So, here we were. Landed in the (not so) far away land of Papua New Guinea, in the infamous city of Port Moresby, we nervously pack our gear with our new best friends and lifelines in our Papua New Guinean boys. The banter level is relatively low. New scenery, new people, a few familiar faces but the realisation of what we were about to take part in was looming large over everyones psyche. No matter what we did we couldn't escape the fact we were about to chalenge ourselves in a way not many people have done before. Fortunately for us we were able to take part in this challenge of our own accord, rather than some of the unfortunate men that went before us.
For those who aren't aware, the Kokoda Track is a 96km strecth of land that runs across Papua New Guinea's Owen Stanley Range all the way from the capital of Port Moresby to the small village of Kokoda. The signifigance of such a track is that there was a very important WW2 battle waged through this steep, muddy, wet thouroughfare between Allied, primarily Australian and Japanese military troops in 1942. The Japanese who had invaded, very successfully for the most part, many other destinations in the Pacific, had planned to take Port Moresby to provide them with what would be a perfect springboard for a base to launch a military invasion of mainland Austraia. Many lives were lost in this epic battle between the two forces as I will discuss in some more detail later in this blog. Now, the Kokoda Track itself serves as right of passage for Australian's, New Zealander's and others to pay homage to what our troops went through in order to keep Australia and our population safe.
And we were just such a group ready to take it on. Doc, Roysy, Coro, Rakey, Em, Mac & Perri. We made a good team. Add to the fold our amazing local team, headed by Clement (Clemmo) and my porter Ivan we were in good hands. Ivan himself had crossed the track "70 or something times mate", "yes mate, 70 plus" but Clemmo had him well covered crossing the track on triple digit occasions. Add to that, the personal porters the rest of the guys had and our food porters and chefs and we had a 19 person strong squad.
So after packing our bags, getting ourself briefed and getting in what was looked at as the final supper down at the amazing Port Moresby Yacht Club we were awoken much too early for all of our likings to jump in the bus and head down to Owen's Corner to begin our trek. There are two different ways you can attack the Kokoda Track. One is to start from Owen's Corner and head towards Kokoda and the other is to start at Kokoda and head back. We were startinfg from Owen's Corner.
So here we were at Owen's Corner, overlooking the amazingly lush, forests of the area and taking some last minute photographs and we were away. "How many hours today Clemmo" somebody asked as we set off......"Today is a nice one mate, an easy one, yes mate, today is 5 hours"......An easy one you say Clemmo? 5hrs is an easy one.
As we took off and began to walk we were fashioned walking sticks by the boys, straight from the jungle to assist in the walking as it's an absolute nightmare walking the muddy hills of the area without assissatance. So now the game was on. Who would be first? We were all placing bets on who would be the first to go and sure enough, it took no more than 5 mintes and the first of us, Emily was down. "White hawk down, white hawk down" yelled Gary, Corey's porter. And then another went down. "White hawk down, white hawk down". And then another. It felt as if no one could string more than three or four steps together without down and then, THUD. Another. But this time it was not 'white hawk down', it was Gary, Corey's legendary porter who had taken a spill. Everyone was in shock. Everyone was thinking 'well if these guys have walked this thing hundreds of times and they can't even hold their feet then what hope are we'.
And then someone said it. "BLACK HAWK DOWN, BLACK HAWK DOWN"! The crowds burst into raucious fit of laughter. And we were mates. It was the perfect ice breaker.
So after a long slog up and down some serious inclines we got to camp at Ua'Ule Creek. Muddy, sweaty, tired and hungry we arrived at camp. As the gang helped show us around we were lead down to the local watering hole where we could wash our clothes and ourselves in some of the most refreshing water known to man. One of the highlights of the whole trip was the fact that we got to finish every single day with a swim in a local river like this. It was one of lifes simple pleasures. It makes you realise that nature is perfect in every way and the bullshit we have built around it is sometimes quite sad to think of what we are losing. Anyhow, an amazing first day of hiking was in the books.
Day two started off slow....I guess we weren't really used to pushing our bodies to the extreme like we did on day one so getting out of our nice warm sleeping bags was always going to a little bit of a struggle. A quick brush of the teeth, some porridge mixed with cereal from our ration packs and we were off on the road again. Another short day today to really give us a false sense of what we were in for got us in by a decent hour and to Ofi Creek for the night. Ofi Creek was a beautiful little village along the track where the children played and the adult came to sell their local foods and drinks to weary travellers. Ofi Creek was another highlight for it was the first night we began to get into our campfire stories with Clemmo. A historian of the track Clemmo was able to regale us in the stories of the heroes and brave soldiers that fought in what a lot of war historians call the 'worst conditions man has faced in the field of battle'. This became a regular staple of our nights from this day forward.
And the trek went on. We pushed through our first big day on day threee with aplomb. Things even seemed to be going pretty smoothly, that was unil we reached 'the wall'......
Aptly named, the wall was a long strecth of near straight up hill climbing for hours on end. It was one of those times where you thought you eyes were failing you. At so many point throughout this day it was almost like you could see the top only to reach what you thought was the top to look up and see a brand new wall staring you right in the face. But step after step we climbed. And we climbed some more. It's times like these where we gain another instinct. A feeling without speaking kind of skill where you are talking to your mates, spurring them on, getting them through it as they are to you. But all without words. There is an energy in the air that is palpable. An energy that cannot be summed up succinctly without someone being there with you. Working hard and battling through things together is known to bring us closer. And that's what today was for us. We were under no illusions that we were doing this in a much easier and nicer fashion than the military troops that did it before us. So we knew it they could do it carrying their own bags, malnurished, exhausted and under attack then we could do it too. And just like those who went before us we were going to do it as a team.
This is the kinda stuff you dream of.
Once the wall was past us we were able to rest and enjoy each others company once more knowing that we had just worked through one of the most gruelling days on the track. And whatever came up against over the coming days we were going to be ready for it.
And then the rains came. We'd been getting wet for a good period each day so far but it started to become blatently obvious that we were in it up to our necks on this partilcuar day, but the best thing about it was. Nobody cared. There was not a poncho or a jacket in sight. Here we were, a team of mates, working hard together, sweating it out through the mud, with rain pelting down on us and we couldn't be happier. The levels of banter were probably reaching an all time high in fact. The level of adventure had been raised and so had the spirits. And so we reached Brigade Hill and kicked on to our home for the night.
The next day was filled with another new adventure entirely. Mud. Just when you thought you'd seen it all we are blessed with a strecth of the track that seemed never ending whilke trudging through the shin deep mud. But again. It was an epic adventure. Add to that the waist high water we battled in the river crossings this day and we were really starting to get through the track.
A few more days passed by on the track and although they were amazing they were also semi-uneventful. It was just consistent beautry of nature and great chats with great friends day after day. The biggest highlights you might say may have been the micro-marketplace that had been established each night when we would sit and swap out way through our ration packs. Emily would die for a LeSnak while I would give my left leg for a jelly cup. Mac seems to love to hoard the chicken in a can and everyone had their own little favourites. It was more like a game of Monoploy that a simple barter session with all involved trying to be Scrooge McDuck and find themselves owner of a monopology on Mayfair and Park Lane. Or in this case the tuna with biscuits and barbeque chips (or crisps if that's what you know them as).
As the days passed it was amazing what we learnt from Clemmo and the gang about the history of the battles that were fought along the track. They were the grandest type of horror for both parties to endure and no battle was more famous than the Battle Of Isurava. Many Australian's and Japanese troups were killed during this 5 day battle and once we reached Isurava we could tell we swere standing on a place of much signifigance. To hear the stories day after day after day of what went on during this battle really affects you. You begin to understand how lucky you are.
But we were beginning to realise we were coming to the end of our trip and although we were beat up mentally and physically we weren't wanting the trip to end. Loved ones aside who really wants to go back to Facebook, Instagram, billboard, phonecalls, emails and all the other bullshit that we fill our lives with. The simple life is truly where it is at. Good challenges, good conversation and good people is all we had and all you need.
The last evening was something special. Unfortunately for the rest of the group the incident that is for sure one of the highlights of my life was only shared by myself and Matt. But I will share it anwyay.
So as we came to camp on the last night of the trek we arrived in the dark. In fact we had to switch out headlamps on as we were walking in the dark for much of the last part of the day. As we arrived, headlamps on, absolutely exhausted to our final nights resting place we could hear something? It sounds very angelic but also very far away. As we walked through the dark camp we realised we were listening to a choir. The church choir was singing in candlelight in the middle of the village. We stood in amazement while we listened to the local children sing their songs under the starlit night. When they finished we all started cheering and they all started giggling. But it didn't ene there. Once the singing was over the rest of the crew walked off our huts while Matt and I stood around chatting and taking pictures. A few minutes later we turned around and we saw a sea of 100 or so children walking towards us. The village pastor then approached Matt & I and asked if the kids could come down after dinner and sing to us, to which we both accepted of course. But what happened next was the killer. As we were about to leave Matt & I put our hands in the air for a HI-5 from a few of the kids and then what happened was insane. The kids all starting giggling and stirring and pushing through each other to get to our hands to HI-5 us. The energy was insane. Everyone started laughing, then everyone started screaming and then I started dancing, so everyone started dancing! It was one of those 'had to be there moments' but a moment Matt & that we will never ever forget.
So then it was our final day. A few hours left of chats, a swim in one final stream, a couple of hours of pretty flat, pretty stright walking and we were done. We'd reached Kokoda. We congratulated ourselves, thanked the amazing boys who we couldn't have done it without and then we headed to Clemmo's mums place to enjoy a few well earned beers. What an adventure.
The next days were filled with much relaxing and capped off by a trip to the Bomana War Cememtary for the dawn service on ANZAC day. An amazing way to cap the trip and another highlight we will never forget.
So this is my wrap. Thanks if you made it all the way through and hopefully you reading this has the chance to share in this epic adventure at some point of your life too.
We have another Kokdoa adventure coming up in 2018. If you want informnation please fill in the box below.