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Auckland - Sydney: Bridge Climb and dinner with friends

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.


View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Somewhere, in the middle of the South Pacific, we lost a day. Never to be seen. RIP Tuesday 5th November 2002.

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We eventually arrive in Auckland, where we can stretch our legs in the airport. I spend the entire two hour connection walking about the terminal. We buy and write a couple of post cards to my mother and John, our travel agent. We always prepare pre-printed labels with the addresses of the post card recipients, but this trip has proved rather difficult. For John and my parents we have planned one card from each place, a total of 16 each. Some people who are as keen on travelling as us, will receive one from each country; while most are only getting one. I am one of those sad individuals who actually enjoy writing post cards. If I am having a good time, I love to share that with my friends and family. I know for a fact that a lot of our friends love getting post cards from our travels. Marie for instance, displays them around the mirror in her hall and basks in telling her visitors where her friend Grete has been. We also find an internet café in the terminal but it accepts only New Zealand coins.

After the 13 hour flight to get this here from Santiago, the three hour journey to Sydney seems just like a skip and a hop. I am astonished (but absolutely delighted) when our luggage appears on the conveyor belt. As we are carrying some food items, we are obliged to proceed through the Red Channel to declare our stuff to Quarantine. It’s all OK and we are allowed to carry on out to the waiting buses. We are to pick up our driver by McDonalds and I am tempted to have something to eat while we wait for other passengers. I am not attracted to McDonalds, but the smoothie / yoghurt stand next door. I keep thinking that the others would turn up the moment I get to the front of the queue, so I pass on the opportunity this time. There are seven of us in the minibus, all the others are Americans. One girl is here to run a half-marathon, must be the Gay Games that are on here in Sydney at the moment. I have never seen so much luggage as one of the other couples have with them, four enormous suitcases and they are only here for three weeks!

The moment we arrive in the room of the All Seasons Menzies Hotel, we ring Housekeeping. The laundry list states that same-day-service is available for garments collected before 10:00, after 11:00 a premium is charged if you would like your clothes returned the same day. What happens between 10:00 and 11:00? The time is now 10:20 and I negotiate a deal with the housekeeper. She arrives as we are still stripping off and has to wait outside for a couple of minutes. This is one of the few times that I would have liked a slightly slower service.

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We take a full English breakfast in a gourmet sandwich place down a side street, the first egg and bacon we’ve had since leaving Canada. It’s good. Our visit here in Australia is just a very brief one this time, we’re off to Papua New Guinea tomorrow morning. Trans Niugini, our agents for that part of the journey, advised us to ensure we have changed our money to Kina prior to arrival in PNG as there isn’t much time to do so in Port Moresby on arrival. They claim that Kina is readily available at all departure points, such as Sydney. We experience the total opposite. After visiting six banks / exchange bureaux, we finally find a bank who offers some assistance. The cashier feels sure that one of the other branches may have some and phones through to arrange for us to pick up the New Guinean currency from them. Fortunately they are just around the corner – in fact as we passed the office on the way to the restaurant for breakfast - I suggested calling in there, but at the time we decided that our stomachs’ needs were greater.

We have a Bridge Climb booked for 14:30 this afternoon, but feel that it would be more convenient to do it this morning, so we walk along there. We are unable to change the time, so are now at a little bit of a loss as to what to do for the rest of the morning. We call in a pub for a drink – it goes against the grain to have just two Diet Cokes – we know we will be breathalysed prior to being allowed to commence the Bridge Climb. The view of the Opera House from the pub roof is fantastic, but there is a cool wind so we don’t linger.

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One coke is enough. From the nearby park we can watch the climbers through the binoculars. It looks awfully steep and I have a long and drawn out deliberation with David as to whether I want to take part or not. My feeling is that I am not fit enough to climb all those steps and I don’t want to hold everybody else up. I am also concerned that the Bridge Suit you have to wear will not be large enough for me. How embarrassing if it isn’t. I constantly change my mind before deciding that I really can’t face the humiliation of finding out – too late – that I am too unfit to take part. David persuades me to have a go, and I am getting increasingly nervous as time goes on. Having all this spare time doesn’t help.

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We kill a bit more time by having a drink in the café at the office. The whole business is very well organised and appears to run very smoothly. There are photos of previous clients taking part, mostly people who are famous for one reason or another. One lady climbed as part of her 100th birthday present. I feel a coward for wanting to cry off. We chat to another English couple in the café who have already been up. She is also on the large side and assures me that it isn’t as difficult that it looks, there are plenty of stops along the way and that if she can do it anybody can as she considers herself extremely unfit. I feel better but still apprehensive.

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We are called in to watch the safety video before being kitted out in the Bridge Suit. They are very discreet and I feel quite comfortable. The suit is more than big enough; indeed the sleeves are at least four inches too long and have to be rolled up; so are the legs which lie heaped around my ankles. All items of jewellery have to come off: watches, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Sunglasses are attached to a hook at the back of the suit with a cord as is the supplied cap. We are given hankies on an elastic band to be worn around the wrist and tucked into your sleeve. Everything has been thought of. We are attached to a wire which runs the length of the walk by a cord fastened to a pulley system (nicknamed a puppy) fixed to your body by a belt with hoops. It’s all very technical and safety is their main priority. The guide is called Robert and the 12 people in our group are a mixed bunch: two gays from America, two sisters from the UK with their two sons and an American mum and dad visiting a grown-up daughter who lives here in Sydney. The last one is a lone rocker from London covered in tattoos and metal rings through every available facial feature. I’m surprised he wasn’t asked to remove them all. We can all communicate through a radio with an earpiece and microphone system, although David’s radio goes a little haywire for a while.

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To begin with we walk along the road to the initial pylon. So far so good. Just a few steps to reach the first level but I don’t like the long walk to the main pylon over narrow planks with the road visible below us through the metalwork. The ladders to reach the next step is said to be the worst part of the entire climb, and there are other staff there to help you up. They’re not that bad, and if it doesn’t get any worse I can cope well. The next bit is a little messy, climbing over and under girders which obviously couldn’t be moved to make access for the walkways.

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The rest of it looks like it’s been tailor made for the Bridge Climb, although Robert tells us that the organisers spent eight years preparing for this from conception to opening. What a fantastic idea in the first place! We finally join the actual arch where the steps are low and the walkways wide. It is an easy and almost comfortable climb, stopping as we go to look at various points of interest. I am told there are 1165 steps in total, but it really doesn’t appear to be that many. All the while Robert is giving us a running commentary and at times stopping to take photographs of us in a group and individually. I would have loved to have taken the camera and the video with me; this is such an incredible experience. Of course, nothing loose is allowed up on the bridge and that includes cameras and videos.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest steel arch in the world at 134m high, and we are here right at the very top. The view is amazing. We get a 360° panorama of Sydney spread out below at the beautiful mouth of the harbour complete with square riggers, police boats and pleasure craft. Behind the main city is the modern banking district in glass and steel high rise and of course, right in the heart, the ever-present Opera House. We look straight down on the road across the bridge which is very impressive with its eight lanes and I can feel the vibrations from the traffic. I am so glad I did it; I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It is much easier to do the climbing than I imagined and I am not experiencing vertigo up here on the actual arch.

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Going down is hard on the knees, but swift and undemanding. I am not happy with the ladders on the way down, especially the stepping off one and on to the other. Scary! Once we reach the control centre, we undress and watch the photos Robert took on a TV screen. Digital cameras have revolutionised this aspect of commercial photography. It’s instant, easy and so satisfying to see yourself on screen as soon as you get back. As part of the package price, we get one photo free each but we choose to purchase another four for the album back home.

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There is a mad rush to get back to the hotel and ready to go out tonight. We have agreed to meet up with our old friends Jenny and David at 18:30, and we get back to the room at 18:10. Not much time for us both to have a shower and get changed. The laundry is not back yet, and I am told it is not due until 18:30. Too late for our night out – I was going to wear something clean tonight, but I’ll have to think of something else to put on. It actually does arrive in plenty of time, so I can go to the ball in fresh clothes.

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We meet Jenny and David in the hotel lobby. They live outside Sydney and are also staying in the Menzies tonight in order to meet up with us. We haven’t seen them for ten years, but it seems like only yesterday. As they are fellow travellers, we never run out of anything to talk about. I must admit I was rather concerned that the conversation would dry up and embarrassing silences ensue. It doesn’t happen, we chat non-stop. After a couple of Tooeys in the local pub, we walk down to the ‘Rocks’ harbour front area where Jenny has booked a table at a posh Italian Restaurant.

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It has a view of the Opera House in one direction and the Harbour Bridge in the other. I can’t believe that only a couple of hours ago we were up there. Jenny has made the climb, but David suffered a stroke a few years ago and has experienced dizziness ever since and thence wouldn’t be allowed to do it. The restaurant has a seating area outside, sunken below the pedestrianised zone, and although it is mild, we are glad of the patio heaters. Large rectangular plates look good, but the food is minimalist and fairly unexciting. The two Davids and Jenny all have steak, and I order seafood gnocci. It is unreal to be sitting here with Jenny and David after ten years (we didn’t see them all the years they lived in London) with this unbelievable view. We can see the climbers with their torches on the Bridge, and hundreds of birds circle above, all eerily lit by the light beams. We are even blessed with a fireworks display over the harbour. This really has to be the most remarkable occasion. By coincidence, last time we came to Sydney, we saw fireworks over the harbour too.

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We haven’t had any sleep for over 45 hours now, and it is beginning to tell. My ankles feel very sore and I discover to my horror that I have a terrible allergic reaction. There is a very angry red ‘stripe’ around my ankle which is stinging terribly. This area became sunburnt in Easter Island, but it had recovered, however it must have reacted to the washing powder left in the socks or something.

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I have also developed a sore throat, and with the lack of sleep I am beginning to wane a little. Jenny and David are very understanding as they have both experienced the extreme tiredness following a long flight and the change of time zones. After a quick drink in the hotel bar we feel so drained it’s bed by 11pm for us.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:49 Archived in Australia

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