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 will challenge yourself like never before as you trek on remote and unrestored paths, between mountains, through local villages and across rolling farmlands. 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.
You will also get to explore the contrasting personality of Beijing, immerse yourself in the ancient history of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, and experience the poignancy of Tiananmen Square.
Best of all, you’ll be helping Kidney Health Australia on their mission to support those affected by kidney disease.
• 1 in 3 Australians is at increased risk of kidney disease
• 90% of kidney function can be lost without experiencing any symptoms
• Every day, 60 Australians die with kidney-related disease
• Kidney disease currently affects an estimated 1.7 million Australians
• 12,461 Australians are on dialysis
• Most dialysis patients need treatment at least 3 days a week for 5 hours a day to stay healthy
• 955 Australians are waiting for a kidney transplant
• The average waiting time for a transplant is about 3 years, but waits of up to 7 years are not uncommon
• Kidney disease contributes to approximately 15% of all hospitalisations in Australia
By taking part in the Great Wall Trek and supporting the work of Kidney Health Australia, you can help improve the lives of Australians affected by kidney disease.
Flight and arrival day…
Arriving into Beijing from flights originating from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, some of us met each other at the airport. Our first challenge to overcome was the self use (and compulsory) fingerprinting/ eye-scanning machines. Sounds simple, but the struggle was real! When you’ve met only minutes earlier, could there be a more team building experience than having to work together to figure out how these machines work (or more like, why won’t they work?!) whilst the very serious airport security staff look questioning at a bunch of Aussies out of their comfort zone, laughing hysterically at what we eventually realised was, in fact, a rather simple piece of machinery all along?!
Some time later… (and hoping our adventure doesn’t get too much tougher than this; or we might be in trouble!) customs cleared, bags collected, hour bus ride to our hotel, and finally, the whole of Team Beyond Blue/ Kidney Health Australia all met officially for the first time, for our Great Wall Adventure! And when you’ve just met, and will be spending the next nine days together, what better way to get to know each other than doing Tai Chi, something none of us has ever done before, in a very busy park in downtown, chaotic Beijing?! Whilst our coordination was no doubt far from the best our Tai Chi Master has ever witnessed, our level of laughter, at both ourselves and each other, surely had to be! A great experience, and as ridiculous as we must have looked, very calming… mission accomplished!
A lovely first meal enjoyed, in which we all shared our reasons for taking on this adventure of a lifetime, and our personal involvements with Beyond Blue and Kidney Health Australia. Meandering through the streets of Beijing back to our hotel for a good nights sleep, all a touch nervous, yet excited with anticipation for the week and challenge ahead (though also kind of wondering how it is we put our hands up to spend days and days trekking arduously in a country that wanted both our fingerprints and retina patterns upon arrival, yet denies us Facebook, Messenger and Instagram!!)
Today was a day to further get to know our teammates and to also learn and embrace China; the history, the culture, the people, the way of life. We began the day first with a visit to Tian’anmen Square, and then the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City served for 600 Years as China’s Imperial Palace; we learnt about China’s Ming and Qing dynasties, and then emperors of the past (and their rather unique marriage systems… an Empress ((wife)) and countless concubines ((mistresses))… Emperor Quin Long bared 65 sons and 10 daughters!). After many hours embracing this history, and awing at the enormity, the still standing buildings, the surrounding moats of this beyond Fort Knox city of China’s past, it was time for a brief lunch. Fed so well (yet again), we almost felt like emperors and empresses ourselves!
It was then time for a visit to the Temple of Heaven. But prior to reaching the temple itself, we spent time enjoying the surrounding parklands, and this was such a pleasurable and content experience in itself. Picture a Disney movie, where dozens of old men are playing board games; picture a public park, where every piece of council-funded fitness equipment is actually being used, and then multiply that by ten. Picture a schoolyard, where groups of smiling, giggling children are playing hacky-sack. Imagine the sound of 60 Christmas-carollers singing in harmony together Christmas week. Combine all these things, and that pretty much describes the green spaces of Temple of Heaven Park! It was really quite inspiring to see such natural joy in so many people in one place, proof that physical activity is so good for the soul, and the body. Watching people well into their 60s doing the splits, pull-ups, leg kicks so high we thought they were going to kick their own faces!! In no time, we found ourselves also embracing the joy, and a Beyond Blue/ Kidney Health game of hacky-sack absorbed our full attention. As it turns out, our coordination had not really increased since our Tai Chi session the day prior, but we couldn’t have cared less! A great half hour of giving our best to a fun little sport that was very foreign to us all, but we ‘danced like no one was watching’, so to speak, and had an absolute ball!
After visiting the Temple of Heaven itself, we took the advice of our fantastic guide Toni, and attended a tea ceremony! Learning about and enjoying the benefits of local teas, it was a really great way to end a Saturday afternoon; literally having a tea party, after having played in a park (insert corny Disney music here!).
Following another lovely dinner together, it was back off to our hotel, to pack and rest. Tomorrow, we have an early morning departure from Beijing, to head off into the mountains, slightly nervous, but all excited for our trekking boots to take us on the adventure of a lifetime, and embrace the challenges that the Great Wall is about to throw at us!
Following breakfast, we eagerly boarded the bus, for our departure from the big city lights of Beijing. A trip to the Eastern Qing Tombs was well worth the visit, sighting the final resting places, underground, of Emperors, Empresses and concubines. Hearing the stories of these past people’s, those that were buried alive as sacrifices, those that had been looted, marvelling at the incredible detail that had been put into every single square inch of every single stone, from the ground to the walls, to the 10 metres high roofs! A really peaceful experience. Following lunch, it was finally time…
Our first view of The Great Wall had us all quite taken aback, and speechless. To hear of it, to read about it, to see photos is one thing, but seeing it in the flesh, then finally stepping foot on it, is rather indescribable. One of those striking moments that leaves you going, ‘how?!’, whilst at the same time making you feel so small, but in such a beautiful way. As if the surrounding mountains, with their rugged and unforgiving cliff faces, wasn’t enough, the workmanship of this human-made structure really is quite unbelievable. Today’s walk, whilst technically short ‘as the crow flies’, was very challenging, and ‘straight into it!’ so to speak. Imagine the steepest steps you’ve ever walked on, add inconsistency to the height of each step, and unevenness of each stone… and then double each of those factors! And that was our Sunday afternoon!
Finishing as darkness fell, a shower, and a brief meal, before falling exhausted into bed was most welcome!
Stay tuned.. blog coming soon!
Returning to our finishing point of the day prior, we were back in Jinshanling, walking from the western tower to the east of this section of the wall. Much of this section was unrestored, and whilst passing through the many watchtowers, all in different stages of ruin, the views just seemed to get better and better.
As we approached what is known as ‘the sky ladder’, a section of immense (seriously indescribable) steepness, some us chose to tackle it head-on, whilst some of us chose to take an alternative route, which whilst not so steep, but was in no way easy! A ‘donkey track’, was one good description; narrow, overgrown, hands and knees on rocks sort of stuff! Taking breaks as we counted down the remaining watchtowers we would pass through for the rest of the day, we stopped in the last one for a real appreciation of what we’d spent the day doing.
Looking back at the towers that were still visible, through which we’d passed over the previous hours, it was hard to believe we’d been up and down the parts of the wall that connected them! However steep you envision the Great Wall to be, it really is unimaginable until you’ve been on it. As we approached the eastern section of Jinshanling, it was time to descend the wall to the base car park… 1500 downhill steps here we come (followed by a well-deserved sleep on the bus!)
With a temperature high of 31, and humidity reaching 85%, today’s challenge became more challenging just by stepping out of the bus!
With us all, quite literally, sweating before we even commenced our walk, it was an additional hour of walking steps, up, up and more up, before we even got to The Great Wall!! The section we were hiking today, through the Mutianyu region, was more ‘tourist’ populated than other regions through which we had trekked, given that there is a public cable car that can take visitors up to the wall, and then also bring them down. So adding to the increase in heat, plus humidity, there was also the many tourists (and their wildly flying selfie sticks!) to dodge as well!
Upon reaching the Great Wall after our long trek just to get there, we were aiming for Zhengbeilou Tower, seven towers to the east of our starting point, which is also our finishing point, meaning the further we got away, the further we had to return! Again with lots of hand usage to scale up some obscenely steep steps, (we’re talking eye feet to eye level is just three steps in some instances!), plus the days humidity, we were literally dripping with sweat, but rewarded with unbelievable views.
It really was totally worth having sweated out what felt like litres upon of litres of sweat!! Eventually getting back to our starting point, exhausted, we rewarded ourselves with a trip on the cable car to get us back down to the car park, swinging high above the trees, and looking back at the magnificence of The Great Wall, and feeling mighty proud of the steepness our legs had just trekked!
Rain. Rain? Yesterday the extra challenge Mother Nature threw at us was heat and huge humidity, today it was rain!! The irony was that today, our last day trekking on The Great Wall of China, posed more steep slopes without steps than any other day. Put simply, of all our days trekking where rain was going to be the most inconvenient, it was today! But, nothing was going to stop us giving it a red hot crack, rain nor nothing else! Raincoat-ed up, the rain seemed to increase just in the last few minutes of our morning transfer drive! With our smiles and good spirits unphased, we were into it!
A really steep, non step challenge was the first of the day, and our teamwork and support of each other really came into play. Pulling each other up, grabbing each other to stop falls, using each other for balance, that was our morning! The rain eventually ceased, and we were left with a beautiful walking temperature, the clearest of days we’d had, and that magic post-rain smell of the damp forest. Today wasn’t so up- down, up-down, up-down as previous days had been, today was up, up, up for a hell of a long time, then down, down, down for a hell of a long time! But worth it? Understatement of the year! The views bestowed upon us today were by far the best of our week in China, complemented by fresh mountain air, and the peace of passing not but two people for the entire walk!! An absolute stellar way to finish a huge five-day challenge. Bodies tight, sore and slightly aching, but our spirits and attitudes toward what we’ve achieved this week have left us with memories that none of us will ever forget, and will look back at proudly for years to come. Go us!!
Following the completion of our epic Great Wall adventure challenge, we enjoyed an extremely well deserved day off in Beijing to, first and foremost, sleep in! As well as wandering the streets and immersing ourselves in busy Chinese daily life, as well as some shopping, a definite highlight included inviting ourselves into a karaoke session in a public park, followed by some dancing, which resulted in over 100 Chinese locals surrounding us, filming crazy Aussies having the absolute time of their lives, high on life! We danced, we sung, and we acrobated like no one was watching! We then invited ourselves to join in some Chinese line dancing, also a hoot!
That evening, we joined for a final meal together, accompanied by our fantastic guide Toni. A lovely last supper, and, still high on life, more dancing on a rooftop bar, a beautiful breeze blowing through our hair, again, as we danced like no one was watching! What a week, what an adventure! Sad farewells as we boarded the bus to our flights the next morning, but no doubt not the last time team Beyond Blue/ Kidney Health Australia 2018 meet up for a dance!
To our husbands, wives, family members, friends, colleagues, dogs, cats, cows named Cornelius, and all those who supported and encouraged us with our Great Wall adventure, we are so very grateful. We hope we made you as proud as we feel within ourselves for what we have achieved these past ten days. Should you still wish to make a donation to either Beyond Blue or Kidney Health Australia, we would be ever so grateful.
Smiles, peace and thanks for reading!