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Despite three months of intensive training, standing at the bottom of the trail winding up Imita Ridge, doubts surfaced as to whether my legs were going to carry me across the Owen Stanley Range to Kokoda.
The hours of climbing stairs and trails throughout the Adelaide Hills had prepared me physically, but the majority of my training had been done in the cool and dry weather – now there were the extra challenges of rain, mud and humidity.
Everyone has different reasons for wanting to walk Kokoda. For some it’s the historical aspect, for others, to honour family who fought in the campaign. For me, it started out as a personal challenge, however as the days went on and I learnt more about the horrendous conditions that the Australian and Japanese fought in, I found myself thinking more about them and less about the aches and pains I was feeling.
It is only when I experienced it first-hand that I gained an appreciation as to the sacrifices these young people made for their country and the selfless contribution of the New Guinean people. I found Isurava, a place of particular historical significance in World War Two, particularly moving, not only for the beauty of the location, but also the courage of the people who fought there.
Kokoda is challenging, with many steep climbs and descents, but anyone can do it. I had wrinkled feet and blisters from boots which were constantly wet, sore knees, bumps and bruises from falling, rotten clothes from nine days of constant wear, bee stings and even a dodgy tummy. But at the end of each day, I changed into a dry set of night clothes, ate a hot meal, and slept comfortably in a tent or guesthouse. And the next morning, I loved waking up to the mist rising over the mountains and the sights and sounds of village life.
After nine days of trekking, I walked into Kokoda Village having had one of the greatest experiences of my life. By finishing, I knew the preparation had been worthwhile. What I hadn’t prepared for was the raw beauty of Papua New Guinea, and the wonderful nature of its people. I was continually in awe of the spectacular mountains, the colours of the villages, and the wonderful smiles of people who have so few of the comforts we take for granted. My everlasting memory will always be of arriving into Efogi in a tropical downpour, watching the local kids running through knee-deep water, laughing and waving without a care in the world.
I will always remember the company of our guide and porters, and how they looked after us every minute of every day. The Kokoda Trekking boys carried the majority of our gear, in running shoes, and in some cases no shoes, without once complaining. They set our tents up at night, cooked our dinner and sang until we drifted off to sleep.
Kokoda for me was a wonderful and life-changing journey. I will go back again, not only to walk the Track in the other direction, but also to experience more of what Papua New Guinea has to offer.