If you have not heard of the Pylon Lookout, then believe me, you are unaware of Sydney’s best kept secret. For it is the greatest vantage point in the city (move aside Cremorne, move aside Vaucluse). I mean, it would be hard to beat the panoramic landscapes of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour, seen from one of the highest points of the Harbour Bridge itself.
While most Sydneysiders and tourists alike are aware of the bridge climb, there is a less expensive option of reaching the same dizzy heights. Almost. That’s your Pylon Lookout (AUD 15 entry ticket). Oh Yes! it is a well kept secret.
The word ‘Pylon’ means tower, so this is basically ascending one of the four pylon towers that stand as tall sentinels on either side of the bridge. The entrance is a bit tricky – check the instructions here. Or you will start like me, standing beneath the pylons opposite the Opera House and searching for some kind of Willy-Wonka’s preposterous elevators to zoom me straight up to the view point. No, it’s not so enthralling and you have to enter via Cumberland Street, walk all the way on the bridge until you come to the unassuming entrance at the Pylon. Well, it’s not exactly like Platform 9 and 3/4, but the entrance could have been more a more exciting one.
Once inside, take your time to read the displays in the little museum inside the tower. It explains a lot about the Coat-hanger – history, geography, metallurgy, economics, everything! And it also helps build up the momentum before you go all the way up for that incredible ta-da moment.
I learnt a lot actually from the displays. A few interesting facts for the curious and curiouser:
- Construction of the bridge was put on hold for ages, as late until the early 20th century, particularly due to an efficient ferry service and well made roads connecting north and south Sydney
- Way back in 1890, there was a Royal Commission (Oz just loves Royal Commissions, isn’t it?) to decide whether to build a bridge or a tunnel across north and south Sydney. The recommendation was an extremely prescient ‘No’ as the commission concluded that neither was necessary. Finally in 1908, yet another Royal Commission recommended a bridge across the waters.
- 16 years later, tenders were floated and the current bridge design was selected in favor of Dorman Long and Co. Ltd, England. A steel suspension bridge desing was rejected as it would apparently have less load bearing capacity, while a cantilever bridge (such as Brisbane’s story bridge) would look less appealing.
- The winning design was a steel arch bridge – the all famous Coat-hanger – based on New York’s Hell Gate bridge
- The Pylons or the towers are apparently cosmetic in nature – while their mass does help to firm the foundation, they were included more to create those killer looks (and of course to offer the Pylon Lookout lookout!)
- The bridge was inaugurated in 1932 but not without controversy. Leftist premier, Jack Lang was supposed to cut the ribbon, but before he could snip-snip, his rightist opponent De Groot came marching on a horse to slash the ribbon. The latter was arrested and the ribbon re-tied but Groot had already written his name in the bridge’s diaries
- Way back in 1934, the Pylon Lookout also had a quirky museum, including Aboriginal artifacts, a ‘Mother’s Nook’ to write letters back home and even a ‘Pashometer’ for visitors to measure their sex appeal(Seriously?) It took World War II to break these eccentricities, with the pylons taken over by the military to install anti-aircraft guns
Well, fabulous facts and factoids later, when you step out to the viewing platform, the views will take your breath away in more ways than one. Feel the wind on your hair, smell the salty breeze, and marvel at the city. Follow the ferries and catamarans leaving a trail behind, that disappears almost meditatively, while the emerald green and turquoise waters of the harbour get peppered with the sail boats and yachts of many colors.
Look at the horizon and trace all the landmarks – all the way from Taronga to Maquarie Lighthouse, Vaucluse, Fort Denison, Royal Botanical Gardens, Rocks, the wharfs, the Observatory …. the list goes long. Thousands of snaps and selfies later, just close your camera, open your eyes and keep soaking in the beautiful views of the city and its harbour. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you stand atop the most beautiful vantage point in the city, so intimately close to its throbbing pulse, yet so far away from all the madding crowds…