Exploring Sydney by Bridge Walk & Bar Tour

I finally arrived to Sydney! I spent the day climbing the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge overlooking the Sydney Opera House. That evening, I went on a bar tour, where I met people from around the world.

Days 448-449

I left Newcastle after eating a tasty breakfast and drove south to Sydney. I went through some rock formations on the short two and half hour drive. 

I arrived at the famous city of Sydney, Australia, after more than five months of road-tripping around the country. As I approached, traffic significantly increased. There are five million people in Sydney, making it the largest city in Australia. I was excited to see the high-rise buildings and finally see this iconic city. 

At 3:00 pm, I pulled up to the apartment complex where my Airbnb was located. I followed the instructions and went to the unit where a management company was operating. They managed multiple units and gave me a key and a parking pass. I parked in the underground parking garage and took the elevator to my room. 

My studio apartment was new with modern fixtures. The large windows let in a lot of light, and it was a cozy place to stay for the week. I got some writing done and made some plans for the next few days. There was rain in the forecast, so I did my best to plan around the bad weather. 

The next day, I signed up for an 11:00 am tour of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The icon bridge connects the city and overlooks the Sydney Opera House. They offer tours where you can climb the bridge to the top! 

I drove to the bridge tour but made a wrong turn and accidentally crossed the bridge. I took the bridge back to the central part of the city and was now running late. I parked and raced inside. The man behind the counter said they just took the group of ten to the back, but I could still join them after filling out a form. 

Their system was extremely organized. The large warehouse-type room had multiple sections divided for each part of the tour preparation. Numerous groups were there, each in a different stage of the tour. The tour guide had us walk up and down a narrow staircase to make sure we knew how to traverse it safely. 

Our guide was a short girl in her late 20s, with blonde hair. She was friendly, organized, and took control. We went into separate changing rooms and put a jumpsuit on over our clothes. It can get cold and windy on the bridge. Once we had our jumpsuits on, they gave us cables to attach around our waists and then on the rails. We didn’t have to worry much about attaching or detaching the cord because they ensured it was a continuous rail throughout. Next, we lined up in a single-file line. 

I was in front of a woman from India. She traveled with her husband and in-laws, but they didn’t want to do the bridge climb. Three years earlier, she came to Sydney on her honeymoon, which was also during New Year’s Eve. 

That day, her family was touring the opera house, but she had already seen it. Even though she was afraid of heights, she decided to do the bridge tour. 

We headed out to the bridge, following the guide in a line. We were under the bridge and had to walk on narrow wooden planks while staring at the ground below. I held on to the bars tightly and tried to look ahead of me. That was the scariest part. 

Once we walked across the first section, we had to climb up four narrow, steep staircases. The guides had us test this earlier because the staircases can be tricky. The whole area was industrial, and the cars on the bridge raced around us. 

Once we were on top of the staircase, we started the climb on the bridge’s top section. We were on the top of the bridge that is shaped like a rainbow. I wasn’t scared because it was wide and wasn’t super steep. We were connected to handrails the whole time, just in case we slipped. 

There was a group farther up the bridge, and they took pictures, so our guide let us take breaks and soak up the views. It was a beautiful day with a cool breeze and a bright blue sky. 

When we reached the top, the guide took pictures of us one at a time. I felt on top of the world! I marveled at the Sydney Opera House. I have seen it so many times in movies and pictures. It felt surreal to see it in real life. 

I looked around and took in the 360° views. There were boats driving around the harbor and leaving white waves in their path. The high-rise buildings went on forever. 

Once everyone had their pictures taken, we crossed to the other side for a few more pictures. The tour guide pointed out a small platform where they shoot fireworks from on New Year’s Eve. She said sometimes they have events at the top, which was nuts to me because the platform was so small!  

It was hard work getting up and back down. There was a lot of climbing and paying attention to my footing. We climbed back down the staircase and under the bridge back to the building attached to it. We took off all of our gear and had the opportunity to buy our pictures. 

I drove back to my Airbnb, ate, and freshened up. Unfortunately, a horrendous headache was creeping in, and within an hour, it felt like a migraine. I took Excedrin and felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to miss the secret bar tour that I already paid for, so I sucked it up and took an Uber to the meeting place. 

I was running late because I had a hard time getting my headache to get to a place where I didn’t feel like dying. I arrived at the first bar in Surrey Hills and met the handful of other tourists and the tour guide, Justin. Justin was from Brisbane, appeared to be in his 30s, and had light brown hair. He used to be a corporate lawyer, but left that world a few years earlier and started a tourism business. I found his secret bar tour on Airbnb Experiences. 

As we drank a beer and ate chicken wings, Justin told us about Aussie slang. I had already heard a lot of it, but the one that he highlighted was, “We’re not here to fuck spiders.” It basically means, “I’m not here to mess around. I’m here to get the job done.” Justin even gave us a small card with everyday Aussie slang. 

Once we finished at the first bar, we walked down the street to the next place. During the walk, Justin told us about the old razor blade gangs from the 1920s. The crews were run by women (Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh) because men couldn’t make money from prostitution. It was organized crime, and the four major crimes were: drugs, alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Prohibition limited alcohol after 6:00 pm, so people used to get wasted from 5:00 pm-6:00 pm. I heard this same thing when I was on a tour in Melbourne

Handguns were criminalized, so they took up razors as their weapon. They estimate that more than 500 slashings occurred during that period. In 1929, two significant battles between the gangs ensued, “Battle of Blood Alley,” and “Battle of Kellett Street.” Justin stopped at one corner where a battle took place. It was wild to think about what it was like back then. 

At the second bar, I had the chance to talk with some other people on the tour. Nine was from the Philippines and was traveling solo. It was her second time traveling by herself, and she was in Australia for a few weeks on holiday. Nine told me it was her first time in an English-speaking country, making it easy for her to navigate. She had traveled to Japan a few times, Korea, and India. 

Sky was from China and was in Australia with a one-year working visa. She had been there for three weeks and already completed a week and a half of the required farm work. So far, she had seen Melbourne, Sydney, and the farm. Sky recently got a job in food processing. 

Noah was from New York and Connecticut (USA). He worked at a corporate location for Door Dash for two years. He was able to transfer to Australia and help get them up and running there. Noah spent two months in Melbourne, and his time was almost over. Before leaving, he was attempting to see Sydney and Cairns. 

Brett was from South Africa. His sister had lived in Melbourne for the last six months. Brett visited his sister and then went to Cairns before arriving in Sydney. He really liked Sydney and the nightlife. He told me that South Africa had political and economic problems, so many people were leaving. Brett didn’t see a long-term future there. 

Byron was from Vienna, Austria. He was visiting Sydney for work. I can’t remember exactly what he did for work, but it had something to do with trains. He was sightseeing now that he finished his work. 

We ended up going to four different bars. Most of them felt American, but I had a great time. It was Saturday night, and I was glad to have people to hang out with. I tried various drinks at the bars and was able to get to know people from around the world. 

One of the bars had label-maker stickers inside the lampshades. My two favorites were, “The good old days are now,” and “Cowboys never die. They just ride off into the sunset.” The cowboy sticker made me think of Damien and how he tipped my hat while saying, “It’s just like that, I ride off into the sunset.” Then I focused on the other sticker and realized now are the good old days, not the past. 

Justin got us drinks that came in shot glasses (and a beer on the side) at the final bar. Later, I walked to the counter to get another drink. There were only two bartenders, so it took me about 20 minutes to get the drink. I asked Justin why there were only two bartenders on a Saturday night, and he explained it’s because of the high minimum wage (highest in the world). The menu read, “midnight surcharge applies.” He said it’s also why restaurants close early. They can’t afford to pay a whole kitchen staff if the restaurant isn’t full. 

Justin told us more about the nightlife in Sydney and the lockout laws. In 2014, a teenager was killed with one punch in an alcohol-related fight at 9:00 pm. It was two years after another teenager was killed in a fight in the same area. In an attempt to reduce alcohol-related violence, the city implemented lockout laws in 2014. 

After 1:30 am, the lockouts applied, and the last call was at 3:00 am. I heard about their lockout laws when I was in Melbourne because Melbourne and Sydney have a rivalry. Melbourne has bars that don’t close until 5:00 am and some that don’t close at all. They mocked Sydney for having to close early. 

I told Justin that it seemed strange they’d change the laws after a single incident and one that happened at 9:00 pm. I wasn’t sure how preventing alcohol sales several hours later would make a difference, but it seemed like something Australia would do. He asked, “Are you referring to our gun control laws?” I laughed, “Yes.” 

A couple of months later, the city lifted its lockout laws after reviewing the economic impacts on the nightlife industry. As of January 2020, the lockout laws no longer apply. 

At the end of the tour, some of us were hungry. Justin took Sky, Nine, and me to a kebab place and ordered HSB fries, a popular halal snack in Australia. Lamb meat topped the fries, and unique sauces made it extra delicious. The four of us had a good time filling our bellies after a night of drinking. It was a great day exploring the city and nightlife. 

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8 Responses

  1. Awwwwww…. hell no! You’d never get me up on that bridge, Christy. But the photos are spectacular! I thought you were scared of heights?

    1. Haha, I am scared of heights! But if I feel secure and steady it’s ok. Since I was connected with the wire and most of it was a pretty wide path, it felt ok.

  2. This is wonderful! I spent 1 year in Queensland Australia years ago. I love being in Australia and it is a beautiful place to visit. Enjoy all that it has to offer!

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