After a particularly cold evening spent at Templeton’s Crossing, near the highest point on the trek, we awoke again at 4.00am. Most of us putting on wet clothes in the pre-dawn cold, shivered and shook as we stood forlornly around what was left of the previous night’s fire in the hut waiting for breakfast. Well really…it was just a bit of smoke, but we talked ourselves into imagining it was warm. A futile exercise.
Everyone is still in good spirits, with the usual jokes and banter, mostly concerning the breakfast of champions and No 1 Tea! Our bellies are full and we hear the call from Terry, our lead porter “2 minutes!!”. We gather our belongings, strap on our packs and group together for our ritual morning war cry. Then we’re off.
Straight up the mountain for an hour of steep climbing to Kokoda Gap, the highest point on the trek at 2193 metres. I come to the realisation that it’s quite difficult to climb mountains when you’ve just eaten a meal. We always seem to be going up either after breakfast or lunch and sometimes it just ain’t pretty… I cannot talk on the ascents, I’m flat out breathing let alone trying to hold a conversation, so it’s pretty quiet down the back of the pack a lot of the time. In fact, I notice everyone is pretty quiet this morning. Perhaps it’s not just me feeling the pinch on this mountain today.
We reached the top for a rest and a snack and admired the view over the valleys sprawled out below us. It was a poignant moment as we looked back over the endless ranges, and realised…we had walked all the way over them. There aren’t too many locations on the track where you get this perspective, but as I gazed across the mountains on this particular occasion, the significance of what we were achieving wasn’t lost on me. Freakin’ amazing stuff.
So….what goes up, must come down…and down we went. All the way through the jungle to Myola Lake. It was a weird spongy feel under foot for the most part, as we tackled our way through a “shortcut” according to our porters. We were travelling at a fairly fast pace for quite a while when all of a sudden we came to a complete stop. Like a marching band piling up on top of a fallen leader (well almost), we backed it up while the porters got their bearings and found the track again. Apparently they took a wrong turn!
It wasn’t long before we turned into a grassy clearing and the landscape changed dramatically. We stood there looking out at Myola Lake, which was really a huge dry lake bed.
This was once where supplies were dropped in by aircraft, known as the biscuit bombers. Also the 2/4th and 2/6th Field Ambulances established medical posts which received casualties from the 25th Brigade fighting at Templeton’s Crossing and the 16th Brigade at Eora Creek. The plan was to cut out a landing strip to allow casualties to be evacuated by plane, but there weren’t enough small planes, with several crashing on landing. Only about 40 casualties were flown out of the mountains.
As we stood there in the midday sun, one of the porters emerged from the bush holding a spectacular bird, that looked very much like a Bird of Paradise! We were all stunned as we had no idea how he caught it, nor did we ever find out..
We hung around the lake for a while and were about to prepare to set off towards Naduri Village, when we were unexpectedly treated to a very special experience. All of the porters were sitting in a group on the grass when they began to sing. Oh my goodness, did they sing! Such beautiful harmonies, we were all mesmerised as they casually sat there in the grass, producing the sweetest sound you’re ever likely to hear from a bunch of mostly adolescent young men. Nobody in this group was too cool to sing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was reduced to tears… It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
The last leg of the day was the downhill stretch to Naduri Village, where my porter (and a couple of the others) are from. The boys were in high spirits as we neared their home village. They were starting to peel off a few layers and join in on some of our silly behaviour. Our lead porter Terry decided to pick up the pace as a storm approached. Joe decided to turn it into a race as we negotiated the last few hills leading into the village. So off they went, Joe and his boy Terry, bolting up the hill, full pelt with their big packs on, followed by Renea and her porter Gideon, followed by Chad, Ian and I can’t remember who else, but it was a comical sight with everyone’s packs bouncing around on their backs! They reached the top of the hill and as some of us began to catch up, they took off again. This time my porter Max egged me on and took off also. I followed. Still can’t believe I was actually running on the Kokoda Track! I think our porters thought we were nuts. Perhaps we were slightly delirious…
We came into Naduri Village early in the afternoon before the rain, so we immediately put all of our wet, stinky clothes out to dry while we could. We’re spending more time in this village as a show of support, so finally a sleep in the next day! But there is one thing on my mind as we discover there is actually a shower in this camp! How exciting! Renea and I make a run for this little luxury, complete with shampoo and washing liquid for our clothes! It was pretty damn cold, but soooooooo worth it! Our first actual shower since leaving Port Moresby.
We spend the afternoon exploring the camp, checking out the medical centre and airstrip and Joe manages to scrounge a football off Steve Johnson, the Geelong AFL player, in the Victorian group who have just come into our camp (we overtook them a while back) for lunch. A game of footy was on while the usual afternoon storm clouds built up on the horizon, ending with the obligatory rain shower which sent us hurtling for the clothes that were once nicely drying in the sun!
We were treated to a rather amusing show by a couple of roosters in the camp. Needless to say, one was boss rooster and the other dude was just a youngen, taking every conceivable opportunity to sneak around behind boss rooster’s back and make love to his hens while he wasn’t looking. He wasn’t overly successful, but their antics provided hours of entertainment for us technology deprived trekkers.
We’ve officially christened Joe “T2”, as he’s the only person in our team carrying his full pack and without a personal porter, he adopted our lead porter, Terry (“T1”) as his main man (or his “boy”). We would often hear what would become a familiar catch cry on the track and in the camps over the next week “Terry ma boooooooooooooy!”. Yep that was Joe….the little guy with the big voice.
As the sun set over camp Naduri in a spectacular fashion, we devoured our diner of curried vegetables, pasta and sweet potato with some awesome banana fritters thrown in for good measure! It was Mark from Melbourne’s 40th birthday today and we were treated to the most beautiful rendition of happy birthday I think I have ever heard, by our wonderful porters. They then proceeded to sing their national anthem, complete with waving torchlight beams in the smoky hut behind them…so cute!
Much to our surprise, they then asked us to sing our national anthem….oh dear how embarrassment! We sounded like a bunch of strangled cats in comparison…..there was no competing with those harmonies! But we gave it a shot and I could make out a few smiles on the faces peering at us in the dark. I’m sure they were amused…
We are introduced to Joel, who is the son of Ovuru N’diki (one of the last remaining fuzzy wuzzys) and he tells us that we will be meeting his father in the morning. This is an absolute privilege for all of us, we’re very excited at the prospect of shaking hands with him! Wow…..just wow…
Quote of the day: From Mark (Cairns); “If Joe’s ass was grass, we’d all be lawnmowers”
Steps taken: 25,273