By Jessica Warren
Saturday, October 3rd – Our Arrival
After months of preparation and planning the day has finally arrived- I was off to complete the Kokoda adventure I eagerly signed up for!
Throughout the lead up to Kokoda, I thought to myself, why am I doing this Stepping onto the plane, it still wasnt clear- but there was no turning back. Seeing all the happy faces of my Kokoda teammates and other tour groups, I realized that this would be a time to cherish.
Eight hours later we arrived, checked through customs and greeted by Tim. After a few troubles with lost bags and missing team members, we left Port Moresby Airport and headed to Hideaway Hotel, to spend the night. Before dinner we went to the local supermarket to stock up on water, lollies and other supplies. Later we went to Port Moresby Yacht Club for dinner, where we got to know each other a little better and ate the last stodgy meal for eight days.
Day 1: Sunday, October 4th- Kokoda Airstrip to Deniki
7am at reception the next morning, everybody looked very sharp – all kitted up in our hiking gear. Soon enough it was 9:00am and it was time to go to the airport. Mixed emotions of excitement, fear and anxiousness overwhelmed me as we arrived, ready to board the light aircraft similar to the one which crashed only weeks before.
Throughout the twenty-minute plane trip to Kokoda airstrip there were a lot of nerves, but we were all in awe at the amazing view of the Owen Stanley Ranges. It was great to see snippets of what lay ahead for us, yet was hard to believe we would have to walk through the dense forests, and unforgiving landscape. I almost thought we would run over the local kids playing on the airstrip as the plane landed, but to my relief we all arrived safely to our destination.
Our local guide, Terry led the way to our first campsite Deniki. The first couple of hours was very flat, which was a good way to ease into the whole trek. Before we knew it we faced our first hill, which was quite tough. The first day was cut short due storm threats, so we set up camp, ate a yummy dinner and enjoyed a lovely sunset overlooking Kokoda airstrip and beyond!
Day 2: Monday, October 5th – Deniki to Eora Creek Village
We kicked off day two with one of many 4:30am wake up calls and feasted on a hearty breakfast of porridge and cereal. By about 6am packs were on and we set out to our next camp Eora Creek. No matter how much I studied the cross section the night before, nothing could prepare me for what lay ahead.
I loved the scenery we passed along our travels walking alongside pristine creeks and gazing into thick jungle, which seemed impenetrable. It was moments like this, which I cherished most; as it reminded me not only of how incredibly far we were from our lives in Australia, but most importantly what the soldiers who fought in the war went through. The memorial at Isurava Village gave us an opportunity to pay respects to these brave soldiers, and highlighted the core values of the Kokoda track courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice.
Although these were only words, every step taken to the top of a tough ascent, or a relentless descent to a river crossing: these words became loaded with raw emotion, as we all began to push ourselves harder than ever before. It was then I understood that I would find the Kokoda track just as tough emotionally as physically. It was a long day, about nine hours.
My sights were set on the creek at camp, with a beautiful waterfall as a backdrop it was a perfect chance to relax the muscles and have a wash.
Day 3: Tuesday, October 6th – Eora Creek Village to Kagi Village
Up early again, ready for the big day ahead. The day consisted of many ascents, the biggest of which was the climb up to Mt Bellamy, the highest point of the track at 2190 meters.
In some sections of this ascent the word steep is an understatement, it was quite demanding. We passed through all sorts of terrain on our journey ranging from creeks to clay. There were tree roots all over the base of the track, which made walking safely increasingly difficult.
By the time we stopped for lunch at Templetons Crossing we had walked about eight hours. Here, it was a couple of hours to Kagi, where we were to camp that night. We had the option to hike another hour on top of that to go see one of the last surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels in a nearby village.
At this point I was not sure if I had the energy to last the distance, but not wanting to have regrets I went. It was after we made it to the top of Mt Bellamy that Josh, John and I departed with Terry to see the Fuzzy Wuzzy
There was about and hours unyielding decent into the village, where we faced a web of tree roots all over the ground. It was beautiful – very foggy, which made it all the more eerie and magical. Once we arrived at the village it took another half an hour for the Fuzzy Wuzzy to get dressed and come down to see us. It was a very emotional experience; he is incredibly old and was in a wheelchair. Obviously I was aware that a war took place here, but it was only at that moment the war actually felt real. He was such a, happy and genuinely grateful person.
The whole experience was very humbling. Once we left the village we set off for about another half an hour to Kagi. On this journey we walked through the local school grounds, and saw more of what Village life is like for the Papua New Guineans -examples of cultivation, types of houses and communal areas. Terry killed us on the final ascent; it was the steepest hill we had come across so far and after ten hours of hiking it really took a lot out of the legs.
We made it to Kagi! Here we had the option of having a shower in the local doctors house, the water was cold but it was still considered as a luxury. Over dinner we all went around the table and spoke about our experiences. It was clear we had all experienced very special moments on an individual level. Tonight Sam and Megan finally caught up to us. What we did in three days they did in two, which is remarkable and it was also lovely to have more members in our group.
Day 4: Wednesday, October 7th – Kagi to Menari
The decent from Kagi was incredibly steep; my full concentration was on foot placement. It was satisfying to reach the creek at the bottom of the valley, yet I had to prepare myself for an equally tough climb uphill.
The first section went quickly, all focus was on getting up the steepest section, which took about thirty minutes. Next we faced an hours relentless climb through exposed grasslands. Once we reached Efogi 2 I was relieved, I nibbled on some banana, but was feeling sick. It was clear today was going to be long, but if I was to make it to camp that night I knew it would require all the strength and motivation I had.
After a quick break we proceeded to Efogi 2, the half waypoint of the track! No use turning back now, it was quicker to go to the end. The next hill really tested my strength, it was about 10:30 and the sun was out. I was hot, sweaty and carrying an extra 5kg of bananas in by backpack. But in about 30 minutes we all made it to the top.
All focus was on getting to Brigade Hill for lunch. Here Mike read an extract about a famous battle that occurred at this point. After lunched we were greeted by a very extensive decent to the Emuni River. I still cringe at the though of how steep it was, it was uncompromising – just kept on going. Half way down we stopped for a rest and could see our next camp Menari in the distance.
At the base of the hill we stopped for a revitalizing swim in the creek, followed by a short, thirty minute climb to camp. At about 2:30 we experienced our first heavy rains for the trip, and also when Dave was reunited with his lost bag!
That night the kids from the village performed some songs to us to raise money for the school. They were very enthusiastic, and soon enough it was our turn to sing. I think its safe to say the star of the night was Adrian “rock star” Tesoriero who stole the show. The kids had smiles from ear to ear and were cheering so loud; it was a moment to treasure.
Day 5: Thursday, October 8th – Menari to Iorbaiwa Village
Today we staggered the starts of group members, at 6:45 John, Josh and I ventured off ready for another great day on the Kokoda track. A steep 280m ascent kicked off our day, followed by an even longer decent into some beautiful marshlands where we stopped for a rest.
We spent another couple of hours trekking through the muddy conditions before another long arduous journey up nine false peaks. This was very tiring and tested everybody, for some it was best to put their head down and just get to the top! While the climbs were tiring, the descents are also quite challenging.
Our journey downhill to Ofi creek, where were supposed to camp that night, was extensive and demanding. My full concentration was on the ground, making sure I didnt slip and injure myself. Once we arrived at Ofi Creek, we took off our boots and prepared for a river crossing. We were relieved to dip our feet in cool water, but at this point we were all so exhausted. It was obvious we were all struggling; the thought of another two hours hike uphill to camp was not pleasant.Most of us were just about ready to give up!
In order to mentally prepare myself to get through it I had to look back on the journey, and realize what I had already achieved, that there was no mountain I didnt conquer. In the end you have no choice but to keep persisting in order to get to camp. We finally reached Ioribaiwa Village, our camp; I had pushed myself to the limit, and so happy to have made it.
It was fantastic to see everybody arrive. Now it was time to put my feet up and have a shower. It was without doubt my hardest day. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. The energy around the camp was unlike other nights, with an undertone of relief. I knew everybody had a tough day when all of the No Roads porters started to sing in a continuous harmony for hours, as if trying to gain strength amongst the group for the trek the next day.
Day 6: Friday, October 9th- Ioribaiwa Village to Uberi Village
Another early morning wake up call, this time not by Tim, but a rooster! The first group set off at about 6:00am and the next at about 6:45am. The first section was down hill, a few close calls with Josh nearly flying off the side of the mountain! The majority of the walk was alongside a creek, it was this point, which was the lowest altitude of the trip (300m above sea level) and consequently it was incredibly hot and humid.
Drenched in sweat, we looked like we had been for a swim. We had lost a lot of water through sweat, so it was very important to keep hydrated because we had a very steep, 550-meter climb to the top of Iminta Ridge. Im not going to lie, this ascent wasnt much fun it took all the determination I had to get to the top.
This hill was definitely the most testing, there were countless times where I just wanted to give up and rest, but we just kept pushing on to the top. It is at these times you gain strength from your teammates, who are also doing it tough and yet arent giving up.
We finally made it to the top of the Ridge; here we experienced a wonderful moment where we exchanged singing national anthems. The porters always sung much better than us, I could have listened to them all day but we had our final descent down the Golden Stairs before we hit our next campsite Uberi Creek.
In order to get to camp we had to take off all our shoes and cross the Goldie River. Once we arrived and everything was set up we went for a well- earned swim in the same river we crossed moments before. Tonight we enjoyed pasta with pesto and tuna for dinner, very delicious food as always! It was our own rock star – Adrians final chance to impress us with his musical genius, as we enjoyed our final night together on the track.
Day 7: Saturday, October 10th – Uberi Village to Owers Corner
There was no denying that we had charged Kokoda, all our hard work had paid off in the end because we were almost finished, just an hours climb and our journey would all be over. I was able to sleep in this morning, after porridge for breakfast I had an invigorating morning swim in the Goldie River – the perfect way to start the day.
At 7:00am it was time to set off on the final ascent to the finish. It was a very surreal and exciting moment, to see the finish line at the top of the mountain and even better to pass through it as a group.
I didnt want our journey to be over, I would have gladly turned around to do it all again. We were all so happy, and proud of what was achieved on a variety of levels individually and as a team, but more importantly of seeing each other overcoming so many obstacles and making it to the end. It was a truly fantastic moment for all! The celebrations continued over sausages in bread, SP Beers and the guitar being played softly in the background.
Soon it was time to get back into the bus and head to the War Memorial, a thirty-minute bus ride from Owers Corner. At the memorial we had about forty-five minutes to look around and reflect on our experiences. It was staggering to see the thousands of marble plaques, which lay before us – tributes to each brave young soldier who died in battle.
Yes, we had completed the Kokoda Track, but it is hard to relate to what they went through. I believe what we do share with the soldiers relates back to the four plaques seen on day two courage, endurance, mateship, and sacrifice. We went back to Port Moresby Yacht Club for lunch, where we all indulged on greasy chips, burgers, juicy meat and some beers.
That night, back at Hideway Hotel we had dinner with the No Roads porters. It was lovely to celebrate our achievement together, and laugh on all the great times shared.
Day 8: Sunday, October 11th – Our Departure
Our final day in Port Moresby. We had a few hours to kill before our 2:00pm flight. It was time well spent, Jack (PNG No Roads) took us for a tour around Port Moresby.
It was quite confronting to see the poverty some individuals live in, at this point I realized that I lived a very privileged life in Australia and was grateful for the opportunities I had. On the flight home it was sad to think I would have to leave the people I had come to consider as family. Words cant even describe how fantastic the our team was- I am so thankful to have experienced Kokoda with them.
Like I said, I didnt know why I did Kokoda, it is only now I realize you dont need a reason because in life you should just go out on a limb and push yourself way out of your comfort zone, which is why Kokoda was such a rewarding experience for everybody.