We stopped on top of Imita Ridge and soaked in the atmosphere of the place. We were told that during the war, Imita Ridge was our last line of defense, the line was drawn in the sand here, there was to be no further withdrawal. We climbed 550 meters down Imita Ridge into the beautiful Guayule Creek area, which took us almost three hours. Here we had to take our boots off and put on our adventure sandals to cross the creek 22 times.
About an hour later, after the creek crossings we put our boots back on and began our final hike up for the day, up the very tough Ioribaiwa Ridge, which is a huge 450-metre-high climb from the creek. We finished our walk for the day at Ioribaiwa Village, at 850 metres. When we collapsed in the village, thrilled that our day of torture was over, I looked over at the boys, Ethan seemed to be looking a little tired, but Tom was looking exhausted, and as soon as the boys tent was up, I sent him straight to bed.
When dinner was ready, I had to wake up Tom, as he was fast asleep, and he came out to join the rest of the group for dinner, before retreating back to his bed soon afterward. The long sleep seemed to do Tom a load of good, as he was cheerful and looking forward to another day of hiking, as was Ethan. I had slept very well too, but my legs were still a bit sore from all of yesterday’s hiking.
Day 3 - we had an early start today as we climb up to the top of Ioribaiwa Ridge. We were told that this is the furthest spot that the Japanese made across the Kokoda Track, before being ordered to advance to the rear back to Buna.
Our journey takes us down 250 metres to Of Creek, which was the scene of a very successful Australian ambush on the Japanese. The next part of our journey across the Kokoda Trail see us climb one of the most difficult and tiresome sections of the track up and over the Maguli Range to the village of Naoro this is a long climb up, and it appears to never end. Naoro village is a very pretty place, as we rested for half an hour, before setting off downwards the Brown River at Hamurduri, where we would be camping for the night.
This time both boys were looking exhausted, and I too was starting to feel the effects of all the up and down climbing at high altitude and high humidity, the boys went and laid down till dinner was ready, and they were fast asleep when dinner was cooked, but I woke them up too eat so they could keep their energy levels up, and they went straight to bed afterwards.
Day 4 – Wednesday morning, and one of the tour leaders came to me to ask how the boys and I were coping, I was told that yesterday was the longest and hardest day of the whole trek, with only today and Friday being full days of hiking, and the rest being a lot less, which I was pleased to hear. From our overnight camp site, we cross the Brown River, after about an hour’s walk through marshy ground. It’s mostly level to the river with the more difficult sections crossing with log bridges and causeways.
There is a steep climb shortly after the Brown River known as the wall; this climb, certainly tested your fitness, and brought us to a crest with views down to Menari Village. Menari is the site of one of the most famous speeches made regarding the Kokoda Track campaign by LT COL Ralph Honner. From Menari the next major climb is up Brigade Hill, this takes us 4 hours to complete.
Along the track occasional weapon pits mark “stay behind” positions of both Japanese and Australian Forces as they withdrew. We stopped and reflected on the knoll about the battles and lives lost during this bloody and ferocious fight. After dinner, the camp fire is the focal point, Ethan and Tom went to bed straight away, while the guides and carriers clean up, the conversations flowed amongst us walkers. Each day we bring a sense of personal achievement a good last thought before sleep.
Day 5 – Thursday, I was starting to get a bit more worried about the boys, we had been the slowest of the walkers yesterday, and I feared that we would be doing the same today, as we descended down from Brigade Hill and stopped at Nishimura’s stump.
Nishimura is the Japanese soldier who pledges to recover the remains of his deceased comrades. He is known as the “Bone Man”. Our journey takes us past the turnoff to Mission Ridge and the alternative track to Myola Lakes. There are remarkable views back to Menari as the trail approaches the crest of Efogi Hill and there are even more spectacular panoramic views on the Northerly slopes of the mountain of the villages of Kagi and Efogi spread out below.
Efogi Village is the major settlement on the Kokoda Trail, with an airstrip and a first aid post. Efogi is the halfway mark and the altitude climbed becomes apparent in the rapid cooling of the evening after night falls. We continue our walk out of Efogi and up to Efogi Number 2, down to the main creek and up to Kagi Village, for our overnight stop. I was glad that we had a shorter trek today, giving us most of the afternoon to rest. It was getting a lot cooler at night, and I found that well before nightfall, I was needing to put a jacket on to keep warm.
Day 6 – Friday, today we climb up and over the shoulder of Mt Bellamy. There are spectacular views back to Kagi and Efogi. We walk past large village gardens with high fences to keep wild pigs out of the crops. Without the vegetables grown in these gardens, villagers would starve, so the prodigious effort in felling, trimming and dragging logs form a 1.5-metre-high fence line is a matter of survival. Along part of the razor ridge leading up to Mt Bellamy is open Kunai grass without any tree cover. This cleared areas of the gardens means an exposure for some two hours to the tropical sun.
We are told that Mt Bellamy is higher than Mt Kosciusko and the effects of such heights start to wear on us trekkers. Our trek towards our next overnight camp takes us through an ancient Arctic beech forest with magnificent giant pandanus and beech trees. An eerie place, as you progress along the track, which is now corrido red with trees and vines with moss. The moss hangs in streamers from dead and living trees with little light to pierce the gloom.
We then start upward to the highest point of the track on Mt Bellamy at 2190m. We stop at a vantage point called “Kokoda Gap” with magnificent views (on clear days) of the surrounding mountains, the lower part of the Owen Stanley Range and the Yodda valley in the distance. The descent from the Kokoda Gap lookout is steep initially, but eases some 3 hours down the Trail to a steady decline toward Iora Creek at Templeton’s Crossing 1.
The area is dotted with weapon pits. We cross carefully, with dry feet – for a change. The dry foot does not last long as we come upon Templeton’s Crossing Number 2. The muddy track parallels (generally) Iora Creek and is intersected with innumerable small creeks flowing across the track, often in only a short distance, until cascading down into the main creek, Iora.
The main creek joins these tributaries and, when Templeton’s Crossing Number 2 is reached, it is a foaming torrent. The noise is constant, amplified by the deep, sharp-sided valley.
The deep valley means that the sun sets early in the day, and we arrived just in time to set up our camp. We were informed that because of the local religious customs, they do not like trekkers to be hiking on the Sabbath, from sunset Friday till sunset Saturday, so we had a full day to rest, which both me and the boys were very pleased about, after another long torturous day.
Day 7 – Saturday, today we had a rest day, and while I let the boys rest, I spent some time doing laundry duties on the river banks. After lunch the boys had a swim in the river to get clean, and I did the same to keep close to them and keep them safe. After dinner, the boys went to bed early, as usual, and after a brief chat to one of the tour guides, I too went to bed.
Day 8 – Sunday, we continue our journey along the track along Iora Creek, where the track takes us over small ups and downs as we cross Iora Creek. After about one and a half hours the track begins to steadily climb to the crest where more and more weapon pits become visible. As the track descends here. The track drops suddenly, almost vertically, to the abandoned Iora Creek Village.
This is a small level area with an open, iron roofed shelter marking the site of the village centre. This too, was a major staging centre. Overhead is a massive hill which overlooks the whole area. Often late afternoon mist creeps up the valley enclosing the already dark canopy the place has a special atmosphere all of its own. Our trek today takes us across Iora Creek and up to the Japanese defensive position.
Further on lays Alola Village, some three and a half hours ahead. The track rises mostly along the contour line of the ranges until a sudden drop to the river below.
With the usual bush it’s across the river then up into Alola Village. The rest house at Alola is to a degree dilapidated and you wonder how it stands but the view is fantastic. Similarly, the wash point nearby has spectacular views, toward Kokoda. We are literally up in the clouds here and often Alola is covered with a fog like veil. However, it clears in a few hours and the panoramic view is spectacular. Today’s trek was also short, arriving in the village an hour after finishing lunch, so we just relaxed and rested for the remainder of the day.
Day 9 – Monday, From Alola we trek towards Isurava Battlefields. This is the location of what has been described as one of most significant battles of the South West Pacific War, the “Battle that saved Australia”. The original site of Isurava Village is still cleared with a magnificent memorial constructed commemorating the battle. The villagers moved out of this area after suspecting sorcery over some events. The new Isurava Village is about one hour from the old site and is in a well set out location with small hedges and gardens amongst the huts.
Because some of the trekkers are struggling, the tour guides decide for us to trek for only 4 hours today, and with the villager’s permission, we set up camp on the edge of Isurava Village. The boys were definitely pleased to have another rest, even though they were doing a lot better than Friday’s long trek.
Day 10 – Tuesday, the track unwinds into a long one, but it is nearly all downhill. We are very excited as we sense that the finish line is very close, caution is needed as we need to stay focused on the job of walking safely. The track continues down, crossing numerous streams and open spaces where shrubs and trees are blanketed by leafy choko vines.
We pass through the Village of Deniki which was the scene of a short sharp battle during the Australians fighting withdrawal across the Kokoda Track. Deniki offers spectacular views down to Kokoda. Occasionally the open space coincides with the sides of the valleys and expansive views are exposed of the lower countryside and coast. A short walk further on and you step out onto a bare ridgeline with the village on the side. The jungle recedes with dramatic suddenness and children from the village of Hoi shout greetings, running to gather around us walkers.
We stop at Hoi to saviour the moment, have a swim in the river and contemplate our journey the Kokoda Trail. From here, it’s a fast walk on undulating terrain, along a wide well-kept track to the village of Kokoda. An hour from Kokoda the track becomes a rough road, 20 minutes and power lines appear. Village folk using the same road become more frequent responding to greetings with wide smiles – they know you have come over the Kokoda Trail and respect you for it.
We had done it; we had completed the Kokoda Trail across the Owen Stanley Ranges, I had my doubts about Tom and Ethan completing the trek, I was prepared to stop and have a helicopter fly us back to Port Moresby, if it got too difficult, but the boys soldiered on, and I was very proud of the both. While most of the group decided to return to Port Moresby that afternoon, we elected to stay at Kokoda for the night, and we caught a plane back to the city the following morning.
At Port Moresby we checked into a hotel so the boys could rest, and I did some clothes washing for all of us, and after an enjoyable lunch at the hotel, we packed up our backpacks and caught a taxi to the Port Moresby Airport, and before sunset we touched down at Cairns Airport.
Copyright May 2018 Preston Wigglesworth, All Rights are Reserved