Kiwis gather in Turkey ahead of Anzac Day

ONE FOR THE ROAD: Young Aussies and Kiwis gather on Backpacker Street, Istanbul before heading to Galipolli.
ONE FOR THE ROAD: Young Aussies and Kiwis gather on Backpacker Street, Istanbul before heading to Galipolli.

It was a simple matter to find Michael Kenneady and Yvonne Simpson among the crowds of wanderers from a dozen countries: you simply listened out for their accents.

Australian and New Zealand voices are beginning to invade the busy late-night avenue known to young travellers across the world as Backpacker Street, Istanbul.

The strip of bars, restaurants and hostels in the old city of Sultanahmet is the annual gathering point for young antipodean travellers heading to the Anzac Day ceremonies six hours south of Istanbul on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and scores of them began arriving during the weekend - the vanguard of thousands who will arrive this week.

Kenneady and Simpson had beaten most of the crowds to their destination, and were heading in the opposite direction to most other travellers.

"We wanted to see Gallipoli while it was still a bit quiet," Kenneady, 29, said.

"So we went there for a day and were able to walk around and take in everything without having to deal with crowds.

"You know there was a war there, but what strikes you is how beautiful the place is. It's quite surreal.

"There is a similar feel to areas along the Great Ocean Road."

Kenneady knows a bit about the Great Ocean Road - he grew up in the tiny bush village of Gerangamete in Victoria's Otways.

But like the vast majority of young Australians and New Zealanders who visit Gallipoli around Anzac Day, he and Simpson live and work these days in England - Kenneady is based in Manchester and Simpson lives and works in London.

They met last Christmas while skiing in the French Alps during an outing with the Fanatics - a footloose and often loud group of Australian sports fans and nationalists mostly resident in Britain.

As we talked, a number of Fanatics rolled in to Sultan's Pub on Backpacker Street, fuelling up early for the trek later in the week to Gallipoli and eager to hear what lay ahead.

Gallipoli proved particularly special for Simpson - she was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, and moved to Adelaide, Australia as a child. Her heritage gives ANZAC a double meaning.

"It is my first time in Turkey, but you just know if you come to Turkey, you must visit Gallipoli," she said.

Both Kenneady and Simpson felt there was something special in the modern relationship between Turks, Australians and New Zealanders, and made sure they visited the Turkish memorials as well as the Anzac graves on Gallipoli.

The Turkish owners of bars and restaurants and hostels on Backpacker Street clearly enjoy the relationship - the manager of a restaurant across the strip from Sultan's Pub revved the crowds by tossing flammable liquid on the street and lighting it, sending fireballs into the night.

Others seem slightly puzzled. Okan Ozpomak, the manager of a travel agency that helps many travellers find their way from Istanbul to Gallipoli, has never visited the battlefields, although his great-grandfather died defending the peninsula in 1915.

"I would like to go to the 100th anniversary next year," he said. "But would I be allowed? Would the Australians and New Zealanders find it strange for a Turk to be there? Maybe they want to be alone at a time like that."

We reassured him Gallipoli was in his country and he had more right than most to go to a ceremony on the peninsula.

But then we recalled the ballot limiting numbers to about 10,000...and the ballot had been for Australians and New Zealanders.