28 January 2008

Travel: Australia, Part 4 - Harbour Bridge

New Year's Eve! This is why I first planned my trip, to experience Sydney and its (nearly) first-to-celebrate status (New Zealand actually welcomes the new year two hours earlier, and I think you would find small Pacific islands that are really the first). For years, I had seen footage of celebrations at Sydney Harbour, and that is where we would go. Jeff got up early to take the car into the city to park, so we wouldn't have to fight the crowds at the train station on the way home. He staked out a place for us around 10 am, dropping off some of our gear, and then trained back to the house. At around 2, we were back at the train station with several other family friends, and it was just about 3 when we settled into our spots.

We actually staked out two spots, one on a hill adjacent to the bridge, and one underneath the bridge in the shadow. The temperature difference was drastic. The hill was nestled up next to a set of apartments, in the sun, with little breeze. Underneath the bridge, in the shade and open to the harbour breeze, it was 10 degrees cooler (Celsius). The large grassy portion between the two areas was a perfect spot for the paddle ball, soccer, and cricket that would keep the boys busy for hours. Which was important, as we would wait until 9pm for the first fireworks (the "family" fireworks) and another 3 hours for the midnight show.

The place was starting to get crowded as we arrived, but it got jam-packed as the evening wore on. Jeff and I made a trek back to the car at one point, returning along the harbour front path, and it was like walking through a refugee camp, with so many people camped out with blankets, books, sport equipment, food - you name it.

But, it was all worth it. The first fireworks show was good. The second, deserving of the worldwide attention it gets. The fireworks are launched from two locations in the harbour on either side of the bridge, from the bridge itself, and from several skyscrapers in the city centre directly across the water from us. The bridge fireworks include a cascade that looks like a waterfall of sparks. It was beautiful. Of course, my camera ran out of battery power sometime before the first show, but I have included pictures here to show you our proximity.

After the show, we were all exhausted. But, bringing the car down to the city was the best idea, as we were able to avoid the crowds at the train station and get home earlier that we would have, which was still around 1.30am.

The next day we had planned to go back into the city for the Harbour Bridge Climb. I was exhausted, as my travels were catching up with me. It was to the point that when I awoke the next day at around 7.30, and the house was silent, a little smile crossed my face at the prospect of several more hours of sleep. But, then I heard footsteps - no dice. Which ended up being a very good thing. We drove down to a deserted city centre for our bridge climb.

Now, I thought this was just a simple climb up some steps with a couple of photo ops. But, this was serious! We all had to watch an instructional video, sign waiver forms, and take a breathalyser test before going. After that, we put on our uniforms (these are bridge-colored jumpsuits with sunglasses and hat hooks to make sure nothing falls off) and harnesses (part of a unique system that attaches you to the bridge for the entire time you are up there). After a quick test to make sure we were okay with climbing up and down, we were off.

The climb takes you out about 25 metres over the ground to start, with a long narrow walkway connecting the bridge tower to the start of the stairs. The first portion includes very steep, narrow stairs, on which only one climber is allowed at a time. Once you climb the four sections of these stairs (which takes you past the actual roadway, where cars and trains buzz by you at highway speeds), the climb gets less steep, as it moves to the top of the bridge structure. The colors of the suit need to match the grey of the bridge so the climbers are a distraction to the motorists below.

It actually is a pretty easy climb, although those with a fear of heights should probably stay away. The view from the top is stunning - Sydney from 130 metres (430 feet) in 360 degrees, from north Sydney to the Opera House and Botanical Gardens to the City Centre around to the harbour inlets. To top it off, a rainbow appeared, but of a type I had never seen, or even heard of - it formed a perfect circle around the sun, which was directly above us.

After that, it was time to wind down my three week holiday. We went back to the house and whiled away the rest of the day, and I was off the next morning. Not before helping Jeff push his dead car back up the hill that was the street in front of his house, which was more of a workout than I had gotten in my entire time away.

The Kays family is now back in the U.S., and I am glad I could share a few of their final days in Oz. Good on ya, Mate!

1 comment:

rexv said...

Hey, Eric --

You've made me green with envy! I wanted to climb the bridge when we were in Sydney in '99, but can't remember why it didn't happen. Maybe because they wouldn't let me take my camera?! Enjoying reading your blog. Stay safe! -- Rex Vermillion