If you’re travelling in New Zealand or Australia at the moment, you may have heard ‘Anzac Day’ mentioned. Perhaps you’ve noticed the locals wearing red poppy badges or spotted some tasty looking Anzac biscuits for sale. Here’s a visitor’s guide to understand what Anzac Day is and what it means to us down under…
What is Anzac Day?
Every year on April 25th, the people of New Zealand and Australia stop to honour the men and women who served their countries in war and remember those who died.
While Anzac Day is now a national remembrance day dedicated to all those who served in military conflicts, it marks the day in World War I when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – known as the ANZACs – landed in Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th, 1915. The brutal eight month campaign resulted in over 140,000 fatalities, of which 8,500 Australians and 2,770 New Zealanders lost their lives. The first Anzac Day was held on the one year anniversary of the first Gallipoli landings and has been recognised every year since.
What happens on Anzac Day?
Most towns in New Zealand and Australia host a special service and/or parade on Anzac Day. It is most common for the services to be held either at dawn or very early morning by serviceman at their local war memorial or Returned & Services Association/League (RSA in New Zealand, RSL in Australia). Services usually follow a format involving a combination of prayers, hymns, the playing of the Last Post and the national anthem, in the tradition of a military funeral. Not all services are held at dawn, and some also incorporate a military parade that marches to the service grounds. Afterwards, many participants return to the RSA for time to reflect over refreshments.
Where can you observe Anzac Day?
Anzac services are open to the public and held across the country in most town centres. Joining a service provides great opportunity to witness first hand a commemoration service that is very close to the hearts of Kiwis and Aussies. If you would like to join an Anzac Day commemoration, ask your Stray driver or one of the locals about Anzac Day events/dawn services in the area.
New Zealand: Search for events via the official RSA website
Australia: Search for events via Event Finda
Want to see and learn more?
Te Papa Museum in Wellington has joined forces with the world renowned Weta Workshop team (you know, the guys behind the Lord of the Rings films) to create an incredible exhibit called ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’. It’s free admission and on display year-round – definitely worth checking out if you’d like to learn more about the history. In addition, both Auckland and Wellington have notable Anzac celebrations happening throughout the week, including nightly illumination displays on their city War Memorials.
Visit the Anzac memorial and exhibition in Sydney’s Hyde Park to learn more about the historic events, read stories from the war and engage in some peaceful reflection.
Play Two-Up: Arguably the most fun part of Anzac celebrations in Australia, this simple gambling game is legal only on Anzac day, and is played in RSL clubs, bars and hotels all over Australia. Follow the calls of “Come in Spinner” and you’ll find a game. Played by throwing two coins into the air and betting on how they will land, it is a simple, fun and traditional way to bond with the locals on this special day. Learn more about Two-Up here.
Note for Stray travellers: 25th April is a public holiday in both Australia and New Zealand for Anzac Day. Most shops will be closed for a portion of the day. This will not affect Stray bus services, but may impact cafes and shops you visit. The NZ Stray office will be open 8.00am – 5.00pm. The NZ Fort Street Stray shop will be open 10.00am – 2.00pm.