The Diary of a Kokoda Trekker

by Prue Barker

Don’t walk on the tree roots,        they said!

Prue decided to accept the challenge—personally and physically—and take on the Kokoda Track. Prue kept a diary on her trekking days and is proud to cross the finish line with Team 6 in 2017.

Day 1: Thurs 20 April 2017

 Left Lamana @ 15:30
Arr Owers’ Corner @ 16:50 (dept 35 mins later)
Arr Goldie River @19:00

Great start to our trek. It was raining when we left POM and all the way to Alolo, but no rain for the actual walk. Fortunate, since it was so muddy anyway! My porter, Chris, saved my ass – or at least my clothes – many times. I think tomorrow I’ll start counting. I saved him from falling twice. Everyone is in good spirits. We also trekked for an hour IN THE DARK down a steep, muddy incline. Bed at 21:45.

TIP: for the drive from POM to Owers’, sit on the driver’s side of the bus – that road is terrifying!

Day 2: Fri 21 April 2017

Left Goldie River camp @ 06:30
Arr Ioribaiwa camp @ 16:55

Crossing one of the many rivers

This morning was all downhill again. We started the day in our ‘wet shoes’ to cross the Goldie, then changed into muddy boots for another day of muddy trekking. About 40  mins before lunch we were back in our wet shoes to cross the river again – about a dozen times! Between river crossings was slick, steep clay. It was a bit harrowing, and Chris kept me from falling five times today. The actual river crossings were great! The water never got above knee high (on me), and it was cold and clear and wonderful.  We went for a swim in Va’ule Creek before lunch. The water was freezing, but very welcome. The hill after lunch was  challenging; I was glad of the training I’d done because I felt strong and didn’t actually find it difficult. I’m trying not to say that in camp, however, as many people really struggled. Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner!  In bed early @ 20:45 to be up @ 04:30. Prue: 0 / Chris: 5

TIP: If you’re hiring a porter, don’t bring two poles. You need a hand free to allow your porter to save your life.

Day 3: Sat 22 April 2017

Left camp @06:10
Arrive Nauro @ 15:10

Today was a lot of climbing. We set off up the Maguli Range, reaching the peak at 12:20. It started raining heavily at 14:30. The rest of the walk was pretty miserable. I was pretty done this afternoon. I’m not finding it physically difficult, but the rain and mud (and slow going) had me pretty grumpy. Into bed @21:00 with the boys singing in the shelter – a nice end to the day.

Day 4: Sun 23 April 2017

Left Nauro @06:30
Arr Menari Camp @ 15:45

So much mud

Swamp! We trekked through deep mud for an hour before getting to ‘the swamp’ which consisted of even deeper mud, with the added bonus of deep water. Once you make peace with the fact that you are going to have mud and water in your boots, each day is a breeze – a hilarious exercise in acrobatics. The swamp in all its glory was just the warm up for the second challenge of the day – the wall … an hour of steep climbing consisting of tree roots and slick clay. I loved it, seriously.

At the top you get an amazing view of Nauro Village (where you camped last night) which lets you see just how far you’ve come – seriously rewarding. Then downhill to camp at Menari Village – definitely the nicest place we’ve stayed so far. The villagers had set up markets with fresh fruit. We had a lovely dinner including a curry.

I’ve really enjoyed today. I used my sunburn to dry my socks in bed tonight. I put them between my shoulders and shirt … needs must!

TIP: If you get the chance, train with ankle weights before coming to Kokoda in the wet season. The amount of mud you collect on your boots is quite incredible and heavy.

 Day 5: Mon 24 April 2017

Left camp @ 06:30
Arr Brigade Hill @10:19 (only a half day today!)

Laundry day at Brigade Hill

Practically a rest day. When we left camp, we had a gentle but still slippery and muddy downhill trek to a creek crossing; after which was a decent, slippery and muddy uphill trek to Brigade Hill. It was great to get into camp early. As we came upon the village, from the bushes the young men and boys from the area jumped out, brandishing spears and shouting war cries scared the breath from most of us – it was brilliant! A choir made up of older women down to small children greeted us under a welcome banner they had made, and everything was decorated with flowers. They were lovely and I cried while they sang for us. The choir leader read a carefully-prepared speech for us … it was an amazing welcome.

The sun was shining and there’s a great shower so we all got to clean ourselves and our clothes, and even better, got them dry. To bed early and ready to be up for dawn service in the morning.

TIP: bring spray deodorant even if you don’t normally use it. Your day pack and porter pack get very sweaty during the day and then they spend each night closed up in your tent with you. Spraying both packs will make your nights a whole lot fresher!

Day 6: Tues 25 April 2017 – ANZAC Day

Dawn service @ 05:45
Left camp @ 07:25
Arr Naduri @ 13:50

Dawn service

Dawn service was beautiful. The memorial at Brigade Hill faces east; I watched, teary-eyed, the Australian flag flying with a perfect sunrise as its backdrop. The crews sang the PNG national anthem, sounding beautiful. The trekkers sang the Aus anthem, sounding amateur at best, but our hearts were in it. Chris made me a small garland to lay on the memorial for Poppy, which I did, while crying a little more.

I can’t explain why the service is so moving: the place, the history, the experience we’ve gained in walking in the footsteps of the men who fought and died here. It’s definitely memory I will treasure.

A less treasured memory was the walk downhill to Efogi, and on to Launumu Village – very stressful with the combination of steep, slippery downhill passes and the risk of falling down a steep ravine off a one foot wide path! I was very happy when we reached the bottom.

I loved every minute of the walk up to Naduri. In camp, a packet of Twisties, coins and a 2-up paddle were produced and we sat on the grass in a tiny village in PNG and played 2-up for Twisties (pictured right) while the clouds rolled in on ANZAC Day. Perfect.

 TIP: before buying souvenirs on the Track, find out which village your porter is from; you will want to support their village if you can.

Day 7: Wed 26 April 2017

Left camp @ 06:50
Arr Templeton’s Crossing @ 15:50

I think the hardest parts of the trek are over now. Today was easier with lots of up and down hill, some quite steep, but still easier than previous days. It helps that this half of the track has had almost no rain for at least a week. I had my first stack today, but apparently it doesn’t count because it wasn’t in the mud! It was on the first nice dry grass we’ve seen and it was sheer laziness that made me not lift my foot properly. I felt a bit precious not having had a proper stack; Chris went down twice today, but I kept my ground and kept him from falling too badly! Still wouldn’t be without him though! In to bed @20:30, we’re pushing through to camp at Isurava tomorrow night … might be a big day.

Day 8: Thur 27 April 2017

Left camp @ 06:17
Arr Isurava @ 15:30

Alone at Isurava

If I’m honest, I found the trek today quite stressful. The sections that were downhill or flat were also right on the edge of drop-offs that looked as though you would plummet to your death if you slipped off the rack. Other than the parts where I was frightened, I found the going pretty easy. We visited a munitions cache and I got to hold a mortar and a hand-grenade. Then we visited the site of one of the Japanese mountain guns which faced directly at the camp at Eora Creek, where we had just been! Quite surreal.

Originally we were going to camp the night in Alola but pushed through to Isurava for the night. I’m glad; I had the chance to go down to the memorial and spend some time there alone. I sat looking down the Kokoda Valley with no sounds but the crickets, a waterfall and the distant thunder. The thunder could be mistaken for some kind of battle noise and I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a soldier out here, alone, listening for any other sound that might mean your death, wondering if you’d even hear it coming. This place takes you like that sometimes.

Tomorrow is our last trekking day. I’m looking forward to being finished, but I’m also a little bit sad we don’t have just a few more days. Then again, I still have to get through tomorrow unscathed yet. It’s all bloody downhill!

 

Day 9: Friday 28 April 2017 – last day

Left camp @ 06:40
Arr Kokoda camp @ 15:30

This morning we spent some time at the Isurava memorial before we set out. It’s a really beautiful spot in the morning. We sang Danny Boy – sort of, there were a lot of tears. Jim told us some more of the history of the place, then we set off four our last day of trekking. Downhill, again.

The walk from Isurava Village to Deniki was a bit scary in parts, and there were a few dodgy areas between Deniki and Hoi (where we stopped for lunch) but I got through knowing that once we got to Hoi we didn’t have to go downhill anymore. It took about 90 minutes to walk from Hoi to Kokoda… that stretch is all flat and everyone was in great spirits since we were on the home straight.

Team 6 together, crosses the finish line

We stopped short of the arches and waited so that we all crossed the finish line at the same time. It was a great feeling. At camp tonight, we didn’t get to spend the evening with our crew as we normally would – the rain was coming so fast and there wasn’t enough space for all teams to sit in shelter.

So now, I’m in bed, having laid my poncho under my sleeping bag because the rain (flooding) is coming up through the floor of the tent. I think it’s going to be a long night. But I guess it wouldn’t be Kokoda without rain and mud.

Reflection:

In the weeks leading up to this trek I wasn’t looking forward to it. I had convinced myself that trekking the Kokoda Track was going to be brutal and I wouldn’t be strong enough to make it.

Indeed, parts of it were brutal. And scary. Not forgetting muddy and just plain rough… it was also amazing and rewarding and absolutely worth all the effort and anxiety from before. Most of the time it was even fun!

Don’t think it’s too hard and you wouldn’t be able to do it. Take the chance – you might surprise yourself too.

Find out how you can fulfil your own quest – our Kokoda Track 2017 and 2018 dates and costs online now.