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Walking The Kokoda Track
Dianne Davie

 Club Treasurer, Dianne Davie, seeking something different in an adventure holiday, recently undertook the arduous walk along the famous Kokoda Track in New Guinea, the scene of  many decisive battles during WW2. Nine months of training, walking, climbing mountains, running over sand dunes and gym work helped but it was barely enough for the  experience ahead of her. This is her story of the walk.  

A pleasant 29 degree day greeted me when I arrived in Port Moresby on Saturday, 23 July 2005 along with 13 other Australians to walk the Kokoda Track. We caught the shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Hotel, which was secured with locked gates and guards patrolling with dogs. This turned out to be a typical scene wherever you went in the New Guinea towns and it was quite nerve racking to start with.  

A bus collected us the next morning to take us to Owers Comer where our trek was to begin. On the way there we stopped at Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby. The Australian Government maintains the cemetery and the gardens and graves are immaculate, which is such a stark contrast to other parts of New Guinea. The cemetery was such a sad experience. As soon as you stepped out of the bus the emotion just overtook you, everyone was in tears (men included). So many graves marked "Unknown Soldier" and the average ages were 18 to 23! !  

We arrived at Owers Comer where we had lunch and met our porters. (The personal porters carried our 20kg packs, as well as a tent and their own few belongings. The pot boys carried 30kg packs with big pots tied to them as well. Most of them walked the 96 kms in bare feet). Then we set off. Within the first half hour we had our boots off andwere thigh deep (or in my case - waist deep) in water crossing the Goldie River. Not long after that it was the remains of the infamous Golden Staircase and over Imita Ridge. No matter how much training I did and how many times I climbed Mt. St. Leonard in Healesville, it would never prepare you for this. At this point I was questioning my sanity and wondering if I could turn back there and then. At this point I also fell in love - with a stick. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought a piece of wood could play such an important part in my life - but it, along with my porter, Luke, were key factors in helping me walk the Track.  

Our first night on the track was spent at Ua Ule village in a thatched hut - experiencing our first night of not much sleep and the unique toilet facilities that would be available along the way. The first day also gave us an insight to our meals - we each carried our own food packs. The snack foods were great - never eaten so many Kit Kats in my life, 2 minute noodles every lunch time and dehydrated meal with rice for dinner - I must admit though, they tasted pretty good at times, considering the conditions under which they were cooked.  

The second day, Monday, saw us wind along lonbaiwa Ridge, the most southern point reached by the Japanese forces. After experiencing the nine false peaks of the Maguli Range we reached Naoro River where we stayed the night in another thatched hut.

 On Tuesday, 26th July we crossed the Naoro River on log bridges - this was the start of what I can only think of as hundreds of log bridges. I use the word "bridges" loosely - a few logs lashed together with vine, some had vine as a handrail, but most didn't. My very first crossing had my stomach in knots and I don't know how I got my legs to move. Fortunately, Luke was fantastic and by the end of the track the log crossings didn't bring me out in a cold sweat.  

We stayed in tents at Menari village. The walk was bad enough but then the trek down the side of a mountain to the river for a wash was almost too hard to imagine. Pity the poor villagers (the women) who had to carry their water in pots on top of their heads. It was extremely hard to just walk along looking at the stunning scenery, most of the time was spent watching every step you took. Thankfully tree roots provided footholds.  

Wednesday dawned and we ascended through rainforest to Brigade Hill. There is a memorial here and graves marked with sticks in the ground - another extremely moving place where intense fighting had occurred. We had a steep descent to Efogi Village for the night. We had made it half way.  

We watched a local football match, of some strange origin, played on a huge bit of ground that was as black as the ace of spades. Most of the villages had this type of black soil that looked as if it had oil poured over it. This was all around the villages and under their houses, but surrounding the village was the lushest buffalo type grass you have ever seen, neatly manicured and edged, all done with machete. Everyone carries a machete or large knife, even the little kids play with knives. 

Thursday was a relatively short walking day. We arrived at Naduri Village and when we got there most of the villagers were up at the airstrip waiting for the plane. We sat up there with the locals for several hours, but no plane that day. Later on that day we met Ovoru Indiki, one of the last "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels". He turned 100 in August this year. He recalled several stories about the war and it was interesting listening. That night the local women prepared food for us - vegetables!  For some reason they must have thought we loved our 2 minute noodles and they were incorporated in all the dishes. There was also a sing-sing around the fire with the children and another tour group walking in the opposite direction.  

The next day we headed towards Mt Bellamy, the highest point on the track 2190m. Walking on the side of a mountain with a sheer drop was no fun.. A lot of the time I clung to the tree roots sticking out from the side and slowly inched my way along. We reached Templeton's 2, which was a depot for supplies for the Australian units until the Japanese advanced and they had to retreat to Brigade Hill.  

That night some of us went and sat with the porters. They are all in a choir and were sitting around the fire singing (a lot of the songs they sang were hymns I remember from Sunday School all those years ago) - it was just the most beautiful night. This was the coldest night of the walk and everyone took full advantage of the thermals we were advised to bring. Our poor porters gathered around all the fires for the night, most of them only had the clothes they had on and no sleeping bags.

The next day, Saturday, and it was more walking, climbing and MUD. At least the mud stopped me from slipping on the sticks and rocks. It was ankle deep, but sticky so you had no chance of slipping. In the end I found it easier to just walk through most of the small creeks. This was better than trying to balance on the rocks and it also washed off the mud so that more mud could stick.  

We had a bit of rain during the third and second last night but none during the day. I think I lay awake both nights worrying. I was petrified of trying to walk in the rain, it was just so steep. Give me hills to walk up any day, but going downhill was a nightmare and the thought of rain made me feel sick.  

The seventh night got us to Alolo Village. Another tour group, again going in the other direction also stayed the night there so a volleyball match was played between porters and villagers and tourists.  

On Sunday morning we could look down to Yodda Valley and see the first glimpse of Kokoda, but there was still a long day ahead. We walked through thick rainforest then out onto a large cleared ledge where the Isurava Memorial has been erected. It is a central plaque with four sentinel stones engraved with the words "Courage", "Endurance", "Sacrifice" and "Mateship". There are plaques dedicated to the soldiers and to Private Bruce Kingsbury VC. It was such a sad and solemn place, but all of us felt such pride for the Australian soldiers.  

After this stop we walked to Hoi village for our last night on the track. What a beautiful village. Lush green grass everywhere and running streams. It was more like a tropical resort. The next morning, Monday, 1st August,  the walk into Kokoda was flat and very easy - we all felt it was a bit boring compared to what we were used to. Kokoda finally! We had a look around the museum, which was really well done, then off down to the grass airstrip to wait for the plane back to Port Moresby.  

After Kokoda a few of us went to Madang for some R & R. This was the best way to have finished off the trip - the water was so clear, we went snorkelling (I found Nemo!) and out in outrigger canoes. Great!  

You cannot describe the conditions, the steepness, the mud, the tiredness or the fun we shared. I was lucky to have shared this experience with 13 other people who had all brought along their sense of humour and made the walk so much easier to do.