August 28, 1999 - Blakehurst, Near Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A very productive day after not so good a day yesterday (well, the end anyway). It started after getting up where we went in search of a hotel. The current motel was not very nice (in my opinion – at least it was clean as mother said – it was just a bit old, overpriced – again, in my opinion – grungy, not dirty and just not the best) and it was also full for tonight. We went down the street last night in search of food and found another motel but it was very expensive so we decided not to try that one. In the other direction we found this place just off of Prince's Highway (a big highway that we followed from Victoria) which was much nicer for only a few dollars more. We were allowed to park the car there and were given directions to catch a bus across the street – which we did – which took us through a residential area.

Many of the houses near here are very much similar to the UK in structure but much more contemporary. A great number of trees, many of which are, to us, exotic and include a large number of palm trees which I think make the place look very tropical.

The bus driver was very helpful and let us off at a train station where, after picking up a few pastries, we were able to very quickly pick up a train (return) to the Sydney Central Station (we did not know where else to go). The price was VERY reasonable and we used the tickets to quickly pass through the electronic gates (just like the Underground in London) and onto the train. Some of the trains seem to be a bit older and have three levels – the bottom level with windows even with the platform, the second level at each end of the car and a third directly above the first. The windows all open (there is no air-conditioning) and the ride was very comfortable.

After getting off at Central we walked onto the street, a bit lost. Mother talked to a ticket booth and obtained a brochure containing information on how to use public transit that we used the whole day – it also contained information on the various attractions and how to get between them.

We left the somewhat well-used station and were in the University area, walking past the bus station and onto George street. We continued down the street until we reached Chinatown. It was a lot different than Hong Kong – no where near the amount of activity – though still quite good, stopping to admire the contents of an aquarium at a restaurant (you should have seen the size of the crabs we saw, UNBELIEVABLE – At Lakes Entrance we were told about some crabs that are fairly large but with a single claw about the size of an adult human's arm though when this big they are about 80-90 years old – these crabs are only harvested once a year, in limited quantities and are very expensive).

We noticed that above the street where trams were operating there was a monorail so we picked up a 'unlimited' ticket for the day. The ticket included discount coupons for various attractions around the city also (which will be useful). It was relatively inexpensive also. The monorail was a bit older and well-used (again) but quickly took us above the city streets around to the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour (the Darling Park stop) where we were astonished with all the various attractions around us – lots to see and do – and very clean.

Cockle Bay -- Near the Aquarium

We walked down to the harbour near the aquarium to see if we could catch a boat to tour the harbour. There were a few companies operating but we sat down near the dock of one of them that offered tours and ferry service in the harbour. Eventually we caught the boat as it docked, getting on board (with the advice of the advertising indicating that you could pay when on board). It turns out it was simply a ferry to the Sydney Cove area (Circular Quay) which was a bit of a surprise but we enjoyed the trip around Miller's Point anyway. There is a lot of traffic on the harbour though we quickly made the journey in our catamaran (dual-hulled vehicle). We passed by various wharfs including a container port and a series of older docks that are only now being renovated and turned into shopping and office space.

Circular Quay

Once we landed at Circular Quay we noticed that the area was very good for tourists with lots of places to eat and on 'The Rocks' there was a replica of the Bounty (evidently used in the movie of the same name made a few years ago). We decided to attempt a tour of the harbour anyway and just managed to catch a cruise with Captain Cook Cruises for their 'Highlight Cruise' which was about an hour and a bit long.

View from the Harbour

It was a great tour, showing us a lot of the east area of the harbour, but not quite to the harbour entrance. Much of this area is residential (very nice residential on the water). There are a lot of little bays all along the area and we were surprised to see the number of small islands (there are a total of 8 in the harbour) which are all, evidently, park land and accessible by the public. Most of the northern part of the harbour to the east is park land (including the zoo) though right near Circular Quay it is residential.

Circular Quay, by the way, is right where the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House are located so, when we headed out from the Quay we passed around the Opera House and to the east. There is a lot of traffic on the harbour and it is much larger than we expected. We were very lucky today since the weather was much nicer than yesterday – largely SUNNY and cloud-free.

The tour was very good and interesting, pointing out a lot of places of historical interest. It was interesting to see that there is a 'control tour' for harbour control that towers over the container ships on Millers Point right near Goat Island which is the home of the Water Rats (the harbour patrol – also the subject of a soap opera on local television).

As we passed under the harbour bridge I was discussing with mother the possibility of climbing the bridge. Yes, climbing the bridge. About a year ago they started giving climbing tours of the bridge where they guide you to the very top of the arch of the bridge. After talking about it for a few minutes we headed over to the bridge to see if we could get into a tour for today. We managed to get tickets for the early evening – a few hours away. It was a bit difficult to find where the tour was operating until we found a map on the wall in the area. It was not terribly well marked.

We walked back towards the Quay to wait for our time, walking down Harrington Street (on the Rocks right beside the bridge) which was hosting a street market. The intention was to visit a restaurant that we had been told about in Lakes Entrance and is supposed to serve the best seafood in Sydney if not southern Australia. It was closed so we went back to Harrington Street and wandered slowly through the market, picking up a few t-shirts but generally just taking our time (I did manage to pick up some Gelati - Italian Ice-cream - as it was a bit warm…). It was interesting to see that many of the crafts and things for sale are basically the same as you would see anywhere.

We continued back to the “BridgeClimb” area where we sat in an area watching a video describing the climb and all the various things that would be happening (in addition to a lot of video showing the various media coverage of the attractions). We were called into another room where we signed waivers about our trip to the top (basically stating that they were not to blame if anything happened to us during the climb). After the waiver we were given a 'breathalyser' which we both thought was a good idea: Can't imagine climbing with someone drunk – dangerous to both themselves and others. Evidently there are a few every day that fail the test and are turned away (their money is NOT refunded). We were climbing with two people from the UK (one from England and one, emphatically, from Scotland), and two others from Scandinavia – much smaller than the normal groups of about 12 people.

Being led into another area we emptied all our pockets and removed our watches and all other 'attachments', putting them into lockers provided for us (the key goes around the neck on a cord), and pulled on coveralls that would protect our clothing (and us) from the dirt of the bridge and the climb itself. We were then given a tool-belt to which we attached a rain coat (in a pouch) and a fleece (again in a pouch). A headlamp was also given to us (which we put on our heads on top of a small, disposable, black hat – which looked like a yamaka) since it would be dark by the time we reached the top. We were lucky since it would be light most of the way up, when we would see the sun set from the bridge, and dark when we reached the top – the best of both situations.

We were led to a small section of ladder and walkway where we were shown how to attach our clamping devices (evidently used on boats to hold people attached to a wire surrounding the deck of the ship) to the guide cable and how to climb up and down the ladders we would be using (and how to detach and re-attach the clamp).

A radio was then added to our tool-belt and given a earpiece. This was never used during the climb but was given to us in case of emergency. The guide was fitted with a radio with which he could talk to us.

We left the main “BridgeClimb” area and walked out onto the street, passing through a door into the bridge itself (a security badge is worn by the guide). We climbed a few steps and waited in front of a hole that was carved through one of the bridge pylons (we were waiting for a group in front of us – we waited a few times on the climb because of them – the groups are about 10 minutes apart from each other). The hole was quite something, had to be at least 30-40 feet. Evidently, as they drilled through the pylon they passed through a central fill area which they did not know existed and when they removed the drill (actually a core driller and when they removed the core) a stream of water gushed out since the water from the street on the bridge had seeped into the central fill area over the years and it took many days to drain completely. They drilled a series of five holes (three at the top in a triangular shape and two at the bottom, in a shape vaguely reminiscent of a coffin – a bad omen as the guide suggested) and joined the holes together by using a diamond-encrusted band run around the rock between the holes many times. The hole drilling was over budget by quite a large amount of money. Coincidently, in the fill area was also found the remains of a leather boot they think was left by a workman.

We continued through the hole and onto the undercarriage of the bridge itself, walking along a walkway immediately below the road to the next pylon over the water where we started up a long ladder (with 100 rungs, according to the guide). We were given a special clamp that would not allow us to go backwards (one direction only) when climbing the ladders (they were also on shorter ropes so they would not interfere with our climbing). Once at the top of the ladders we were led out onto the top girder of the bridge arch (on the east side on the way up, over to the west side on the way down) which turned out to be very wide (not allowing an immediate look downwards even though we were already about 30m above the road) and had a series of steps all the way to the top of the bridge. An easy climb though we had to stop many times due to the groups in front of us. On the various stops our guide pointed out various sites of interest which was good. He even showed us a bit of the various constellations (pointing out the southern cross which mother and I could not find earlier).

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge (me and mom)

Our guide took pictures all the way along which we could choose from at the end of the tour (we were given a complimentary picture of the group taken from the very top of the bridge). The top of the bridge was quite something and we could see quite a way (seeing the site of the Olympics for one). It was quite something at night and not really that windy. We were quite for some time admiring the view – quite something.

Our Group at the Top

We reluctantly headed back down, some of us using our headlights though myself and mother did not (though mother's did not seem to be working anyway). Mother had indicated that she would be the most concerned on the way down but she went quite well and took it easy.

We picked up our pictures and a t-shirt boasting that we had climbed the bridge (great!). It is good to see that they were using a digital camera so that they could quickly print whichever pictures we wanted.

Mother and I could not stop talking about the climb and how we loved it on the way to Doyle's Restaurant which was now open – on Sydney Cove (we saw a paddle-wheel head out with a bunch of people on a dance/dining cruise of the harbour as well – the 'Sydney Showboat'). It was a wonderful meal with great, extremely fresh and unusual, fish. We both tried two different fish which we had never had before. I had a very delicately flavoured fried fish with rice and mother had her fish grilled with fries. It was an expensive meal (nothing compared to the climb – which was, admittedly, expensive but WELL worth it) but also well worth it.

Sydney Harbour Bridge at Night

We continued to the train station at Circular Quay to return to Central which we continued on to Hurstville and then caught a cab back to the hotel (which was very cheap and the driver was interestingly surrounding by a large plastic security bubble which covered both him and his seat) – Very cheap taxi ride compared to others I have taken back in Canada and England. Now, back at the hotel, we are relaxing after a busy day. The hotel is much nicer than last night and we have booked another night so we can relax tomorrow night. This room has a shower stall separate from the rest of the bathroom (last night there was no wall or anything between the two so when you had a shower it made the whole floor wet – including any clothes you had on it) and a telephone (which will allow me to transmit this information to my friends as I write it).

Tomorrow we continue Sydney…

⇒ Continue to August 29, 1999 - Blakehurst, Near Sydney, New South Wales, Australia