Andy Kenworthy gets a whole new perspective on Auckland's mighty Harbour Bridge.
You've been on the harbour bridge loads, right? Driving to or from the North Shore while listening to the radio or shouting at the children that no, we are not nearly there yet. But if this has normalised this epic feat of engineering, I recommend taking the time to get up close and personal, especially if you have friends visiting from out of town.
Kiwi bungy legend AJ Hackett's company has invested heavily in providing safe and exclusive walkways over, under and on top of this majestic structure. They also provide super-keen guides who can educate and inform even the most local of us about one of our most striking landmarks and its surroundings.
Before our tour we don overalls and empty our pockets, to avoid dropping keys and mobile phones on to one of the busiest roads in the country. Once through the security gates we clip our harnesses on the safety guide wire and then stroll on to the steel walkway out over the water. At this point the scale of the bridge becomes so much more apparent, as is the complexity and audacity involved in building it.
At the first stop, atop one of the bridge's concrete plinths, our effervescent guide Lena tells us about how hundreds of men toiled away on building the bridge from 1956-1959, and also checks to see if anybody is struggling to cope with the height. It's a fair question: we are now 20 metres above the water and if you choose to lean over the rail there's nothing between you and splashdown but the odd seagull and your safety clip. And we are heading higher.
One of our party definitely isn't fazed, as she has chosen to add the bridge's 40-metre bungy jump to her tour. This means the rest of us get to climb into the space age launch pod bolted under the bridge and watch her take the dive. My legs wobble just watching. I have patted a tiger, jumped 12 metres off a cliff, got drunk in a minefield, been threatened with arrest by armed police and even questioned my wife's hairstyle, but something about the big elastic band really gives me the heebie jeebies.
Our next major stop is at the edge of the central span of the bridge. Lena points out that the entire Sky Tower would fit in the gap, and then we descend into the depths of the largest plinth to see what the whole bridge is built on. Which turns out to be not as much as you might think.
The concrete now helps to hold on the "Nippon Clip-on" outer additional lanes completed by Japanese contractors in 1969. But Lena tells us that prior to that, much of each plinth was simply for show, to reassure people how robust the bridge was. You have to believe her, because she tells you this while you are standing inside the hollow interior.
This, we are told, also serves as the last resting place of John Joseph Patrick McCormick, a 45-year-old carpenter who fell to his death in the wet concrete on March 21, 1959. It was not possible to recover his body, so he is encased here, with the whole glorious span around us standing as a tribute to him and the two other men who tragically lost their lives during its construction.
To get an even better sense of the scale of this, we ascend to the highest point on the bridge, via a tunnel beneath the clip-on lanes, where we can watch the roadway undulate as it absorbs the passing of the traffic.
Out in the open air there are spectacular views, photographs to be taken and the chance to hear a little more about the history of the bridge and the harbour.
Going to great heights
Taking two hours at a gentle pace, the tour offers a touch of excitement with more on hand for those who want it, and a real insight into a big chunk of Auckland's history. Tours cost $120. For more information and booking, see bungy.co.nz.