9,280 Miles: Sydney, Part IV

Friday morning (July 19) was beautiful: clear, crisp, breezy, and calling for us to be outdoors. First stop: Darling Harbour.

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The Children’s Playground here (inside the massive Tumbalong Park) is something else; it’s not often you stumble across a playground touted as the best in an entire country. Even our 15 year old was drawn to it. One thing’s for sure: the Aussies have no fear of heights.

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Tumbalong Park also houses the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a place that makes just about every must-do list. Its name certainly does not invoke how awesome (and surprisingly large) this place is, nor does it give any hints as to how intricate and thoughtfully created it is. The Garden is truly a quiet, green haven in the middle of Sydney. We did not anticipate spending over an hour there, but once we started weaving along its intricate paths, we didn’t want to leave.

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From the Chinese Garden, we ambled over to the actual harbour for lunch. We were sucked in by Harbourside.

This next paragraph may make many of you shudder. Harbourside is a waterfront shopping mall. Egads. A mall. When the rest of Sydney was laid out before us. I know. But hear me out.

We were starving and having a hard time agreeing on where to get lunch, and we knew Harbourside housed a little diversion called 9-D Action Cinema, so we poked our heads inside to assess the food court situation. Here’s what we found just inside the main doors:

…a crazy bungee jump/trapeze type flipping apparatus…

…which our daredevils, Theo and Tucker, had to try.

While Russ handled that mayhem, Jack and I wandered the food court and settled on a depressing little facsimile of our beloved Willy’s, The Mad Mex. I think the rest of the gang ate pancakes from McDonald’s. It was a sad meal, indeed.

At this point, we should’ve ditched the thought of the 9-D Action Cinema, but oh no. We were already deep inside this vat of kitsch, so we weren’t about to give up yet.

We forked over way too much money for the menfolk to take a 9-D (is that even possible?) “ride” on a rollercoaster. I sat outside the cinema and people watched. I made the better choice.

All of that bouncing–both virtual and actual– coupled with a sub-par lunch had left a few folks a little green around the gills, so we hailed an Uber and headed back home. Actually, saying we “hailed” the Uber is not right; we called several Ubers, each of whom was having a hard time finding us due to lots of one way streets and the fact that we’d wandered back through The Children’s Playground and Tumbalong Park, between 2 gigantic office buildings, and out to the edge of what appeared to be a large interstate highway. And to make it even more confusing, because we were Americans who still couldn’t remember the whole “drive on the left” thing, we were on the wrong side of the divided highway.

Uber after Uber would go blazing by on the other side, the driver honking his horn at us and waving his arms, with no way to stop.

We eventually resorted to a very dangerous game of human Frogger to get to the other side, but as we were still on a highway, there was no way for a driver to stop. So we trudged farther down (or up?) the highway until we could cut off onto a side street where we finally were able to catch a ride. The entire process took well over an hour.

We recouped at the apartment for awhile before our biggest outing of the week: the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.

We opted for the sunset climb–an adventure that the website said was to take 3.5 hours, which made us a little nervous. Russ isn’t a fan of climbing up really high things. (Plus, three and a half hours sounded like a lot of physical exertion.)

Fear not, friends: it does not take 3.5 hours to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A great portion of that time is spent checking-in, watching the video on its construction (which was fascinating–it took 8 years to build, they used over 6,000,000 rivets…), getting suited up, getting trained, completing the practice climb, and then waiting for your “go time” with your guide. They stagger groups going up on the bridge. We’d lucked out and were in a group of just the 5 of us (and our guide), but there was a very large group who’d finished their pre-climb checklist barely 2 minutes before we did. Our guide tried calling the powers-that-be to hopefully get us leapfrogged ahead of the big group, but he had no luck.

So we were stuck behind a group of 12 climbers, none of whom looked particularly fit or adventurous.

While technically you are continually attached to the bridge, the tether that connects your climbing suit to the 1″ diameter or so metal railing doesn’t feel like it would do much to even slow down a stumble, much less halt a fall. We tried to not focus on that.

The climb starts out easy enough; you ride an elevator up to the bridge base, and the guide hooks you in there. Then you have to walk out across the flat part to where the actual arches begin. The flat part is roughly a quarter of a mile straight out to one of the four giant pylons that appear to support the arch of the bridge (you’re several stories above a large grassy plain). From this point on is where it gets a little more interesting.

There are a lot of steep, narrow ladders bolted into the side of the pylon, and you weave and climb your way up those. The ladder part was the most frightening to me; they aren’t very wide and the footpad of each rung was shallow enough that your entire foot wasn’t on it. There’s also the updraft (and noise) from the 8-lane highway running directly beneath you that gets in your head a bit.

Once through the ladder part, you pop out to the open-air arches and an incredible view of Sydney. This part of the climb is not strenuous, but it is still a little nerve rattling which was exacerbated by the fact that we were climbing at a snail’s pace due to the large group ahead of us. This same large group caused us to miss seeing the sunset from the summit of the bridge, so once it was finally our turn to cross the top from the east side of the bridge to the west side to begin the descent, it was full-on nighttime. Our little group was a little disappointed to have missed the sunset, and we were more than a little irritated with the massive hold-up the slow group was causing.

Thankfully, the way back down was decidedly faster (though no less harrowing on the ladders), and as we were about to start our descent, our guide pointed out the Southern Cross–our first time seeing it–which was spectacular! The night sky in the Southern hemisphere really is different; you can’t help but notice it.

Once we made it back to firm ground, we unsuited, peeked at the photos they’d taken of us during our climb, opted not to purchase them (we felt they were exorbitantly overpriced, but in hindsight maybe we should have tried to barter them down a bit), and walked up the road to grab dinner at one of Sydney’s oldest pubs, the Australian Hotel. It was crowded and a little rowdy, and the pizzas were a great way to top off a great day.

That marked 4 days down in Australia…only 4 more left to go. The Big Trip was going by way too quickly.

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