PNG July 2010 - part 1

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PNG July 2010 - part 1

Postby nickL » Sun 22 Aug, 2010 9:38 pm

it had been months of the daily slog of work occuring in the background of the an impending adventure - the excitment was building and all that i could focus on was getting myself organised and getting the hell out of town - there was the training which i am notoriously bad at but this time i went out for a reasonalbe hill walk every week - there was the gear obsession - there was the pouring over the itinerary - there was the trail of books on the military history - in the end the excitement was too much...

so two days before departure i went and got a very nasty cold and could only breath via a raspy trachea....thus adding anxiety to excitement

nothing could stop me however and filled with every known natural remedy i boarded the plane on the 5th of July and via a manic series of hectic flight transfers i ended up in Port moresby.

Our group of 14 entered the Port moresby international airport from a series of destinations so that two hours after arriving we were all gathered in a huddle of absolute feverishness. The tour company "ecotourism melanesia" was their to collect us and take us by bus to bomana war cemetery where we were confronted by the 3600 grave stones of the Australians and Papua Nuiguineans killed in the fighting on the Kokoda track and the northern beaches. A sombre and eery place that respectfully salutes those that gave their lives in a battle that may have saved australia from invasion. here we found the grave stones of those like Bruce Kingsbury and Butch Bisset whose stories have become immortalised in the writings of the campagin as well as the broader pages of history.

we overnighted in Port Moresby and the next day took a flight to Popondetta where we would begin our tour of the northern Beach Battle sites. From Popondetta we went by PMV (an open truck with very hard bench seats and covered by a tarp) to Sanananda. We were given our first traditional welcome here and had a wonderful dinner provided by the villagers. Spent our first night uner a mozzie net in a bamboo hut and awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the lagoon that faced the village. from here we went by outboard to Buna and then Gona - all three beach communities were the three sites of the first landings by the Japanese in July 1942 and it is here that some of the bloodiest battles that cost the most lives were fought after the kokoda trail campaign. The villages were full of military history, however what really was fascinating was the culture and villlage life that was so clear in these coastal villages rarely visited by tourists.

We departed from Gona to return to Popondetta where we walked the streets of this large PNG city. We did some shopping and experienced the colourful hustle and bustle of city life in PNG. the next day we visited the popondetta memorial grounds and then got back on the wooden bench seats of a PMV for a long bumpy ride up to kokoda.

At kokoda we visited the war museum and relived the battles that occured here with a description from our historical guide (maclaren) and via Bill James's trail guide. The signs of Australian investment in kokoda were obvious at the hopsital where we bunked down for the night after a wonderful village dinner and talk with our trek guides in preperation for the walking the next day.

awoke on the 9th to a clear sunny day in paradise - packed my gear into two dry bags - one for a porter (4kg) and one for my own pack (6kg). Total pak weight was 10kg. we met all the porters employed to lug gear over the trail. our tour company organised a large group of 24 porters for our group of 14. we were initally bemused by this large number but later found out that the large numbers was about creating employment and the group intentionally consisted of older and younger porters who came from a few areas and not just kokoda. there was a conscious attempt to spread out the benefits of tourism and our tour company followed this sort of ethos the whole way along the trail.

we started our walk out of kokoda at about 11am first at a leisurley pace over a few kms of flat ground before a steep up for a an hour which took us to Deniki at about 4 o'clock. So far there was a lot of sweating in the sun and humidity, but the short distance covered and the beautiful weather meant that the walking was hard but not about to finish anyone off.

on the ensuing days we walked for between 4 and 61/2 hours a day and were blessed by amazing weather and no rain. This definitely made the walking so much easier and i would rate the level of dificulty similar to a moderte walk in Tasi (SCT in october 09 was much more difficult). there were some steep ascents and descents and this did require a bit of pacing but our relaxed itinerary meant that we were able to take lots of swims in the beautiful mountain streams and hang out around villages. we got in to camp no later than 3 and on one day in at 12.30.

Our list of stops went something like this:
- kokoda to deniki
- demiki to alola
- alola to templetons 2
- templetons to 1900 camp (actually the altitude)
- 1900 camp to Efogi 2
- efogi to menari
- menari to nauro
- nauro to ua-ule creek
- Ua ule creek to Owers corner

as we did it in 9 days (95km) it was a relased pace and there was lots of time to stop and take photos, swim once or twice a day in beautiful mountain creeks, chat to the proters about their life in the villages and relive in detail all the battles along the trail.

my experience was a little different to others - those that i have read about and described by friends. my experience was one of a wonderful jungle walk that was challenging on the legs but very enjoyable and fulfilling both physically and spiritually. The respect i gained for the men that fought on those battle fields was immeasurable. My reflections on my complicated life in australia were a testament to the simple existance i observed of the villagers.

the reason my experience was different was because i did the walk over 9 days and it didnt rain while we were there. Also i know some groups carry all their gear (which i am used to) while we only carried between 5-9kg. in any case we went light weight and didnt burden our porters either.

i would recommend the walk to all of you who i am sure would get through it easily.
Bomana War Cemetery
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Sanananda village lagoon
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Buna Village
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In Kokad Village War Museum
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First day on the trail
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PNG July 2010 - part 2 - More Pics

Postby nickL » Sun 22 Aug, 2010 9:44 pm

just in case you didnt get enough - if only i could share the other 900 pics


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Ammunitiion dump dug out by locals near myola
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the trip was grueling like this at least twice a day
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our porters at owers corner
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Re: PNG July 2010 - part 1

Postby ninjapuppet » Mon 23 Aug, 2010 6:33 pm

very informative journal nick.

the SCT has a 1000m climb over the ironbounds alone. Wikipedia reckons kookoda climbs between 300m to 2190m
i guess carrying 9kg over a higher mountain with porters, might sometimes be easier than carrying 20kg over a smaller mountain by yourself.
Would you rate it as one of the harder walks you've ever done? would you recommend ecotourism melanesia?

These journals have inspired me to add it to the list of "1001 things to do before you die"
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Re: PNG July 2010 - part 1

Postby nickL » Tue 24 Aug, 2010 9:25 pm

hey NP

yep i would recommend the company - it was cheap (3k for 13 days all up) they have a good handle on the logistics, they were switched on to leaving us to our walk and only giving the support when needed and to those who needed it, they were very sensitive to local issues (locals provided alot of the food and we slept in local huts) and the even distribution of wealth amongst the track, they are actively involved in looking after the track, they treat the porters well, they higher some very experienced porters (head porter on his 60th time on the trail)

- on the negative side they dont bring along a historical guide but if you read up and spend time with someone who is into it you can cover alot of this yourself - we were lucky enough that our group leader(organiser of our group from adelaide) is an amateur historian and this was his third time on the walk and he has read every book on it including some of the official battalion histories. he should really have been paid to come along as a guide

on the difficulty side i would rate it one of the easiest multi-days i have done for the reasons i described above - it is tough walking but doing the SCT when i did it in 7 days in the torrential rain and flooding was much harder than kokoda in the dry - when i asked the porters about the lack of rain they told me that it was completely normal for july to be totally dry, hence why it is the peak walking month

i am hopeless at training and went on one 2 to four hour walk a week up some good hills around town - i am already reasonably fit but like most people i can walk a fair distance without a pack

we did see some people that shouldnt have been on the trail due to lack of fitness and we also saw groups doing the trail in 7 days which meant they were walking from 7 till about 5.30 - i must admit that the best part of it for me was the meandering through the amazing jungle and the long soaks sitting in the eddies of the mountian streams - so i am glad we didnt rush - usually when i walk with my buddies i am happy to cover a reasonable distance every day but on this trip the large number of stops was good

its great to have done it and i am looking forward to my next hike in PNG which will hopefully be in a more remote jungle area on a not so well worn path
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