see some of Australia’s wildlife – specifically kangaroos and koalas. The best place in the city to do that is the world-famous Taronga Zoo and conveniently it takes a ferry ride to get there – another thing we had wanted to do. Unfortunately, we awoke to lousy weather again. Assuming it could change on a dime as it had the past few days (Sydney has winter weather only Sybil could love), we headed to the ferry terminal hoping for the best.
The zoo was mostly a ghost town on this rainy winter day but we did get to see adorable wallabies, Tasmanian devils, kangaroos and – the highlight – lots of koalas!!! (Note: They are not koala bears – as the lady at the information desk was quick to point out when I inquired where to find them.) They are, however, one of the cutest things I have ever seen in my life.
Snuggled up…sleeping…their little furry butts balanced precariously on tiny branches…it was the Olympics of cute, people. As a special treat, I have uploaded some video Shannon took of a koala backing his way down a tree for some lunch on eucalyptus leaves. You can find it in the photo gallery link below. Brace yourself for extreme adorableness. You have been warned.
The heaviest rain held off for most of our zoo visit but after we left the koalas it really started coming down. Of course, we had no umbrella so we got drenched trying to make it back to the ferry. For once, the weather situation stalled and it continued to rain the entire remainder of the day. Once back at the Sydney Harbour ferry terminal, we took another ferry over to Darling Harbour for a late lunch and lingered for a second glass of wine trying to wait out the rain – to no avail. As disappointing as the weather was on our last day, we were so grateful to have had good weather the day before for the Bridge Climb. The climb is done rain or shine 364 days a year (NYE is the lone exception as they shoot fireworks off the bridge) and I can tell you the people who were paying all that money to do it today must have been miserable.
Eventually, we gave up on the weather and headed back to the hotel to dry off. Later, we rallied long enough to grab some Thai food for dinner before calling it a night. Early flight to Auckland in the morning!