Andy Mossack discovers climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night is a whole different way of getting your adrenaline rush.
It’s night and I’m on the highest part of the coat hanger, the local parlance for Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, dancing to Earth Wind and Fire’s September on an illuminated 70’s disco dancefloor.
Some might call it foolhardy, perhaps even plain crazy, but I am seriously loving this to bits.
In the spirit of full disclosure, a 70’s dancefloor is not what you would normally discover after a two-hour climb, but this is VIVID Festival month when Sydney’s harbour comes alive with sound and light installations every night for four weeks during winter. That said, dancefloor or not, the view from way up here is simply staggering; the world’s biggest natural harbour has never looked so beautiful.
Climbing iconic structures around the world has become something of a staple tourist attraction in recent years. With the advancements in safety equipment, in reality, it’s an experience that people of all shapes, sizes and fitness can easily achieve providing you have a reasonable head for heights.
But for me, you can’t beat climbing a proper historic structure. Now over 100 years old, Sydney’s Harbour Bridge is just that. Getting up close and personal with millions of rivets that have all been hammered in by hand, and experiencing how fearless those construction workers were, is beyond special.
The pre-climb procedure is handled with consummate ease. I join a waiting group and find myself with a truly international mix. Steve and Billie, and Jeff and Gwenda from the USA, Stu and Donna from Canada and James and Sheila from the UK who, it goes without saying, I naturally bond with. Our tour leader Brad materialises and takes us over to get kitted out with radio mikes, overalls, helmets and harnesses (the supplied kit is weather adjusted – the only time there is no climbing is in strong winds) and we store our personal items in secure lockers including any jewellery, phones and cameras. The harness is clearly the most vital piece of equipment here, and throughout the climb, we’ll be attached to a cable that runs along the side of all the walkways and steps.
So far so good then.
James and Sheila are looking a tad apprehensive while our American foursome is bristling with bravado. Perhaps they feel they’re a bunch of Navy SEALS out on manoeuvres. I can almost imagine them forgetting the climb back and abseiling down instead.
A quick comms call by Brad confirms our departure, a door opens to the outside and we’re off.
We’re doing a night Summit climb, a 3-hour round trek up ladders and along walkways that were originally designed for safety engineers to gain access to all parts of the bridge. We’ll be climbing up one side of the bridge to the summit of the upper arch and then crossing across to the other strand and descending back to base. I’ve climbed the coat hanger before, but not at night, so this is a first for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing dusk turn to night and the lights all around Sydney’s harbour come to life.
This first phase brings us out above the public park that surrounds the base of the bridge and we can hear the roar of the Bradfield Highway above us as cars and trucks rumble across. We’re already a fair way above ground and I feel I’ve got a birds-eye view of the people in the park below.
Our first goal is to reach the south-east pylon where a collection of ladders will give us access to the road level and the start of the arch curve climb. Brad is explaining how the bridge was built as we traverse the narrow walkway in a line, our harness clips singing as they glide along the guidewire. This first section is a great way to acclimatise to the bridge; a sea of steel girders all around and a breeze in our faces.
The SEALS have become very quiet now, staring straight ahead to Brad at the front and concentrating hard.
We reach the pylon steps and Brad leads up through four sections to the road level. We pause to catch a breath and listen to some more history from Brad.
Now we face the slow upward climb along the main arch and the timing is perfect as dusk falls and lights begin to appear on both sides of the harbour. As we stretch out above the water the climb takes on a whole new lease of life. A 360-degree harbour panorama. Donna and Stu are near to tears. The opera house, the plentiful coves, the eastern suburbs, and the north shore. I’m having a moment here. I feel the old bridge is loving sharing this view with us. Perhaps it’s the wind, or perhaps Brad murmuring in my earpiece but I hear a whisper “not bad eh? I get to see this every day and night matey.”
I’m used to the height now, and as we scale the last few steps and reach one of the flagpoles night has fallen and the whole harbour is alive with light and sound. There is a sense of triumph and accomplishment as Brad whoops and hollers and we high five each other. As we each pose for our individual pics there is no getting away from the sheer buzz of this experience.
But more is to come. Brad leads us around to the other strand and our 70s disco floor. A real surprise this. It is insane really. 134 metres above the water. Dancing lights and Earth Wind and Fire and we’re boogying big time.
The journey back down is lost in a sea of satisfaction and adrenaline. I’m elated and totally buzzed. I feel a real kindred spirit to the old coat hanger, bless her cotton socks.
We make it back to base to find another welcome surprise. A bridge climb baseball cap and a certificate of achievement, and of course, we can choose to buy some of the photos of our ascent.
This night climb is so different to my previous daytime experience. The VIVID festival helps enormously of course, but the Opera House is lit at night all year, and there’s plenty of light and sound to be had all around the harbour every night.
Tell me more about climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Bridge Climb Sydney, 3 Cumberland St, The Rocks NSW 2000
T: +61 1300 908 057
Bridge Climb is registered as a COVID safe business.
There are a number of different climbs available, from starter climbs to the Ultimate experience – south to north and back again. There are also special packages depending on the time of year.
This Summit climb is available for A$268-A$403 for adults and A$188-A$293 for kids aged 8 to 15 and 1.2m minimum height.