Friday, June 12, 2009

The Kokoda Track 2009

I can't believe I've actually done it - I've completed the Kokoda Track!! What an amazing experience, certainly one I'll never forget.

15/05/2009 - The experience of a life time all began on the 15th May 2009 at 6:30am when Myself, Fiona, Sammy, Jezza, Garry & Stocksy left Melbourne bound for Brisbane and then on to Port Moresby. On arriving in Port Moresby we were hit with the wonderful feeling of heat and humidty, but to my surprise it wasn't quite as horrible as I had imagined. Our friend Burnsey was at Jackson airport to pick us up and take us on what was to be an eye opening tour of Port Moresby. I was pretty overcome at the situation over there, it's an awful city with crime aplenty, and Burnsey swiftly informed us that none of us were to walk to the streets alone as we just wouldn't survive. Car jackings and theft are huge over there, however we were assured we were safe due Burnsey beign the head honcho for TruKai Rice, PNG's largest rice company which basically runs the economy.

We were taken straight from the airport to Bomana Cemetary. A war cemetary where about 3,500 Australian soldiers from WWII are burried. It was an eerie but beautiful place. The grounds were imaculate and extremely well groomed. The feeling of walking through such a place was quite overwhelming, and it really made me stop and think about what these soldiers went through and the enormity of why I was really there. Each headstone had the soldiers name, age, rank & a message from home. However there were a couple of hundred headstone's with the words: "An Australian Soldier of the 1939 -1945 War. Known unto God." This really pulled at my heart strings, to think that someone fought and died for our country and their identity was never discovered, it really broke my heart.

After the cemetary we were taken to Burnsey's compound where we were staying for the night, and what a contrast to the rest of the city. A nice comfy home with a pool and a House Mary named Bina. House Mary's are local Papuan's maids. We were treated like King's & Queens and shown a fantastic time by Burnsey, his wife Penny and their 2 gorgeous kids, Sam & Riley.

16/05/2009 - Our second day in Port Moresby was more sight seeing with Burnsey around the city and other parts, again more mind boggling stuff, it's such a world away from where we live, incredible. Later that day we were taken to the Hideaway Hotel (not one of the nicest hotels in PM, basically one step up from a backpackers, but we had no choice), where we met up with our No Roads Expedition guide, Josh, and the other 2 members of our trek, Ralph & Tony. Josh gave us a briefing of what to expect over the next 8 days of our trek and how it would all work, and then it was off to dinner to get to know the other team members. After dinner and some final pack inspections, it was an early night to prepare for the big day ahead of us. To say I was a little anxious about the whole thing was an understatement - I was packing myslef BIG TIME!!

17/05/2009 - DAY 1 of the Kokoda Track. It was an early start to the day, as we had received strict instructions from Josh that we were to have our bags packed, and ready to go in the foyer of the hotel by 7am. We were also told that everything here happens on PNG time, and getting our flight to Kokoda is all dependant on the weather, so it could be a long wait for our flight to get clearance. Luckily we were cleared to leave at 8:10am and we headed off to the airport and boarded our little tin can plane to be taken to Kokoda. It's about a half hour flight, but what a beautiful flight it is, the look out over the Owen Stanley Ranges and seeing exactly what we were about to conquer was breath taking and scary all in the one hit.

Arriving at Kokoda air strip was a complete contrast to Port Morseby. It was much like Bomana Cemetry, well groomed, stunning scenery and some friendly local faces to greet us. We met our porters, and waited for them to unload our food supplies for the next 8 days and load up their packs. Then it was off....we were officially on our way... actually trekking the Kokoda Trail!! I didn't realise exactly what I was doing until after 10 minutes walking, then finally hit me...I'd just begun one of the most challenging experiences of my life!!

We stopped briefly at the Kokoda Memorial sight about 20 minutes in to the trek, to start our war history lesson. The memorial that have been erected are wonderful tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in battle to help save our country, and it really makes you feel quite humble. It was also a chance to look out over the Owen Stanley Ranges and see the rigorous terrain that lay ahead of us......SCAREY!

On we travelled to ..... for a half hour break for lunch. It was a gorgeous little village with friendly faces and yet more stunning scenery. It was also a chance fill our water bottles, surprising how much water you go through when you're walking in the heat & humidity!! Although, I think I was very conscious about getting dehydrated so was continually sipping on my camel back just to be safe. Off we set after a light lunch towards Deniki for our first night's camp. The first day really didn't open my eyes to what I was about to endure until the last hour, which was a nice little ascent up to Deniki.

Then it was time to set up camp and help the porters prepare dinner. Each village we stayed at had guest houses available, which were wooden huts with bamboo thatched rooves. I found it a much better option than sleeping in a tent as there was more ventilation and room to spread our pack out. I quickly discovered my nightly routine after arriving at camp every night: Unpack everything, set up bed, wash (just to get the mud off), rinse out trekking clothes, put on clean dry clothes, attend to feet (blister protection), then realx with the gang. And of course every morning there a routine aswell: Wake up 5:30am, toilet (there was long drop huts in each village - not as horrible as you'd imagine), change into trekking clothes (same clothes every day, they're always wet, and smellier by the day, but better than carrying 8 sets of clothes!), re-pack everything (always the same way), then out to breakfast with the gang. It was my dialy routine that helped me get through some of the days when I really didn't think I could make it.

18/05/2009 - DAY 2 of the Kokoda Track. The morning began with formal introductions to our porters and lead guides. We all went along the line and shook hands and exchanges names and niceties. After our brief introductions we headed off to our lunch destination of Isurava. It wasn't long into the day that I really started to feel just how difficult this trek was going to be, and the little demons of doubt quickly came into my head. It was quite a steep decent up to Isurava and I had to stop several times to catch my breath and have a drink. I found this day really difficult, and before long I had a friendly hand reaching out for me every time I needed it. It was the hand of Elijah, one of our porters, who took it upon himself to help me when I needed it... and boy did I need it!

Arriving at Isuarava was quite unbelievable. It was a breathtaking and very moving place to be. We went to the memorial and had our war history lesson, and very quickly I was moved to tears. For some reason this place really got to me, it made me really appreciate what I have today and just how easy my life is. Isurava is a very humbling place and somewhere I'll never forget.

After lunch we headed on to Alola. About half way to Alola I was it all a bit too much and had to stop several times to regroup and regain my sanity. One of the porters took my pack on to the village for me, as he could see how much I was struggling. As much as this was heartbreaking, and felt a little like failure, it was an absolute blessing. On arrival at Alola I was feeling horrible, my body ached all over and I was highly emotional. But of course, realxing with the gang was the perfect remedy....along with a few anti-inflamatories and some Panadine-forte!

19/05/2009 - DAY 3 of the Kokoda Track. My third day of the track begun with a pep talk from my Trainer. Stocksy could see I was beating myself up over my efforts from the day before and I was really worried I wouldn't be able to make it. However, he knows me too well and had me back in spirits in no time. We headed to Arora Creek, a VERY steep decline, but surprisingly I did OK. Elijah was there to help me through the difficult parts, and before I knew it we had arrived at 1900 Creek for lunch. After our standard lunch of salada biscuits, cheese, salami and cups of soup, we were off toward our camp site at Templeton's 1 for the night. This was a MUCH better day for me, I was back on the horse and kicked ass!!

20/05/200 - DAY 4 of the Kokoda Track. Day 4 saw us leaving Templeton's 1 quite early and off to Nadouri for lunch. Nadouri is the village where one of the last Fuzzy Wuzzy men live. He's said to be one of 3 orginal's left. His nephew came out to us and introduced us all to him. He then told us the story of his uncle and what his job was during the war and what he did afterwards. When he walked out, he was all hunched over and wearing a military hat and shirt with pins, badges and medals all over it. These were all given to him as gifts from trekkers that have come to see him and as a sign of their appreciation of his efforts during the war, gave him what little they could. He is said to be 103 years old. After having our photo's taken with him, for the small price of 10Kena each (approx $5) we headed off toward the village of Kagi. Kagi is the village all of our porters are from. It was great walking into the village and meeting the family members of the people that had done so much for us. The part of the village we stayed in was just beautiful, and so well maintained by the locals. This was probably my favorite night on the track.

21/05/2009 - DAY 5 of the Kokoda Track. We were awoken by the amazingly beautiful sound of the Kagi Village church choir. If I could wake up to the sound every morning, I would be a very happy woman indeed. The trek out of Kagi was an extremely steep downhill descent. I never thought I say this, but this was certainly a time when I looked forward to the uphill climb. After reaching the bottom of the ridge and crossin the river, I got my wish, we were had a nice little climb up to Birgade Hill for lunch. At brigade hill we were met by another group of trekkers heading in the opposite direction who looked very bedraggled and over it. They warned us of the swamp ahead and the "hell" that we were about to encounter. After lunch we headed off toward Menari for our 5th night in the jungle. About 15 minutes before reaching Menari, we crossed a river in a steep valley and were absolutely drenched by a massive down pour. However, as soon as is started, it was over! As we climbed out of the valley and up into Menari, the rains were left behind us and we were met my huge signs saying "TRACK CLOSED"! The signs were due to the unfortunate death of a porter who came from the village of Menari. His family were seeking compensation from the trekking company for their loss, as a porter earns about 5 times the amount of an average Papuan in a week. Luckily for us, our trekking company, No Roads, pay for insurance policies for all of the porters they employ, so we were allowed to continue into the village and stay the night. It was an easy afternoon, but I was pretty well over it, and glad to be relaxed in our guest house. The rain had started again and was pretty consistent the whole time we were there, forcing us all to stay in the guest house.

22/05/2009 - DAY 6 of the Kokoda Track. We left Menari nice and early and were informed of the short trekking day ahead of us, but it was all through a swamp! I absolutely shined through the swamp! I found my feet and managed to power through it like no one's business and earned my name of 'Swamp Rat'. We were headed for New Naro for lunch where we would also set up camp for the night. It rained consistently the whole day and arriving a New Naro at about 1:30pm was great! We were all very happy to be resting up for the afternoon. It was a great afternoon for the team to relax together and really get to know more about each other.

23/05/2009 - DAY 7 of the Kokoda Track. Our morning began quite early as we headed off to Iribawa Village for lunch. It was a lovely village, but after not having any kind of meat for 5 days, I was craving any kind of meat I could get my hands on......and there just so happened to be chickens running around the village freely....all I could see where chicken paramgiana's with legs running away from me...I WAS STARVING FOR ONE!!! After being laughed at by the porters on my efforts of chasing chickens, we left Irabawa Village and moved on to Vuale Creek for our last night. The afternoon was fantastic terrain, through creeks and rivers and rocks, and before I knew we were at Irabawa Village. The sun had come back out for us, and we the locals were more than accomodating in showing us the local swimming hole. It was the perfect way to end the day, and then it was topped off by putting back a very SP's.....marvellous!

24/05/2009 - DAY 8 of the Kokoda Track. Our final day began nice and early at 6:00am as we headed on towards Ower's Corner to those brilliant arches. It was a relatively easy morning, with a break at the creek before our final climb up to Ower's Corner. It was a 45 minute climb up to the top, but I've never been more happy to limb up a hill.... the veiw of the arches as you come up the hill is just amazing. Of course, I was extremely emotional to think that I'd done it, I'd finally finished the Kokoda Track. We all linked arms and walked through the arches together as a team. A team that I'd bonded so much with over the past 8 days. The emotions I felt were quite indescribable, it was a mixture of relief, excitement, and ovewhelming proudness.

The whole experience was just brilliant. It was certainly no walk in the park and I can only recommend that anyone attempting the walk make sure they do sufficient training, as there's nothing that can prepare for such an expereince other than relentless walking and stair and hill climbing. But it's certainly something I'm already considering doing again.


1 comment:

Kokoda said...

Having just completed a trek with Kokoda Spirit and having Wayne Weatherall as the trek leader I have to disagree with all your comments. He is an excellent historian and trek leader. The trip was one of the most memorable I have even had and I would highly recommend this company should you also be interested in walking the Kokoda Track. The porters are very happy, competent people who enjoyed the trek as much as the group. The meals were plentiful and yummy.Kokoda Track