There are some opportunities in life you should never pass up. Climbing Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge is one of them. The summit of the arch affords the most stunning view in the whole of the city and every climb has something new to offer.
Sydney’s Harbour Bridge has a history colourful enough to rival that of the their Opera House. Rich in anecdotes and personal flair, the passion for the history and stories that went into building the bridge come through in the commentary from each individual guide.
After eight years in construction, with 1,400 men working on the crew, six million hand driven rivets (no rivet guns back then, it was all heated over the fire and thrown – yes thrown – to the guy needing to bang it into place) and with a price tag of $4.2 million the 53,000 tonnes of steel were finally officially opened as the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Not content with a politician cutting the ribbon to open the Bridge, Captain Francis De Groot slashed the ribbon with his sword before the NSW premier had a chance to cut it. De Groot was a firm believer that the only person to open the bridge should have been a member of the Royal Family and was promptly taken into custody. Probably under charges of being a madman with a sword. (I have not verified this fact) A murmur, a shuffle and a reef knot later and the ribbon was ready to be cut officially by Premier Lang.
There are three climbs to chose from depending on your level of fitness, time available and budget. BridgeClimb, BridgeClimb Express and BridgeClimb Sampler. Each one will provide you with a unique and memorable experience however it is important to know the difference to avoid booking the wrong climb for you.
Securely latched on from the moment you set foot out of the Climb Base, you will walk the catwalks underneath the road deck of the bridge until you reach the South-East Pylon. It is a nice easy walk but you need to be prepared for the rattling of the catwalk when trains pass overhead and the fact you can see straight down to the harbour below. Up four ladders and you will be at the beginning of the upper arch ready to begin your ascent to the summit. High fives and photos over, you will cross the spine of the Bridge to the Darling Harbor Side and make your way back down to Climb Base.
This climb can be done during the day, at twilight or at night. Prices will vary based on the time of your climb.
I did this climb with my daughter for her 16th birthday and it is the one I recommend. I’m not overly fit and my knees hurt with too much strain but I was able to complete this climb with no trouble. Your ascent is on the Opera House side of the bridge which gives you the most spectacular view out over the Harbour to the ocean. Looking down at the Opera House and the Ferries coming in and out of Circular Quay is a moment where you can’t help but think ‘This. This is what life is for.’
Oh and the moment when you are sitting with a glass of bubbly at the Lower Concourse after your climb and look back up at the bridge …. It will blow your mind to realise you were up there just an hour ago.
This fast tracked climb to the top takes you over the same catwalks, past the South East Pylon until you are at the base of the lower arch. From there you will climb to the peak of the lower arch and take a staircase straight up to the summit. It is a faster climb than the BridgeClimb so be prepared to stop less and have a steeper ascent.
I did this climb to celebrate the day I was eligible for divorce (best day ever btw). I was at the worst with my Fibromyalgia and CMV symptoms at the time and I foolishly booked the climb that had fewer steps (1,002 compared to BridgeClimb with 1,332) thinking it would be easier on me. Wrong! It is steeper and faster than BrigdeClimb. However I made it, a little sore and out of breath, but I made it and did my internal happy dance at the top. I don’t regret the decision to do this climb in retrospect as I have had two unique BridgeClimb experiences under my belt. But if you are a little hard of moving sometimes, I recommend you chose the BridgeClimb over this one.
BridgeClimb Sampler will take you over the same route as BridgeClimb express, however you will not ascend to the summit. You will finish your climb at the peak of the inner arch on the Opera House side of the bridge and from there you will cross over to the Darling Harbour Side and head back down to Climb Base. A perfect option if your health is going to stop you from reaching the top or you are unsure about being up so high, you will only climb 556 steps if you chose to do the BridgeClimb Sampler. Your group photo will be taken after you cross over.
Information you need to know before you climb:
Can I climb?
- Fitness. You need a moderate level of fitness to complete the climb. The arch feels steeper to climb than it looks from the ground so you need to be okay with stairs. Scaling the spine of the bridge for the Bridge Climb you will climb 1,332 steps while Bridge Climb Express winds it way through the steel heart of the bridge taking you up 1,002 stairs – don’t let the lack of stairs make you think it is easier. It is not. It is steeper and faster than the BridgeClimb. On the BridgeClimb you will stop multiple times along the way to admire the view and talk about the history and construction of the bridge so there is time to catch your breath if needed.
- Age and Height. Climbers need to be over 8 years of age and over 1.2 m tall. Children between 8 and 15 will need to be accompanied by an adult with a maximum of 3 children per supervisor.
- Pregnancy. Women under 24 weeks pregnant will need to provide a certificate of fitness from their GP before they embark on their climb. Any further along in your pregnancy and you will not be able to climb until after bubs is born.
- Disability. BridgeClimb will do their best to support people with disabilities to climb, so it is worth giving them a call to see if you are able to climb. People with hearing disabilities are encouraged to climb either through the use of the variety of headsets available or on one of the twice monthly Auslan Climbs.
Before you climb
There will be the usual plethora of indemnity forms to fill in once you file into the first stage of climb preparation. As well as this you will be given ‘the talk’ (not the one about the birds and the bees, please see this clip from The Goodies here if you are still unsure about how this works) regarding safety and the ins and outs of your climb.
- You will be breathalysed before you climb and all climbers need to have a BAC of under .05. If you blow over you will not be able to continue on to your climb.
What should I wear?
- You will be provided with everything you need suitable to the weather conditions of the day. The sexy grey jumpsuits that you see in the photos are essential climb wear. Apparently they stop drivers from getting distracted by looking up at colourful dots weaving their way through the framework.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes, high heels (no matter how cute) are not appropriate for this occasion. You will also want comfortable clothing that does not constrict movement as you will be climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Chances are it is either going to be hotter or colder than you expect. A slight breeze at the base of the bridge is a strong one by the time you get to the top.
What can I take with me?
- The answer is essentially nothing. For safety reasons there are no loose objects to be taken on to the bridge, it is part of the agreement they have with the government allowing them to operate the business. The damage that could be caused by dropping even a watch on to the traffic below from such a great height could be disastrous.
- You will be able to take essential medication such as inhalers with you. Make sure you discuss this with staff beforehand as everything that goes with you must be strapped on.
Where can I store my belongings if I can’t take them with me?
A locker will be provided to you to securely store your belongings while you are out on the bridge.
How long does it take?
The three climbs are all different in duration. Quite a bit of the time you spend at Bridge Climb will be in preparation for your climb and squealing in delight afterwards as you get changed out of your jumpsuit.
- Bridge Climb is approximate 3 ½ hours in duration.
- Bridge Climb Express takes approximately 2 ¼ hours to complete.
- Bridge Climb Sampler is 1 ½ hours long.
How much does it cost?
Bridge Climb – Day:
- Adult $238-373
- Child $163-268
- Adult $238-373
- Child $163-268
- Adult $158-173
- Child $128-143
From the summit of the world’s largest steel arch bridge (that’s largest – not longest) you will be able to see as far as Manly Beach on a clear day. Each climb experience comes with a photo taken by your climb leader, so don’t worry about missing out on those memories having left all your belongings in the locker back at the Climb Base.
After your climb you will be given the opportunity to scan the barcode you are given to post your photos and videos that are made for you at the summit straight to social media – quite cool. Do it!
Make sure you check out www.bridgeclimb.com for a full list of climb conditions, prices, forms and to book the quintessential Sydney experience.