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Today, as I was harmlessly enjoying my summer vacation, an alert reader pointed out to me that I have been severely slacking off in the blogging department. A quick check of the website reveals that – lo and behold – this appears to be true.
In my defense:
#1) I am notoriously bad at keeping up with the website when I’m traveling with someone else
#2) I am on vacation.
But, 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 my good friend and regular travel buddy Shannon and I.
It involves a flight to San Diego, then to Los Angeles, and finally a 15-hour marathon flight over the Pacific. We could have gone directly to LA, of course, but the ticket was almost $200 cheaper thru San Diego.
We depart Atlanta on Saturday afternoon and – after crossing the International Date Line – land in Sydney at 6:30am on Monday morning.
Luckily, scored 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 we expected.
Sydney greets us with a chilly, morning rain – did I mention it is the middle of winter in Australia?
By the time we get to our hotel, the lovely Sheraton Grand Hyde Park, the sun is starting to break through the clouds. It gives us a much-needed second wind.
So, after showers and a trip up to the Concierge Lounge for breakfast, we head out into the gradually warming, sunny morning to explore the city.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
I visited Sydney once before (on Round-the-World #2) but it was just for two nights.
Read More: Australia Day in Sydney
Though I saw much of the city on that visit, there is still plenty left undiscovered. The big event on our schedule this time around is Bridge Climb Sydney.
The ultimate Sydney experience, Bridge Climb is the #1 attraction in the city. And it was completely sold out on my last visit.
Lesson learned, this time we booked ahead.
We scheduled the climb for tomorrow morning. So for our first day, the plan is simply to take in the rest of what Sydney has to offer.
We head down to Sydney Harbour to gaze in wonder at the famous Opera House and get a look at the bridge we’ll be climbing tomorrow. The weather warms up into the mid-60’s once the sun comes out.
This winter day is actually shaping up to be quite nice!
Beach time at Bondi Beach
After a leisurely walk through Sydney Harbour and The Rocks historic area, we hop on a bus to Bondi Beach for lunch.
It’s the first of several times the weather changes on us in a matter of minutes. By the time we get off the bus, the temperature has dropped into the 50’s and it’s beginning to rain.
Not exactly beach weather but what’re you gonna do?
It is, after all, winter.
We duck into a great little place for lunch with a view of the massive beach. After lunch, we walk the wide, beautiful beach for as long as we can stand the cold.
By late afternoon, Shannon and I are both fading quickly. Our excitement at finally being in Sydney is quickly losing ground to the fact that we haven’t slept since Friday night. And with the Bridge Climb looming tomorrow, it’s time to call it a day.
We head back to the hotel for happy hour & hors d’oeuvres in the Concierge Lounge before crashing at 7:00pm.
Day 2: Bridge Climb Sydney!!!
We are super excited to awake to sunny skies this morning. We were praying for good weather for our bridge climb.
For all that money (Bridge Climb Sydney is not cheap) we really want good pictures. Our bridge climb time isn’t until 11:00am. But we head out early to see the Botanical Gardens and Mrs. Macquaries Point (great views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge) before our climb.
On the 30 minute walk from the hotel to the Point, the weather goes from warm and sunny to cold and overcast. Foiled again by Sydney winter weather.
We take some dreary pictures from the lookout point and then start walking back toward Sydney Harbour. We want to do a little shopping in the Harbour before reporting to the Bridge Climb Sydney office.
An hour later, while we are shopping for souvenirs, the clouds part and the sun shines again. Hooray! If only this will hold out through our climb.
It’s finally time for our Bridge Climb and we report to the office right on schedule. And I’m glad we did because as it turns out, they run a very tight ship at Bridge Climb Sydney.
When we arrive and check in, our climbing group of 9 people is quickly ushered into a briefing room. There, we all sign our life away in a release, take a breathalyzer test, and are told what we can’t take up on the bridge (i.e. everything).
We leave all our belongings in a locker (watches, rings, cameras, etc). Then we change into a very fashionable (if you’re in prison) grey jumpsuit. Next, we are introduced to our climb leader, Ash, and the assembly line of equipment begins.
Moving efficiently from station to station, our first stop is the safety belt with line and D-ring that will connect us to a rail on the bridge as we climb. Next, the optional equipment: hats, gloves, jackets, etc. Each has a connector to attach to rings on your jumpsuit or belt so nothing can be dropped onto the moving traffic below.
Finally, we move on to the communication station and are fitted with radios and headsets so we could hear Ash during our bridge climb. Properly outfitted in enough unflattering gear to make Gisele look frumpy, we enter the building’s concrete tunnel directly onto the steel girders of the bridge.
The ascent up the bridge
There are several bridge 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 photo shoot
The clouds had moved in and out during our climb but when it comes time to take that once-in-a-lifetime picture at the top, luck (if not fashion) is on our side and the clouds part. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking.
Ash takes both individual photos and then a group photo. Shannon and I somehow manage to power through the chain-gang suits and headsets to maintain some sense of windblown-glamour.
After photos, Ash spends several minutes pointing out everything of interest in the harbour area and surrounding islands. From where the Queen stays when visiting Sydney to where Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban live.
We soak in the panoramic view for a few more minutes, then it’s time to cross the top for the descent down the other side.
The climb down, of course, goes much quicker and before I know it we are ditching those sexy jumpsuits. We are reunited with our wallets just in time to view our pictures at the Photo Desk on the way out.
How much are Bridge Climb photos?
This is where the climb gets even more expensive – the pictures are so cool, you want them all.
But they are also $35 for the first one and $10 for each additional picture. So you have to get a hold of yourself and make sensible choices (we each bought 3). Luckily, you do get one picture free – the group photo.
Is the Sydney Bridge Climb scary?
For the most part, the climb is not scary at all and you feel pretty secure the whole time.
I was only a little unnerved twice. First, when we had to walk on mesh-like surfaces where you can see straight through your feet down (way down) into traffic or water. And second, 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 $175 USD + 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 I thought the two would be comparable. I was wrong.
Read More: New Zealand Part 2 – Bridge Climb Auckland
The Pylon Climb
After our 1,400 step climb on the bridge, we decide to also climb to the top of the bridge’s south pylon where there is an excellent lookout point. Our Bridge Climb ticket includes a free entry to the pylon lookout ($9 value) so we figure, why not?
The weather is still gorgeous so we take full advantage knowing it can’t last forever (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
The pylon is well worth the climb, it’s a great place to take pictures of other groups climbing the bridge.
Satisfied with our photos for the day, we head back down to the harbour for a very late lunch. Later, we visit Darling Harbour before deciding we have now walked every square inch of Sydney. We head 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 want 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 on our must-do list!
Unfortunately, the weather is lousy again today. Knowing it can change on a dime as it has the past few days (Sydney has winter weather only Sybil could love), we head to the ferry terminal hoping for the best.
The Taronga Zoo
The zoo is mostly a ghost town on this rainy winter day. But we 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 is quick to point out when I inquire 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’s 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 holds off for most of our zoo visit. But after we leave the koalas it really starts coming down.
We have no umbrella so we get drenched trying to make it back to the ferry. For once, the weather situation stalls and it continues to rain the entire remainder of the day.
Wrapping up our stay in Sydney
Once back at the Sydney Harbour ferry terminal, we take another ferry over to Darling Harbour for a late lunch. Then linger for a second glass of wine in an attempt to wait out the rain. It doesn’t work.
As disappointing as the weather is on our last day, we are so grateful we had good weather yesterday 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’m willing to bet the people who are paying all that money to do it today must be miserable.
Eventually, we give up on the weather and head 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!
Thanks for a great stay, Sydney! I can’t wait to come back again.
Read More: Sydney & the Blue Mountains, Australia