KOKODA TRACK PART 2

Lisa MurphyADVENTURES, STORIES, TREKS, UNCATEGORISEDLeave a Comment

Completing the Kokoda Track was one of the most challenging, rewarding, emotional yet exhilarating experiences of my life.  If you missed Part 1 of our Kokoda Track experience, click here for a catch up.

We had just headed to bed after completing Day 4 of our trek…..

Naduri to Brigade Hill

Today, we had a sleep in – wait for it – 6am! We had a feast for breakfast again with locally made slices and fresh and deep fried bananas. We had a later start because we were going to meet our head local guide Andy’s Dad – Mr Ovoru Nadeki – one of the last Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. He sat in his wheelchair, correcting Andy’s version of events as his story was told. It was incredible to listen to how he too survived in his role supporting Australian soldiers. He lost part of a finger that was shot but he was otherwise unharmed. He was adorned with war medals, a hat and flag. We had the opportunity to go and shake his hand, thank him for his contribution and fight back the tears. One member of our group showed Mr Nadeki a photo of her grandfather as a soldier – she thanked him and shook his hand – it was a moving morning and very emotional.

On our way out of the village, I met my helper Daba’s mother too – it was lovely to meet his family along this journey.

The first hour was steep downhill to Efogi Creek. This was the same creek that we lunched next to at Diggers Camp yesterday.  After crossing this, we had a 2 hour slog uphill to Efogi 2 Village.  We could see this Village across the valley as we made our way down the hill. It was hard to believe that we were aiming to get there. It seemed so far away.  We climbed into this Village to find lots of curious villagers watching us, selling popcorn, donuts, soft drinks, handmade bags and fruits like tree tomatoes. I tried one of the tree tomatoes and they were really good!

There was also a memorial (small) created by Nishimura, a Japanese soldier who returned to PNG some 40 years after the war to recover his lost comrades and return them to Japan as he had promised them.  The memorial was small and unmarked so it was hard to see that it was even there.  The villagers were also standing by it so it blended in with the surroundings.  I’m glad it was pointed out to us though as it would have otherwise been missed.

After a long rest and more eating, we then descended and then climbed up to Efogi 1 for lunch.   We also had a chance to swim as we were told there was no chance for bathing up on Brigade Hill.  This lunch spot had large grassy areas, great for drying clothes!  Despite eating most of the morning, we tucked into a lunch before taking on some of the scariest parts of the track.  As we left Efogi 1, there was a small museum with war memorabilia in it, including boots, bones, Bren guns and ammo.

The walk out of this village was a little slippery – 3 of us went down in the exact same spot and some laughing behind us, then also lost their footing and went down too, it was hilarious! Luckily none of us were seriously hurt and from then on, it was back to concentrating.

The track became dangerously narrow and the drop off was so steep you couldn’t see where it ended.  Plus it was muddy and one wrong foot meant disaster.  We stopped at a tree where a massive battle took place between Nishimura and an Australian soldier where they fought to the death.  Nishimura survived this battle and hid in the tree trunk as it was wide and provided cover.

We were close to Brigade Hill and climbed the last 10 minutes as thunder rolled in and rain slowly started.  We didn’t have long up on Brigade Hill before it started to pour so we made a run for the shelter and waited an hour for it to stop.  Tents were claimed, people dried off and we converged with 3 other teams on the narrow grassy knoll near Brigade Hill memorial.  Over 70 Australian soldiers died here in fierce battles.  We had our “6 o clock news” up at the memorial.  We had pasta for tea and while it was a little cooler up in the mountains, we looked for bed early to get warm. Anzac Day Dawn Service would be tomorrow morning.  I fell asleep that night listening to our porters singing.

Brigade Hill to Menari

Dawn service started our day at 5.30am.  It was a hard night to sleep with 170 people crammed onto the hill in a small area.  Snoring and talking could be heard all night.  Our crew were unable to sleep either.

We walked to the Memorial where local children were singing a beautiful song called “Its Not An Easy Road” before our little service commenced.  Each leader from the 4 teams did a reading and the national anthems were sung.  The Last Post rang out over the Hill, flags were raised and wreaths were laid.  There were lots of tears and it was hard to keep composed.  It drizzled with rain until sunrise, then it stopped and cleared.

It was a Dawn Service that I will never forget.

We had a big group breakfast with the other teams – my cousin had brought a flask of rum for Anzac Day and we enjoyed a nip in our coffees (or a straight shot) which was a nice touch.

It took a long time for all the teams to pack up and move on afterwards.  We sent off two teams with guards of honour and then had a team photo at the memorial with the sun shining.  There are also 76 posts to mark the number of Australians who died and were buried there but were later exhumed and taken to Bomana War Cemetery.  It was an eerie place to be at dawn.

We headed off down hill towards the village of Menari.  It was a steep descent, even my helper Daba slipped and fell at one stage.  We reached a river after a couple of hours where many porters had a swim and cooled off.  There was a memorial plaque at the rivers edge dedicated to Pare, a film maker and journalist who created an Academy Award winning documentary film of the battles along the Kokoda Track during the War but was killed not long afterwards in World War 2.

Our climb out to Menari Village last a couple of hours and soon we were in the village.  The sun was shining but the thunder clouds were rolling in.  We sat on the grass trying to clean muddy boots and dry the wet stuff (that never dried I might add – the same socks came out everyday for an hour or so before the rain hit but with the humidity, never dried).  Our tents were put up, we drank some soft drink bought from the locals and considered a swim or a shower while laying on the grass – it was such a relief to only do a half day of walking – we had an afternoon to please ourselves and after the emotional start to Anzac Day, we all needed it.

Some of the boys in our group and the village children were playing with a Vortex throwing toy – the kids were so keen to be picked up to “take a specky” above the others.   It was gorgeous to watch and they were keen to interact with us.  We decided to chance our luck after lunch at the swimming spot – another very steep slippery climb down (I had to stop as I literally could not stay on my feet and stand upright.  My cousin ran back to camp to get my walking pole to use for balance – without it I couldn’t get up!).  I was covered in mud by the time I got to the stream.

It was a rocky little place to sit and let the water rush over and clean our clothes and body.  The climb out of the swimming hole was just as hairy and it resulted in one of the funniest falls that involved one of our guides and Ian who basically landed on top of eachother in the missionary position.

It was a very muddy climb out so we showered at the top when we got back to camp.  Then we spent the afternoon trying to dry clothes, hanging around our little shelter chatting, drinking hot drinks and reflecting as a group on why we all came on the trek.  It was a reflection that allowed all of us to share and it brought our tight knit group even closer together – we heard how serving family members survived the war but spoke little of it, some came looking for answers to the Track that changed their father/grandfathers etc.  There were those wanting to conquer the physical and emotional challenge of the track and those with military interest and curiosity, others were ticking off an item on their bucket list.

Everyone treks Kokoda for different reasons.

Dinner arrived and we tucked into a vegetable curry and tomato soup for dinner followed by Tim Tams for dessert.  We were also told of an unexpected surprise – the local village children would be coming to sing for us after dinner.  The children’s choir were fundraising for a trip to Pt Moresby so we donated to the cause and listened to their beautiful voices as they sang 6 entertaining songs, complete with hand actions and happy faces – their harmonies gave goose bumps and brought tears to our eyes.  After they all left, there were a few who chose to stay up and reflect on the day further.   Another little flask of scotch appeared and those who were lucky enough got a little night cap before heading to bed.   It was a wonderful way to finish our Anzac Day.

Menari to New Nauro

We were up at 4.20am to get a good start to make our next campsite by lunch.  Overnight the local women dried our clothes as best they could by camp fires in a hut.  It was such a lovely gesture and showed just how caring the people of Menari were.

Unfortunately a second member of our group had been hit by gastro overnight (the first person went down with it the night we arrived at Brigade Hill).  So we were going to be taking it easy.  I had weet bix for breakky for a change – but found that it didn’t agree with me like the porridge did and felt ill for most of the morning.  I drank some electrolytes and I started to feel a lot better so perhaps I had been dehydrated.  The climb out of Menari was tough with our headlights on in the dark, but then we snaked our way down to a valley where the famous “Wall” exists.  This was an almost vertical section of path in front of a stream which we descended – looking back it was understandable how it got its name! We stopped at a small village for a snack stop and rest before we conquered this “Wall”.

The crossing of this river required us to take off packs and boots – these were carried over by our crew, while we held on to a rope and had a refreshing wash on the way. The current was fast moving and would have easily knocked some of us over – I felt my legs and feet get taken from under me and they ended up out of the water behind me!  The crew were right behind us every step of the way holding on to us so we felt confident that we would be OK and it all added to the adventure.  The crew were having fun and between us all, we laughed, cheered and clapped as our crew did such a great job.  After all the difficult bits you could forget about it all very quickly with moments like these.   There was lots of team spirit within our group and crew as we got to know each other and became closer each day.

After leaving the river, we put on wet boots and squelched our way through 2 hours of swamp.  This side of Menari we were warned, was a lot wetter and would be muddier than the first 5 days we had encountered so far.  Porters and crew travelling in the opposite direction to us, gave our guys updates on the conditions of the track and vice versa.  News of deaths in villages was also passed on so that we were made aware why some villages were in mourning and not selling things like they normally would.

It was also a lot hotter and more humid (if that was possible!) on this side of the Track. The last hour of the walk was an uphill climb into New Nauro village – which felt like it was perched on the side of the steepest of hills.  The drops down the valley near the campsite and toilets were so steep we worried about slipping in the rain especially at night.

It was early/mid afternoon when we camped and we beat the rain once again – within an hour it was bucketing down.  We lunched and sheltered in a large open guesthouse.  I decided to sleep in the guest house just to experience something different from the tent.

Our afternoon was relaxing but seemed to go so quick.  We cleaned off the excess mud that made our boots so heavy, hung our wet stuff everywhere, showered and stretched our weary muscles.  A massive game of UNO started, popcorn and pappadums appeared and we snacked most of the afternoon. The UNO game had to be called off once it became time for the 6 o’clock news and dinner.  I started to get a cold (seriously, why in such a warm place?!?!) and felt miserable as the evening became night.  I became too tired and grumpy to socialise and thought I should knock the cold off by having an early night for a change (again).

New Nauro to Final Camp

We were up at 4.15am as today was going to be a long one.  After 2 half days, we felt a bit spoilt finishing by lunch, but it was back to a full day in order to finish in time the next day.  We conquered what was known as 9 False Peaks and started the day finishing these peaks off as we had camped somewhere among them last night (hence the steep position of the village).

We were pre-warned that lunch would be a late one so we prepared with extra snacks and lots of water.  My cold hit me head on, I felt feverish (even Daba said my hand felt hot when I needed help on the hard parts) and sneezy.  The humidity increased and it was hot and sunny as we went downhill once more, stopping where the last of the Japanese fox holes were.  This was as far as the Japanese came along the Track. When we stopped for lunch at Iori Bawa village, we learned there had been a death there the day before so it was very quiet.  We were asked to keep our voices down and sit at the far end of the village out of respect.

The view across the valley towards Owers Corner was clear and we felt close to the end even though it was still a day and many more hills away.  The sunshine was intoxicating and it was tempting to lay on the grass and sleep.  For the first time since we started I managed to dry some socks during that hour at lunch.

We headed downhill after lunch where we then crossed the same creek about 9 times as it snaked through a valley.  I wore my boots through the water to clean them up as they were heavy with mud and would have been more awkward to carry.

We arrived into camp about 4pm, it was going to be a hot night as we were closer to sea level and humidity remained high even at night.  We were warned of the mozzies here too so we had our swims as soon as we arrived into camp and then covered up before dusk.  We sweated our way through dinner of chicken mince, spaghetti, tomato soup and curried vegies.  The final of the Tim Tams were finished off before we did our formal thank you and goodbyes to our crew.  The Crew had prepared locally made gifts for 3 of our trekkers who celebrated birthdays on the Track, then they sang songs for us and thanked us for coming.

We then awarded them our group tip to be distributed to the crew members who would not be accompanying us to Owers Corner the following day.  They would remain at camp for 2 days before walking back to their villages.  Those who had personal porters though would have their helper to the end.

My helper Daba would be remaining at camp and told me this before I went to bed.  I was devastated to hear this as I had just expected him to finish with all of us too.  But he said we could say good bye in the morning.  He had started sneezing too as had a few other crew members so the “cold” was travelling through the group quickly.  A third trekker had succumbed to the gastro during the day – it was so much harder for those getting ill with it.  A cold was tolerable in these conditions but gastro was difficult to stay hydrated and energised.  I was glad I had the easier of the two.

Final Camp to Owers Corner

We got up at 4am to get the final slog over with. We quickly had breakfast and packed up.  With sadness, I thanked Daba and said my farewell. It was very emotional and he was so humble with his words.  I tipped him again and spent most of the morning missing his company and feeling sad.

I had another helper for the day and he was very good but it was hard to chat and get to know him over such a short period of time but I was so grateful for his help. It was a slippery start to the day heading down the hill in the dark to the creek, crossing it numerous times before we climbed steeply out of the valley – it was slow and a sweaty struggle – knowing we were finishing today made us feel these steep climbs even more.  It flattened out for a short while, then we climbed up to Imita Ridge where the Australian forces had brought up a huge mountain gun to fire towards the Japanese who had made it to the village where we lunched the previous day.  This massive 2 ton mountain gun remained assembled and was man-hauled up a separate track which we saw at one stage to Imita Ridge but by the time it reached the Ridge, the Japanese had retreated and it was not required and there never fired.  It seemed like such a waste of human effort all because of war.  Reflecting on this as we struggled up and down these hills with just 15kgs in our bags made it inconceivable how a band of soldiers could get that gun over those hills.

We descended all the way to the Goldie River where we waded across in the cool water.  It was refreshing for a short moment, before we tackled the final 45 minute climb up to Owers Corner and the finish line.  At the side of the river a memorial recognising the Salvation Army had been erected.   Those last 45 minutes were steep uphill and the final 10 minutes somehow became steeper again.  We stopped to allow our crew and porters to pass us, they waited for us at the top with poles forming a guard of honour.

We crossed the line through the arches, tears streaming, hugging, smiling, shaking hands, giving high 5’s, it was a moment of sheer elation and last about 15 minutes while we regrouped and celebrated.  It was clear, sunny and the views from Owers Corner towards the Owen Stanley ranges were magnificent.  Lots of happy snaps, cold soft drinks and fresh made sandwiches from our hotel were shared.

I donated my boots to Andy our local guide and some of us parted with other gear that was thought to be useful to the crew in future.  We hopped onto a couple of mini buses and went for a hair raising ride on winding roads and blind corners through the mountains where speed limit and safety didn’t come into the same sentence. We held on, hoping to survive the 90 minute ride after surviving 9 days on the Track.

We pulled into Bomana War Cemetery to fittingly conclude our time on the Track. Thousands of graves with white headstones lined up one row after the other, kept fastidiously neat with manicured grass and gardens, complete with 24 hour security.  We could see wreaths that had been laid on Anzac Day at the Shrine of Remembrance and we were given the opportunity to wander and reflect or to be shown where some of well known soldiers such as Kingsbury, Bissett, McCallum and Metson) now rested.  The saddest part was how many headstones were marked with unknown soldiers.  The waste of young human life (on both sides) was horrific.  Those who survived such a campaign would never be the same.

Lest We Forget.

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.  We had a presentation of certificates as a team and we had the opportunity to eat one last dinner together, share a few drinks and mix with our local guides, Andy, Stanley and Jerry.  Many of us had to say our goodbyes as we were leaving on different flights home the next day.  More hugs and promises to keep in touch, before saying our final farewells. We would never forget sharing the Track together.

Lisa along with her husband Ian, Mum Sue, cousins Brett and Craig and trekking buddy Kellie completed the Kokoda Track with the awesome people who made up Team 2A in 2012 with Back Track Adventures – John, Briony, Mark, James, Michelle, Chervaughn, Joy, Greg, Terry, Shannon, Jamie and Mark along with leaders Martin and Tom.  The crew and leadership offered on this trek made this experience unforgettable.  Massive thanks to our friends at Back Track Adventures and local guides, porters, cooks and crew for looking after each and every one of us. 

In 2019, John a fellow trekker from this trip, now a leader with Back Track Adventures will lead a trek in October that Big Heart Adventures is proud to be supporting, check out the details here.

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