Wonders of Australia – Day Three

Wonders of Australia – Day Three – Sunday 11 October 2015

Weather: Sunny, 23. Rain late.

I woke this morning to Boney M. Yup. Boney M videos.

Wasn’t much else on and Australia TV is strange. Nothing seems to start on the hour or on the half hour. They’re all over the clock. Apparently, at one time, starting at different times kept people from changing the channel. It may have worked in the old days when you had to get up and walk to the TV, but in the days of remotes and DVRs, this just doesn’t make sense. Time for Australians to revolt!

My first excursion is the included tour of Sydney. Monograms essentially constructs the tour with day tours that are offered by local operators. In Australia, it was mostly AAT Kings and Gray Line. This morning is the Magnificent Manly and Beyond which was run by AAT Kings. My driver was Steve and we got one of only two glass topped coaches in Australia.

DSC00273bSteve drove us over the bridge and gave us the same history I had heard on the HOHO bus. I’ve enhanced it with the help of Wikipedia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first known suggestion for a bridge came from architect and convict Francis Greenway in 1815. Nothing came of his plans and the numerous others put forth throughout the 19th century. In 1900, the government held a competition for the design of a harbour bridge and it was won by Norman Selfe in 1902. An economic downturn meant the bridge wasn’t built and Selfe was never given the prize money or compensated for the use of his drawings and calculations which would later be used in the construction of the bridge.

DSC00100cvJJC Bradfield was appointed the chief engineer of the project in 1914 and after the war, he worked to keep the project alive. In 1922, the government moved forward on the project and the contract to construct the bridge was given to an English company in 1924. Construction meant work for more than three thousand Australians during the Depression and it was completed in 1932 at a cost of just over six million Australian pounds. It would not be paid off until 1988. Sixteen workers died during construction but most where not from falls. Most were in the lower sections or in the manufacturing process. The workers on the arch never worked with harnesses.

Opening day, 1932.

Opening day, 1932.

When it was opened, the ceremony was interrupted by Francis de Groot who rode up on a horse and slashed the ribbon with his sabre in the name of the people of New South Wales. He was upset that a member of the royal family was not present for the opening.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and this gives it its nickname of The Coat Hanger. Some say the arch is representative of the cap badge of the ANZACs. At 134 m (440 ft), it is the tallest steel arch bridge. It used to be the world’s widest long-span bridge at 48.8 m (160 ft) but this honour was taken by the Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver in 2012.

DSC00281jThere is a rumour that they paint the bridge starting at one end and going to the other end and then returning back to start over again, but that is just myth. They are continuously painting it but go to the sections that need it. Apparently, Paul Hogan was employed as a painter on the bridge before he turned up on the big screen as Crocodile Dundee.

What I found interesting is that the bridge was built with enough room for eight lanes of traffic, two train lines and a sidewalk. They were really looking ahead as it handles the traffic so well (granted, there is a tunnel under the harbour now as well). I later learned that it wasn’t so much foresight as necessity as the width of the bridge meant it was wide enough to turn a horse and wagon around.

There are still toll booths on the bridge that are no longer necessary given how technology has advanced but the booths have been designated as heritage sites and so they remain unused on the north side of the bridge.

DSC00327bcThe tunnel is east of the bridge and was built by the Japanese at no cost to Australia. Instead, they will collect the tolls for thirty years and after that, it’s free and clear.

After we crossed the bridge, we looped around and drove passed a market that they hold on the weekend. Steve noted that his girlfriend loves the market. She can take a blouse that she bought for $300 in the mall and sell it there for $10 and feel like she got a deal.

DSC00293vWe passed the market and stopped at Milson’s Point which can host up to a half million people on Dec 31st for the New Year’s fireworks. It’s also where we can get a decent view of the Opera House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter our photo session, we started driving east. We passed by the American Embassy – otherwise called McDonalds or Maccas. Apparently, Sydney has the most McDonalds per capita in the world with more than two hundred and fifty locations in Sydney.

We also past something I haven’t seen before – a carwash café. Sit and have a coffee while you watch someone wash your car for $38.

It was blocked.

Our next stop was Arabanoo Park which was named for an Aborigine who had been kidnapped in 1788 by Captain Philip who hoped to learn more about the local indigenous people through him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen he was first taken and shackled, Arabonoo was pleased thinking the shackle was an ornament but became angry when he learned its real purpose. He became a favorite among the colonists and gave them a lot of information about his people and their language. Within months of his capture, he died of smallpox.

From here, we could see the Gap, or the entrance of the Sydney Harbour and we get a great idea of the extent of the harbour system that leads to Sydney. The harbour twists and turns and is navigable for some distance. It’s no wonder the city was founded here. It’s an ideal safe harbour from storms and easily defended.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a few photos and then went on to Manly Beach. Manly Beach was named by Captain Arthur Phillip when he observed the indigenous people who lived there. He wrote that their, “confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s no town called Womanly but I know of a few shopping centres that they can make claim to the name.

DSC00314aqWe got to the town of Manly just before eleven and Steve gave us an hour to look around. Being Sunday, the area was full of people and a lot of kids playing organized games. I walked to the end of the beach so that the sun was behind me for pics. I picked up an ice cream and a sarsaparilla and we headed back to the city. On the way, Steve pointed out the statue of The Duke.

DSC00320awHis real name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku and he was a native Hawaiian who introduced surfing to the Australians in 1914. He had come to Australia without his board and the demand for a demonstration led to the Duke making his own board from a piece of pine from a local hardware store. The board was retained by a local surf club.

As we cross over the bridge back towards the city, Steve points to the traffic cameras and said that they used to take pictures of both the front and back plates but that now it only photographs the rear plate. Apparently, a certain lawyer was caught going through a red light with a certain young woman in the seat next to him.

But she wasn’t the one who opened the mail from the department of motor vehicles.

He sued on the basis that it was an intrusion on his privacy. I’m guessing he needed the money for the divorce.

Steve dropped most of us off at Circular Quay. I had more than an hour before my optional Bridge Climb, so I found Hungry Jacks and sat on a bench next to the water to have lunch. Only to have half of it stolen by the birds.

DSC00332bhYeah. These guys are not sitting there patiently waiting to be invited. They just wait for the moment I take my eyes off my lunch and they attack.

I walked around and slowly made my way up to the Bridge Climb office after two. I was early, so I had time to shop and picked up a Bridge Climb hoodie…which the clerk assured me I wouldn’t have to return if I chickened out.

DSC00349bwI lucked out as I did the Climb with a guide and a married couple. I’m told the groups can be as large as fourteen people, and given the photo ops taken during the climb, it can take time to get through the group. Not that I would mind. I could stand anywhere on that bridge and happily take in the sights as I waited. As it turned out, it doesn’t take long to take two pics at each spot.

The photos are taken by the guide with her camera as nothing is permitted on the bridge. Not even watches. (So all the exterior photos below were taken the day before from the Pylon and Circular Quay). They can’t risk anything falling from the bridge and we are dressed to ensure that. We are given a jump suit and since it’s so warm out, our guide, Ally, recommends we wear nothing underneath. I’ve heard others say the same thing and changed into the jump suit. We were given a key for a locker and could secure everything. The key is on a rope that goes around our neck.

The first step in the process is a short briefing when they ask why we are doing the climb. My reason is simple. I’m turning fifty. The couple are doing it because the wife has always wanted to do it. The husband, not so much.

Before we move on, we have to take a breathalyzer!

Yup. One cannot climb the bridge while intoxicated.

Luckily, it doesn’t pick up the sarsaparilla.

DSC00341boThe next stop is the harness station. We line up around a metal bar and the guide wrapped a belt around us and hooked it to the bar as she double checked the connections. Then she gave us a rain jacket (that was still attached to the harness if we needed it) and a ball cap (attached the harness) that we get to keep. We’re also fitted with a radio so that she can talk to us without shouting over the traffic. We get a handkerchief that is looped around our wrist. Gloves and hats are also there for colder days.

Once we’re kitted up, we go into a room where there is a mockup of the ladder stairs. It’s considered the toughest part of the Climb and if someone can run through the mockup okay, they can generally do the Climb with no problem.

Ally showed up how to attach the hook to the cable. It’s a C clasp that fits onto the end of the cable and allows us to move along without detaching the cable (as the open section of the C is where the cable supports slip by). Ally instructed us how to move, ensuring that we had three points of contact on the structure at all times. So, one foot, two hands while one foot moves etc. The cable follows along easily.

It’s not that difficult to climb the ladders. It’s really no different than a ladder up against a house that has handrails and is fixed. Or more like a set of stairs that are as steep as a ladder up against a house. This part of the Climb near the beginning and end. The Arch is the easiest part – it’s just a regular set of stairs on solid metal.

The only difference with the mock-up is that the real ladders are a bit higher and there’s traffic whizzing by at a hundred kph on either side of us. (It’s noisy, but not dangerous). On the return, it will be trains going past, and by law, one has to wear an orange vest to operate that close to a train, but the Bridge Climb owner and designer, Paul Cave, went to Canberra to get the law changed so that orange vests were required when operating next to trains – except on Bridge Climb.

DSC00350bxOnce Ally was sure we were good, we moved to the door and hooked on to the cable. We don’t detach again until we get down though the guides can manipulate the cable support mechanism and detach herself of us if necessary.

The first part of the walk is under the bridge along the girders (the lowest metal span in the photo below). Here the platform is metal grate – the kind that you can see through. I usually have weak knees walking up steps that I can see through and I can’t do glass floors in towers, but I had no problem with this. Probably cause we weren’t really that high here and I was attached.

DSC00330bfWe asked Ally what happens if someone changes their mind and she said there was a point of no return at the end of the girders where she could detach someone and pass them off to another employee who would escort them back in. (There are employees stationed on the bridge at certain points including one at the summit. What a job!)

Ally told us of one case where a fifteen year old boy wanted to do the Climb badly and his father agreed, but once out on the girders, the father couldn’t continue. Unfortunately, since the minimum unaccompanied age was sixteen, the boy had to go back with the dad.

I dare say the boy was back a year later and his dad paid.

Under the girders, we can see one of the more expensive hotels in Sydney – the Park Hyatt Sydney. The penthouse, she tells us, can go for $17,000 a night and requires a minimum three night stay. We can watch them swim and wave to them.

Seventeen grand doesn’t get you complete privacy.

We take a break at a water fountain below the pylon and Ally says that if we can tell her, down to the last pence, how much the bridge was expected to cost, she would give us three nights at the Park Hyatt. I start rattling off a number and give her a bit of a fright when she hears the number four. I’m not close and she breathes a sigh of relief.

So, if you do the Climb and the guide asks you this question, memorize this number – £4,217,721.00 and 11 shillings and 10 pence.

Enjoy your three nights at the Park Hyatt.

We get to the ladders and the late afternoon traffic is pretty loud but is more like white noise than anything else as all concentration is on the ladders. We ascend one at a time and it’s not that bad. As long as you are sure your foot in on the rung before proceeding, it’s fine – just as you would on any ladder.

DSC00006fOur guide told us that Bridge Climb opened in 1998, almost ten years after Paul Cave had participated in a commemorative climb and decided that it should be a permanent feature. He faced a lot of walls along the way, including a list of sixty-four reasons as to why the idea would never work which was submitted by local authorities. Some were concrete barriers like changing the orange vest law while others were more absurd – like the possibility of noise complaints from the local residents.

Yup. They were suggesting that fourteen people walking on a girder under a train and eight lanes of traffic would produce noise to bother the residents nearby.

Whoever suggest that needs to give their head a shake.

Paul Cave addressed every single concern and the Bridge Climb, the first tourism operation on a bridge in the world, opened in 1998. It has since seen more than three million climbers including Robert de Niro, Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey. It has seen many proposals on the top of the arch as well including one guy who bought out a session in order to take along his girlfriend and family members – only to be rejected.

The guide said that it was an awkwardly quiet descent.

No worries about them causing enough noise to bother the local residents.

The endeavor almost bankrupted Cave but at $250 a pop, I think he made his money back. The state government gave Cave a twenty year lease with a portion of the profits going to the state government.

Don’t think they’ll have a problem renewing the lease.

DSC00004dThe Climb also offers shorter routes for those who want a cheaper or lower height option. In the above photo, you can see the main group on the steps but if you look through the girders to the right of them, you can see another group taking that lower route. The walking lane on the bridge is to the far right.

From what I’ve seen, if the cost isn’t the reason one opts for the lower route, the height shouldn’t be a reason. If one can handle the height of the lower climb, they can handle the Arch. The climb on top of the Arch gives the best unobstructed views, the steps are easy and there are handrails all the way up. The stairway on the Arch is also solid so that you’re not looking down at anything – you’re looking out just as you would from a tower.

Except that your hair is a little messier.

Bridge hairstyle. It’s all the rage!

As we climbed the Arch, Ally gave us more information and took some pics. We get one as a group at the top and that one is included in the cost of the climb. They also include an eight second video from the top of the bridge for free that is send electronically.

It’s always nice when a tourist adventure like this doesn’t gouge you over photos. It costs extra if we want others, but no one leaves without at least one photo.

The views are wonderful, but as I noted, if you’re not into this kind of thing, be sure to go up the Pylon. The views are similar and it’s only $13. It was great to get the photos there and the experience here.

As we walked down the other side of the bridge, Ally points out Goat Island but says she’s not sure how the shape of the island was supposed to have given it its name as she can’t see the legs. We stare at it for a while when the husband says he knows. He pointed to one end and said it was the head and that it was lying down so the legs are tucked in under the body. Voila, you have a goat!

So, if you get yourself a free three night stay at the Park Hyatt, you can tell her it was the woman celebrating her fiftieth birthday with the couple that figured out the Goat Island shape that is to blame.

Feel free to give her the link to this tale.

DSC00005eAs we continued down the far arch, Ally pointed out the rivets and said there were more than six million rivets. She said they used to heat them on the bridge and then toss them across the open span to a worker waiting with a bucket to catch the red-hot rivet.

You have to stand there to really appreciate this.

Out of the six million rivets, only ten thousand were dropped.


We could see rain clouds approaching from the west all afternoon and it started to rain as we got close to the ladders. As we climbed down, another group was going up on the other side for the sunset climb (and the next day I met one of them on the Blue Mountain tour and yes, they got soaked. Between us, we convinced another guy to do the climb. His wife, not so much.). Ally told us that rain won’t stop the Climb. Only a thunderstorm or very high winds would stop operations.

We walked along the girder to the door, waving to people below as we went. The swimmers at the Park Hyatt had gone inside.

At the same doorway we had entered through, we detached from the cable and walked inside (this part of the walk is above the reception and store area). Ally helped us remove the equipment one piece at a time. There were chutes for each article we removed and we returned to the metal bar to hook on and detach the harness.

We were given an evaluation form to fill out and drop into a box before we got changed out of the jump suit. By the time we got to the exit, our photos were ready. I got the group photo and one with just myself as well as the video.

And I left knowing I had earned the hoodie.

I walked back to the Menzies, picking up a sandwich on the way and as jetlag puts me out by nine.


Go to Day Four

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