Here I am, in Papua New Guinea. Now that I am here, I’m very surprised that as an adventure traveler that I’d never made the journey over. For an Australian, Papua New Guinea is only 150km’s away from Australia at the closest point (Cape York). Flying over to Papua New Guinea was a delight, it must have been one of my shortest international transits ever. Adelaide to Brisbane, and then Brisbane to Port Moresby.
I’m back with Jackson for an adventure-packed three weeks in PNG. Honestly, the itinerary is wild. We’re here to see to dive headfirst into the wilderness and beautiful nature of PNG and what better way to do it than by starting with an 8-day trek along the Kokoda Trail. There is a debate about whether it’s called the ‘Kokoda Track’ or ‘Kokoda Trail’, I don’t know the ins and outs of it all so I’ll use both to keep everyone happy.
Growing up as an Australian it’s common to hear about people doing Kokoda, especially sporting teams or people searching for a transformative physical challenge. The Kokoda Track is a world-renowned trek that links the southern and northern coast of Papua New Guinea. It is more than just a ‘bush-walk’, the Kokoda Track is linked to an important part of Australian war history. It provides an opportunity to walk along and gain insight into the path in which Australian and Japanese armies battled against each other. The war took place during the wet season in Papua New Guinea in the brutally unforgiving and rugged wilderness which trekkers acquire an understanding for as they traverse the 96km trail. Although it was bitter warfare between Japan and Australia, the Papua New Guineans are often known as “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels” played an integral part in helping out and looking after the Australians. I’m not much of a history buff, but I was very excited to learn and engage in an experiential history lesson. I’m not going to dive into much more history because I have a lot more to learn before I recount any more of it. What I will tell you about is the wild adventure we had and share the notes I made in my journal every night.
We set out with a local trekking company called ‘Buna Trekkers’, Buna Trekkers is one of only two entirely PNG run tour companies (there are 99 tour operators on Kokoda currently). We packed with only the essentials, made extra room for snacks and set off to Ower’s Corner to start Kokoda. You can do Kokoda both ways, we decided to do it the ‘traditional way’ and go from South to North allowing us to finish in Kokoda/Buna.
The notes below are directly out of my journal from the trek. I hope they give you an insight into both the trek and how I felt along the journey.
A windy drive to the start of Kokoda, our intention is to finish the hike in 8 days (96km). Maybe we’ll do it faster but we’ll see how we go.
Two minutes into the hike it started to bucket down rain! What a welcome to Kokoda. Everything we were carrying was completely saturated. The boys told us to expect the unexpected in PNG, you never know what the weather is going to do. The great thing about tropical rain, even if it is torrential, is that’s not cold. We pushed on in our t-shirt and shorts not overly bothered by the ridiculous downpour that just soaked us.
Day one was a short day, only hiking for 2-3 hours and relatively easy for me. We trudged through some river crossings and muddy sections, but nothing crazy.
Arriving at camp, the sky turned all shades of pink and purple. We were also treated to a full rainbow as the guides sang and played guitar. Our first dinner was something like a Nasi Goreng which I paired with a hot milo.
Quote of the day for me was from Watson, team leader of Buna Trekkers: “I always try and take a bit of their mind with me.” This was in reference to the clients and people he gets to meet along the trail. I enjoyed the idea that you can take ideas from every one you meet and it’s a privilege to gain an insight into their mind.
“The sound of rain surrounds us, with the occasional clap of thunder in the distance.” This was the first line from my journal on day two. It became an early habit on the trek for me to pull out my journal once the day was finished and start writing about my newest experiences and ideas.
We have finished day two. We left camp one at 6:45 am. Two pieces of peanut butter toast and we are good to go.
Today’s hiking started with 3-400m of climbing. Again, nothing too crazy. We walked through
many small streams today and swum just before eating lunch. The jungle canopies are stunning, especially when the light peaks through.
We finished day two at 1:50 pm. For Jackson and I, it was a relaxing day of hiking.
There are many bees and butterflies on the trail and the mosquitos have yet to bother me.
Today was very humid, unlike the heavy rain. For lunch, we had noodles and coffee.
Jackson and I discussed during day two that our months of hiking in Switzerland and Europe had equipped us well for the Kokoda trail. Hiking in Switzerland we would often cover in excess of 1000-1500m of vertical elevation in a day.
There’s a deeply warming feeling about being under shelter away from the elements. Currently, I’m drying my towel and clothes next to the campfire.
It’s raining again, that’s been a trend of every afternoon. This morning was noticeably hot, I was sweating for hours on end. We left camp at 6:37 am from camp two. Weetbix for breakfast today, what a treat that was. A little taste of Australia out here on Kokoda.
So far, the best word to describe Kokoda is undulating. We climb and then descend but rarely do we his flat ground.
I think that today we did maybe 800-100m of climbing across the 15km. After Switzerland, it is very manageable. Jackson and I can see the challenge in it (Kokoda) but so far it has been very reasonable.
Smoke makes my eyes cry but the setting is so peaceful. I have been forced (in the best way possible) to disconnect and slow down, it’s great.
I have found that I have been reminiscing and having many nostalgic thoughts. Thinking about past adventures, romances, physical feats and much more.
Thought of the evening: Do we remember our nostalgic thoughts to be better than they actually were? Do we enjoy these memories in the present as much as we think we did?
Overall, the food has been simple here but they have done the simple things very well. The memorable food of the trip so far (there is always a memorable food/snack from every country for me) has been the ‘chicken flavoured’ crackers. So simple yet so great. They are the size of a small piece of bread and they really hit the spot.
My body has been feeling great. Slight calf tightness but that’s only due to the climbing, it will reside. I think I have a mosquito bite on my eyelid, other than that, still not many bug bites.
Earlier start today, leaving at 6:32 am. A few layers and interesting trees at sunrise. Porridge and coffee was the fuel of choice for breakfast this morning. Porridge was a surprise breakfast, once again it warmed me up internally.
We powered through the morning, marching through a lot of mud. Today the step count increased, as did the length of the day. Today was our favourite day so far.
Wide expanse, lush greens,and 1200-1500m of vertical elevation.
Arrived at camp around 4:30pm.
Corn over the fire in the hut was exactly what we needed.
Today was slow and steady out here on the Kokoda track. Jackson and I had a faux departure of 6:22 am. We went to look at an airplane that had a crash landing recently. It was very out of place and kind of funny to see. We returned from our ‘pre-adventure adventure’ and set off to start hiking at 7:00 am.
We slept at Epogi Village, the biggest village on the track and also the halfway point.
Routine has been bed before 7:30 pm and up at 4:45 am (Actually 5 am for me).
Breakfast was by the fire in the hut today, eating our weet-bix, drinking a concoction of coffee/milo – it was a great way to start the day. “It’s a real vibe,” Jackson said, I honestly wish more people could experience the tranquility of it.
Touching on yesterday, I had never seen jungle like what we saw. The valleys of lush green, occasional patches of luminous maroon leaves, big walls of tropical plants. It was special.
A pleasant surprise: Kokoda has been far more beautiful for nature than I expected. There are ever-changing micro-climates, you really never get bored. The types of trees are continually different which I have enjoyed.
Today involved more climbing; we did over a vertical kilometre in elevation. The moss forest was by far the most enjoyable thing today.
We have both commented about the feel of the forest as if a gorilla could appear. There are no animals that we have seen yet.
I have also enjoyed the villages. I kind of imagine I am in Africa. Each village is centered around a big field of red dirt.
Scenery aside, there is plenty of time to think. Jackson and I slowly discuss/brainstorm ideas or projects that come to mind.
Tonight our guides dances and played traditional PNG music. I’m starting to catch onto their tunes. A small choir of men’s voices well harmonized and partnered with a guitar is very wholesome. I should learn guitar, at least just the basics.
Anyway, the last two days have increased in difficulty, which you do feel in the moment but not at the end of the day.
Falling asleep to rain tonight, one of the many luxuries of living in a tropical jungle.
We made it before the rain again. It has nearly been a definitive pattern. By 3 pm it will be raining. It’s great to arrive before the rain, that way all our gear stays dry and we get to shower or swim. (We can obviously shower or swim if it’s raining, but that’s not as enticing.)
Priority one at any camp is to get the fire going. Once the fire is going, the water is on the boil and a cuppa’ tea shortly follows.
Today we made it to the highest point of the entire trek. Approximately 2100m, however, it was not the hardest climb. We meandered along through more ‘moss forest’ and undulating trail. There are some very scenic sections which we documented. I would genuinely recommend Kokoda to people. Simply put, it is just so beautiful.
Over time, people have obviously enforced a path through the weight of their continual footsteps, but it still seems very natural and untouched to me. I imagine the consistent rain washes away all the footsteps each day.
We began today at 6:33 am. Porridge was served for breakfast again, I’m loving the porridge for breakfast. It seemingly fuels us well, especially with a dash of honey.
They surprised us at linch with peanut butter and Nutella tortillas, what a treat this deep into the hike.
The camp we arrived at today is awesome. We swam in the pool of a small waterfall and managed to climb up and jump off the rocks beside it. The water was very very fresh.
Physically, I feel great. Legs are fine and not fatigued. I’m scoring 8-9 hours of sleep each night which is fantastic.
Our hiking leader, Daryl, hiked noticeably quicker today. We did 13.2 kilometres and made it to camp around 1:30 pm.
Again, being in a warm dry outfit whilst listening to the rain pound against the tarp is an atmosphere I love. Today’s work is done, now we can relax and enjoy the hours of ‘zen’ before tomorrow.
6 Hours, 17.3km, 1020m elevation, 1700m decline.
Today was the most challenging day for me so far. I didn’t sleep too well and woke up with a developing head cold. That’s okay, I pushed on. Even though I didn’t sleep well, I was still well-rested which I think is important. I’ve been hydrating and eating a lot, that should help.
Before starting the trek at 6:15 am, we had damper for breakfast. This was my first experience of damper. A small fire, tea in hand and PB + honey on my damper, YUM!
We kicked off with two water crossings, two of at least ten that we crossed throughout the day. Some were more precarious than others. I slipped around and over myself a lot today, all in good spirits.
Breakfast to lunch was slow going, it took a while to progress. Lots of tree roots, it’s not easy to simply ‘walk’ and get into a good rhythm. Kokoda requires a lot of focus on your footing, otherwise, it could be very easy to fall.
They fed us a lot today, both snacks and large portions at our main meals. ‘Choco vine’, a plant that grows out of control in PNG has been a new inclusion. It surprisingly tastes great. It’s good to get some greens into the diet too.
After lunch, both the pace of hiking and scenery picked up. We passed through some of the best jungle I’ve ever seen! It was the best of the trip so far. As Jackson said, “It’s like a theme park in here!” The greenery and the way it takes over the land is unbelievable. An ocean of green, truly. All the tall trees are covered in moss or vines, there is so much for the eyes to take in. It’s a sight to behold!
We made it to camp, one minute before the rain started. We were very lucky. It was also extremely humid today.
Physically, I could feel the fatigue in my knees today and hips. The 1700m of downhill is no easy task. However, tomorrow will be easy.
We are sleeping in a tin shed tonight. I’ve also been having very intense, weird and vivid dreams. Maybe that is result of the increase in sleep and being completely disconnected from the electricity and internet.
Today was short. We completed the final 6km in 70min. How about that!? Kokoda done and dusted. A brilliant experience.
The rest of the day we drove around to visit buns, this truly is the final piece of the kokoda war story.
Seeing crash warplanes is crazy, I still find it hard to believe what went on all those years ago.
That’s a wrap! Jackson and I completed the Kokoda Track. What an unbelievable start to our time in PNG. My soul and mind is so happy right now. I found my time on Kokoda very peaceful and calming. I enjoyed the contrast of the rugged wilderness during the day and the simplicity of each of the evenings. It was a humbling experience and I am so glad that I did it.
If you’re looking to do Kokoda, get in touch with Buna Trekkers. The team will make sure you have the best experience possible.
It is also worth noting, you can make the experience harder or easier depending on how much you carry and how quickly you want to complete the trail. Discussing your individual variables with the team at Buna will give you a better understanding of how best you should approach Kokoda.
If you’re thinking about doing Kokoda, don’t hesitate – you won’t regret it!