Take steps towards better health outcomes for Australians affected by kidney disease
Winding its way across the north of China, from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert, the Great Wall of China is one of mankind’s most impressive accomplishments. As part of this adventure, you’ll travel through history to the very heart of China’s ancient culture.
Over five days, you’ll trek between mist-covered mountains, into local villages, across rolling farmlands and through dense forest. With the support of our expert guides, you’ll explore the many facets of the Great Wall, deciphering the ancient stories and poems etched into its watchtowers—every brick seeming to tell a story of war and adventure.
Swapping the majesty of the Great Wall for the hustle and bustle of Beijing, from the first day of this adventure, you’re immediately immersed in China’s confounding and contrasting culture. Discover the ancient history of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, experience the poignancy of Tiananmen Square and marvel at the modernity of the 798 Art District.
Take steps towards better health outcomes for Australians affected by kidney disease
Every step you take along the Great Wall of China is one step towards better health outcomes for Australians affected by kidney disease, who cannot take on such an adventure.
You will raise funds for cutting-edge research, and support Kidney Health Australia health programs and services, including:
- Kidney Health Transplant Housing Furnished accommodation for families before, during and after a kidney transplant
- Kidney Kids Camp Holiday camps for children affected by kidney disease, and their siblings
- Big Red Kidney Bus Providing access to dialysis in previously inaccessible holiday destinations
- Kids Capers Activity programs for school-aged children with kidney disease, their families and carers
- Young Adults Camp Life skills camp for young people transitioning into greater responsibilities managing their kidney disease
- Kidney Campervan Fitted with dialysis machines, providing the opportunity to have a family holiday
With your support, Kidney Health Australia can advocate for the rights and needs of Australians affected by kidney disease regarding travel, insurance and accommodation expenses, and produce travel fact sheets and online resources for those affected and their families.
We are ready! After months of preparation, bags packed, trekking boots worn in and almost $45,000 raised for the Big Red Kidney Bus it’s time for one mighty adventure.
With the team placed in every corner of Australia we boarded our flights in our respective cities. We headed for Singapore to meet the rest of the gang and wait for our connection to Beijing.
Apparently October 8th was a popular day to take an inspired adventure. At the airport we hung out with another team of red shirts, also on-route to the Great Wall who are passionate supporters of Cure Brain Cancer.
The team sits around the airport waiting to board our 1AM (also known as 4AMAustralian time) flight. Stay tuned, you know what happens next… China!
Day 2 Friday 9th October
We made it! What a view as we descended on the city of Beijing, the team commented the sprawl of high rise buildings in every direction felt like we were on our way to Lego land. Finally setting foot on Chinese soil around 7 AM, we made our way to customs and collectively managed to be the last group of passengers ushered through during the early morning rush.
With little sleep on the overnight flight we happened to all be feeling fairly dusty. We were holding out for a hero to get us through our first day… and a hero we got! Our local guide, Hero, met us at the arrival gate and immediately won over the team with his infectiously happy and helpful personality. Together we took a transfer to our hotel, showered, located Jo (who had arrived a day earlier) and completed our welcome brief.
Now time for the fun stuff! We headed over to Jingshan Park and met our Tai Chi master Howard Hao (PhD in Tai Chi and Kung Fu…cool right!). Howard told us the word he would best use to describe China is ‘circle’. He taught us the basics of the Yang Style and we learnt to put together simple Tai Chi sequences based around circular arm movements.
We attracted much attention from passersby, and Howard finished the lesson with a more advanced Tai Chi demonstration. Up we climbed to the top of the hill at Jingshan park for a beautiful view of the city, and a sneak peak upon the Forbidden City which we are looking forward to visiting tomorrow. We had a spectacular lunch at Hero’s recommendation and tried local favourites like lotus root and peanut chicken.
“One of the highlights so far was visiting the historic Tiananmen Square,” said Demi-lee. The largest public square in the world we were shocked by its size and significance during our afternoon visit. With the major Chinese public holiday passing October 1st the square reminded filled with a number of incredible large scale floral decorations. We took time to explore the square before retiring back to our hotel for an afternoon rest to get ready for our second day taking on Beijing.
Day 3 Saturday 10th October
We felt like a new team as we gathered in our hotel dining room for breakfast after a glorious nights sleep. We sat at a large circular table and Marion asked everyone to mention a describing word to best illustrate our impression of our first 24 hours in China.
Weather (A+): Known for its smoggy scenery David R was thankful for the blue sky.
Tiananmen: Margaret was moved by our afternoon visit to the square and its unsettling past.
Historic: Demi-lee was fascinated by China’s rich cultural and architectural history.
Ancient: Heidi loved how the incredible buildings had been beautifully preserved over time.
Unexpected: David W was taken aback, Beijing was much more peaceful than he imagined.
Quiet: For a city with more than 24 million people Megan appreciated the surprisingly slow pace of the city.
Could be anywhere: Marion thought we could be in any part of the world, with real wealth seen even from the streets as we drove past many Mercedes Benz and flashy shopping malls.
Group: Jo was thrilled to be taking on China with a team of like-minded new friends.
With a buffet style breakfast we had the option between western and Chinese food. We chatted and caught up on all happenings following our previous evenings Korean BBQ dinner. David W had met the day early and taken a 5 km run around the Forbidden City, along the moat and almost to the far north gate’s perimeter. Jo, David R and Marion surprised the team with their late night party shenanigans… or so they tricked us to believe. They had however ended up at a Chinese McDonald’s enjoying green ice cream sundaes.
At 9:30 AM we met Hero in the reception foyer to take the bus to the Forbidden City. It was incredible to see close up the historic royal palace we had glimpsed yesterday from the top of Jingshan Park. Built between 1406 and 1420 the Forbidden City served both the Ming and Quinn Dynasties and is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. We entered from the southern gate, which was traditionally used by soldiers and members of the military. We made our way through the courtyards from South to North, briefly lost Megan and Margaret, and finished off with the Imperial Gardens.
We travelled to a local restaurant near by the Bell Tower for lunch. The restaurant was great, very quirky and the food was delicious. It was hidden off from street view and would have been impossible to find without our Hero leading the way. After lunch some of the team experienced their first ‘squat style’ bathroom.
For the afternoon the Temple of Heaven and Imperial Sacrificial Altar were the main items on the agenda. Located in the southern part of Beijing, the complex was used by emperors to pray for good harvest. The Temple of Heaven was what Hero described as ‘the most beautiful building in Beijing’. Filled with wide open green park spaces, we heard a traditional Chinese band playing as we wandered the grounds, and were introduced to an interesting Chinese custom upon spotting some older Chinese singles dancing in a square on the look out for love.
Some of the group were after gifts for their families at home, and went wandering to the shopping district. The rest of the team hit the hay to get ready for our early start tomorrow. In the morning we head to the long awaited Great Wall of China.
Day 4 Sunday 11th October
Goodbye Beijing – it’s been lovely! We woke early and had breakfast in our hotel at 6:30 AM, and met Hero in the lobby a little past 7 AM. We all really enjoyed our time in Beijing but over breakfast everyone spoke about their anticipation to finally step foot on the wall. That’s why we came here!
We all boarded the bus and headed out of the city. It was incredible to see the real beauty of the Chinese countryside with green fields outside the high rise buildings we experienced in the last few days.
After an early morning most of the team had a quick bus nap before our first stop at the Eastern Qing Tombs. The tombs provided a new insight into Chinese history and we spent a few hours walking the grounds and learning about the resting place of Qing dynasty empowers, empresses and many concubines.
“You’re are not a hero until you have climbed the wall.” After lunch we transferred to the Taipingzhai Gate of the Great Wall. To reach our entrance point the bus drove up a windy road to the top of a mountain, and along the way we glimpsed our first look at the wall.
We stopped before our first set of stairs to get a team photo with the Kidney Health Australia banner (for the Herald Sun!). With beautiful blue skies we were all amazed at our incredible fortune to have such beautiful weather. With a stellar crew bringing up the rear we called ourselves Team 21, and took on 21 steps at a time to acclimatise ourselves to the constant stairs. There was some incredible team work in play and members each had a role. Margaret was the team star, Jo the motivator, Laura the mathematician,and Demi-lee the photographer/exercise physiologist.
The night had began to draw in as we descended towards our final destination of Huangyaguan. Wearing our boots in meant we may have ran a little later than previous teams, and we had our own securities guards waiting for us at the gate to make sure we got safely back to our hotel.
Checking into our rooms we all caught up on a warm shower and got ready for dinner at our hotel. Some of the team treated themselves to a 600ml beer for $2.50, what a bargain. Tomorrow is going to be a huge day Hero told us, the team set off to bed to prepare for our next day on the wall and the most invasion-prone part of the Great Wall of China.
Day 5 Monday 12th October
We had our first big day ahead of us on the wall. We dropped our bags off at our bus before having breakfast in the hotel dining room. We had the option between Chinese and western breakfast, and when in Rome.. picked the opportunity to have Chinese pancakes as recommended by our Hero. At around 8:30 AM we hopped onto the bus and began the two hour transfer to the next section of the wall starting at Gubeikou. Along the way a few members of the team needed to use the ladies room, we stopped the bus in a small town and Hero went out searching for some options. The team got the opportunity to use a compete Chinese strangers ‘very simple’ bathroom in the words of Hero.
At around 11AM we got to our starting point on the wall. Margaret began with a phenomenal start but decided to turn around due to an old knee injury that has been playing up. We were disappointed she couldn’t join us but the show had to go on.
It was a big day and all together we trekked for around six hours. We had some special angel helpers along the way, and we wouldn’t have made it without them. The walking women walk along with the team for the duration of the day and help everyone get to the finish line.
Upon reaching the top we were blown away to see the wall sitting like a dragons tail on top of the green mountains in every direction. The wall was very unrestored, rugged and there were many uneven surfaces today. We trekked for about two hours and had a lunch of fried rice and and fruit in one of the beautiful watch towers.
After lunch we trekked down around a section of the wall which is currently controlled by the Chinese military. We used the opportunity to take shade from the strong sun. Just when the exhaustion of the last few hours was starting to set in we reached the bottom of the mountain, and happened across an icecream store. After a short break we began to climb up towards the wall again. We covered some more unrestored sections before reaching our exit gate for today. The beauty of the wall really was breathtaking.
We were able to walk to our hotel from the wall and checked into our rooms for a warm shower. We had wifi tonight in the lobby and everyone was keen to contact their friends and family at home. We had dinner in the hotel and then Hero took us to a famous Chinese paper cutting shop a short walk away. We all sat down and got to cut out in red paper a Chinese symbol for marriage. We took our time admiring the beautiful paper artworks. Everyone was feeling pretty sleepy and headed to bed for another huge day of adventure tomorrow.
Day 6 Tuesday 13th October
Today was stair day! Lots and lots of stairs, and the team reward for so much climbing = incredible views of the wall spanning in every direction. We met at 8AM for breakfast in our hotel, and again we had Chinese breakfast. It was a cold morning, on the way to the lobby we noticed the cars in the parking lot were covered in frosted ice.
After breakfast we got our things together and headed by foot to the wall. We began at the gate that we finished at yesterday and continued on in the opposite direction. We were joined by one walking woman today and again she was a brilliant help to the team. Upon entering the gate at Jinshanling we began the first of many stairs for the day. Hero pointed out our final destination in the distance, the highest watchtower on the wall with five windows called Simatai. The first section was especially restored but the further we went the more rugged the wall got.
In much anticipation of today’s challenge, Hero had told us today we would have the climb up more than 100 knee high steps in one section. In a huge victory the team made it to the top and no one took the short cut option. Along the way we met a budding young entrepreneur…a 77 year old Mongolian man selling drinks and souvenirs in one of the towers. He was especially photogenic, wore a Chinese military style hat, smoked a pike and convinced us all to pay ¥10 to get a photo with him.
We trekked for a total of four hours and upon reaching the highest tower we began our hike back to the closest car park to meet the bus and our team cheerleader Margaret. We then took a short ride to a nearby restaurant for lunch. The food was lovely, but the team was thrilled to use a western style bathroom, with toilet paper, and liquid soap AND it didn’t even smell. We were winning.
We had a two hour bus ride to our next hotel. Everyone was very happy to check into our fresh rooms in the city after two nights at rural hotels. After showers and some R&R it was time for dinner at a delicious restaurant just 5 minutes walk from the hotel. Upon returning home Demi and Heidi went searching for an ice cream and the rest of the team curled in their rooms to prepare for another day on the wall tomorrow.
Day 7 Wednesday 14th October
Where to start… today was huge. We are all feeling ecstatic/exhausted beyond words. We set out by foot for the wall at around 10AM and finished on the wall at around 5 PM. We began with breakfast at our hotel, and the bus took about an hour and a half to get to the middle of nowhere. We found ourselves in a very rural setting and could see huge mountains behind us with the wall nestled neatly on top. We were all flabbergasted to learn we were going to climb one of the far-off mountains, and ascend all the way to the very top.
We set off and trekked for around an hour through dense forest, starting off with a slow incline and then up, up we went as the terrain sharpened its incline. Every so often we would catch sight of a watchtower above and kept surprising ourselves the closer we got to the top. After some ladder climbing, and level ground we had finally reached the peak, and with foggy weather we witnessed an incredible view of a misty wall.
We climbed to the top level of an unrestored watchtower for lunch. A few other solo hikers appeared, and as Hero was messing around showing us some Tai Chi, one of the hikers introduced himself as a Tai Chi master, with a background from one of the areas of China where Tai Chi originates. Next thing we know, in an incredible moment, we are watching a private Tai Chi performance nestled above the Great Wall of China on the roof of a rugged tower… we were quite literally on top of the world.
We then trekked down for the reminder of the day over mountain, after mountain, after mountain. The wall started out very untouched, and the further we trekked the more renovated it became and the more tourists began to appear. We took on the ‘stairway to hell,’ over 700 steps in a row descending the wall. Again the views of the wall spanning in both directions were breathtaking.
The end of the trek today was a huge highlight so far. After saying goodbye to Jo, Marion and Megan at the cable car station, a few of us grab a quick ice cream and took on the challenge of trekking about an hour further to toboggan off the wall. I’m not exactly sure what happened next or if a challenge was ever propositioned but next minute the two Davids, Demi, Heidi, Hero and Laura are sprinting across the Great Wall, up and down flights of stairs, through watchtowers and almost knocking over tourists (Amazing Race style) in order to make record time to the our final destination.
There is some debate about what time we actually began but what Hero thought should take at least 60 minutes we finished in between 15 and 20 minutes. When we arrived at the toboggan entrance, they had just shut. Luckily, Hero convinced the ticket seller to remain open for our group to take the ride down from the top of the wall to the car park. We all jumped on our toboggans like little kids and raced on from our hardest day so far trekking. At the bottom we found the ladies enjoying an ice cold beer. We then took a shuttle back to our bus to meet out driver and our number one cheerleader, Margaret.
We had a lovely dinner in a fancy restaurant with specialties of dumplings and family style mince pancakes. Tomorrow is our last day on the wall, and then everyone is excited to transfer back to our first hotel, the Royal Phoenix in Beijing, to spend the afternoon enjoying massages and visiting the famous silk markets. Our fourth day was hard but our most enjoyable day so far … bring on the final stretch!
Day 8 Thursday 15th October
Today was our last day on the wall. We woke and bid farewell to our hotel, and transferred to our final section of the wall at Huangaucheng. Although located relatively close by to Beijing we saw very few tourists or trekkers today, and just one monkey named Malcom (we’ll come to this later).
Similarly to yesterday the bus dropped us off at a road point, however although the wall looked far off into the distance, it appeared much closer than the previous day. With perhaps a 30 minute ascend through bush, and one almost collision with a donkey we reached our starting point for the day. Hero had described that last section as BIG UP AND BIG DOWN, and he was sure right. We began to climb an unrestored section of the wall, and the team (especially Marion) was glad we didn’t miss the opportunity to really climb using both hands to pull ourselves up to safety. After passing through ancient watchtowers we arrived at a flat restored plateau section of the wall. The end of the UP for our five days was over.
Hero announced this as the spot where he would do an incredible split jump for the team that he has showed us in photos. We got our Kidney Health banner out and began taking some group photos when a pair of Scottish trekkers appeared. We asked them to hold our sign for us to all get in a photo when the gentleman pulled out a stuffed toy monkey with a tiny backpack on. He introduced us to Malcolm, who he takes with him on all his worldwide treks, and who is quite active on social media (@malcolmamonkey if you’re interested). Everyone jumped in a photo with our new friends and then began our DOWN trek featuring beautiful landscapes of the wall and an incredible lake below us.
Margaret and our driver trekked to meet us at our final point on the wall and as each team member made it to the final watchtower Margaret gave everyone a huge high five. It was a beautiful moment as we took photos and reminded each other how far we had trekked to get to the final point on the wall and why we’d done it. We celebrated with a delicious traditional Chinese lunch in a guesthouse just off the wall with dishes of seasoned trout and chestnut pork.
Once we finished on the wall we took the bus through the busy traffic to our hotel the Royal Phoenix in Beijing. Along the way we worked out that over the five days we had trekked 16,000 stairs, 85,000 steps and 50km along the Great Wall, and are now sitting at almost $50,000 raised for the Big Red Kidney Bus and Kidney Health Australia. What an achievement! Everyone was feeling pretty proud of what the group had accomplished together and the teamwork that played out to get everyone over the final finish line on the wall.
When we got back to our hotel everyone was excited for the luxury of the city featuring comfy beds and incredible showers. We quickly checked into our rooms, freshened up and got on our way to wind down in the only possible way we could imagine after five days of trekking … massages! We all had full body 90 minute massages, including a 45 minute foot rub on our sore feet, the team was in heaven. After the massages our driver dropped us off at Beijing’s famous Silk Market. The market turned out to be quite similar to a shopping mall filled with small vendors ready to bargain all sorts of clothing, jewellery, gifts and souvenirs.
Everyone started looking around for their final gifts for friends and family at home including tea pots, jade necklaces and Chinese dolls… Demi and Laura were feeling a bit peckish and after more than a week of Chinese food opted for Aloha Hawaiian Pizza. When the shopping wrapped up the team managed to drop by for a slice of their own. We got taxis home, all of us left confused after our drivers tried some suspect moves on us, in the end everyone got home safely. A sleepy team sat in the lobby using the wifi before retiring to bed to get ready for, sadly, our last day together in China.
Day 9 Friday 16th October
What a beautiful final day together in China. We had a lazy morning with plans to meet at 11AM to begin our day with a rickshaw tour of Beijing’s Hutong’s. Many members opted to spend the time after breakfast shopping either in the popular upmarket district a ten minute walk away, or the local markets in the streets surrounding our hotel. We all pottered around looking for our final purchases and Jo was especially happy with her deal on Burberry handbags and wallets!
Once we met up in the lobby to begin our day we took the bus to Beijing’s Bell and Drum Towers and boarded our rickshaws, two passengers per bike and each with one local rider. We began to tour the neighbourhood’s narrow streets and stopped off along the way for Hero to explain the history of the area. Hero said much of the central city districts of Beijing have now been bought up by wealthy outsiders, and the area we toured was mostly inhabited by poltical officials, businessmen and military leaders. Hero pointed out one particular street access to a home which had four short pillars above its gate. He said families either had 0, 2 or 4 pillars above their homes which indicated their level of wealth, and children were encouraged to marry partners of the same number in order not to bring shame upon their parents.
When we returned to the square in front of the Bell and Drums Towers to one side stood a small family home which was open to tourists to learn first hand what a Chinese house in the area was like. We sat down for tea in the family’s central living space and were greeted by the grandmother of the home. A lovely lady she had once been an accountant and her husband a chef, they had an incredible photo hanging up of when they were married many years before. Her grandson also graced us with his presence, an incredibly cute one year old boy, who was just beginning to walk and already knew English words like ‘hello’ and ‘bye.’ We all had the opportunity to look around their small home.
After leaving the traditional Chinese house we headed up the Drum Tower. Once passing through the security entrance we reached the stairs to climb the tower… the very very steep stairs might I add. We were sure the stair portion of our China trip was over but alas we took on the challenge. Up we went to the top of the Drum Tower and saw an incredible view of Beijing in the smog, along with ancient Chinese drums. On our way down Demi, David R and Jo were approached by lots of Chinese tourists who wanted to share a photo with them.
Next we transferred by bus through what Hero described the streets to be as a ‘little busy,’ to the 798 Art District, located in the Dashanzi area for lunch and an afternoon stroll. We were dropped off close to a maze of graffitied containers. Originally a set of factories constructed during the 1950s to house the production of electronics it now served as a huge art complex in more than five separate areas. Filled with galleries, exhibition space and many quirky shops we all took a few hours to wander the streets before meeting to take the bus back to our hotel a little before 4PM. It took us an hour to get back to the hotel in what Hero now described as full-on a Beijing traffic! We took an hour to pack our bags and get ready for our last meal together.
For dinner we went to one of Beijing’s most famous restaurants for peaking duck, located on the famous ‘ghost street.’ The dinner was truly a special evening with beautiful food, and front seats to a Chinese show featuring acrobats, Kung Fu, noodle making chefs, hula hoop, basketball tricks, a balloon maker and a muscly Chinese pot balancing man who looked exactly like our driver. At the end of dinner Hero presented the team each with a souvenir Chinese bookmark. The team was especially thankful to Hero for making our experience in China so wonderful and we presented him with a card we had all signed in our appreciation and some small toy koala bears. He is working on getting an Australian holiday visa and everyone very much encouraged Hero to come to Oz and visit them in their home towns. We had some final photos and went to say our goodbye to our driver. We all got back to our hotel and said our final goodbye to David R and Heidi who left early the next morning to fly to South Australia. It was a sad moment to leave one another but we know we will all stay in contact, because this has been one special team!