Friday 27th February – Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb and Blue Mountains
The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb was one of our key activities while in Sydney. We had been considering different times we could do it, with day/twilight/night options being available, but in the end based on the time needed to complete the climb and not wanting to risk a flight delay (they seem to be common for us) meaning a missed climb we opted to do this on our final day. Part of this was based on a good weather forecast. We were pleased that when we woke up we could see blue sky in patches of the sky amongst clouds. Our luck seemed to be headed back to its cyclone attracting ways though as when we left our hotel the rain was pouring down. By the time we arrived at Bridge Climb HQ we were once again soaked so much so that we were handed towels as we arrived. We wondered whether our climb would go ahead but apparently they climb come rain or shine so we were headed up onto the bridge.
Getting ready for the climb is quite an effort, you need to remove all lose items and put on a special jumpsuit that everything you take on the climb can be attached to. The reason for this is that you are climbing over an 8 lane highway so dropping anything would not be a good plan. One thing they gave us as we prepared was a set of waterproof pants (Vicki – trousers, not the underneath kind) and rain jacket. Shame we didn’t have these on our walk to the climb.
When we were pretty much set to go we were introduced to our climb guide. We were surprised to see this was our cheerful French guide from the Opera House tour. Apparently she does both types of tour and by co-incidence we have had her twice.We were quite happy with this as she is very knowledgeable and quite amusing although it is often laughing at her daft sayings and how she says them rather than her jokes.
The climb starts under the bridge roadway, passes to the upper level on a series of ladders and then crosses the main arch of the bridge. We walked halfway (to the top of the arch), across the arch, and then returned back down the same way but on the opposite arch of the bridge. As the worlds largest single arch bridge this is quite a climb. You are clipped on to a safety rail attached to a belt harness at all times. This means you feel quite safe all the time. Vicki wasn’t keen on the ladders or when crossing flooring you could see through however we had no issues at all on top of the bridge. I think this is partly due to the view you experience which is nothing short of spectacular.
Although we had seen the bridge, Opera House and harbour from a number of angles already, seeing it from the top of the bridge was by far the best view. Looking down across the many coves of the vast harbour you really appreciate how big and sprawling Sydney is. As far as you could see there were different parts of the city yet it is mixed seamlessly with green parks, forests and the cliffs and coves. We could have spent a lot longer admiring the view and while we had a lot of time in between photo stops we would happily have stood up there all day. You may ask why we would want to do this in the pouring rain? Well, what happened in the end was that it turning into a bright sunny day while we were getting ready. The contrast between the weather when we went in to the bridge climb centre and when we actually started the climb was huge. We couldn’t have had better weather for the climb in the end. This was a real treat before leaving Sydney and well worth doing.
Picking up a hire car we headed out of Sydney towards the Blue Mountains. Unsure exactly where to visit our first stop was the information hut at Glenbrook. Here a very helpful man recommended his favourite lookouts along our route. Our key sights would be Wentworth Falls, Katoomba and Blackheath.
Our first stop at Wentworth falls had been described by the info man as being 50m from car park to falls. This wasn’t quite right as it was actually 50m to a viewpoint where you could just about see the falls round a corner and in the distance. This wasn’t good enough for us so we selected a trail and headed down to see more. The blue mountain lookouts are typically at the top of cliffs overlooking the rolling canopy of the forest below that fill the valleys. The contrast between the sandstone and mountain cliffs and verdant (Vicki’s word) green forest is quite remarkable and something we have not seen anything like before. Our trails led us down the cliffs to the middle of the falls. We could see water cascading down to us before a vertical plummet to the valley below. We then followed an undercliff walkway where you walk beneath an overhang along the side of the valley before returning to the top.
Our next stop was the Three Sisters, the jewel in the crown of the Blue Mountain sights. These are three big peaks set away from the other rocks. This viewpoint has many more commercial opportunitues, and a lot more tourists were milling around, despite the fact it was now getting close to 6pm. However the views were stunning.
Keen to escape the hoards, we took a walk down the ‘Giant Staircase’ to a little bridge at the base of the Three Sisters. These steps are very steep and I’m not sure whether it was worse going down or coming back up!
Viewpoints viewed we headed for our accommodation in the town of Katoomba. The owner seemed surprised when we expressed a desire to take a dip in the outdoor pool. However, on learning that we were English, all she said was ‘well that explains it’. Dinner was at a deserted (but very tasty) Thai restaurant in the very picturesque town of Leura just down the road. Despite there being lots of tourist accommodation in the area, it all seemed very quiet, and we wondered whether the hoards of tourists turn up for the views during the day and then are back in Sydney in time for dinner? This seemed a shame as there is a lot to see, and it was nice to be able to do a few of the walks without worrying too much about the time.
Saturday 28th February
Our primary reason for visiting the Blue Mountains over the weekend was so that we could tick off another parkrun. We opted for Lawson which is a new one at only 8 weeks old. Arriving 30 minutes early we weren’t sure we were in the right place as nobody else was around. It turned out that we were but fortunately we were only off by 500m so as everyone else arrived we were able to follow them to the start. As a new parkrun they weren’t used to tourists here. Nobody even registered what Vicki’s 100 shirt meant.
The course is a challenging one – all on really rocky terrain and generally always going up or down, including one monster hill in the middle. I’m sure it was a really pretty course, but I (Vicki) seemed to spend the majority of the time looking at my feet to avoid face planting, and so didn’t really get a chance to look!
Whilst it was nice to chat to the ED afterwards, we found it less sociable than others we have done, in the sense that there was no coffee / breakfast afterwards, and very little hanging about before everyone headed home. This time however, that was probably better for us in that it gave us chance to get back to Katoomba and shower before another day of view spotting.
Today’s first activity was ‘Scenic World’ which is basically many ways of seeing the same bit of forest in exchange for varying amounts of money. We weren’t sure about the idea but had been told there was a nice walk near there, and the world’s steepest funicular railway, and so we decided to give it a go. We arrived about 10am luckily just before a few big tourist groups and discovered that it was possible to just pay for the parts of the attraction that you wanted rather than having to buy an all inclusive ticket, which made us happy as we only actually wanted to use their railway one way to avoid climbing back up a big hill!
We went for a walk, and again came across some spectacular views. At the end of our walk we were for the first time close to the bottom of the valley, whereas previously we had always been high up in the canopy. We also discovered that ‘The Boardwalk’ – a nice wooden walkway around the forest made by the people of Scenic World is free to enter, and so we spent a few minutes looking around this, and learning the mining history of the area. Rich misread the sign and was disappointed to find there was no hat making available. Turns out it said “miners hut” not “milners hut”.
All the time we were on the boardwalk, we could shouts and screams of tourists. It turns out that these were from the funicular. As mentioned before, this is the steepest railway in the world, at 52 degrees, and travels at 14km an hour. In the carriage there are three seat positions to improve your experience ranging from ‘laid back’ to ‘cliffhanger’. No need to guess which Rich chose. I will admit that I whimpered slightly going up the hill (as you are facing down the cliff) but it was still a much better proposition than climbing up the hill!
After a quick bite to eat (which we shared with a lizard) and a walk to another set of falls, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of Sydney.
We had booked to stay in a hotel near the airport as our flight was early the next day and it had parking, or so we thought. Only when we arrived at the soul-less hovel that is the Ibis Budget did we discover that all of the parking had been pimped out to non-hotel guests for (we assume) more money. We were not impressed, but after a bit of faffing about what to do with the car, got on with our evening of sightseeing – first Bondi and then Coogee.
Bondi was great. I had been expected to be disappointed, as Graham had said that he wasn’t that impressed, but I really liked it, and would happily have spent more time there (Rich: Shame I forgot my trunks, would have been good to have an evening swim). However, the AUD7.50 an hour parking charge (we parked a few streets away for free in the end) meant that we decided to head to another area, Coogee, for dinner. This was another lovely seaside resort and the bar that sorted us out with dinner, part of the Coogee Bay hotel, was one in which both Rich and I could have got seriously settled.
But alas, all too soon, it was time to return the car early to the airport, walk back to the hotel and prepare for the next stage of the adventure – New Zealand!