Harry scales new heights on Australia tour with Sydney Harbour Bridge climb

The Duke of Sussex's tour of Australia reached new heights – as he and three Invictus Games competitors climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Under sunny skies, Harry swapped the New South Wales standard for the Invictus flag at the top of the landmark, which towers 440ft (134m) above the water.

The duke, whose "favourite time of the year is the Games", took 13 minutes to ascend the 464 steps to the top of the bridge along the east side, before crossing the central walkway to raise the flag which flapped in the breeze.

Royal tour of Australia - Day Four
Royal tour of Australia - Day Four

Replacing the New South Wales flag is a rare event on the Harbour Bridge – the Aboriginal flag is flown on Australia Day and occasionally other sporting achievements or terror attacks are commemorated in this way.

Harry was not alone on the climb – although the pregnant Duchess of Sussex did not take part in the engagement – with three representatives from Team Australia and Invictus ambassador Gwen Cherne accompanying him to the summit.

Ms Cherne, whose husband served in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq and took his own life in February this year, shared a hug with the duke after completing the climb.

She said: "I think they (Harry and Meghan) provide this beacon of hope and light for so many.

"They're touching, they're shining that interest on the Games, and that shines light on their service and that shines light on the sacrifices their families make.

"I was humbled by the opportunity to spend that time with him and grateful for all he is doing given his place in the world."

Peter Rudland, who deployed to Cambodia, twice to Iraq, twice to Timor Leste and to Afghanistan, and will compete in the cycling and wheelchair rugby, shared a joke with the Duke during the bridge climb.

"I was the Australian co-captain last year so we had a chat about that," he said.

"Harry gave the captains an Invictus coin and, at the time he gave it, I made a joke saying 'I'm going to love this but knowing me I'll probably lose it'."

"It was purely a joke and then I put it in my bag, we went on with the festivities and it went missing."

The Invictus Foundation sent another medal to replace the lost one.

Mr Rudland said: "It wasn't the one Harry gave me, so I mentioned it to him. I said 'Well, dude, I actually lost it', and he was like 'Really?'. So we had a laugh about that."

Royal tour of Australia - Day Four
Royal tour of Australia - Day Four

Captain Ruth Hunt, indoor rower and swimmer, said she and Harry talked about the services during the climb.

"It was awesome," she said. "We're the only three people in the world who are going to have had that experience, it's definitely one for the history books.

"He was just keen to have a normal chat.

"It's quite humbling that we are going to have so many people from Australia barracking (cheering) for us, that's something that I didn't ever think would happen to me."

Royal tour of Australia - Day Four
Royal tour of Australia - Day Four

Luke Hill, a swimmer, who was deployed to Timor-Leste three times, said the duke was keen to ask the athletes about their experiences of the Invictus journey.

He said: "I just wanted to thank him for the opportunity, for putting all that effort in, that self-exploration to come up with this idea and then put it into action.

"He also highlighted the fact that Invictus isn't about the medal. We are really there just to form a community that supports itself.

"We spoke about family a lot. I congratulated him on his baby coming and that's the most extraordinary thing that can happen to anyone, I think."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also on the climb and went up quicker than the others.

The Duke of Sussex, @InvictusSydney competitors and the Prime Minister of Australia climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge to view the raising of the Invictus flag ahead of #IG2018. #RoyalVisitAustraliapic.twitter.com/wVpGZCL06H

— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) October 19, 2018

Mr Hill said: "I was puffing behind and that's a bit of a concern ahead of the races next week!"

A royal aide said: "The duke and duchess are incredibly excited for the Invictus Games to begin.

"The energy and stories behind the Games are always inspiring and it has been the duke's favourite time of year ever since the Games began in 2014."

Royal tour of Australia - Day Four
Royal tour of Australia - Day Four

Earlier, Harry and Meghan visited another Sydney landmark – Bondi Beach.

There, the couple met representatives from OneWave to talk about their work on mental health and then visited Macarthur Girls High School to discuss social justice and youth empowerment.

They finished their day with engagements with leader of the opposition Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Morrison.