From Gothic-inspired stone pillars to feats of engineering that look like they should defy the laws of physics, it’s worth taking some time to check them out.
My weapon of choice to embark on this road loop is the quirky and cleverly designed Peugeot RCZ.
It was supposed to be a concept car, but it created such a stir it went into production with very few changes to the contemporary, unconventional design.
I planned a trip that included nine bridges that are relatively central to Sydney though if you wanted to make a longer day out of it, you can head towards the Central Coast or Hunter Valley, down to the the spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge or west into the Blue Mountains.
The 130km loop began in McMahons Point and headed south over the Sydney Harbour Bridge towards the Sutherland Shire. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, as you would know, is one of Australia’s biggest tourist attractions.
Nicknamed the ‘coat hanger’ because of its steel arches, it was opened in 1932 and was the world’s widest long-span bridge until the Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver was built in 2012 (being 48.8-metres across). The Sydney Harbour Bridge is 134-metres above water level, but can expand on hot days to a further 18cm in height.
There are so many fascinating facts about this bridge – six-million rivets hold it together, the south-eastern pylon is made from Moruya granite – you could talk about it all day and be constantly amazed at the intricacies of its construction and upkeep.
From the bridge there’s a fantastic view over the Sydney Opera House. If you want to stop and take in the majesty of the Opera House, add a detour to your trip and head down to the end of Blues Point Road at McMahons Point for a beautiful view of the building (and the arch of the famous Sydney bridge) from across the harbour.
It was only a short trip to the bridge, but the next leg down to the Captain Cook Bridge at San Souci was 22km in typical Sydney traffic.
Close to the coast, linking Sans Souci to Taren Point is the Captain Cook Bridge, which was opened in May 1965. It stretches over Georges River, which opens into Botany Bay – the location where the bridge’s namesake landed back in 1770. The foundations of the bridge are 67-metres underwater at their greatest depth, with the bridge itself spanning 500-metres.
The 10-kilometre drive across to Woronora wasn’t any freer of traffic snarls than the first two legs. No matter the time of day, Sydney traffic never seems to sleep. By this stage I was getting comfortable in the RCZ, and its 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Woronora Bridge is worth heading a little further inland to see. Construction of this bridge was completed in 2001, and its innovative design – featuring horizontal and vertical curves – resulted in the project receiving an Australian Construction Achievement Award in 2002.
If you turn off down Menai Road, there’s a low-lying bridge at the bottom with great spots for you to stop and look up at this fantastic structure. It’s one of my favourite bridges to drive across because of its sweeping curve, its height, and the views down to the water below.
After having a bit of fun around the Woronora Bridge, it was time to head back towards the coast to see another Georges River crossing – the industrial looking and curiously named Tom Uglys Bridge.
It consists of two bridges, both around 500-metres long and each dedicated to handling one direction of traffic. The northbound bridge is currently listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register, and was built in 1929 using the Pratt truss design. It is now dedicated to northbound traffic. Interestingly this bridge was designed by Percy Allan, who also created the Pyrmont Bridge, which was closed to traffic in 1981 and is now dedicated to pedestrians crossing Cockle Bay in the heart of Sydney.
The second southbound bridge is a concrete box girder design and was built in 1987 to combat congestion and long delays for those using the original crossing.
The history of the bridge’s quirky name is mysterious. For more than 80 years before the bridge was built, locals knew the point at the northern end as Tom Uglys Point, but as to why the point was called that is a bit of a mystery. The theories centre on various people who had similar sounding names, but had been mispronounced as the stories were passed on over the following years.
One of the oldest colonial bridges in Australia can be found at Lansvale, and I have to admit the route to the Landsdowne Bridge took me through areas of Sydney that I have never been to in the two years I’ve lived here. It was a bit of an adventure navigating unfamiliar roads in the RCZ and I was relying heavily on its satellite navigation system.
The Landsdowne Bridge was built by convicts and took two years to construct between 1834 and 1836. It’s has a stunning old sandstone arch, and has the largest span of any bridge of its kind still standing in Australia. You could blink and almost miss it as you drive across, but there are parklands on either side where you can pull in to take a closer look.
This bridge was designed by David Lennox, who was also responsible for the Lennox Bridge in Parramatta and the Lennox Bridge in Glenvale. Incidentally, he was also in charge of supervising the convicts as they toiled away.
The run from Tom Uglys to Lansvale was around 25km and the following leg would add another 26km to the tally for the day. I was headed for perhaps the second most well-known bridge in Sydney: the awe-inspiring Anzac Bridge.
Driving over this bridge while looking up at the cables and pylons is always a magical experience and feels almost like an optical illusion if you stare at it too long. The stay cable design was originally known as the Glebe Island Bridge when it opened in 1995 but was renamed on Remembrance Day in 1998 in honour of our ANZAC soldiers.
Originally there were issues with vibrations running through the cables, but that was corrected by adding smaller cables in between the large ones. Along with the Sydney Harbour Bridge it’s one of the city’s busiest and carries more than 180,000 cars a day over Johnstons Bay between Pyrmont and Glebe Island.
Twelve kilometres across town (again heading over the Sydney Harbour Bridge) is the Spit Bridge that connects Mosman to Manly over Middle Harbour. It’s a bascule bridge that opens to let yachts with tall masts pass underneath. This happens multiple times a day and can cause significant traffic delays at times. On this day with the RCZ, we managed to catch the bridge as it was closing, but as it was the middle of the day, traffic wasn’t too crazy.
The current bridge was opened in 1958 after previous structures were quickly outgrown thanks to burgeoning population growth in the northern beaches. Currently, the lanes travelling in each direction change depending on the time of day, so watch out for that as well. The Spit is an affluent area with stunning waterfront homes, a marina packed with multi-million dollar boats and an assortment of nice restaurants and cafes.
Another 12km along the road you’ll find the Roseville Bridge, which reminds me a little of the Woronora Bridge due to its long sweeping curve. The box girder bridge was opened in 1966, travelling 377-metres along while crossing Middle Harbour. There is road access under the bridge via Healey Way where you’ll find Davidson Park, which is part of Garigal National Park. It’s a huge reserve with multiple large areas for barbecues, which is perfect for just lying around and enjoying a day by the water.
Heading further back towards the city is another of my favourite bridges. With ornate sandstone towers at each end, the Long Gully Bridge at Northbridge has a medieval vibe and is reminiscent of a castle drawbridge.
Built in 1982, Long Gully Bridge was originally a suspension bridge. The Federation Gothic style pillars were part of the original construction, however the bridge was left to languish and had to be replaced in 1939 with a concrete arch bridge. It connects Northbridge to Cammaray via Miller Street, spanning over a gully rather than a waterwayf
From there it’s a short run back to McMahons Point, with the route presenting a great opportunity to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge from another angle. Head to the bottom of Kirribilli and you can get right under the bridge to look up at its impressive structure.