Sydney Harbour Bridge at Night with Opera House in Background, Australia
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Australia's Iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

6 min read
Published on Dec 08, 2015
Guest Contributor
By Guest Contributor

It is possible the first sight and site that comes to mind when thinking of Sydney, Australia is its opera house. Then again, perhaps it is the nearby harbour bridge. Either way, both are superbly impressive in their own way. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, being older than its "rival", was first on the scene. Everywhere one turns, it is impossible to avoid seeing this amazing architectural phenomenon. First opened in 1932, the bridge connects the Sydney Central Business District with the North Shore of the city, and is the gateway to Sydney Harbour. It is affectionately known as the "Coat Hanger", and the views and photo opportunities are exceptional. It has a similar place in Sydney history as the Statue of Liberty has to New York.

Sydney Opera House with Harbour Bridge at night detail

The Bridge’s History The idea of a bridge was first considered as early as 1815, but it wasn’t until 1900 that submissions were invited to build it. Unfortunately all submissions were rejected at the time, and it wasn't until 22 years later that a contract was awarded to an English firm. Construction began in 1924 and it took 1400 men 8 years to complete the bridge, at a cost of AUD $4.2 million. The opening celebrations included a vast cavalcade of decorated floats, marching groups, and bands proceeding through the city streets and across the bridge. The celebrations continued with a gun-salute, a procession of passenger ships under the bridge, a “Venetian carnival”, a fly-past, fireworks, sports carnivals, and exhibitions. After the pageant, the public was allowed to walk across the deck… an event not repeated until the 50th anniversary of the Bridge in 1982. Two lanes were set aside for streetcars until Sydney closed down its streetcar system in the 1950s. When Sydney bridge opened, it cost a horse and rider three pence, and a car six pence to cross. Now, of course, horse and riders cannot cross but one can cycle across in a special lane and walk across the bridge for free. It is truly one of the best ways to experience Sydney Harbour. (Walk the eastern side of the bridge for great Opera House views). 

Some Technical Facts Spanning Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a spectacular feat of engineering. It is the world's tallest steel arch bridge and a vital link in Sydney's transport infrastructure, with more than 200,000 cars travelling its length each day. Its total length, including approach spans, is 1149 metres/3935 feet, and its arch span is 503 metres/1635 feet. The top of the arch is 134 metres/410 feet above sea level and the clearance for shipping under the deck is a spacious 49 metres/160 feet. It now carries eight vehicle lanes, two train lines, a footway, and a cycle path.

Sydney Harbour Bridge walkway

Some Interesting Facts

  • The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world's largest but not longest.
  • The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England is a much smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There is much controversy surrounding the two bridges as to which one may have been a model for the other.
  • To walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge takes 15 minutes.
  • Cars cost around AUD $3.30 for a southbound trip, but it is free to travel northbound.
  • The surface area that requires painting is equal to about the surface area of 60 sports fields. The Bridge required 272,000 litres of paint to receive its initial three coats.
  • The Bridge has huge hinges to absorb the expansion caused by the hot Sydney sun.
  • In 1932, 96 steam locomotives were positioned in various ways to test the load capacity of the Bridge.
  • At one time actor and comedian, Paul Hogan, was a rigger on the Bridge before finding fame and fortune.
  • Several planes have been known to fly under the Bridge. In 1942, the Dutch flew three aircraft under the bridge in formation and then circled back to do another flight under the bridge in a single line.
  • In 1976, the one billionth vehicle crossed Sydney Harbour Bridge. The first 500 million crossings took over 33 years while the second 500 million took less than 11 years

On top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge

BridgeClimb Sydney 

BridgeClimb Sydney started in 1998, and has attracted visitors and locals alike. After climbing through catwalks and up ladders and stairs, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Done in groups of 14, there are day, early evening, and night climbs conducted every 20 minutes depending on the time of the day. The duration of the climb is 4 hours. The safety precautions taken include a blood alcohol reading and a Climb Simulator which shows visitors the climbing conditions that might be experienced on the bridge. The Pylon Lookout is at the south eastern end of the bridge (the city end), where visitors can see an exhibition about the bridge as well as experience the spectacular 360 degree view from the top of the pylon. Some celebrities who have completed the climb are Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, Will Smith, Matt Damon, Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue, Justin Timberlake, Cameron Diaz, Robert De Niro, Pierce Brosnan, Cate Blanchett, Teri Hatcher, Prince Harry, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Ferguson, and Cathy Freeman. When in Sydney, why not add your name to the list!

Whether you're travelling through Sydney on a stopover, or exploring the city as part of an Australian vacation, no doubt you'll come across Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now, however, after learning a bit about it, you will certainly appreciate this landmark's magnitude. To find more Sydney travel ideas, please visit us at www.goway.com. Related Article: Sydney Opera House - Australia's Architectural Wonder

By Robert Glazier

Related Topics
Australia & New Zealand
South Pacific
Guest Contributor
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