The Kokoda Track is 100% adventure and 100% challenge. Completing the Kokoda Track was one of the most challenging, rewarding, emotional yet exhilarating experiences of my life. In April 2012, we headed off to commemorate Anzac Day and also the 70th Anniversary since the battles began along the Track.
Our hills training program started 6 months before we were due to leave. We honestly thought we were fit until we started hiking up hills – the first sessions were a bit of shock to the system but week by week we gained fitness and confidence – when April finally arrived, we felt we were ready to trek!
We flew to Brisbane and then Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea where our tour group “Back Track Adventures” organised us from start to finish – transferring us to our hotel, briefing us on the Track, organising our meals and accommodation before and after the trek as well as getting us flown over to Popondetta and Kokoda in time to start our trek as planned.
Our group contained 2 leaders and 16 trekkers ranging in age from 24 to 60 years of age from Australia and Ireland. Plus we had 21 local villagers assisting as porters, cooks, general crew and local guides. All crew members were male, some as young as 16 and were mostly from villages along the Track. Our crew looked after us by carrying and erecting our tents, as well as preparing our 3 main meals each day. We just needed to bring our own snacks and electrolytes to give us energy between meals.
For the next 8 nights, staying in little villages and campsites along the Track, we hiked the 96km over some of the steepest terrain I had ever encountered. Most days we hiked for 8 hours or so, sometimes less with some very early starts and with massive downpours of rain most afternoons. Our porters and crew were with us every step of the way, ensuring we were safe, assisting us up and down the steep, slippery terrain to keep us on our feet and providing wonderful company along the way.
We were up and out of the tent most days well before sunrise, sometimes even hiking on the Track in the dark. The muddy conditions, the humidity at 90% or more, meant we sweated (and stunk) night and day and were constantly wet with either sweat or rain. As we got higher into the mountains, the bugs decreased (a little) and the night time temperature became more bearable. Believe me though when I say that all of this was worth it.
Along the way we met the most beautiful local people, heard a choir singing that gave us goose bumps and listened to our guides share the stories and history along different parts of the Track. Most days we were moved to tears not just once but many times. Hearing about heroes at battle sites where so many young men were killed and the struggle for survival in a most unhospitable place made our trek seem easy in comparison. There was so much physical struggle just walking the Track, it is hard to imagine how one might fight a war on it.
Each day, we ascended and descended through scenery that can only be described as breathtaking – far too many ‘Gardens of Eden’ to count. Plus we crossed many creeks and rivers, sometimes the same one multiple times throughout the trek to make it to the next valley. These rivers and creeks also became a favoured spot to cool down at the end of the day for a refreshing swim.
We experienced many highlights along the way. We had the opportunity to visit a site where a Japanese bomber had crashed during the war but only discovered a few years earlier.
Then there was meeting Mr Ovoru Nadeki, one of the last surviving fuzzy wuzzy angels at the time of our trek – his son, our main guide Andy, told his amazing story and we had a chance to shake his hand and be photographed with him. He has now since passed away. It was an honour to meet him, and this memory for me is a treasured one.
Experiencing Anzac Day Dawn Service on Brigade Hill would have to be one of the most emotional and unforgettable parts of our Trek. Featuring the local village children singing, hearing the last post and our national anthem was something I will never forget. The pain and struggle to hike this far was soon forgotten and washed away with the awe of being somewhere of such significance on Anzac Day. The rum at breakfast was a bonus!
Walking through the Arches at Owers Corner after 9 days hiking the Track was also a moment of sheer elation, more tears and complete achievement. It was a physical and emotional experience that is hard to compare to, and one that all potential Trekkers must be prepared for. It is not just the physical training but making sure you have the right gear to get you through.
Our final stop after completing the hike at Owers Corner was the Bomana War Cemetery to fittingly conclude our time on the Track. The saddest part was how many headstones were marked with unknown soldiers. It was an appropriate way to finish our trek and brought the story of the war on the Track to a conclusion.
We then headed back to Pt Moresby to our hotel for a hot shower and to clean up our muddy gear. It was strange to come back to electricity, hot water, technology and traffic after spending 9 days in complete isolation.
And here is just a few extra pieces of advice:
A few of us had battles of our own along the way, with sickness, injuries, blisters and rashes that became infected quickly in the tropics. Packing adequate first aid supplies and medication plus trying things out before you go (you must wear in your boots months before you go!) will help to ensure you can deal with many things that can come up along the way.
You must, must, must have travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation cover too. There are no hospitals or doctors along the Track, the only way out is by plane or helicopter which is only organised (at significant cost to you) by satellite phone if required.
It’s hard to find the words to describe the journey of walking the Kokoda Track – challenging and rewarding come to mind. I strongly encourage anyone who is considering the Track to talk to those who have done it or better yet, contact Big Heart Adventures for a chat.