An ordinary afternoon visit can be just as poignant as being at Gallipoli on the 100th Anzac Day next April.
The first thing you notice is the silence. Only the gentle whoosh of small waves nudging the pebbled shore punctuates our thoughts. The waves look particularly pretty today, on this sunny Monday afternoon in north-west Turkey.
Yet as our small group of Aussies and Kiwis watch the rhythmic ebb and flow of the shallows in ANZAC Cove, the awful story of what happened in those waves hangs powerfully in the air.
Our first steps as a newly federated nation were taken on this beach – if only those brave boys and men wading to their deaths could have known what legends they would become.
How their courage would seed a young nation's unity and grow into a story still being told, taught and commemorated.
How 100 years later, a ballot had to be held because more than 42,000 Aussies and Kiwis wanted to go to the other side of the world to attend a dawn service in their honour, with only a quarter of that number being offered a spot on this fatal shore.
Many of those who missed out on a place next ANZAC Day are expected to be among a high number of Australians and New Zealanders making their way here throughout the 100th anniversary year in 2015.
We have been brought to the Gallipoli Peninsula as part of Trafalgar's Highlights of Turkey guided holiday. Turkish and Australian authorities have recommended guided coaches as the best way to visit the commemorative site in the coming year for many practical reasons. Getting to Gallipoli from Istanbul is a five-hour drive. The Department of Veterans Affairs advises there is no public transport to the site available from the towns nearest ANZAC Cove – Eceabat is 20 kilometres away with Canakkale a 30-kilometre drive.
The nearest parking for private cars is 10 kilometres from the site with no public transport options provided to get from your car to the memorial, with no nearby public phones or taxi ranks.
With accommodation costs – principally in Canakkale – guaranteed to jump throughout the centenary year and with access likely to be layered by extra security, going with a company like Trafalgar just makes sense.
What you gain outweighs what you may have compromised on as an independent traveller. Confirmed and comfortable four-star hotels, transport, priority access and top-notch local guides.
Being taken by a local coach driver eliminates the challenge of negotiating remote roads in an unfamiliar country, leaving you free to take in the surroundings and reflect on the commentary from your Turkish tour director.
Coming here is an unexpected lesson on the Turkish experience – captured unforgettably in the words of President Mustafa Ataturk in 1934. His heartbreaking ode to the mothers of all fallen soldiers – inscribed on a huge memorial overlooking the sea – became one of the most emotionally powerful memories of the visit. "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace ... They have become our sons as well."
With only a handful of other visitors for company, during two deeply quiet hours we visit north beach cemetery, ANZAC Cove and Lone Pine. We drive up the steep hill to Lone Pine, where we see a network of trenches, some left exactly as they were in 2015, only metres apart. The view of the beautiful turquoise beach below is not unlike any coastline back home in Australia. (Former veterans affairs minister Danna Vale has said its likeness to Victoria's Mornington Peninsula is "uncanny").
Whispering, we wonder if that familiar view gave our boys comfort as they waited for night to bring a respite from the daylight horror around them.
We walk the rows of headstones, reading heartaching inscriptions from families far away in Newcastle, St Kilda, Adelaide. Poppies dot a fence here, a grassy stretch there. A small Aussie flag flaps next to the grave of Private W J Clark from the 25th Battalion. Was a descendant recently here? Does that tearful young Aussie girl walking in her boyfriend's embrace have a connection?
The visitors book inside the hilltop Memorial to the Missing proves equally moving. We sign the book, captivated by comments from fellow pilgrims. A little girl's unsteady handwriting says it all: "Thanks for protecting our country".
WHY A GUIDED HOLIDAY WORKS
If you knew what you were doing, you could perhaps tick off a dozen significant sites and experiences across thousands of kilometres in Turkey in just under a week.
It would help if you spoke the language and knew the roads and had pre-booked accommodation at just the right distances apart each day, knew where the good restaurants were and had someone in the back seat with a detailed knowledge of Turkey's unique social and political history straddling two continents. Access to an archaeologist would also help get the most out of Turkey's rich array of amazingly preserved archaeological wonders like Ephesus and Troy.
The reality is you are probably time poor, don't speak Turkish, have no clue how to beat Istanbul's astonishing traffic jams and will be relying on the internet when deciding where to eat and sleep.
That's where the benefits of a guided holiday come in.
Trafalgar ticks all the boxes – new, comfortable coaches come with a butler, free Wi-Fi, headsets and knowledgeable tour directors.
There is someone to carry your bags, organise priority access at important sites (no queuing!), make recommendations for restaurants and sight-seeing in your free time, explain the local food and be available for questions on everything from the address of a good hammam to booking a Turkish bath to where to buy the best hand-made ceramics.
Highlights of our seven-night journey include:
Istanbul Spice Market
With our tour director leading the charge into this heaving river of shoppers, we made our way into the 500-year-old fragrant explosion of colour armed with tips on which spices to buy and where to find gourmet Turkish delight. Unmissable, but be wary of pickpockets and avoid bewildering crowds on Saturday if possible.
Istanbul Hagia Sofia
First a Catholic church built in 532, this spectacular landmark was converted to a mosque in 1492 when Constantinople was renamed Istanbul. Opened as a museum in 1935, the building is home to a wealth of ancient Christian and Muslim artefacts as well as archaeological prizes like Egyptian marble columns, ands 800-year-old Byzantine mosaics.
Lunch with locals
In the tiny mountain village of Demircidere, surrounded by olive groves, we were treated to lunch in the homes of local farmers as part of a Be My Guest experience. In groups of four we dispersed among the traditionally dressed villagers. Our hosts, Ismet and Sureyya Ozdemir, served soup, stuffed vine leaves and hand-picked olives. A unique experience, particularly because our only way of communicating with each other was sign language and smiles.
Drawn by its expansive seaside promenade, local holidaymakers head to Turkey's third-largest city in search of relief from the country's searing summer months. With wide boulevards, palm trees and the Aegean calling, a relaxed seaside vibe here is in stark contrast to the chaos of Istanbul. The pools and top-notch spa in our Swissotel provided stiff competition for waterfront restaurants and boutique shopping.
With 4000 shops and 69 entrances, don't do this exciting labyrinth on your own. Getting lost is a given but better to have someone handy to help work out your exit strategy. Enormous fun (don't forget to haggle), if overwhelming. Gorgeous ceramics, metallics and rugs along with the usual tourist tat. Best buys are beautiful, quality hand-made bed linen and towels – our group spent up big at Denizli textiles. Check them out on Instagram.
Trafalgar has three guided holidays in Turkey: Best of Turkey, priced from $2135; Highlights of Turkey, priced from $1535; and Secrets of Turkey including the Turquoise Coast, priced from $3295 (all prices per person, twin share, check for
2015 dates where the single supplement has been waived).
The writer was a guest of Trafalgar Tours.