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March 3, 1997: Sky Tower, Southern Hemisphere’s tallest free-standing structure, opens in Auckland

Compass

The Sky Tower is not just the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. At 1,076 feet, it rises much higher than anything surrounding it, making it a standout of the Auckland skyline. Although it was built primarily as a TV and radio transmitter, the sleek tower is also a major tourist attraction, pulling in about 500,000 visitors a year.

Sky Tower opened in 1997, six months ahead of schedule. Given that New Zealand is prone to earthquakes, the steel and concrete structure was designed to survive a quake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale. It can also withstand winds of up to 130 mph by swaying up to three feet or so (it had one weather closure in 2006, when 93-mph winds scared visitors).

Like many towers of its type, the Sky Tower features observation decks and a rotating restaurant shaped like a flying saucer. On a clear day, you can see for about 50 miles from the highest of the three decks. The main observation deck has a clear floor that lets viewers look straight down. But the biggest draw for thrill seekers is the SkyJump, a 630-foot cable-guided leap from the tower. It has appeared as a challenge on reality-TV shows including “The Amazing Race” and “The Biggest Loser.”

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