Monday, July 23, 2012

Bridge Climb

On Friday, I’d gone up to The Rocks to check out the location of BridgeClimb, as we’d booked ourselves a climb a few weeks earlier. 

We set off early on Saturday morning to make sure we didn’t get held up, and actually made it there with around 45 minutes to spare…so once we’d registered and got our tickets, we wandered round the corner for a coffee in a café, in the sunshine.

Nicola attempting to look cool.

At the appointed time (actually 5 minutes before it, as instructed –we’re so compliant!) we returned and took a seat in the waiting area. At 9:45, the first of several people who would help us with the climb invited us in to stand in a room, on marked spots, and got us our first bit of equipment: the all-in-one suit. This is worn over your street clothes, but it’s advisable to remove your jacket as they’ll later supply all you need to keep warm. We went through to the changing rooms, put these on, put all our valuables into lockers, and then proceeded to the next stage of kitting out. We were variously equipped with such items as elastic to keep glasses on, hankies to tuck up your sleeve, and headgear attached by a lanyard to the suit. Then we got to our belts; the belt is the essential safety harness, and has a clip by which you attach yourself to the safety wire which runs throughout the climb. It’s the same thing that ocean-going yachtsmen (and women) use. We then had various other items attached to the belt, including a fleece (it’s chilly at the top), and also radioed and headsetted up, so we could hear the commentary and instructions from our climb leader, Mike.

Fully kitted out, we then headed for the practice area where we were drilled in how to safely ascend and descend a ladder: only one person at a time, three points of contact, which way to face, that sort of thing. The whole kitting-out process and practice took about 45 minutes.

And we were ready! Mike led us out into the internal area of the South right tower. Those towers are hollow, and made from concrete, with a granite cladding on the outside. We clipped onto the safety line, and walked along various gantries and walkways under the bridge, before emerging out onto the bridge proper, and starting the ascent, via ladders, of the top arch. Mike kept up a commentary all the time about the history of the bridge and stuff about the building. The climb isn’t particularly strenuous and once we’d emerged onto the top arch it was just plain walking, on metal steps that gradually got shallower. As we approached the top we stopped for a photo session:

Then we had another group photo once we reached the top, and another individual one as we crossed from the right side of the bridge to the left, over the roadway and trains below.  The centre of the bridge is now available for weddings, apparently, as well as being a common spot for proposals.  You still have to wear the bridge gear, so Mike told us, so he reckoned it was a good way of doing it on the cheap. Down below, it being a sunny Saturday, there were no less than three wedding couples being photographed under the bridge.

The descent is down the left side of the bridge, so that you end up on the same side of the harbour that you started from…which is handy, because that’s where we’d left our valuables. We heard more history as we descended, including the story of a 10-year-old boy who rode from his farm to Sydney for four days to get to the opening ceremony.

Once we’d made it down, we did the dressing process in reverse (much quicker!), then exited via the gift shop, picking up our photos and a t-shirt each along the way. We were also presented with certificates - I am now a BridgeClimb Master, as this is my second ascent.

We’d spent about 3½ hours in total, and by this time we were pretty hungry (despite having had a good breakfast, which they check before you head up – they don’t want people fainting out on the bridge!) so we headed back into The Rocks to acquire some lunch. It being a sunny Saturday, the place was packed, but we managed to find a place that fitted the bill, and had a burger washed down with a glass or two of the local brew.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sydney Day 2

Friday was a much better day weather-wise. We hopped on down to our local café for breakfast, then Nicola went off to confer with her fellow conferees, and I went in to town again. This time I went to The Rocks – the area under and around Sydney Harbour Bridge, which contains much historicalness and also tourist-trap type shops. As the sun was shining, I was able to take photos of the Opera House with a blue background instead of a grey one:

I also headed up to the observatory, which sits on a hill next to the bridge:

Then headed back down into The Rocks, to have lunch in a restaurant I’d spotted earlier, where the Portuguese owner tried to persuade me to return later that night for some real Portuguese cooking and entertainment. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we were already booked elsewhere, so I left him with vague promises. After I’d eaten my lunch, a couple of parrots flew down to the wall and looked expectantly at my plate…I thought “there’s no way you guys are going to hang around until I get my camera out, switch it on, zoom in and focus, is there?”

Wrong again. Cheeky buggers.

In the evening, we went down to Darling Harbour. This is an area of Sydney filled with bars and restaurants…and people! It makes you realise how small Wellington is, and how used you get to not having many people around, when you go to a place like this. God help us when we return to London! To put things in perspective, Sydney contains more people than the whole of New Zealand.

We were a bit early, as we tried to get down there in the daylight after Nicola’s conference ended, but due to traffic (another thing we’ve grown unused to in NZ) it was almost dark by the time we got off the bus. We strolled around trying to find an appropriate place to have a drink, but everywhere seemed pretty full (it being a Friday night, and all that). We eventually found seating space in a pub that was showing the rugby, so we watched the second half of the Hurricanes v. Chiefs match. Now, we’ve been following the ’Canes all season but have shied away from going to their games recently as we seem to have a perverse effect on them: when we show up, they lose at home, but when we stay away, they win! Bah! Anyway, we obviously couldn’t get to this game, and when they went in at half-time they were leading 18-15. But the second half didn’t go their way at all, and it all came down to a final despairing effort in overtime, when the ’Canes managed to get the ball over the try line. Was it a try? The TMO was invoked, and after about 5 minutes of examining the video footage, he decided that it was. So the Hurricanes won – but their place in the playoffs was dependent on other teams winning and losing in the right order (a bit like England’s usual route through to the World Cup), so they wouldn’t know until Monday night when all the games had been played and points counted.

By then it was time for us to trot down to Nick’s seafood restaurant for our dinner, where we duly ordered some seafood, and ate it. I had a crab ravioli to start, followed by char-grilled king prawns (messy but fun), and Nicola had Tasmanian smoked salmon then blue eye cod fillet. Food cost about the same as at Rockpool a couple of nights ago, but so much better presented and served! It is a bit of a factory, like a Conrad restaurant in London, but as long as they’re doing it efficiently, who’s to complain?

By then it was time to get on the bus back to our hotel, in time for the big day tomorrow.

Monday, July 16, 2012


The Avonmore Hotel we’re staying in is a self-styled “boutique” hotel. This means “little”, apparently, and “not large enough to have a dining room”. For breakfast, we headed out across the road to Café 169, where Nicola had a breakfast “trifle” which appeared as a kind of knickerbocker-glory concoction of yoghurt, fruit and granola. I had smoked salmon with poached eggs and toast, with no quotation marks.

Nicola headed off for her conference, and I went back to the hotel to prepare myself for the day ahead: finding out how Sydney’s public transport system worked. Many of Sydney’s buses no longer accept cash payment – we’d seen buses with “pre-pay only” on the side on our way in to the CBD last night. A quick chat with the hotel manager sent me off to the correct bus-stop, pausing along the way to buy a mybus ticket, which you can use for 10 journeys. That should see us through until Sunday, I hope.

I took the bus all the way in to Circular Quay, and then went and had a look around the Opera House, taking pictures of it from every conceivable angle:

It came on to rain a bit, so I headed to a café for a quick coffee and read of the Sydney Morning Herald. Afterwards I wandered down into the CBD and followed all the city folk until I found a suitable lunch venue in a warren of interconnecting passages that link up Pitt Street, Hunter Street and George Street. There is fast food of almost every nationality available, with a lot of different Asian cuisines - far more than in London or in Wellington.

After lunch I walked up to the Botanical Gardens, via the Library of NSW, which has some impressive decoration on the floor:

The Botanical Gardens contained the inevitable ibises, and weird-shaped trees. Walking up to the tip of the gardens is Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, where Mrs Macquarie used to sit and watch the ships go by. I took more pictures than is entirely reasonable of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, then pestered some tourists until they agreed to take a picture of me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rockpool Bar & Grill

We arrived in Sydney late in the afternoon, and took a cab straight to our hotel in Randwick. We were here for Nicola’s conference, being held at the University of New South Wales, which has its main campus in Randwick. Checking with reception to see how to get to the city centre, we were given two maps – one of the local area and a tourist map of the CBD.

We had booked dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill, so decided to walk into the city. This took us longer than we expected, and by the time we reached Elizabeth Street I was on the lookout for a pub. Elizabeth Street, however, wasn’t massively populated with pubs. We eventually found one in at the corner of Martin Place, originally called Martin Place Bar, and there I hoovered down a couple of beers. We then walked round the corner to the restaurant in Hunter St.

I’d been to the original Rockpool on my first visit to Australia, way back in 1997 or thereabouts. Since then, chef Neil Perry has expanded his empire somewhat and now boasts 7 restaurants around Australia. This particular incarnation is in an old bank, with marble pillars and high ceilings. I had a starter of squid with pork belly, followed by flathead fillets from the grill, while Nicola had a pear, walnut & Roquefort salad to start and tortellini with prawns. Whilst the food was competently cooked, I was a bit disappointed to go to a Rockpool restaurant and get just a piece of fish on a plate. I mean, I can do that; for Rockpool prices I want something a bit more. Neil Perry, I am disappoint.