I meet the group for the first of this years Kokoda Treks in early February. A warm morning in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges is the start of a journey that will take 6 months to complete. After friendly handshakes and introductions we start our first ascent.
These training walks that I host are an essential, and enjoyable part of preparing to walk through the formidable Owen Stanley Range of Papua New Guinea, from one side to the other.
The closer we get to the trek, the length and intensity of the training increases, as does the fitness and morale of the group. By the middle of July when we meet for the last session, the improvement in everyone’s well being is visible, friendships made,and I leave them to head for PNG confident in their ability to complete one of the most arduous walking treks in the world. Everyone is ready to go.
Upon leaving Jackson’s airport in Port Moresby,we can all feel the change in conditions. Heat and humidity are mixed with the smells and sounds of a vibrant country. Arms wave and faces smile as we drive past, and the warmth of the people already outweighs the temperature. After a brief tour of the city, the real journey begins.
Entering the Bomana War Cemetery the headstones of hundreds of Australian, Papuan and Allied forces from WWII appear, surrounded by pristine lawns and foliage. The experience is emotional, confronting, extremely humbling and a big part of the reason we are here. The Kokoda Track is about far more than the challenge of walking it. It has a life of it’s own. History and culture, mountains and rainforest, and some of the friendliest and generous people on the planet.
Our first night is spent at the Sogeri Lodge which is located up on the Sogeri Plateau some 40 km north of Port Moresby. Here we prepare for setting off to begin the trek the next morning, and meet the modern day Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who will accompany, and support us for the entire trek.
A 45 minute drive brings us to Owers Corner, and the start of the trek. In the early morning light, the mist rising from the valley floor below can still hide the ranges beyond, and as it burns off, the task ahead comes into view. Lines of steep jungle clad ridges appear and the Track disappears through the Kunai grass as the first descent begins. Slipping and sliding, trying to maintain control can be a tough introduction to what lies ahead, but with the care of a local and concentration, we melt into the jungle and experience the magic of the track for the first time.
Early in the afternoon we have climbed our first ridge, and stand in the saddle of Imita Ridge, where in 1942 the Diggers were ordered to withdraw no further, and fight to the last if necessary.
It is here I believe the gravity of the situation, and the task the Diggers had before them comes into the conciousness of all of us who are there. l am asked for the first time how did the wounded get to safety. Papuan Carriers with immeasurable care, compassion and strength did the job, immortalised by their actions, and the wonderful poem, The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels by Sapper Bert Berros.
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