This seven-day Kokoda Trail trek is a life-changing journey

Retracing the footsteps of Australian soldiers during WWII through the jungles of Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda Trail is at once emotional and spirit-lifting writes Kate Webster.

Stumbling over slippery rocks on the creek crossing, my already muddy boots fill with water. It is refreshing and soothing on my aching feet, but I know this relief will be short-lived as the squelching in my shoes adds friction as I walk. It’s day four hiking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, and we have just clambered over Mount Bellamy.

My spirits lift knowing I am over halfway through the gruelling seven-day trek – I’m officially on the home stretch to Port Moresby, the PNG capital. The past 72 hours have been trying, physically and mentally, but the aches and pains become less frequent. It is amazing how the body and mind can adapt to tough conditions.

Papua New Guinea © Kate Webster
Life in Papua New Guinea © Kate Webster

Keeping the ANZAC spirit alive

The Kokoda track is 96 kilometres as the crow flies, but the actual distance on foot is 143.7 kilometres of sweat-and-tear-inducing walking between Port Moresby and Owers’ Corner, with around 6,750 metres scaled vertically along the way.

The route existed long before Europeans ‘discovered’ this part of the world. It was used for trade and cultural interaction between PNG tribes and is still used for these purposes to this day. It made global news headlines during World War II when the Japanese decided to use the trail as a means of ground attack against the Australians in Port Moresby – the idea was to take Port Moresby and use it as a base from which to stage a direct assault on Australia.

Ever since, it has been a place of ANZAC reverence and personal challenge, a place of pilgrimage for travellers for 80 years, with 21 July 2022 marking the anniversary of the beginning of the Kokoda campaign in Papua New Guinea. Poignant reminders of the fighting still remain: I see remnants of war strewn across the jungle, engulfed by foliage strangling the last life out of it.

Remnants of war © PNG Trekking Adventures
Remnants of war © PNG Trekking Adventures

Angels on the Kokoda Trail

There are several villages along the Kokoda’s length, home to some of the most hospitable people I have met. They’re descendants of the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, a term of endearment given by Australian soldiers to the locals who saved their lives by either carrying them to safety or bringing food and supplies back to the front line. My guide Saii Faole is the son of the last Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel to pass away.

“My father Faole Bokoi was a Fuzzy Angel,” Saii tells me. “We are proud of who he was, but also we are all proud of all our uncles and bubus who helped the Australians in the war.”

A village along the Kokoda Trail © PNG Trekking Adventures
A village along the Kokoda Trail © PNG Trekking Adventures

Resting point and carb loading

Time passes fast listening to Saii’s stories along the trail, and we soon find ourselves at the next village, where we stop for the night. Entering Manari, we are greeted with an exuberant welcome – Saii is an elder here, and a well-respected landowner.

Tonight, we are staying in a guest house owned by Saii’s brother. Saii confesses that he used to own it; however, he gave it to his brother to allow him to generate revenue from trekkers, as his brother is too old to guide anymore. There are no showers – a river bath is invigorating. Over the course of each day, we refuel on breakfast and lunch made by our always-efficient (and equally lovely) porters. And in between, meals are complemented by snacks and fruit from trailside stalls.

Tonight, I’m ready for dinner: pasta Neapolitan with fresh choko. Carbs are essential after a day of intense exercise.

Trailside stalls and carb loading © Kate Webster
Trailside stalls and carb loading © Kate Webster

A time to reflect

Collapsing into bed, I reflect on the day. This isn’t my first visit to Papua New Guinea – I’ve been numerous times. The raw and undiscovered landscapes of the archipelago lured me to East New Britain to witness the Baining fire dancers leap through flames and countless tribal clans dance stories of their history, adorned with the most colourful and elaborate costumes. On subsequent visits, I dived the pristine waters and explored the immense coral reefs of Milne Bay, then climbed volcanoes in Rabaul.

Baining fire dancers © Kate Webster
Baining fire dancers © Kate Webster

Quiet contemplation

Trekking Kokoda is different, though. While guides often provide commentary, a lot of the trail is spent in silence; quiet contemplation. I think about the young men from Australia, Japan and local Papua New Guineans who never left the jungle here. It’s a sobering thought, quite hard to reconcile with the verdant rainforest and its welcoming communities today.

Drifting off to sleep, I’m set on reaching the Kokoda finish line, even in my squelching boots.

Kokoda Trek © Kate Webster
Kokoda Trek © Kate Webster

Book your Kokoda Trek with companies like South Sea Horizons and PNG Trekking Adventures. They practice responsible tourism that gives back to the communities.

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