Sydney is laid out before us. To the right is the city, all glass and metal; to the left, the North Shore and Manly are more residential, with Kirribilli House in the foreground peeking through the trees. Behind us, the harbour stretches back toward Parramatta, a second city sprouting from the otherwise low-level sprawl.
But the real show-stopper is directly ahead. Sydney Harbour is all action: cream-and-green ferries ripple the teal water as they track back and forth between Circular Quay and Manly; impressive yachts glide across its surface. An enormous cruise ship – so big that if you stood it upright, it would be almost as tall as the 40-floor Shangri-La building nearby – sounds a horn, breaking the quiet this high elevation offers. A divot in the land beyond lets a sliver of ocean onto the horizon: we can see all the way to Bondi Beach.
Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge seems like an activity you’d only recommend to tourists eager to get their bearings. But the spectacular view from the top – and the chance to see another side of the structure has made it a rite of passage for locals, too. BridgeClimb has been the gift of choice for milestone birthdays, a spot for declarations of love (5000 proposals at last count) and a bucket-list item for Sydneysiders and visitors alike for 21 years.
When you book a Summit climb, you’re advised to set aside 3.5 hours from start to finish. It seems crazy – how long could it possibly take to walk to the top? But a solid hour is spent running through the safety procedures, suiting up and building a little camaraderie between your climbing buddies.
After filling out the necessary release forms, our group of 14 goes around in a circle to introduce ourselves. It’s an eclectic bunch: a couple from Adelaide in Sydney for the first time, brothers from Melbourne who quickly assert themselves as a comedy act, a family from Korea visiting their daughter in Sydney (also along for the climb), a few locals, a group of Texans and a woman from the UK who flew out especially for the U2 concert later that week.
We strip off and zip up our neck-to-ankle slate-coloured boiler suits (unless it’s very cold, you’ll be asked to remove your clothes and only wear the special suit), pop on our hats and get kitted out with an array of harnesses, straps, headsets and hankies – they’re looped around your wrist; nothing can be left hanging lest it fall 134 metres to the road below.
Once equipped, we practice ascending and descending ladders inside while clipped onto the structure using the hook attached to our harnesses – the entire time you’re on the bridge, you’ll be attached to it. Once we’ve ambled up and down the steps to the satisfaction of Eleanor, our guide, we head through a tunnel onto the bridge.
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Immediately we step onto the underbelly of the bridge, turn right and walk in a straight line for a few hundred metres atop some (tightly secured) wooden planks and metal grate. Cars clatter above our heads: we’re beneath the road at this point, and beneath us is Dawes Point Reserve, with Circular Quay to the right (we wave at the sunbathers beside the Park Hyatt’s rooftop pool) and Darling Harbour to the left.
Once we reach the South-East Pylon, touching its granite-clad surface for luck, we climb several flights of stairs then follow a narrow walkway, stepping over and ducking underneath girders at the same time, to reach the four ladders that will take us to the upper arch.
This is the part we practiced before we took off, though it’s a little more daunting in real-time. Tucked in a metal cage between lanes seven and eight of the Bradfield Highway, cars and buses whiz past either side (and the occasional tourist on the walkway points at us as we emerge). It’s the only real heart-fluttering part of the climb (so long as you’re not afraid of the heights) but once you pop out the top, the ascent to the summit is relatively easy.
The steps gently curve upwards and we pause several times to hear facts about the bridge’s construction (six million rivets!) and have our photos taken – after all, if you don’t have the photo evidence, did you really do it?
The summit is spectacular; a 360-degree view of the city on a clear day, all the way north to Manly, south almost to the escarpment and west to Parramatta. Our group debates what various landmarks are, our questions quickly answered by Eleanor: Which island is Shark Island? (The one to the left, the other is Clark). What are the skyscrapers we can see out west? (Homebush – the flagpoles atop the bridge where made taller during the Olympics so you could see them from the stadium). How many people died building the bridge? (16, but only two died from falling off, and another even survived the plummet).
We stop at the highest point for individual and group photos before descending in an identical fashion, only this time on the western side of the bridge. By the time we amble back down the arch and reach the archway, we’ve trodden 1332 steps.
How to get there: BridgeClimb starts and finishes in its office
on Cumberland Street in The Rocks.
When to go: Climbs run all day; dawn and dusk timeslots are
sought-after but well worth the extra cost.
- Summit: 3.5 hours; from $268
- Summit Express: 2.5 hours, from $268
- Sampler: 1.5 hours; from $174
- There are also specialty climbs, including tours conducted in
Japanese and Mandarin and ones timed for special events,
such as Vivid.