Day 1 is quite the journey, for starters I’ve just clicked over into a new decade and so ready to take on the huge mental, physical and later I learnt emotional challenge that is the Kokoda Track (or Trail), the day starts off full of hope and a 3am pack and passport drop off in reception - whoever invented that time is crazy!
The morning is then full of getting ready, coffee, breakfast, coffee and back off to the airport to find the Air Niugini plane that will take us on a quick 30 minute flight across the Owen Stanley Range from Port Moresby to Popondetta. Sitting up there and looking down, I know I was in awe at the ranges below, not to mention the clouds that covered them and it was hard to believe that in 7-8 hours we would be ready to head off into them, unaware of what was ahead but aware that it was going to be a journey.
Seeing the palm trees and their beautiful patterns below coming out of the jungle and then as we were descending getting more of an idea of the landscape, villages and well my excitement was increasing - this was really real! This goal and dream I had set back in November 2016 was finally here, all the hard work was about to be put to the test. Little did I know there was still a 6 hour truck ride to Kokoda… that wasn’t in the ‘guide book’.
Now that we are all loaded up, we head to do some ‘chores’ in Popondetta before heading up and this was my first glimpse at life in Papua New Guinea, seeing the houses as we went past, the children all calling out to us as they must have been walking to school, and then what struck me was all the bars on the shop windows/doors, the security, the compounds, it seemed that safety and security needed to be high in this area. We stopped at the supermarket, which wasn’t yet open and that prompted the team to take us to the Popondetta Memorial, which was a beautifully kept memorial to the war and those who served.
Then by around 9am we were on our way. Our drive up to Kokoda was full of surprises, first up a spider dropped on Brooke and it was a big one, but Dave to the rescue! Then it felt like every child we past yelled out to us, either saying hi or morning or I wasn’t sure. We saw a lot of Palm plantations, villages, women washing clothes in the river, children off to school or bathing and then at around 12pm we were stuck.. Stuck behind the truck that was sent to fix the pothole so trucks didn’t get stuck… Thankfully another truck who had just dropped trekkers in Kokoda was coming the other way and we piled on and headed the last 5km to Kokoda.
Now that we were in Kokoda it was time for our first trek lunch, noodles, tuna, vita-wheat and Vegemite, not forgetting the coffee! This was a welcome distraction from the heat and humidity and also looking over at our crew who we hadn’t met yet, but it felt a little like ‘them vs us’ and who would break the divide. However, we didn’t break the divide until we were back from a walk to the museum and memorial site, it was truly surreal to be standing here and to think of those who had walked before us in so many ways.
Alright, now it’s time to ‘join up’, Damien called us all over to meet the team and it was here we were introduced to our Head Man - Max, Team Boss - Vince and Head Chef - Duffy, these guys would keep us all safe and fed for the next 9 days and we couldn’t have done it without them! Now, it seemed I was the first to register as I was called first and introduced to Simeon, who would be my #1 man for the next 9 days and little did I know at that stage just how strong, nimble, humble, lovely, quiet, yet chatty, this young man was, I seriously wouldn’t have gotten through without having him by my side.
Over the course of the trek I learnt that Simeon was the second youngest of 8 and had left school in Port Moresby to go back to Efogi and look after his parents, he then met Jenny and they had only been married a month when our trek started (hence he was keen to run back from Naduri to Efogi on our day off, or the Sabbath).
Now, it was time to start… This is where we learnt the team have an awesome chant to kick off each day and then we walk, 200m from lunch to the Kokoda Track/Trail arches where we had our first ‘photoshoot’ and then we were off again. According to the map, today was an 8.4km day and we should do this in 1 hour 50, the time was spot on but my iPhone is saying 18.4km… I think I know what one is ‘slightly’ wrong.
It was a nice gentle and hot walk to Hoi where we setup camp, ok who am I kidding the team setup camp for us and we had to unpack our gear, setup sleeping and then popped to the river for a cool down. This was post buying a pineapple and coke from the ladies of Hoi who were selling them on the way in, and this is common in every village along the track.
I couldn’t have wished for a better way to enter my 5th decade (how scary is that I’m now 40!), to be experiencing a new culture, new people, a new environment and being pushed well outside my comfort zone, it all added up to the best birthday ever. Little did I know that our stop in Popondetta was to get me not one but two birthday cakes, and after the team sang me Happy Birthday the children of Hoi came, now they were coming to sing to fundraise but they started off by throwing flowers at me and putting them around my cake, then singing Happy Birthday PNG style (so much better!) and then they sang us some songs with these beautiful voices, from age 3 up all harmonising, no instruments and just a ‘1, 2, Sing’ and then they were away.
So this was my first lot of tears… The church service at Naduri still holds the record for amount of crying I did on the track.
As we headed off to our tents, it was time to reflect, journal and mentally prepare for the next day, now Damien seemed to put the fear of God into us at just how hard Day 2 would be and I think a few of us went to sleep concerned and with those niggly doubts creeping in - aka what the heck are we doing!
Day 2 is Hoi to Alola Village, 13km in 8 hours - aka this was going to be a long uphill! We made the decision to stay at Isurava, and so glad we did it was such a special location but more on that tomorrow…
Day 1 - Kokoda to Hoi
Approx 10km and 2 hours trekking