My last day walking the Kokoda Track. This was a wonderful way to spend a week learning about Papua New Guinean culture and village life, the fighting that took place here between the Australians and Japanese in 1942, and to get some exercise walking up and down endless steep hills.
Fittingly we started the day with a dawn service by the Isurava Memorial, reading a prayer and singing the national anthems of Papua New Guinea and Australia, though I couldn’t contribute much to either.
After a later than usual start we spent most of the morning walking almost all down hill, probably the hardest sort of walking, on both the knees and ankles, and riskiest from slipping on the mostly clay track. As we descended the track started to open up, with large areas covered in vines.
Here’s a good example of the crew setting up a guide rope over dodgier bridges, which happened maybe half a dozen times on the trip. We passed through Isurava village, which originally was where the memorial is but was relocated after the war.
The last landscape views from the track were at Deniki, with the low lying morning cloud starting to clear in the valley below leading to Kokoda, the start / end of the track.
Lunch was at an idyllic spot by the river in Hoi village, with the usual noodle filled wraps, though with tuna today. Good hiking food but a week of it was probably enough…
From here it was only an hour and a quarter to Kokoda along a completely unrepresentative section of the track, being flat, straight and in the open surrounded by palm oil, cocoa and rubber plantations. It was just as muddy in places though…
It passed through the pleasant Kovelo village.
We finally reached Kokoda, greeted by a MacDonald’s like set of arches.
My initial impressions of Kokoda weren’t great. There were a lot of betel nut chewing guys hanging around, cigarettes and alcohol for sale (not permitted in most of the villages along the track who are Seventh Day Adventist’s), Australian Outback quantities of flies, and tall fences around every property.
Our guesthouse was fine, looking good surrounded by palm trees, but wasn’t a patch on the campsites we’d stayed in along the track. The giant frogs in the toilets were a new feature…
Kokoda grew on me a little though as I wandered around, with the Owen Stanley Ranges through which the Kokoda Track passes providing a panoramic background.
The Kokoda Memorial Museum was worth a visit, telling the story well in four languages, and containing a few larger artefacts found along the track.
I passed the remainder of the afternoon drawing my favourite sketch of the trip, of a campsite near Templeton’s Crossing we passed through yesterday.
The trip ended on a high with our crew singing us four songs after dinner, and then our porters presented each of the group with personalised hand carved wooden sticks, a wonderfully memorably and unexpected gift. South Sea Horizons are the only PNG owned Kokoda operator and one I’d highly recommend for the local interaction, smaller group sizes, and more flexible style.
The following day we travelled further in 45 minutes flying than we had in seven days walking, as we flew from Kokoda back to Port Moresby. This was one of the most scenic flights I’ve taken and the perfect way to end the trip. We flew over where we’d walked, recognising the various villages we’d passed through, heading over the palm oil plantations around Kokoda, over the Owen Stanley Ranges, and back to Port Moresby.
I had mixed feeling about returning to civilisation. I loved walking the Kokoda Track, it was more varied and engaging than expected, with the highlight being time spent with the locals in our crew and in the villages. It had been one of the most memorable walks I’ve done, was sad that it seemed to end so soon. As a final memento before flying home the next day I did my final sketch of the trip, a very typical scene walking up a steep muddy hillside!