We meet up with our tour group in the young hostel area of Sultanahmet in Istanbul about a 15 minute walk from where we stayed. Over breakfast we catch up with our friends Jeremy and Sophie who have just finished their own two week trip around Turkey and had nothing but rave reviews. Note to self… this is a place where we will definitely need to spend more time. After breakfast we said goodbye to Jez and Soph and hello to a busload of new friends and on the road out of Istanbul we set about introducing ourselves as we all got to know each other. There are about 30 of us on the bus; three Kiwis’, two Poms and the rest are Aussie’s of course! Our tour guide for the next week is Matej (Mat-Ah), a 24 year old Croatian with a liking for weed, no fixed address, an appetite for parties and using his position to pick up chicks on tours, but he means well…… maybe? After all the intro’s we arrive at our first stop and the place we will spend the first night.
A six hour drive from Istanbul and we are in Gallipoli. The Gallipoli peninsula is south west from Istanbul and stretches out into the Aegean Sea. It is one of the most important places in the world for Australian’s, some say it is where our country discovered its identity and we would agree. After the looking around the small town and grabbing a bite for lunch it was back on the bus accompanied by a local historian and tour guide, for our own guided tour of the national park and all of its sights. We stopped at Brighton beach where the ANZAC forces were supposed to land in 1915 on 25th April and even now it is easy to see why, a flat beach with tree cover and bush land that spreads far and wide would be ideal for sneaking up behind the enemy undetected. Today it looks like something you would see in a resort brochure, sandy beaches, crystal blue water, deck chairs, umbrellas and hammocks. A beautiful place yet strangely eerie. We drove on and came to North beach, the home of the big ANZAC sign and the sight of the yearly dawn service. North beach was the beach where the ANZAC’s set up camp and tried to live out the nine month campaign. It is fairly sheltered and protected from a few rocky outposts that were taken on day one of the campaign and only 500 meters from where they landed, but enough out of the firing line to set up command posts and camp for the troops. After some time to reflect and reading the historical markers we walked in their footsteps along the beach around to ANZAC cove. ANZAC cove is a narrow beach, maybe the width of a two lane road and after that there is a wall, a cliff face and on top of that cliff, were the Turks and their machine guns. The Anzacs were ordered to land here after some miscommunication from the Poms, and the rest is history. Hearing the stories and being there was amazing if not humbling, hard to comprehend and impossible to imagine what they thought when they were dropped at the wrong beach. After taking time to think about this, it was back in the bus as we drove onto Shrapnel Valley and uphill toward Lone Pine. We traveled on the road that marked the front line, on one side of the road were the ANZAC trenches and on the opposite side were the TURK trenches. We heard stories about the soldiers stopping during the fighting to share food and a cup of tea, how they would become friends and then when it was time to shoot, they would just fire in the air, so as not to kill their new friends.
At Lone Pine the Australian Memorial, we heard that during the war, in this same place the diggers had dug a mass grave of ANZACs after an eight hour close combat battle with over 9,000 men involved. Now it is a grave yard with a ‘lone’ pine tree standing amongst the names of fallen Australian soldiers. A special place indeed with views over ANZAC cove and the surrounding beaches. We continued up the hill to the Turkish memorial and then finally to the top of Chunuk Bair. At the top you could see 360 degree views of the peninsula and key shipping channels and this is what the ANZAC’s were there for, to take this hill and therefore be the eyes for the Allies ships to get through to the Marmara sea and into the Bosporus to take out Turkey and win the war. It didn’t work like that though and it was only a small team of Kiwi’s that reached, the summit they bravely held off the Turkish Army for 72 hours without back up, until they were defeated and the ANZACS retreated. Because of this it is here we find the New Zealand memorial. After time to look around and take it all in, we hunt for some stray bullets before heading back to town to freshen up. After a few well earned beers the group gathered for the first of many group dinners, dinning on some Turkish favorites’. Then after an exhausting day the night was a fairly early one and we hit the hay at our hostel fittingly named crowded house. Tomorrow Greece.