Climbing the coathanger
People have always loved climbing towers and crossing bridges, so whoever thought up combining the two was clearly a genius.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge, or ‘the coathanger’ as it’s affectionately known, had been calling out my name.
After getting kitted up in fetching jumpsuits, headlamps and earpieces, we hooked on and started up as the last remnants of twilight glowed across Circular Quay.
I was to do The Discovery Climb which, unlike the original climb, takes you up through the inner components of the bridge, which were put together in 1932.
Despite early doubts about doing the ‘disco’ instead of the traditional ‘straight to the top’ approach, I was soon converted.
Climbing up the steps (1,090 in total), while people, cars and trains rushed past at first alongside and then far below, we made our way up the inside of the giant arch, in awe of the sheer scale of the bridge.
We ducked and dived through the bridge’s infinite nooks and crannies, every now and then stopping to lap up Sydney in all its glory, perfectly framed by the bridge’s awesome beams.
All the while our guide happily fed us tasty nuggets of info and grisly tales of how the bridge’s builders coped in terrible conditions without safety equipment.
We finally emerged at the summit, 134 metres above Sydney Harbour, by which time it was completely dark and the city lights had come to life. It was breathtaking.
Clambering to the top of Sydney’s biggest landmark may be one of the more costly experiences Oz has to offer, but it’s likely to be one of your most unforgettable ones. AW
The damage: Weekday or night Discovery Climb $179 ($199 at weekends, $249 for twighlight climbs).
The details: www.bridgeclimb.com.au
Opera in the House
When you think of Australian culture what do you think of? Neighbours, Russell Crowe perhaps (who’s a Kiwi)… but not opera. So how is it that Australia has the most famous Opera House in the world? To find out, I decided to take a tour.
They gave me a headset and we gathered at the base of the building. Apart from a handful of young English couples, the group was composed of noisy American retirees toting cameras and ‘fanny packs’. Apparently a cruise ship had pulled into Circular Quay the day before and unleashed its cargo of old age Yanks onto an unsuspecting city.
“I can’t believe they don’t have lifts in this place, goddamit,” said one old bloke in a thick Texan drawl.
“Is this where they have the opera?” said another.
As the tour progressed we were treated to a number of multimedia displays which gave us the background drama to the construction of this unique building.
Our guide led us to the Drama Theatre, where such Aussie luminaries as Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett have treaded the boards. Next stop was the Concert Hall, which has an unobstructed panoramic view of the harbour, as if you’re on the bridge of a ship. In fact Danish designer Jorn Utzon, was the son of a naval architect. The building itself is meant to look like sails on the harbour (and not plates drying by the sink, as I had thought).
I was impressed by the way it feels like two buildings: the outside is all dazzling white tiles, yet the interior feels like being inside a giant wooden barrel. And it’s so much bigger inside than it looks from the outside.
After a peek at the Opera Theatre, the tour ended at the box office, where I was surprised by the diversity of acts on offer – everything from cabaret, to opera, live DJs and stand-up comedy (many of which cost less than $30). KO
The damage: $32 ($23 concession) for a one-hour multi-media tour.
The details: Tours run every half hour from 9am, visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Everybody’s Surfing Now
Great surfers are a bit like James Bond – girls want them and guys want to be them – which partly explains why I found myself on Manly Beach, nervously eyeing the waves while trying my hardest to look cool with a board under my arm.
After being given a few pointers on where to paddle out, when to go for it and how to stand up, I was off.
I paddled out through the rip until I got ‘out the back’ and waited for my wave.
But despite paddling like fury I was too slow and missed the first one. No worries though as the next was right behind it and somehow I was perfectly placed in the take-off point.
The surf rushed behind me and I knew it was now or never. Hands under my armpits, I pushed up and went for it. For a few glorious seconds I was up, riding the wave (well, wobbling precariously on top of it), before I felt myself going and took the plunge.
What a rush, I couldn’t believe I was actually surfing.
Now, the waves had looked pretty tame from the beach (not quite the gnarly monsters I told everyone about later), but once off my board I proceeded to get repeatedly battered to hell by wave after wave as I tried to make it either back to shore or across into the channel.
That was the pattern for the next couple of hours. Getting up a few times, being dumped, spun, battered and twisted by the waves, before feeling my muscles burn as I paddled out to do it all over again.
Totally rad, dude. AW
The damage: $55 for a two-hour lesson, including all equipment.
The details: www.manlysurfschool.com
Diving with Sharks
Most travellers who head to Manly are after two things – chilling out on a great beach and savouring a spectacular ferry trip.
But there is something else in the northern suburb, something lurking in the deep, which happens to be just about the coolest thing you can do in Sydney.
While most aquariums merely let you admire sharks from the other side of a thick window, the nice people over at Manly Oceanworld love nothing more than throwing you in with them.
After quickly ducking to avoid a massive oncoming loggerhead turtle, I turned to find a huge ray offering a welcome hug, while spotting a toothy shark about four metres long giving me the once over out of the corner of my eye.
Wow. I’ve dived with sharks in the ocean before but this was something else.
The grey nurse sharks and their friends all came within inches of my face, looking me right in the eye. And not just for one fleeting moment before disappearing back into the deep, but almost constantly for the 40-minute dive. It was incredible. AW
The damage: $180 (certified programme) or $245 (introductory programme)
The details: No experience necessary. For info, www.oceanworld.com.au
I love zoos. They’re always one of the first things I visit in a place and in another life I’d quite happily have been a zookeeper, playing with the monkeys all day (and shovelling up dung).
Most zoos have a pretty good selection of animals and ethically-sized enclosures nowadays. Which is why Taronga is great – it has two things that make it stand out.
First, it has an excellent position, on top of a hill overlooking the city, a short ferry ride from Circular Quay.
The panoramic backdrop of Sydney Harbour, making for some classic giraffe by the opera house photos, surely makes it the zoo with the best views in the world.
Another highlight is the Sky Safari, a quick cable car ride to and from the ferry that takes you right over the zoo.
The only problem is deciding whether to soak up the harbour sights or check out what the elephants are up to below you.
Once inside you can see animals from around the world, or get to know the locals or maybe cuddle a koala. The orangutans, gorillas and Tassie devils were all good entertainment, too.
The damage: Zoopass (including ferry from Circular Quay and Sky Safari) $44 or $37 without ferry.
The details: www.zoo.nsw.gov.au
Life’s a Beach
Be they long, short, fat, thin, empty or crowded, they have one thing in common: They’re all made of sand. Here are Sydney’s top five beaches…
1. Bondi Beach
Okay, it’s got rips and is crowded with carrot-down-the-trunks Hasselhoff-wannabes. But the national heritage-listed beach is the joint most famous on this planet (along with Rio’s Copacabana). Worth a visit, even if to tick the box. There are good cafes, bookshops and markets (Sundays) there too.
Get there: buses go from Railway Square, Circular Quay and Bondi Junction.
2. Shelly Beach (Manly)
Manly is Bondi’s main rival. First you get the iconic ferry ride across the harbour, to Manly, then walk through the Corso to the never-ending Manly Beach. Better still, head right for 10 minutes to sheltered little Shelly Beach, with no surf and good snorkelling.
Get there: ferry from Circular Quay or a bus from Wynyard (change at Cremorne).
3. Palm Beach
Famous to us Brits for being Home And Away heartland, it’s a bugger to get to (about two hours away), but worth it (especially on a weekday). Yes, it looks just like the one off the telly and, yes, the Surf Club is there. Alf Stewart? If you’re lucky… Rewarding short walks are nearby, too.
Get there: Take the L90 bus from Wynyard Street in the city.
4. Tamarama Beach
Nicknamed ‘Glam-arama’ by locals, it’s the beach where the seriously beautiful come to tan and swim, or simply try to be seen. It’s a small, but perfectly formed piece of seaside, with cliffs on either side, located 1km south of Bondi and a short walk north of Bronte Beach.
Get there: 381 bus from Bondi Junction or 333 from city (Liverpool St, near Elizabeth St).
5. Camp Cove
It’s close to famous Watson’s Bay, yet is one of the smaller, quieter bits of sand. Popular for families at weekends and swimmers at night who do their workout in the wave-free water. Plus it’s close to a beautiful little coastal walk.
Get there: train from Central to Edgecliff, bus 324 or 325 to Watson’s Bay, then just head north over that little hill. GL
Park Yourself Here
The beaches are famous, but Sydney has some pretty skill parks too.
1: Rushcutters Bay Park
Peaceful and picturesque with good harbour views. Bring a book and sit on the pontoon by the water. A five-minute walk from Kings Cross.
2: Royal Sydney Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens are five minutes from the city, filled with crazy flora, classic photo op view of the Opera House and ‘coathanger’ and cute fruit bats squabbling in the trees.
Walk east from CBD.
3: Watson’s Bay
Want gold stuff with your green stuff? Watson’s Bay has a small beach, coastal walk and views. Bring a bottle of red and watch the sunset from the clifftops. Catch a 325 or 324 bus from Circular Quay (stand D).
4: Centennial Park
Huge, massive, enormous and very green. Bring your friends and everyone on this morning’s bus. Centennial has room for all. Perfect for football, kiss chase and free BBQs. Buses go from Eddy Ave, and the city.
5: Victoria Park
Next to a busy road, but still an oasis of calm. Outdoor pool, gym (no membership needed) and general ‘laze-around-looking-like-you-know about-poetry’ student vibe.
Follow George St from CBD.
While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.
Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.
After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.
Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.
Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.
So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.
Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!
The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.
So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!
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