Yesterday I walked over the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was a unique experience, but I think what I found unique about it might be different than what other people find unique.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge isn’t the biggest bridge in the world. It isn’t even the biggest arch bridge in the world. It is nonetheless an impressive and imposing structure which dominates the Sydney Harbor. It has become one of the most famous landmarks in all of Australia and has become known as the focal point of the gigantic New Year’s firework display in Sydney.
I’d actually compare it to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Like the Eiffel Tower, it is an older, iconic steel structure which has come to define a major city. Not the biggest, but the best known. Like the Eiffel Tower, you can climb up to the top. That is where this story comes in….
The bridge climb started about 10 years ago. Since then over 2,000,000 have made the climb over the Harbor Bridge. The climb isn’t cheap. It is over $100, and yet it is usually so busy you have to book in advance and there are usually long waits at the top as groups try to get through. They tend to do the walk in all conditions except for electrical storms and very high winds. There are even several times in the year where they run walks 24 hours a day.
Groups leave about every 10-15 minutes. Mine was scheduled to go at 1:15 pm. Because I was doing it by myself, it was pretty easy for me to schedule I time I wanted. In addition to me, my group consisted of two other Americans and nine Australians from Perth, Adelaide and Alice Springs. The ages in the group went from 12 to 69.
The bridge climb company is very concerned about safety. I get and understand that. They have the general public climbing a bridge. They also don’t want people throwing stuff from the bridge. I understand that too. Objects falling on moving cars and the reaction that might cause could be really bad. Nonetheless, the whole process together felt like I was being treated like a baby. Let me give you a feel:
- You check in and are given a waiver to fill out
- You are asked about every possible medical condition possible
- You are given a breathalyzer test (I’m not kidding)
- You cannot carry ANYTHING with you. That includes wallets, hats, keys, cameras, anything
- You have to wear a gray and blue jumpsuit (supposedly so to not distract drivers
- You have to have your glasses attached to your jumpsuit
- You can’t wear sandals. They gave me a pair of shoes and socks to wear
- You have to practice going up a ladder
- You have to go through a metal detector
It is what going through an airport is going to be like in 10 years.
The things are, I can understand the justification behind any one of those requirements. Put them all together and it feels like something created by a committee of bureaucrats. The end result is you look like a member of a space shuttle crew from a country who couldn’t afford to buy real space shuttle jumpsuits, so they have copycat jumpsuits from a guy on a street corner.
In addition to all of the above, you are also tethered to the bridge for the entire walk. There is a wire which runs along the entire walk and there is a contraption which is attached to you which slides the entire way. I’m not totally sure why they have it. The way it is designed, it won’t really stop anyone from falling down the steps. If you start sliding down the arch, it will probably just slide with you. If you wanted to kill yourself, you could always slip off your belt (or save some money and jump off the road deck of the bridge). There are handrails on both sides of you the entire walk and the arch is wide enough that you probably can’t fall off if you wanted to.
I suppose if you are afraid of heights this won’t be your cup of tea. However, this is nothing close to extreme. This is the opposite of bungee jumping. The walk is very leisurely. You do have to climb a few ladders, but the climb takes about an hour and even if you aren’t in shape, I highly doubt if you are going to get winded at any point. The most dangerous part of the walk is avoiding hitting your head on some pieces of steel which have padding on it.
The only reason I wouldn’t recommend someone taking this walk is the cost. It is expensive considering that you can walk across the deck for nothing. That being said, doing the bridge walk has sort of become “the” thing to do in Sydney for tourists. You do get a great view of the harbor and if you do it, you can say you did it. It is like going to Paris and not going up the Eiffel Tower. No matter how lame and touristy you might think it is, it is sort of something you have to do at least once.
Plus, you don’t get the dorky astronaut uniform going up the Eiffel Tower…..