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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Tourists Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Tourists Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Year: 2012, Month: October

Australia > New South Wales > Sydney

First opened in 1932, Sydney's second-most-famous-icon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is visible from many locations around the city, including from the boardwalk around the number-one-icon, the Sydney Opera House, from where this photograph was taken. It shows part of the massive steel structure that forms the bridge, silhouetted against a typically blue New South Wales sky. Both scale and visual interest are provided for the shot by the tiny figures of some visitors who have braved the extreme height of the structure to climb to its top and experience some of the stunning views of the Sydney skyline. A passing cloud, white against the blue of the sky, helps to accentuate the climber's presence. The parallel vertical lines of the steelwork also help to direct the eye of the viewer to the tiny figures on top.

Nicknamed 'The Coathanger', the Sydney Harbour Bridge crosses the harbor at one of its narrowest points, linking the northern and southern shores. It's the world's largest, and heaviest (but not its longest) steel arch in the world. Held dear in the hearts of all Sydneysiders, the bridge is frequently the centrepoint of the harbor's numerous firework displays, and on its 75th birthday in 2007 saw 250,000 people join in the celebrations by walking across it.

In keeping with its mamoth size, the construction was an undertaking that few were prepared for. Started in 1923, at a cost of some twenty million dollars - an amount that took until 1988 to finally pay off. The two halves of the arch were built out simultaneously from each shore. After nine years of work, when the ends of the arches were only inches apart, gale force winds of over 100 kph set them swaying, and everyone feared for the worst. Luckily, the bridge survived, and the arch was completed shortly afterwards.

Like the Forth Rail Bridge in Scotland, painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge is synonymous with a task that once started is never completed, as it has to begin again as soon as the end is reached. A full coat of paint for the bridge takes four years to complete, and uses some 80,000 litres in the process.

The bridge is surprisingly accessible. You can climb almost 200 stairs to the top of the south-eastern Pylon Lookout External link opens a new Browser window for some awesome views and a good museum that explains how the bridge was built. Interestingly, the solid looking pylons may act the part of shouldering the weight of the entire bridge, but they are largely decorative, right down to that impressive granite facing.

Cars, trains, cyclists and pedestrians can all use the bridge, but to experience the best views you should make the crossing on foot. The cycleway is on the western side, and the pedestrian footpath is on the eastern side.

As you might have guessed from this photograph, the truly adventurous visitor can also climb to the top of the bridge on the hugely popular BridgeClimb External link opens a new Browser window. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is rather pricey, with charges for an adult reaching nearly $300 at the peak times of dawn and twilight, but the views are stupendous and the guides enthusiastic and dependable. The 3 1/2 hour tour includes amples safety checks and a climbing suit. Cameras are banned from the climb, and although there is a complementary group photo included in the price, any other photos must be purchased (at premium prices): the main reason why I did not attempt the climb myself. I have heard it said that the scariest part of the climb is not the bit at the top, but comes when crossing over the grates whilst under the bridge. Safety comes first, though, and you are attached to a safety cable at all times.

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