Written by Nicole Barnaba, 2009 'Kokoda Kid'
Day 1 Gold Coast to the Kokoda Track
Today was the day I have been waiting for since May.
We got off the plane in Port Moresby and were hit with a wave of 30 degree heat. The sound of three men playing ukuleles and singing greeted us.
The international airport was tiny, it only had one carousel, four people working at customs and the duty free consisted of bottles of alcohol and cigarettes.
I grabbed my pack (which weighed around 15kg), filled up my water bladder and changed into my trekking shirt – ready to catch the shuttle bus to the start of the track.
On the way we stopped at Bomana war cemetery. It was an amazing site. Row after row of white stone. And towering over the graves was the cross of sacrifice with a memorial behind it. It was hard not to get emotional with almost 4000 war graves. It was upsetting to see that a lot of the stones were marked with ‘A Soldier of the war, known unto God’.
We passed utes that were stacked with people sitting in the back and the natives would run along the road and wave to us. When they smiled their teeth and lips were a brilliant shade of red from chewing on betel nut, a natural hallucinogenic that provides a mild high.
We stopped at a statue and we gave some left over oranges from lunch to three boys. Their faces lit up and they just smiled. It takes a lot for us to smile like they did.
Soon we arrived at the beginning of the track and started walking. It was a steep descent and the dirt was dry and as usual there were plenty of entertaining slips.
After a short walk we set up camp at the Goldie River. The porters served dinner, sausage and mashed potato, but I was wearing my head torch so bugs flew into my food. I was ready for bed. It was a long but exciting day.
Day 2 Owers Corner – Ioribaiwa
Today was tough. We were woken at 5am. Breakfast was cereal and powdered milk and we were assigned porters. The porters are absolute legends. The lead porter, Noel, has walked the track 46 times over a period of three years.
Today would be a nine hour day, but I was excited because it was our first full day of walking.
I walked at my own pace and I didn’t feel pressured to catch up to anyone. The forest is beautiful. Thick, dense green plants with big roots creeping along the floor and an eerie fog, yet it was so peaceful.
We came across foxholes and weapon pits from the war. A stark reminder that men fought and died on this very track.
The heat and humidity was intense, we wore sandals as we crossed 21 creeks. The creeks were a saviour to our hot tired feet.
After a lunch of biscuits, cheese, and canned meat, we began the infamously long steep climb to Ioribaiwa Ridge, our next rest stop. This hill killed me and I wanted to stop but I knew it would be hard to get going again. I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my entire life. I looked like I had been pushed into a pool.
I felt proud when we reached the village at the top. Boy did I crave a can of Coke. Amazingly a local woman was selling just that, and Twisties.
After dinner as a group we sat in a circle and each person spoke about their highlight so far and something that we had seen someone do (or say) that we admired. This was a ritual that we would do every night on the track.
Day 3, Ioribaiwa to New Nauro Village
Today was wet. It started off wet and ended soaking wet. I am beginning to despise the mornings because we have to pull on our wet dirty clothes.
It was Brad’s Birthday and when we arrived at the breakfast table, the porters had made a makeshift sign that read “Happy Birthday” from rolled up toilet paper. It was so nice.
Today, I sat in one of the trenches along the way and thought of how many people might have died in the very spot I was sitting in. Yesterday one of our leaders asked “Imagine walking the track with packs twice the weight of yours, holding weapons and artillery and trying to be silent because one tiny noise could get your head blown off”. I don’t know how they did it.
It took us three hours to get to the top of a steep, muddy climb up to the peak of Maguli range. Fellow Kokoda Kid, Joseph helped me out by pushing my pack when I was struggling and provided some humor, which took my mind off the pain.
We saw a lot of other trekkers on the track, but their porters were carrying their packs. I feel as though I have accomplished just that little bit more because I am carrying my pack not my porter.
Day 4 New Nauro- Menari
The sun helped to wake me up, five hours of trekking lay ahead.
After an hour of downhill trekking we reached a long flat swampy section. I took things easy preparing myself for ‘the wall’.
It’s called the wall for a reason, this section of the track went straight up, almost a vertical climb. The wall was so tiring and it took us more than an hour to reach the top. It was an awesome feeling when we made it. Another hill conquered!
Menari is my favourite village so far. It has a view of the mountain range and a school, which means a lot of kids. We joined the village kids for a game of soccer and took some great photos. We taught them how to play ‘duck duck goose’ and ‘ring a ring a rosie’. After a while three young girls walked over holding machetes. They looked at us and stood still for a while. We asked them to join in and they dropped their knives and ran over to play.
Today was one of the most amazing and memorable days I have ever had.
Day 5 Menari – Efogi 2
I haven’t been sleeping well since I arrived and its beginning to take its toll. The track was mostly uphill, despite this as a group we are becoming closer to each other and working well together.
We continued uphill, had morning tea and then pushed on to Brigade Hill. Brigade Hill is a big clearing of land and it also has amazing views. My fellow Kokoda Kids, Bronte, Georgia and Brooke made a speech and Bronte did a memorial for her friend’s father who served in the war. She was the last to read, and her speech was moving. She began to cry and it made many of us cry as well.
Our leader Shane read a poem, WX Unknown. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the group. I tried to picture myself as a soldier and I honestly don’t know how I would cope.
After a quick lunch break we headed downhill. We walked along an open part of the track and after a steep stretch of downhill we reach Efogi 1. By this time I had no water and I was pretty tired but I was excited to get to the village.
I was very tired so I went to bed. One of the porters gave me a blow up mattress because he knew I wasn’t sleeping well. I was happy! Hopefully, I get a good night’s sleep.
Day 6 Efogi – 1900
We were told that today would be one of the toughest days on the track. I had a good sleep so I was feeling a lot better. We started off with a slippery downhill section and there were a few funny falls. We crossed a creek and the uphill began. I regret packing so much. We had to have a few rest stops and water breaks because the heat was intense. We were in the open instead of under the canopy and no matter how much sunscreen I put on I got burnt.
We arrived at the village for morning tea and met with one of the few surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. He was very old and frail, and wore a coat full of medallions. His famous fuzzy hair was grey and thin. The things that this man would have seen!
Before we began walking the porters said that we would each take turns at carrying a stretcher. The boys had a go and they put their packs on the stretcher. It looked heavy. I had a go and wow, it was heavy. I don’t know how the Fuzzy Wuzzies carried men up hills. Another group took the stretcher and we finally made it to 1900. I sat in a cold creek, it felt amazing.
1900 doesn’t have a lot of locals so it was a quiet night. The porters sung for us again – this had become one of my favourite things. Because it was cold and there wasn’t much to do we all went to bed. Tomorrow will be long but not as hard as the past few days. I’m trying to soak up as much of this experience as I can.
Day 7, 1900 to Eora Creek
I had a great sleep and I was feeling pretty good. I knew that we were getting closer and closer to Kokoda and that the hardest days were over but this didn’t mean the rest of the track would be easy.
Our group is awesome and we are working together so well. We stopped for morning tea before heading for Templeton’s 2. After morning tea we had another 45 minute climb and then it would be a lot of downhill. I was in the tail with all the girls and we were having a great chat. The porters were collecting plants and flowers and sticking them to our packs. We reached Templeton’s 2 and had lunch.
We came across a lot of trekking groups today and most of them let their porters carry their packs. The girls were leading the group now and we powered up the hill! We had a short rest at the top of the hill and then began our downhill descent.
Then I saw the creek and I got changed straight away. It was so nice – crystal clear deep water and a waterfall that we all swam under. I washed my clothes and dove straight back in. Soon people started leaving but I really wanted to stay.
Dinner came shortly after and it was rice with a meaty sauce. I wasn’t very hungry and I didn’t eat much of it. After dinner I sat and talked with some of the boys and then I played Uno. I really enjoyed today and I am looking forward to getting home but I am going to miss this so much.
Day 8 Eora Creek to Isurava
People keep saying that ‘today will be an easy day’ but there is no such thing as an easy day on the Kokoda track. Nothing about Kokoda is easy. Today’s walk undulated up and down for most of the way and it was a shorter walk but not without some tough sections. I am itching to get to Kokoda, we are so close and I am already missing PNG. I love the group of people I walk with, they are all amazing and the girls are awesome!
Before lunch we stopped at Surgeon’s Rock. It was a flat, diamond shaped rock that was used to perform surgeries and amputations on soldiers. A lot of men would have died on that rock and a lot of blood would have been shed. I left a pretty flower there that I had found earlier.
The climb to Alola Village was steep but we all made it. I ate an amazing passion fruit, so sweet and juicy, completely different to the ones back home.
We walked down to the famous Isurava memorial site – it was beautiful. The four stones were amazing. I read out a speech about Bruce Kingsbury at the rock where he is thought to have been killed by a Japanese sniper after courageously running at the enemy with a Bren gun. We made our way back up to the memorial, said the ode and sang the National Anthem.
Tonight when we sat in our circle, Kokoda Kid Georgia gave an impromptu and emotional speech about her time in the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program and on the track. It was written so beautifully I began to cry. I love Georgia, she always makes me smile.
Tomorrow we will be walking into Kokoda. I looked at the map and I can’t believe I have walked this far, up all those hills. It feels like weeks ago that we started this journey.
Day 9, Isurava to KOKODA!
At five in the morning I looked out of my tent at the stars. I had never seen so many stars. I got changed into my wet trekking clothes for the last time.
We headed for Deniki our stop for morning tea. It took us around three hours and in that time there were some spectacular falls. When we arrived I could see the Kokoda airstrip, we were so close.
As I was walking my porter passed me a walking pole. It had my name on it and he had carved a snake and Kokoda Spirit along the sides. I was so excited, it made my day.
The village of Hoi located 2-3 hours from Kokoda, marked our final stop. It was green, sunny and as always the locals were friendly. They offered us fruit and little pancakes for lunch. I wasn’t really thinking about food though, it was hot and there was a creek I needed to jump in. Soon everyone started to get out and put their shoes on, it was time to move on.
The girls were leading and as we got closer to Kokoda, we started walking faster and faster. I eventually ended up at the back of the group. It felt like the longest walk ever. The narrow track turned into a dirt road so we could spread out and chat. The heat was intense and I felt like I was cooking. In the distance we could see an orange shirt. It was Kokoda Chairman Doug waiting for us. We made it.
I can’t believe I have finished. After days of seemingly endless walking we have completed the Kokoda Track. We were welcomed by the locals in an amazing fashion, dressed up in bright coloured traditional clothing, singing and dancing.
Over the past ten days I have had a glimpse of what these brave men endured and I can only try to imagine what life may have been like. I will never forget my journey across the Owen Stanley Range and my time in the company of the amazing people and villages. It has been one of the biggest challenges of my life and I walk away with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I have become a stronger, more confident person and I am so grateful to the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program for giving me this life changing opportunity.
That night in Kokoda village, I fell asleep to the sound of singing and snoring for the last time.