Hiking the Kokoda Trail is hard. Actually, I take that back- hiking the Kokoda Trail is bloody hard. In June, I returned from hiking this 96 km track with six of my work colleagues, fast-tracked over six days.
I have done a lot of hiking over the years, but this trail is one of the most difficult I have ever tackled. It’s relentless: you’re on precarious terrain and when you’re not climbing for hours up a steep ascent in 100% humidity, you are trying to navigate the tree roots, mud, sharp descents and slippery river crossings, sometimes with only the light of your head torch guiding the way. You’re also faced with the remnants of a war that took the lives of thousands of men, and with lingering death in the air, the physical struggle, the sheer length of the trail and immense fatigue, you’re also faced with your true self, and everything that comes with that.
The goods news is the Kokoda Trail is absolutely achievable. And while it’s possible to do it on your own, the beauty of my experience really lay in doing it with people I work with, my porter Mac, and the rest of the team at Kokoda Spirit who were with us along the way.
For those of you who don’t know, here is a very brief history lesson. The Kokoda Track became know for a campaign that occurred between July to December 1942, in the Pacific War of World War II. Back then, Papua New Guinea was part of the Australian Territory of Papua and Japanese forces were advancing from north to south, towards Port Moresby (the capital of PNG) to attack mainland Australia, and isolate it from the United States. Australia could have been very different if the Japanese had succeeded. A pivotal part of the ultimate success of Australia in the campaign were the help of the PNG locals, fondly called the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy angels’ who helped many wounded soldiers. The Kokoda Trail is dotted with villages along the way who were deeply affected by the war and you walk through these along the way.
Our trek traced this path commencing from Kokoda, when we took a small charter flight from Port Moresby and landed on the grassy airstrip. We were greeted by our porters, as well as some local villagers.
With a walk of only a couple of hours to Deniki, where we would camp the first night, we were introduced to the PNG highlands with rain in the first 15 minutes, an uphill slog (little did we know that it was barely the start of what we would need to endure) and an insight to what some of the soldiers endured.
If I reflect back, I was naïve in my understanding of Kokoda. Towards the end of 2017, two guys at work and I said, on a whim, “let’s do the Kokoda Trail” for our community day at work (a Community Day at is an opportunity to volunteer or give back to the community). We decided to raise money for the Black Dog Institute, an Australian mental health charity, and over the six months in the lead up, we were joined by four others and ultimately raised almost $27,000 for the cause.
A mental health charity is very fitting for Kokoda. One thing that you notice when doing Kokoda is how important mental resilience is in anything in life. To walk twelve hours on most days, to concentrate with great intensity as you are trying not to slip down a rocky descent and to withstand the heat and humidity in your sweat drenched clothing is tough. Ironically, I had thought about carrying my pack to do the trail, but especially given the shorter time to complete it, I am so glad that I didn’t.
My porter Mac, was simply fantastic. He would whip out a stool for me when we came to a rest spot, he would dry my clothes overnight and deliver them to my tent in the morning, he would stop me from falling (many, many times), he would sing songs to distract me from the pain, and he even removed a massive spider from my tent.
The rest of the group would have equally similar stories about their own porters, who were in fact our own Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, helping us along the way.
And aside from our porters, we helped each other. There is always a risk of tensions and fighting when you travel with people, but we rocked it! No one was immune to the emotion that Kokoda brings, whether it was physical, mental or emotional but I feel proud that we supported each other through our highs and our lows.
During the Kokoda Trail you reach the Isurava Memorial, a site for some desperate battles during the war. There lie four pillars that say the words: Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice. I wouldn’t have thought this before I began, but these words completely resonate with my experience on the trail. I would recommend this to anyone.