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Every year, thousands of Kiwis and Aussies make the journey from their sun-soaked homelands to the freezing former battlefields of Gallipoli.

For many, a night spent camping in the bitter cold, remembering the Australian and New Zealand forces who perished here during World War One, is the ultimate tribute on Anzac Day (April 25) – and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you want to be a part of this huge coming-together, there are plenty of ways to do it.

You can join a whistlestop tour, which includes all the commemorative events held in Gallipoli, or take the time to explore the rest of Turkey on a longer trip to learn more about the history and pay tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives 98 years ago. Here’s everything you need to know to be part of this amazing annual pilgrimage.

Gallipoli:  We will remember them: the history

“The beach was piled up with ammunition, stores, among which lay dead and wounded, and men so absolutely exhausted that they had fallen asleep in spite of the noise and excitement around them. 

“Other parties were wandering about in the darkness and being directed up the hills by their officers. On the hills above there was a perfect inferno of rifle fire, and shells bursting. In fact, the air was buzzing with bullets, like a drone in a bee on a hot summer’s day.”

This stirring account of April 25, written by war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, gives a glimpse into what Anzac forces experienced at Gallipoli in 1915. Sent as part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture the peninsula, the troops landed to find the resistance from the Turkish defenders far stronger than had been anticipated.

But rather than accept defeat, and in spite of casualties and sickness, they hung on, making small, hard-fought advances and enduring endless setbacks over the next eight months. At the end of the year, the remaining forces’ retreat was as courageous as the fighting that had resulted in the deaths of more than 11,400 Anzacs.

The campaign may not have been a military success, but the efforts of the soldiers have been a symbol of great national pride since. 

On the battlefields: what to expect

Most visitors spend two to three days in Gallipoli before continuing exploring the rest of Turkey – enough time to see the main memorials, scattered at various sites.

These include the Canakkale Martyrs’ Memorial and British Memorial at Cape Helles, the Australian Memorial at Pine Ridge, and the New Zealand Monument and Ataturk Statue at Chunuk Bair.

Traditionally, campers pitch up on the eve of Anzac Day on the main battlefields at Anzac Cove, where documentaries are shown on big screens and bands play renditions of WW1 songs until late in the evening. Most people then stay awake all night. It can be a gruelling experience, but many say they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

The following day, a bugle sounds at first light ahead of the Dawn Service – a simple but poignant ceremony. Prayers are said and the Turkish, New Zealand and Australian national anthems are sung by the 10,000-strong crowd huddled together at the foot of the hill known as the Sphinx. 

Aussie Kris Chegwidden visited in 2009: “It was freezing and incredibly uncomfortable. We were unprepared for the cold, sleep deprived and emotional. When the Dawn Service began, we at least had almost an inkling of how unprepared [the troops] must’ve been for the whole situation. The best part is that the Turks, Aussies and Kiwis all respect the day.”

Soon after, the crowds make their way up the same path the troops themselves took nearly 100 years ago, more than 3km up the steep hill from the cove to Lone Pine for the Australian national ceremony, then heading to Chunuk Bair for the Kiwi tribute. At both sites, wreaths are placed, emotional letters from soldiers are read out and heart-wrenching stories about great acts of bravery are told. 

Fran MacKenzie, also from Australia, went to Gallipoli for Anzac Day in 2010. “It was the most amazing experience of my life ... Anzac Cove and Lone Pine were just filled with every emotion – pride and heartache that you could only sample by being there,” she said.“I felt so in unity with everyone around me. It was completely amazing.”


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Anzac Day in Gallipoli: Paying tribute to the fallen soldiers and exploring fascinating Turkey
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