Wednesday – July 15, 2009 –
This was sadly our last morning in beautiful Queensland. Jeff and I woke up and packed up our things for our last destination: Sydney. After taking our transfer to the airport, we said goodbye to the palm trees and tropical beaches of northern Queensland. Our JetStar flight left the Cairns airport around 11 a.m. for Sydney.
As we flew over the tropical coasts of Queensland down to the more wooded areas of New South Wales, we could appreciate the beauty of the Australian continent. The only country that is also a continent is such a vast and beautiful place.
Around 13:45 p.m., we arrived in Sydney, New South Wales. Sydney is the largest city in Australia and the country’s principal business and tourism gateway, so its airport is also the largest in Australia and the hub for Qantas (Australia’s flagship carrier). Upon arrival at the airport, we collected our luggage and took a double-decker subway train to the Central Business District (CBD) of Sydney.
As we arrived at the city’s heart in the Circular Quay transit station, we saw one of the busiest ferry ports I have ever seen. Because many of Sydney’s residents commute to work via ferry, Circular Quay – in the financial district – brings in huge numbers of commuters every day. The train station itself is extremely busy. Looking out from the train station, we were stunned by the beauty of Port Jackson, more commonly known as Sydney Harbour.
The city is built on hills surrounding the harbor, one of the largest natural harbors. To our left we could see the iconic Harbour Bridge and to our right we gazed at the renown Sydney Opera House. The city is surrounded by parks, rugged coasts, bays, rivers and inlets, and it is easy to see why Sydney is considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The city also is home to two of the world’s most famous urban beachfront: Bondi and Manly beaches.
We had previously decided to splurge by staying at the Marriott Sydney Harbour Circular Quay. We walked only a couple of blocks to our hotel, which was in a superb location. After checking in, for a few extra dollars we were upgraded to a room with a view of Sydney Harbour. Truly the best hotel room I have ever had! Jeff and I called to book our spots on a tour that afternoon: the BridgeClimb Sydney.
It may seem like a completely touristy thing to do – and it was definitely pricey at AUD$150 a person – but this would be probably be our only trip to Sydney. We had heard great things about climbing the Harbour Bridge. We lucked into two openings for the sunset/nighttime bridge tour. Along the way, we toured the Rocks, one of the oldest parts of Sydney, home of some of Sydney’s best bars and anchor point for the south end of the bridge. It was here that Captain Arthur Phillip of the British First Fleet established the first penal colony in 1788. From those humble and rowdy beginnings, Sydney has grown to a city of almost 5 million people and become one of the world’s financial centers.
Upon arriving at the Bridge visitor center at 16:30 p.m., we signed our lives away and stored our non-essentials such as hats, sunglasses and anything loose. Then we had to take a breathalyzer test! We were handed these hilarious workmen’s suits that looked like something out of the Dharma Initiative on the television show Lost. We received a headset unlike any other I had ever seen before. Our guide would speak to us through it, but instead of it going in our ears, it transmitted sound via vibrations through our cheekbones! After suiting up and the safety briefing, we hooked a hook belt around our waists to the cables of the bridge. If you were afraid of heights, this was not the tour for you! We were about to climb the fourth-longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world.
First we toured the internal skeleton of the bridge walking the catwalks as a huge number of vehicular traffic and trains traveled below us. It took us quite a while to arrive above the water because the anchors are so long! Then we had to unhook and hook again before heading upwards on the outer frame. It was a long way down, but the views of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House were amazing. We could see almost all the way to the eastern side of Sydney and the opening to the Pacific Ocean near Manly! To the west we could see a faint silhouette of the Blue Mountains way out in the distance, but closer to us we could see Goat Island and Darling Harbour. Directly across from us, we could see Kirribilli and McMahons Point across the harbor.
The tour guide did a fantastic job both educating us and being entertaining. However, what made the tour so nice was the group sizes were so small and the tour was not rush. During the roughly 3.5 hour tour, we had time to see most of the bridge at sunset and also enjoy the city shining in lights around the harbor. Before finishing, we posed for a group photo on top, which we of course had to purchase. Back in the lobby, we saw photos of huge numbers of celebrities who had done the climb. An unforgettable experience!
After the tour, we walked through the Rocks neighborhood towards Circular Quay. We walked down to the Opera House admiring the remarkable views. Then we walked back to the Central Business District where we had dinner at McDonalds. Sydney is expensive so we were saving our money for tomorrow’s tours. We couldn’t believe the incredible views of the Opera House from our room high up in our skyrise Marriott that evening.