Tuesday the 24thof April saw 21 keen trekkers depart their respective states and arrive in PNG, physically, emotionally & mentally ready for the massive task of completing the Kokoda Trail (96k). Some had never met each other before so this was a first for ProSport. Nerves, anticipation & excitement were at an all-time high!
Kokoda is a single-file foot thoroughfare that runs one way 96 kilometers overland through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. The track is the most famous in Papua New Guinea and is known for being the location of the World War II battle between Japanese and Australian forces in 1942.
The track typically starts at the Kokoda station (after a quick 25 min flight straight into Kokoda) & ends at Owers Corner in Central Province, 50 kilometers east of Port Moresby. It reaches a height of 2,190m as it passes around the peak of Mount Bellamy. We were set to start walking on Wednesday 25tharriving into Owers 6 days later on Tuesday the 1st of May.
Hot, humid & mostly wet days with cold nights, torrential rainfall and the risk of endemic tropical diseases such as malaria make it a challenge to successfully walk it.
Having done Kokoda a few times I secretly love watching all the trekkers come together the night before and nervously ask last minute questions & start to over analyse the lead up to the trip. Statements like ‘have I trained enough’ ‘have you packed too heavy’ ‘what happens if this happens’ etc.. It’s brilliant & it’s something I would never want to change. Kokoda is the great unknown, all the reading & googling never quite prepares you for what’s ahead. All you can do is trust you are ready & get ready to dig deep & enjoy this amazing week ahead of you.
The crew was assembled from mostly Melbourne. Alyce from Sydney & Snowy from the Gold Coast were our only Interstate trekkers. Most had connections throughout the group but once we were all together I got to witness a great group of trekkers all ready to connect, support & enjoy this experience together.
During the first night at the Holiday Inn it suddenly dawned on the group that their journey was about to begin, with a bus ride to the airport before a flight to Kokoda. It was D-day for all of us. 12 months of talking, training & preparing – it was about to begin & everyone suddenly felt really excited but really nervous at the same time. First of all we had a 4am wake up to get ready for, we were really lucky & honoured to be able to attend the Bomana War Cemetery Dawn Service. This service provides us with a few individual grave sites are highlighted, the bugler weaves his magic with the Last Post, the choppers roar low and fast overhead and the traditional instrument of the islands, the bagpipes are played – this being my 17th the morning peaks again to become a huge highlight for me & the group. What a way to get fired up to hit the Kokoda track later this afternoon.
We left Bomama & headed straight to the airport to make our way to Kokoda. We had a smooth flight into the Kokoda station where we met by 32 guides that were going to help us have a successful trek and our local trek leaders Jack & Kasman. A slight delay with our bags making the trip over from PM saw our early departure time of 9.45am turn into 2.45pm. We chatted about the history and played with the kids (threw some frisbees). After a light lunch & some quiet time we officially hit the track at 2.45pm. Deniki – here we come!
I am extremely proud of ALL of you! Overcoming feelings of hopelessness, weakness, vulnerability - the feeling of wanting to give up, thinking I can’t get to the top of the hill, but I can proudly sit here today & say we ALL overcame those feelings & thoughts and made it. It makes our achievement as individuals & as a group something very, very special.
Here is a day-to-day recap of the trek.
Day 1: Port Moresby – Kokoda Station (25 minute flight) – Deniki
3 hours of walking
Almost the perfect day. 4am wake up, Dawn Serviced followed by breakfast & then a charted flight straight into Kokoda. We left Kokoda station around 2.45pm and arrived at Deniki just on 6pm.
Day 2: Deniki - Isurava - Isurava Battlefield - Cons Rock – Alola Village – Eora Creek Village
10 hours of walking
First full day ahead of us, we left camp at 6.30am after waking up to to a wet track. It had rained all night which made the track wet, heavy & muddy. We unfortunately had Joel roll his ankle pretty bad. He was a massive trooper & had it taped up pretty quick by his brother Ryan (who is now qualified to be an AFL trainer strapping ankles) They rallied around him & he kept going. We headed to Isurava Battlefield. Isurava is where the 4 pillars are located - Mateship |Endurance |Courage | Sacrifice.We did some history & took in the amazing views back through the valley. We kept pushing to Alola for lunch & then headed down to Eora Creek for the night. Eora has a great swimming creek so this was a great reward for the guys on day 2.
Day 3: Eora Creek - Templetons 2 - Templetons 1 – Mt Bellamy – 1900 Junction
9 hours of walking
Today was always going to test the guys mentally & physically. We have a huge day ahead of us and I woke up praying the weather gods were on our side. We headed off at 6.15am, this day starts with an up & it keeps going. We climb up over Templetons 1 and then Templetons 2 before hitting the highest peak of the Kokoda Trial – Mt Bellemy (2190m) We stopped at 1900m for a late lunch & made the call to sleep here tonight. 1900 Junction is a beautiful village, great creek to swim in & freshen up the bodies. This night the boys slept out in a hut which worked out well. No snoring happened because Snowy & Mike where in the tents away from us.
Day 4: Kagi – Efogi 2 – Efogi 1 – Brigade Hill
9 hours of walking
After some rest & recharge we embarked on the challenge of walking downhill for 4 hours into Kagi. Never an easy section this one and we were delighted to be greeted by the Kagi kids singing us songs & handing us some beautiful flower necklaces to wear. The spirits where high at morning tea and the team were all doing really well. A steep downhill after morning tea & then a steep climb back up to Efogi 2 for a quick drink break. We then headed through Efogi 1 for lunch. This village is the halfway mark of the track. We then walked around the ridge of the mountain to Brigade Hill for an intimate service which includes planting a poppy and listening to the last post. Lest we Forget! We set up camp here and settled in for another great night of fines, trekker talks & plenty of laughs. Tonight we had Jack & Kasman chat to the group about their lives and tell us some amazing stories. The way the porters dedicate themselves to protecting us every step of the way is amazing. They are so resilient, humble, honest, hard working & kind - its the real reason I love going back every year to see them. (plus they don’t pick on me which is brilliant)
Day 5: Menari - Browns River – Wartime Nauro – Nauro 1
9 hours of walking
We woke up to a good track & no rain for 24 hours. We set off for Menari which is a 2 hour downhill walk. The weather gods had been on our side from when we hit Browns River, we were able to cross it quite quickly (boots off & through the river we go) we hit the swamps which was ok this year, the swamps can be a nightmare so this trip through was ok. We come & hit a 90 min hill up to Nauro 1 for the night. The team were doing great and everyone was mentally & physically in a great place. Joel’s ankle was doing ok.
Day 6: Nauro 1 - Ofi Creek – Ioribaiwa – Ua Ule Creek
8 hours of walking
With the finish line well in our sights this morning the team where up & about. With a steep hill down to Ofi Creek for another creek crossing & then a short pinchy climb up & out, today was going to give us everything. Hills, views, creek crossings, history readings & a fantastic camp site to stay in tonight, today was a great day. The afternoon involved 12 creek crossings. Boots off & sandles on. The creek crossings are refreshing and fun. We got to camp around 4pm to an awesome swimming hole which everyone really enjoyed. Cans of soft drinks and lots of laughing saw the trekkers keen for a good nights sleep and a big finish to this amazing trek.
The other thing we did tonight was go through our fines. Every night we have a 15 minute ‘fine time’ dedication. The rules are you can be fined for everything & anything. Max fine is 10k (AUS $5) We had a lot of MAX fines handed out. The fine winners were
3rdplace: David Provan
2ndplace: Andrew Cocks
1stplace: Joel Martin
Day 7: Ua Ule Creek - Goldie River – Owers Corner
6 Hours of walking
We were up early ready to walk out. Before that happened we had 6 more hours of trekking ahead of us. We had a few quick creeks to cross and then a tough hill climb that got us to the top of Imita Ridge. Here we have a national anthem sing off with the porters (this is always a highlight). We sang the Australian anthem & then the porters with their beautiful voices sang theirs back to us (they were so much better) from here we headed down the Golden Stairs to morning tea and then pushed through to Goldie River. Boots off & another river crossing. Some took the opportunity to have a quick swim. From here we know we are around 45 minutes from the finish & the group where all safe, healthy & very very happy. At the top the groups emotions run deep & the sweaty hugs & kisses take place. A couple of group photos and then a lot of individuals photos which is always pretty special. A couple of quick beers & a sausage roll and we are on the bus heading back to Bomama Cemetery for a quiet and reflective 45 minutes. Here gives everyone the chance to think about the history of the war, being on the track and seeing and hearing about what our soliders did really hits home when walking around the lush green grass of Bomama.
After we are back on the bus & heading back to the Holiday Inn for a shower, shave & a few more quiet drinks. Tonight we have our celebration dinner with the guides & we make some speeches.