Trekking the Kokoda Track, PNG

Trekking the Kokoda Track, PNG

8 months of planning, 3 months of training, 1 week of final nerves in disguise of a countdown. Here we go!

Back in 2014, I took on the initiative to rally up a group of 5 other mildly nuts individuals to trek the Kokoda Track in PNG. As an Aussie, it’s sold as a right of passage and having completed it, I can’t argue with that. I’ll aim to detail my experience as best I can without boring you to tears on every detail and bowel movement.

I guess the first thing that goes through your mind on signing up is: What exactly am I in for ? It’s so hard to know what to expect. Will it rain? Will anyone get sick? Are we really ready? But, I guess that’s what makes it all so exciting, the unknown.

After an unnecessary loss of our baggage, which took just long enough for us to realize, if the bags do not arrive today we will not be trekking tomorrow or at all given our tight agenda. It seemed our bags were more inclined to visit Cairns than Papua New Guinea and decided to take a detour, much to our amusement. Not.

Day 1. First up was an early morning flight to Popendetta. A frightened flyers nightmare, the plane holds a mere 30 individuals as we brace for our 45min over rugged terrain. On arrival we jump into the back of a jeep; it has no seat belts, no roof or walls, no seat at all really.  I prefer it tenfold to the toy plane we just disembarked from. We head to a supermarket to pick up supplies, then on to meet the rest of our crew. Stan will be our head guide, Rocky is our Australian organiser and my porters name is Gillip. He looks the most cheeky, so I feel it’s a good fit.

For those considering taking a porter, here’s my advice: Your day bag shouldn’t really exceed 7kgs if you weigh anywhere from 50-70kgs. So if you do a practice go at packing your bag, including your tent, sleeping bag, clothes and accessories and it’s well over 7kgs – get a porter. I promise you it will be more enjoyable and your knee joints will thank you later.

A quick stop off at the war museum, realizing everything that was 1942 and we’re off, we’re really trekking the Kokoda Track! We walk through the infamous archway (feature image) to commence.The trail this afternoon is heavily exposed to the sunlight and is mostly flat, we only encounter one steep section before finding our camp for the night. Tonight we stay in Daniki. The taste of choko vine coming back to me as I write this. Word of the day: Chicken Highway Biscuits

Day 2. The trekking today is pretty casual. Not too hard just yet, so try not to get into a false sense of security like we did.  We learn about ‘flat rock’, where Australian soldiers were operated on as they were wounded. It’s literally a flat rock in the middle of the jungle. I shudder at the thought. We reached camp quite early today to have a fully clothed ‘shower’ under a running drain pipe where I’ve never felt so clean. Mind you, the odour coming from my feet tell a different story. I think I actually went to bed at 7pm tonight, both being a sore loser and an inept camper in general became the better of me. Tonight we stay in Alola. Word of the day: Luscious

Day 3. The early morning rain makes it hard to fulfill our morning routine. Instead we pack everything ready to go before breakfast. On the first morning it would take me at least 5 minutes to roll my inflatable sleeping mat, now on Day 3, it barely takes me 4. Getting there. The trail today has by far been the hardest, today is supposed to be the 4th hardest day, whatever that means but we make the most of it with short and frequent breaks.

Arriving into camp the rain is bucketing down and it’s actually quite cold for once which makes everything harder. Today I realize my porters name is actually ‘Calleb’ and I feel like an absolute monster. To shower this afternoon we must take to the very heavy stream near the campsite, my guess it was barely 5 degrees, freezing! There were a LOT of screams, and that was just from our guide Rocky! Tonight we stay in Templeton’s Two. Word of the day: (Hiking)Poles

Day 4. Today was the third hardest day. The rain has stopped and we’re in good spirits. I’m glad I trained as hard as I did after today’s challenging peaks. Especially seeing as we start the trail with a heart pumping ascent to wake the legs. Each day feels like we’re walking just a little bit longer and today has definitely been the longest. The sun was beating down on us today, which made for some weary hikers. The afternoon decent was the biggest we’ve tackled to date so with each step comes an abundance of concentration. Today’s the day I’m glad I brought walking poles to stabilise my every step. By the end of the day we’ve conquered 2 big upward hills and 2 big downward hills. Mentally, this was a toughie and certainly made us tired as ever coming into camp. We’re welcomed warmly by the locals as they sing and lay flower necklaces over our weary heads. It is the best feeling knowing tomorrow is our rest day and we stay up late playing cards to celebrate our efforts. Tonight we stay in Efogi. Word of the day: Dehydration

Day 5. Rest Day. Half way. There were two reasons we had a rest day. One: because our guide Rocky had a special relationship with the villagers in Efogi and wanted us to get a more cultural experience, besides, who wants to rush through without meeting an actual Papua New Guinean? Two:SOS Unleashed sponsored me and they gave our team an abundance of sporting equipment to donate to kids along the trail at our own discretion. We’d given out plenty of gear before arriving into Efogi, but we knew we wanted to hand out the majority of goods to the local school.  Today was such a treat, I even dry-shampooed my hair for the occasion! The more time we spend along this track, the more trivial my life seems back home. Weight loss regimes, the latest clothing, cosmetics, other peoples ego and pressures to get Botox – believe, me I almost got suckered into that one. (By the way, I’m not judging, it’s just that I was 27 years old at the time and it seems absurd to look back on.)

We walk to Efogi 2 to visit the local school and hope to play some sports games with the local kids. Before we do, we’re split into different class rooms to either teach English, share stories about what it’s like in Australia, quiz their math skills or ask about their favourite sport. Try explaining what surfing is to children who have never seen the ocean. It’s hard.

The only bummer about the rest day: my body was able to rest. AKA realize how much pain it was in and I feel my calves for the first time in 5 days and they are aching to bits. The villagers teach us how to cut grass with a machete, I took four swings and found it exhausting, passing it back to the 60 year old woman as my cheeks blush with embarrassment. As the rain came in my porter Calleb dug a moat around the outskirts of my tent to stop it flooding. Heart throb or what? Before dinner we mosey over to Stan’s house to observe his wife preparing a ‘Mumu’ kind of like a Hungi with hot rocks, banana leaves and a whole lot more hot rocks. It feels special to be apart of, even if all we’re doing is watching. Word of the day: Community

Day 6. Today on our way through Efogi 2 we actually got to meet the last Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel, a 90 year old legend who was responsible for telecommunications back in the day. I had tears in my eyes and I can’t really tell you why just yet but it was moving. Today the conditions were a very steep and slippery descent. Our porters need to walk behind us the whole day and grab onto our backpacks to hoist us back to vertical each time we slip (did I mention most of the porters are in sandals?) It started raining at lunchtime and didn’t really stop until we arrived at camp. The river water is so dirty on arrival we forego a bath, that multiplied by the handful of topless, middle aged balding Australian men was enough to turn us off completely. Once again, baby wipes come to the rescue. We did see Brigade Hill today with many Australian grave posts which made the day all the more moving and exhausting. Tonight we stay in Agolugu. Word of the day: (Fuzzy Wuzzy) Angel

Day 7. Today’s the day we’ve been talking about all trek: The day of 9 false peaks. Says it all really, my calves still wince at the thought of it. We pass a lot of other trekkers early on to learn they are eating entirely tinned food and walk from dawn to dusk to try and complete the track in 7 days, it sounds horrible to me. Our experience has been the complete opposite. We’ve had homegrown sweet potatoes, choko vine, fresh bananas and pineapples; it’s almost been gourmet! The day is tough but thankfully we get the bulk of the hard work complete before lunchtime. Our camp tonight was one of my favourites, on arrival we immediately head to the clear river (clear of balding Australian men I mean) and wash away our cares in the clean aqua. We have dinner around the camp fire and can’t believe it’s almost coming to an end already. Tonight we stay in Offi Creek. Word of the day: Spa (river swim)

Day 8. The last big, full day and I can say with confidence that today’s morning hill was the toughest ascent yet. It’s hot, humid, sunny and steep! And like any good uphill there is an equally decent downhill, which we endured very, very slowly avoiding slipping as best we could. We pass a group who have just started out, heading in the opposite direction to us. To have to ascend that mud pile we basically just skid down I have one feeling only: smug. Calleb treks today without shoes and my concept of complaining goes out the window. Tonight for the first time since we’ve been on the track, I sleep wonderfully the whole night through and don’t wake until morning. Tonight we stay in Good Water. Word of the day: Ascent

Day 9. We did it! It’s our last morning and we all stink more than words can say. I proudly roll my sleeping mat up in under 2 minutes and imagine how fast I would be if I was on the track for another 10 days? The final stretch uphill to Ower’s Corner feels longer than it should be. After another downhill we find a healthy flowing river, the only way to get over it: Through it. Just as I feel the river soak my underpants I regret not asking for a piggyback. The final uphill comes next and I feel like my legs and mind have already decided that it’s all done so they’re a little slow to kick into gear. We pass a handful of villagers who congratulate us as we take our final steps on the Kokoda Track. Passing through the archways was a tremendous feeling. We feel sheer relief and an overwhelming feeling of achievement. Lots of hugging and high fives before we jump into the back of a truck (which feels incredibly foreign despite being remote for just 8 days.) We head to the Bomana War Cemetery before being taken back to our hotel in Port Moresby. The shower I took on return was actually mind blowing. I used a face washer cloth to wipe down my upper body and it’s completely brown in minutes. The beer that followed was just as satisfying. The lady behind the bar recommends ‘Nuigini Ice’ as it’s ‘Just as good, without the hangover.’

We have dinner with the crew and I give Calleb my hiking boots as a thank you gift. I hardly thought I’d be hiking again (wasn’t I wrong about that!) and he would probably get better use out of them rather than sit in my cupboard.

My pillow feels like a marshmallow and the covers feel like sheets of silk.  Word of the day: Victory!

My favourite quote on the trek: “The only time you can be brave is when you’re scared.” Alex, our team member.

There you have it! A (not so) short tale of my experience trekking the Kokoda Track, has anyone else done it? Any questions? Leave a comment and keep on trekking 🙂