This is a late post trek blog, 8 months late to be exact, however back then I didn’t have a blog, I hadn’t run an ultramarathon and I didn’t even know the concept of the seven summits. Completing Kokoda was the catalyst that led to the biggest change and personal growth in my life, I knew something in me changed when I returned to Melbourne. I couldn’t put a finger on it but somehow I knew something had changed, however I didn’t know that change would be as significant as it was. After a couple weeks I knew I had to chase and find challenges that would push me as much as Kokoda, then came the concept of the seven summits, climbing to the top of the highest mountains in each of the seven continents. This led to Mount Elbrus and Mount Kilimanjaro. After successfully summiting both of these mountains I needed more challenges that were less expensive and closer to home, this is where ultramarathons came in. From there the rest is history. My perspective on life completely changed, the challenges taught me to appreciate the journey of life and not just the destination, they taught me that limits had been restricting me from achieving my real potential, that I was so much more capable than I once thought and that I need to spread this message, so others can have the chance to feel the freedom of having no imaginary limits limiting them to what’s possible. That’s why I feel it’s important I write a post Kokoda trek blog, it changed the direction of my life, it gave me a glimpse of the potential beauty of life, it helped me get closer to overcoming my depression and anxiety that had been haunting me for years. I need to write this to share my experience and hopefully encourage others to take on the challenge themselves so they can also reap the rewards.
It was the first time I traveled internationally by myself, it was the first time I left Victoria by myself, it was the first time I traveled on a plane by myself. I was a nervous kid who was too proud to be homesick and too proud to miss family. I was 20 and a male, I don’t get scared from travelling by myself. I’m not a pu**y, I’m not crying, this is what I told myself as I fought back the tears as I said goodbye to my family and hopped on a plane to trek the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Being me I had to choose the hardest way I could find to trek the trail which you could argue was already one of the hardest treks in the world. Why did I want to choose the hardest way? Because f**k average, well that’s what the idiotic, arrogant and naive 20 year old me told myself. People usually trek the 96 km trail over 7-9 days and most hire porters to carry their gear however I decided I’d choose the 5 day option and carry all of my own stuff. I should also add I had no real hiking experience although I was fit from triathlons and weight training. I can say all this now in hindsight but I do admit I’m pretty proud I finished the trail in these circumstances, it suits my stubborn, determined personality. Enough background lets get to the trail.
After a nice night and an all you can eat dinner and breakfast buffet at the hotel at Port Moresby (the capital of Papua New Guinea), I was picked up by my two guides and a driver. All three were locals, hard to understand but super nice. Although I didn’t know them I could tell they were good people and I can say after finishing the trek I can confirm this tenfold. Before heading to the trail we stopped at the “shops” which was really just a market, here we picked up some matches and more food. From there we stopped at the Australian War Memorial to pay our respects to the Australian soldiers who served and sacrificed their lives, they are the reason the trail is so significant to Australians. A bit of background info, during World War II these soldiers fought alongside the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who were a group of Papua New Guinean locals who were recruited by the Australians to be war carriers and bring supplies to The Australian soldiers during the Kokoda Campaign. They also carried injured Australian troops to safety along the Kokoda Trail during the campaign. With the help of the Fuzzy Fuzzy Angels The Australian troops blocked the Japanese, helping to prevent them from invading Australia. It was a successful and significant campaign. The campaign also created an everlasting, respectful comradeship between Australians and Papua New Guineans. Ok enough history for now, after the war memorial we head off to the trail. I can say at this point I was both nervous, excited and raring to go. It was a hot and humid day, around 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit with 95-100% humidity.
Finally we set off, I knew from the get go this wasn’t going to be easy. The trail was steep, awkward and slippery, I was unexperienced with hiking and had a 22 kg pack on and it was hot and humid. All this though was quickly taken from my mind as I marvelled at the lush, green, rainforest environment. It was beautiful as we crossed creeks and passed smiling locals as they went about their day to day lives. Everyone was so friendly and relaxed and my two guides, David Gumbode & Willie Gaboe who are locals themselves made me feel so relaxed and at ease. I was instantly transported and forced to stay in the moment as I struggled and admired the trail. After a good 3-4 hours of solid hiking through creeks and trails we stopped for lunch at one of the campsites. David & Willie were amazing soon as we stopped they went right into action and started a fire to cook lunch, they wouldn’t let me help, I wasn’t allowed to set up the table and they wouldn’t even eat until I had finished. Once we finished lunch which consisted of two minute noodles, tuna and crackers we head off back on the trail.
More steep up and downs along with more slippery creek crossings the trail was consistently difficult. However there was something fun about physically exerting yourself whilst surrounded by the beautiful rainforest. Before I go any further I want to add that the whole experience has blended together and I can’t remember which specific part of the trail happened on what day. As I said above the track in consistently difficult, by that I mean it’s consistently steep slippery ups and downs with some creek and river crossings, swamp passings and campsite passings. So with that that in mind that was pretty much the experience for the rest of the day. Trekking Kokoda though isn’t just about the beauty of the trail, theres the historical military significance as well as a significant spiritual and bonding experience that you go through as you struggle alongside others, creating bonds that can never be broken. We weren’t struggling yet but as the day went by I started to get to know David & Willie. We were creating bonds as we shared some conversations through broken English and about 30 minutes before we hit our first campsite Willie started cramping up, he was shocked he had never cramped whilst on the trail before and it really seemed to surprise him. However luckily for him and me I had some soluble electrolyte tablets which once I gave them to him seemed to resolve the problem and then before we knew it at about 6pm we were at our first campsite. Once again David and Willie went straight to action, first they set up my tent, then they cooked me dinner however this time I managed to help out a little bit. It felt wrong being treated like a king, sure I’d paid to be there but to me we were a team and were all equal counterparts. I paid to trek the trail not to be carried hence why I was carrying my own pack. However I’m not going to lie it was very nice to be able to relax when I got to camp and not worry about setting up for the night. So there efforts were appreciated tenfold and I tried helping and showing my appreciation the best I could.
Day two, 5am was our get up time, long days of 10+ hours hiking was the requirement for trekking the whole track in 5 days so getting up early was a given. We were the first to leave the packed campsite, about 15-20 other tents were all set up at this particular campsite. It was still dark as we left so it was headlamps on. Hiking or trekking with a headlamp at night is important for any hike however I feel with Kokoda it was especially important. The trail was covered in roots and uneven ground, and without our headlamps it would be easy to trip over. Eventually though like always the darkness was consumed by the sun and before we knew it the sun was out and with that so was the heat. Staying hydrated was super important and was something I was always concerned about. Making sure I had my 2 litre bladder filled as well as my two 1 litre drink bottles was essential and lucky for me there was plenty of water around if you knew were to look. Thank god I was with David & Willie these two knew were to find water and pretty much every stop we made we were able to source some water. They were happy and were used to drinking it straight from the source and declined my offer of water purification tablets however I made sure to add some to mine and thank goodness I did. On day two David started struggling with some bad stomach sickness and he had the runs, my assumption was it was from the water. Luckily I had some nausea tablets and Panadol which seemed to ease his discomfort a little bit but he was still hurting. I offered to carry some gear for him as I noticed Willie was, and they tried there hardest to not let me see that David was struggling but it was pretty obvious. When you’ve got guys who the day before were walking and talking comfortably, like it was nothing with their 20 kg packs the days before, it’s easy to notice when they’re struggling. Anyway my offer was declined at first but as I kept offering eventually he gave in and let me carry some of his gear. It was a long day, 3 hours turned to 5 which turned to 9 which eventually turned to 12. I was still feeling alright at this stage though, sure I was exhausted but I hadn’t needed to dig deep yet. We rolled in to our second camp at about 5-6pm. The day was again clear, sunny and humid and the track was much of the same, rainforest, steep and muddy but very, very beautiful, there was some pretty cool river and swamp crossings though (there was so much mosquitos around the swamp area!!). Along the way we passed other trekkers, campsites and chatted to locals who seemed to know David and Willie very well. I was also being gazed at and when David & Willie talked to the locals they were always telling me I was very strong. Apparently it wasn’t normal for skinny white kids to carry their own pack and attempt to do so within 5 days. I’m not going to lie it gave me a sense of pride as these strangers were telling me I was very strong, it was definitely an ego boost. As we made our way to camp it was clear that all the spots to pitch a tent were taken, lucky for me though we were a small group of three and David & Willie knew the local villagers well. As a result we were allowed to stay in one of the huts. This is why it was awesome to do it with Kokoda Trail Expeditions, this was an amazing experience and it made me feel really part of the local culture. It was just us and the local villagers, the other campers where at the camper exclusive campsite. It also happened that whilst trying to sleep that night a wild pig of some sought was fighting one of the villagers dogs. All night I could hear grunting from the pig and whining from the dog. I’m not going to lie it was distressing hearing the dog whining as if it was getting killed but it was amazing to be so close to the natural way of things in the rainforest.
Day 3, once again an early start this time at 4am this was the day were things started to get difficult. My right knee had started causing me some problems and it was really hurting walking up and down hills which was what you did most of the day. It was the first time were I wondered if I was going to be able to finish and I worried I’d have to be taken out the only way possible, by helicopter. I didn’t tell David or Willie about this though as I didn’t want them knowing how much I was starting to struggle. I told them my knee was a little sore but nothing serious which in hindsight was true, it wasn’t anything serious but it was bloody painful. Luckily for me I had trekking poles which were basically my life savers, I leant hard on them using my arms and shoulders to take a lot of my weight which took some pressure off the knee. Like day 2 we started off with our headlamps and trekked through the darkness. We had some pretty steep climbs early on and went pretty high, so high that falling to left could result in either a broken back or death, not to get dramatic or anything. Something else I should mention is day 3 was Davids worse day with the stomach bug. I remember I gave him some money to buy a bunch of bananas off one of the better established villages as we trekked past, there must’ve been at least 10 bananas attached to the bunch he bought and they were big too. After about 10-20 minutes they were all gone. Apparently bananas were used to help with stomach problems and within the span of 10-20 minutes David had downed all of them. The day went on and on and on, by 3pm my knee was sh**ing itself and so was my mind. Somehow I was managing to look and sound positive but deep down I was in hell. The combination of inexperience hiking with a pack, the humid weather, the long days and the constant uneven, steep up and down hills was getting to me. Each hour went by slower and I came increasingly frustrated, when were we stopping for the day? Surely it must be soon I told myself, the next village I thought then we’d walk right past, ok definitely the next one and then we’d walk past again. By 5pm for the first time since starting the trek I swallowed my pride and asked how much longer until we stop for the day and I got no response. I didn’t know this at the time but that was because if they told me I’d probably lose my s**t. I asked another 2-3 times over the next 4 hours to no response. By 7pm it was dark and our headlamps went back on for the second time that day. We also started walking through some pretty slippery trail, I fell over a good 2-3 times and inside I was really losing it, I felt ready to explode. On the outside I joked about falling but boy was I angry, it was actually so slippery that both David and Willie fell over too. They also started struggling as it got to 8pm at night, we were all quiet in our own inner hell, battling the track and our fatigue. By this point we’d been hiking for 16 hours, all three of us with heavy packs. But eventually we made it, by around 9pm we made it to camp. No one else was there except for one local who seemed to be the owner of the campsite. We paid him with money and gifts of food to stay inside one of the little stick huts. It was late and I could tell both David and Willie were exhausted as was I. So when they started their routine of making me and themselves dinner I told them not to worry about it and get some rest. I gave them some of my energy bars to eat for dinner instead. Once we ate we all prepared for the next day whilst sitting around the fire and by about 11pm we all collapsed and fell asleep.
Day 4 once again an early start, around 4am. This would be the most memorable day of the whole experience for a few reasons. It was April the 25th which is significant because that’s Anzac day, the day of remembrance for all Australians & New Zealanders who served and died at war. So here I was trekking where Australian soldiers had once fought and died to protect Australia from the invading Japanese. These soldiers showed the epitome of the Anzac spirit which was first recognised on the battlefields of Gallipoli in World War I, mate-ship, courage, humour and endurance. It was also the hardest day mentally for me, after the struggle of day 3 we were all tired and day 4 turned out to be even longer. Whilst most Australians were paying their respects at a dawn service at 6am, I along with Willie & David where trekking through the darkness of the morning. It was important for me though that I gave my own minute of silence at 6am, it’s a tradition I never plan on breaking. But we walked and we walked, the sun came up we passed some locals, some villagers and even a pair of Jehovah Witnesses who were spreading the word of God as they trekked the trail. Eventually at about 11am we stopped for lunch next to a river crossing. Lunch was nothing fancy, two minute noodles with some crackers and blocks of processed cheese that somehow wasn’t melting. I bravely mixed it all together, crushing the biscuits into the noodles and with the cheese. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty good maybe that proves how tired and exhausted I was. Once I finished eating I stared at the river stream for a little bit. It was a fast flow of water that would take anyone downstream to never be seen again if they fell in, it was loud too. Then I woke up, yeah thats right apparently I fell asleep at midday, next to a loud sound of gushing water whilst it was 30+ degrees Celsius with a humidity of 95-100%. I was definitely tired, luckily for me and others though when I’m tired I don’t get grumpy I get loopy. In other words I go crazy and start loosing my s**t, so my apologies to David and Willie as they had to put up with my non-stop poor attempts of jokes for the rest of the day. After lunch we got back down to business trekking up & down steep hills and muddy, root covered steps. My knee was absolutely killing me and it started slowing me down, I couldn’t properly weight bare. Whist stepping up steep steps I had to always lead with my left leg as a result my left leg began to fatigue and become quite sore as well, nothing like the injured one though. But it was enough to slow me down, also going down was worse. I winced every step I made whilst descending, I also started falling over quite regularly. I joked and started counting how much times I was falling over, trying to hide my pain through humour and it worked for a while. At about 3-4pm we made it to Isurava which doubles as a village and the site of The Battle of Isurava, a significant battle between the Japanese and Australian soldiers. This makes Isurava a very significant part of the Kokoda trail and many Australians come to pay their respects to the Australian soldiers on Anzac Day at the dawn service that’s held there annually, sadly I missed out. Isurava also offered one of the first times I had a good glimpse of the finishing line, the town of Kokoda. It felt pretty good to see the finishing line but there was still a bit of work to do. After spending a good 10 mins at Isurava we head off for the last time that day. The plan was for us to meet up with the rest of the Kokoda Trail Expeditions team at Hoi (the last village on the track). I was under the intention that it was only 1-2 hours away but boy was I wrong. We still had another 5 hours to go, this was the hardest 5 hours of the whole trek. During these 5 hours I lost count of how many times I fell over, it was well over double digits and more times than I could count on both hands. My knee was f**ked, I was tired and fatigued and I underestimated how much longer we had left, I was not in a good way. I will give myself credit though, I did a good job of keeping it together, no complaining just one foot in front of the other. I started pleading with my body, just let me finish this and I promise you can rest for as long as you want, your nearly there imagine the feeling of accomplishment you’ll feel if you finish? Who else is carrying their own pack and is trekking the track in 5 days with no experience? Imagine how the Australian soldiers felt, this is nothing compared to their struggle. This kind of internal dialogue was consuming my thoughts and helped me put one foot in front of the other. At about 6-7pm it started getting dark so once again our headlamps went back on, great another night out I thought. However like an oasis out in the dessert I saw lights in the distance, it looked like headlamps, I could hear people laughing and talking. Have we made it? There was groups of people camping together, tents put up, this must be it, I made it. Once we got to the campsite I saw the sign, Deniki. What the f**k is this I thought, this isn’t Hoi, I thought Hoi was the next village. David and Willie sat down and started talking to one of the locals there, I collapsed and sat next to them. We hadn’t made it yet but I was so grateful to be at a campsite with others laughing around me, theres something uplifting being closer to a larger group of people. I asked Willie how close we were to Hoi, it was around 7:30pm at this point Willie told me we were very close, 20-30 mins and that we’d pretty much finished. Yeah right I thought to myself, I heard that one before. After a quick 5 minute break we once again head off, this time it was actually the last time and Willie was right. After a few steep descents and ascents I saw another village, this one was Hoi. It was beautiful, it was dark but I could see the flowing stream of water running across the village. As we got closer I could see and even start to hear others, it was the rest of the Kokoda Trail Expeditions team. This moment right here is the best moment of the whole trek, such an amazing experience. As I trekked in the whole team started cheering and one of them took my pack off my back, all of a sudden the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. They’d been waiting for us to arrive and apparently many had doubted us, as I said above it was strange for a white man to be carrying his own pack and doing in 5 days so there was some reservations that I could do it. But they waited for us and gave us the warmest greetings, I actually came close to tears. I was so grateful for their kindness and acceptance as they cheered and congratulated me, it made me feel like I had accomplished something and I felt nothing but love for these strangers who were going out of there way to make me feel special. Once the celebrations calmed down I was offered dinner and a quick bath in the flowing creek. It was the best meal and bath I’d ever had, especially after skipping dinner the day before. I also felt such a strong bond with David and Willie theres something about suffering together that brings peoples closer, even though they were just strangers 4 days previous. Although they were my guides they had struggled too and I was able to help both of them throughout the trek just as they had helped me. David said he would remember me, he’d tell his family about me and he appreciated my efforts to help both him and Willie throughout the trek. This was the biggest honour I could have ever gotten.
Day 5, the last day. After the struggle of day 3 and 4, day 5 was a walk in the park. In the morning we were lucky enough to a watch the boys perform a traditional war dance, it was such an honour to watch the group perform a dance so important to their traditions. All that was left was to walk the flat, non-technical path from Hoi to the town of Kokoda. It as weird to have no climbs or hills or slippery surfaces, what was even better though is it was only a couple hours of walking. It was the perfect way to finish the trek I had a good chat with the other two Aussies who did the 7 day trek with the main group. Both seemed be great dudes and they also had their own fair share of struggles whilst walking the track. Time went on and before we knew it we were there, the official Kokoda Tack arches, we’d made it.
A massive thank you to Kokoda Trail Expeditions, they gave me the experience of a lifetime. I was immersed in the culture of the locals, I was pushed and challenged, I created long lasting bonds forged through struggle, I felt the Anzac spirit and historical significance of the trail as we trekked along the track and as a result I was changed in the best way possible. The guides and the whole staff at Kokoda Trail Expeditions were professional, kind and went above and beyond to accommodate me whilst trekking the track. Willie and David prepared me breakfast, lunch and dinner, set up my tent, knew the best places to get water and were great dudes in general. I tried helping were I could but they were absolute in not letting me. I met up with John the head of Kokoda Trail Expeditions at Hoi. John is an Australian but comes from Papua New Guinea, so he gets it. John has the kindest heart and is passionate about Kokoda and the personal growth it brings. I was fortunate enough to fly back to Australia with John and it was so good to meet the man who put the fantastic experience together. I cannot recommend enough Johns team and company, Kokoda Trail Expeditions enough.
Do yourself a favour and have a look at some of the trekking options John & Kokoda Trail Expeditions has to offer. I promise you it will change your life.
Click on the Kokoda Trail Expeditions logo below for the website: