After an interesting night at the Holiday Inn in Port Moresby, complete with power failures, police activity outside the hotel and some rather loud screaming in the hallways and ridiculous hours, we departed the hotel for the airport at 5.30am to catch our flight to Popondetta.
We were all very excited and pumped at the airport. We met another trekking group from Victoria who were on the same flight, doing the track in 8 days instead of 9 and who we would ultimately chase down over the next week. It did turn out to be a little competitive…. well according to one of our own Melbourne buddies, Joe, it was imperative that we beat them!
Our flight to Popondetta was fairly uneventful, apart from the stifling conditions in the cabin, the view was spectacular coming over the Owen Stanley ranges. Now THAT was a real mountain range…everything looked so green and beautiful!
Renea and I were more than a little relieved to land, I kept thinking about that terrible accident that was on Australian Story some years back where a charter flight crashed into the ranges. But Renea was hanging on tightly to her travel angel, and we made it safely to the ground!
Getting off the plane at Popondetta, we were greeted by a wall of humidity, a mass of locals waiting to meet us and a group of trekkers who had just finished the track, waiting to fly back to Port Moresby. Renea and I were busting to go to the loo, but after checking out the airport toilet, we decided to wait. Little did we know at the time, but this would turn out to be our worst toilet experience of the trek! I’ll spare you the gory details…
Organised chaos prevailed for a while as our group and the Victorians were assigned our transport for the 4 hour drive to Kokoda. We were warned about this trip and advised to ‘bring something soft to sit on’… oh yes..our fit little bums were in for an unexpected experience from the get go!
So we all boarded the bus (albeit an open aired, very basic troop carrier), and set off down the road to Kokoda! We were thankful our seats had actual cushions on them as we noticed the Victorians scored a bus without padding…
The trip started off on sealed roads for the first hour or so, as we passed lovely little villages and happy locals cheering and waving us on. Everyone we saw gave us a wave and a smile. It actually brought tears to my eyes. After such a long time preparing for this day, I was finally here.
Along the way, we stopped off at the Popondetta Memorial, where we learned about the service and sacrifice of Aussies, Papua New Guineans and their Allies in the battle for Buna, Gona and Sanananda.
After 4 hours on the road, we were ecstatic to reach Kokoda and stretch our legs! We unloaded our packs and left them with our porters (who we were yet to meet), and set off down to the village to look at the Kokoda battle site and museum.
After the Japanese landed at Gona, on the north coast of PNG on 21 July 1942, they advanced towards Kokoda village in late July and they were engaged by forward elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Australian 39th Infantry Battalion. The Aussies were outnumbered and despite their stubborn resistance, Kokoda fell to the larger Japanese force and by 27 August the Australian. and the few Papuan troops who had stayed with them, were forced back to Isurava.
We walked around the battle site, it was quite eerie standing on that hill, soaking up the history and what went down. I was captivated by a lone tree at the edge of the plateau which seemed to have some kind of presence. Turns out that very tree was alive during the battle and is still standing guard today…
We toured the museum and then went back to camp to have lunch and meet our personal porters. We were introduced to them all and shook each of their hands and then John Shea, our trek leader, read out who was assigned to who. My porter’s name was Max 🙂 the start of a beautiful relationship!
After hearing our war cry for the very first time, we set off on our short 2 hour walk to camp Hoi. We settled into some sort of order with our porters following closely behind each of us, setting the pattern for the next 9 days….although the order of proceedings would change slightly with the terrain we were yet to encounter. Our trusty little Melbournite Joe, was the only one in our group to carry his own pack (which meant he didn’t have a personal porter) so he adopted the lead position in the pack right behind our Lead Porter Terry..and there he would stay for the entire trek…and THAT’S a story in itself!
We reached our first campsite of the trek late in the afternoon in a little village called Hoi, in fact it was just like a little oasis in the wilderness. A picturesque pristine creek flowing through the camp, with lovely little huts dotting the landscape in the setting sun. What a wonderful first impression.
While our porters set up our tents and the cooks set about making us dinner, we headed for the creek to cool off and wash the remnants of the day away. Bangers and mash for dinner, with the biggest pot of Deb I have ever seen in my entire life!
We settled into our single man tents early as the rain came down, in preparation for our first full day of trekking. The rain continued throughout the night, getting heavier and heavier, with the creek roaring beside us, it was a restless night for me. I awoke to the swirling lights of torches and the sound of digging. I looked outside my tent to see my porter Max, quietly digging a trench around my tent in the pouring rain. Bless his cotton socks. I knew at that point, I was in good hands.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
As we were hurtling down the road to Kokoda from Popondetta in the back of the truck, after noticing water on the floor, Renae says to Frank:
“Is that your bladder leaking?”
Steps taken today: 19,770