4th of July 2016. Well No Roads has just completed another successful crossing of the Owen Stanleys in PNG. With 12 trekkers, 10 Personal Porters and 13 General Porters, our small group of 36 arrived in Kokoda from Popondetta around 1.00pm after a leisurely 4 hour trip on the Popondetta – Kokoda Chiropractic Express PMV, thankfully, as the #1 Kokoda Trekking company, No Roads Expeditions goes the extra mile and provides Gold Class style bench cushions for the ride so we arrived in relative comfort with our trekkers revelling in their first taste of rural PNG – yes the locals really do hand wash their clothes in the creek and the mandatory queries “are they the mountains we have to climb?”
Wanting to arrive in camp 1 before dark, time was of the essence so we could only afford a very short visit to the Kokoda Plateau and Museum before we took our first steps of the famous 96km Kokoda Track and headed into the great unknown for the next 9 days. The first 2 hours are “Kokoda Flat” lulling trekkers into a false sense of security and the usual anxious thoughts of whether enough training had been done was soon dispelled (or proved?) as we hit the first climb of the trek from Hoi to Deniki. Making it just on sunset, as per usual our tents were already set up by our ever diligent porters and our trekkers were confronted with their first set of choices of the trek – “cajun spice or salt for the popcorn?” and “tents or huts”?
Our trekking group ranged in age from 21 to 57, a father and his 2 sons from Melbourne, a mother/daughter from Lake Macquarie, a submarine designer and a soldier from Perth, a builder, 2 Latrobe Valley town cleaners, a PNG “Russell Coit” Bushman, a washed up copper and ex-Commando and a guy with only one leg! Diverse groups like this makes for an entertaining trek and with 9 days and 96kms of blood, sweat and tears, we had plenty of laughs around the nightly campfires – how can one joke keep us entertained for 9 days? Da de da, da de da!!!
As always our porter team was exceptional – lead by our local guide Karsmen, our lead guide Lexcen who maintained the pace and a special mention to our Master Chef Frank whose “ham/cheese/noodle” sausage rolls were to die for, or was it the mid morning fresh doughnuts complete with icing and sprinkles which took the cake? Our personal porters were great at managing to prevent most slips and trips along with our general porters who would seemingly come out of nowhere to help us across the creeks and rivers, through the mud and over the rocks yet still be way ahead of us to have our tents up and fires going well before the time we got to camp.
Our Sabbath rest day was in the beautiful village of Menari. The first time I have had a full rest day and we were kept busy doing very little with a sleep in (if you count 3.30am wake up calls from the Big Rooster as a sleep in?), a leisurely breakfast with banana fritters, coffees, a church service for the non “Back-Sliders”, a chance to see the Ragged Bloody Heroes /Ralph Honner Parade Ground and for those who were willing, a small but steep walk down to the river for a tropical swim. The evening was topped off with a visit from the whole village who came and sang for us, a truly memorable experience – unfortunately our version of Waltzing Matilda didn’t cut the mustard and we didn’t make it through to the next round of Menari Idol!
So before we knew it, we’d negotiated the last of the ankle busting and slippery downhills only to be confronted by our last river crossing – fortunately the Goldie River was at an all time knee deep low. Across safely and one final swim, we were only left with one last 35 minute climb up to Ower’s Corner and the famous Kokoda Arches – the finish line.
We all made it safely through managing to complete one of the world’s greatest treks and arguably Australia’s greatest pilgrimage. People visit Gallipoli, but we “did Kokoda” – another 12 Australians who can be justifiably proud of their achievement!