After a long rainy night in a leaky tent, we awoke at 4.30am to the sound of rain and a roaring creek. I could barely hear our trek leader John’s voice over all the noise and I was sure I had only just fallen asleep about half an hour before this…broken sleep was something we were all going to have to get used to.
The moon was still shining brightly, and that was helpful as we packed up our belongings in the dark. We all made it to breakfast on time at 5.30am, a fine selection of porridge, cornflakes, damper and No 1 Tea! “A breakfast of champions!” as Mark (from Cairns) would say.
We then commenced what would become the morning ritual of visits to the long drop, popping malaria tablets and lathering ourselves in Bushman’s and sunscreen, filling our Camelbak bladders and strapping on our day packs.
Did I mention the long drop (aka toilet)? Finding your way through the bush, in the dark, with your headlamp on each morning became a finely honed skill by the end of the trek….just don’t look down in the dark is my advice to anyone!
We set off from Hoi with the moon still shining and the sun rising in the east and hit our first uphill climb. A pretty tough start to the day after our gentle first walk the day before! We steadily climbed 802 metres to reach our first rest stop at the original wartime village of Deniki, the site of the 39th Militia Battalion’s first defensive position after withdrawing from Kokoda. The view from here was sensational.
The steep climb wasn’t over yet though…we pushed on again up the mountain to 1362 metres to the Isurava Battleground Memorial for lunch. The second mountain has apparently been nicknamed “The Pinch”. And pinch it did….it was at about this stage I was thankful I had trained…
As we reached the top of the mountain, we were greeted by the biggest snake I have ever seen in the wild…it was at least 4 metres in length with a head as big as a man’s fist. The porters had come across it before us and identified it as a nasty one, so they promptly killed it. I was a little sad to see that, but who am I to argue with the locals. They were intent on keeping us safe.
After all that excitement we pressed on to Isurava. We learned about the legendary 4 day battle that went down.
Several hundred Australian soldiers (with an average age of 18) held their ground against 6000 of Japan’s best combat troops In August 1942. The Aussies were heavily outnumbered, inadequately armed and poorly supplied, but their resolute stand over 4 days at Isurava inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese and blunted the momentum of the Japanese drive towards Port Moresby. The stubborn resistance of the Aussie troops wrecked the Japanese timetable for crossing the Kokoda Track and gave time for Australian reinforcements to be brought up and paved the way for the ultimate defeat of Major General Tomitaro Horii’s army before it could reach Port Moresby.
Private Bruce Steel Kingsley was the first Australian serviceman to be awarded the Victoria Cross on Australian soil, for his bravery during the battle of Isurava. He died in action.
After wandering around the battleground memorial for some time, taking in the history we sat down to what was to become our regular lunch of 2 minute noodles, tuna, spam and Saladas. Almost shamefully indulgent in comparison to what the diggers would have consumed.
We set off again after lunch to climb another mountain to Alola Village, but not before we visited Surgeon’s Rock. A large flat slab near Isurava where injured soldiers were operated on. We hear a story about the Bisset brothers.
It was here, Stan Bisset held his brother Butch in his arms as he died from machine gun wounds to his stomach. For 6 hours, Stan and Butch, the best of friends, sat just off the track as the battle continued around them, laughing, crying and remembering the good times of their childhood as the life slowly ebbed from Butch. The diggers would sing Danny Boy whenever they passed this spot, as a sign of respect for the much loved Bisset brothers.
After visiting Surgeon’s Rock, we began the climb to Alola Village…..and that’s when it happened.
We were in trekking formation along a tight ridge on the side of the mountain and I stopped to take a photo. Then our little Italian trekker Joe, decided he would take the opportunity to overtake me. As he stepped on by, not too slowly I might add, and up onto a flat rock, I heard him slip and I turned around to see if he was ok…..only to see him launch off the side of the mountain…backwards, like a Ninja Turtle!
He practically launched himself into oblivion right in front of me..and all I heard from him was “Faaaaaaaaaaark!”As he hurtled on down the slope.
Within seconds, ALL of the porters were there scrambling down the mountain to rescue him. I’ve never seen people move so fast. Such concern on their faces, until we worked out Joe was fine. Suffering only a scrape to his shoulder and probably a dent in his pride…we did laugh….and laugh. This was to be a comical reference point for the rest of the trek. Only Joey boy..
That vision of him disappearing over the edge is firmly imprinted on my mind forever.
Laughing aside, we continue on to Alolo Village as the afternoon rain sets in. Reaching the top of the mountain we begin our descent into camp, treading carefully on the steep slippery track. My porter Max is close by, ready to catch me if I fall. I’m mesmerised by the rain and the thick rivers of cloud flooding the valleys below. We pass a creek full of happy children, playing in a makeshift dam, cheering and waving to us as we trudge on by. There are many occasions like this where your spirits are lifted at the end of a long day trekking, such wonderful sights and sounds to take in, particularly as we get close to the villages.
We settle into camp for the evening with a spectacular view of the valley below and the ever changing clouds rolling in. Our solitude was broken by some fairly urgent yelling, then fits of laughter by the porters. Turns out they set fire to the floor of the hut they were sitting under…never a dull moment on the Track!
Dinner tonight is spaghetti bolognaise (freeze dried beef), curried vegetables (my favourite!), and chicken soup. Over dinner we listen to our nightly briefing (christened “the six o clock news”) by our trek leader John, giving us the rundown on the next day’s itinerary and our nightly reading, this time by Trace, a poem written by Brigadier Potts. These regular readings sweep us back to WWII and the plight of our Aussie soldiers. We usually take a few minutes of silence to reflect, after listening to these, before the usual banter begins again. With final cups of No 1 tea in our belly, we start to disappear from the campfire.
I climb into my tent fairly early and listen to the others moving about the camp, rustling sleeping bags and backpacks, closing zippers and the gentle sound of the rain on my roof. I’m beginning to like this very basic existence…
Quote of the day: From Joe, referring to the porters who are constantly on their mobile phones “I haven’t seen a postie dropping off a bill yet!”
Steps taken today: 31,017