One of Australia's iconic tourist experiences - climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge - is about to undergo the biggest change in its 22-year history.
Starting on September 6, BridgeClimb is launching its "Ultimate Climb" - the first time climbers will be able to traverse the entire span of the bridge's arch, from south to north.
Previously, climbers would head to the summit, 134 metres above the harbour, from the south before crossing from the east to the west side of the bridge and returning back down to the southern pylons.
Climbers on the new route will head to the highest point of the bridge before heading down the northern side to take in new views of Milson's Point, Lavender Bay, McMahons Point, Luna Park, North Sydney Olympic Pool and Kirribilli.
After reaching the northern pylons, they will cross the arch of the bridge a second time, this time on the western side, to return to their starting point and walking 1621 stairs across 3.3 kilometres in the process.
"I'd describe it as inside, outside, over and through, north side, south side, east and west," said BridgeClimb head of operations Aden Duncan. "It's accessing every part of the bridge, which is something we've never been able to take climbers on before."
BridgeClimb was taken over by Hammons Holdings in 2018, with a 20-year lease to operate the business after winning a process involving 12 bidders, including the founding operator.
The family-owned company's managing directors, Anthea and David Hammon, flagged new routes for the climb shortly after they took over, in October, 2018, the same month the attraction scored a publicity coup with Prince Harry climbing during his visit to Australia, joined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Allowing climbers to traverse the entire length of the bridge formed part of the Hammon's bid for the business, said Mr Duncan, but the process for launching it has taken nearly two years.
"Obviously there are a lot of logistical and safety considerations that come into play," said Mr Duncan. This included installing 1300 metres of new safety lines and looking at health considerations - including a COVID-19 plan for physical distancing and frequent cleaning of facilities.
"Recently we've been doing some trial climbs monitoring our test subjects' heart rates on the route, so we can get an understanding of what the effect of the increased distance is," he said.
Despite the extra distance, Mr Duncan said they found the new climb was no more strenuous than the original.
"We have a lot of rest points along the way, so it's suitable for most people, including children over eight years old," he said.
In a 2018 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Hammon said that changes could potentially include cheaper options for climbers, given climbing the summit currently starts from $268 for an adult (though BridgeClimb is currently offering specials from $198 for adults).
But the new Ultimate Route will, not surprisingly, cost more than that, with adult tickets priced at $348.
The operators will be hoping the new route helps boost visitor numbers while borders remain closed, with about half of climbers typically coming from overseas in a normal year. The climb already saw a 15-to-20 per cent decline in climbers last summer, due to the smoke haze over Sydney caused by unprecedented bushfires.
The climb closed in late March as part of the lockdown of non-essential businesses due to COVID-19, reopening in late June. The climb is currently operating Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, down from seven days a week prior to the pandemic outbreak and associated travel restrictions.