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My Experience By Allan Bradley - 02 October To 10 October 2007


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#1 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:16 PM

Pre Trek Preparation

I had the luxury of having a brother who walked the Kokoda Track with Kokoda Trekking (KTL) last year, so he was able to give us some really sound advice in advance.

The first piece of advice is to get fit.

You will spend one 8 hour day walking solidly uphill with your (about 8 Kg) day pack on your back.  Other days you will spend a very long time walking downhill which is actually harder.  Do lots of walking up and down steep hills.

The second piece of advice is to get your malaria medication

This isn’t difficult – just go to your doctor.

Most malaria medications need to be started a couple of days before you head to New Guinea – check with your doctor.

Malaria is one of those diseases that mutates regularly, so get up to date info and get the right pills.  Different doctors will prescribe different medication so don’t be surprised if your trekking mates have pills different to yours.

The malaria medication will be a PROPHYLAXIS.  This type of medication will not cure you if you get malaria.  Also, it will not guarantee that you won’t get malaria.  All it will do is dramatically reducing your likelihood of getting it.

#2 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:21 PM

The third piece of advice is to make sure your equipment is in good condition

You will need to have a small, light rucksack that you will carry your day stuff in.  

Expect to have in your day pack
  • Your food for the day
  • A rain coat
  • Your eating plate and drinking mug
  • Your water purifying pills
  • Your sandals ( for walking through streams)
  • Your water bottles / bladders
  • Toilet Paper
Make sure your day pack rucksack has a rain cover.

You will also need to have a more substantial rucksack that will be carried by your porter. Porters do not have their own rucksack – you have to provide your own. Your Porter’s rucksack will carry everything else of yours including:
  • A small one man tent
  • A sleeping bag
  • A camping mattress
  • A mosquito net
  • Your change of clothing
  • Your torch with spare batteries & bulbs
  • Your medical kit
  • Your washkit (soap, toothbrush toothpaste & towel is all that’s needed)
Now here’s the catch.

Your porter’s rucksack, when fully loaded MUST NOT weigh more than 15 Kg.  

Realistically, if it weighs more than 13 Kg, you’ve got too much stuff. Also you must leave some space in your rucksack for your porter to store his (small) pack too.

Make sure that your trekking boots fit properly and are in good condition. They are possibly the most vital and irreplaceable piece of kit you have. You can’t afford for them to fail.

Make sure you wear your boots on the aircraft when you travel as if your backpack goes missing with your gear most things can be replaced but not your boots!

#3 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:25 PM

The fourth piece of advice is to build plenty of fat into your travel arrangements

Air travel to and from New Guinea can be problematic. We booked with QANTAS and had a QANTAS ticket. When we arrived at Brisbane Airport we discovered that the flight was a shared service between Air Niugini and QANTAS.  

Not only that, but the aircraft was overbooked and had broken down. The bottom line was that we arrived in Port Moresby about 12 hours late. For us this was no real problem because we had planned to arrive in Port Moresby the day before the trek started, but if we had given ourselves a tighter schedule things would have become difficult.

The hotels in Port Moresby are often fully booked, so make sure you make reservations well in advance.

Editors Note: There is also another airline that flies into PNG that goes by the name of Airlines of PNG.  They operate out of Brisbane on Monday's, Wednesday's and Friday's and daily out of Cairns.  You can also purchase online and get some pretty good deals.  Their service is very reliable:  www.apng.com

The fifth of advice is to minimize any extra food you bring

I know Gail suggests you bring any particular snacks you particularly like,

But

When you arrive at Port Moresby, the Customs area has signs saying that you are not allowed to bring food into New Guinea.  The guys in our trek all declared their chocolate bars, packets of nuts and packets of Gatorade / power aid etc. and the Customs Officers let us straight through.

But they could be having a bad day, and then confiscate the lot.  So don’t take anything you aren’t prepared to have confiscated before the trek.

Also

Quite honestly, the amount of food provided by KTL to each trekker each day is way more than you will eat.  More on food later, but really, don’t bother bringing Mars Bars, Trail Mix etc..  The only ‘food’ I would recommend you bring is ‘Power aid’ / ‘Gatorade’ or the like, to flavour the water you drink after it has been treated by your water purifying pills.

The sixth and final piece of advice is about money

The New Guinea currency is the Kina.  It is not readily available in Australia.  Usually you will have to go to a Travelex Money Changer and order it in advance.  Travelex will need about a week to get the Kina for you.  Banks generally don’t seem to deal in Kina.

I took about $400 Aussie dollars worth of Kina with me to PNG and it was just enough.

Make sure when you get your Kina that you get it in small denominations. Lots of 5, 10 and 20  Kina notes, rather than 50 or 100 Kina notes.  On the track, all soft drinks for sale in the villages you pass through cost 5 Kina, beer will cost 10 Kina, bunches of banana or plates of pineapple all cost 5 Kina, so having large notes becomes a bit of a problem.

There are ANZ and Westpac ATMs in Port Moresby, but getting to them is a problem because of security.

#4 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:28 PM

Once You Arrive In Port Moresby

Arrival

When you get off the aircraft and arrive in the Passport / Customs area you will have a couple of forms to fill in.  Make sure you have a pen handy.

Arrival Tax

15 Kina arrival tax is payable on arrival.  They will accept Aussie Dollars, but it is easier if you have Kina.

Lost Bags

Two of our Trekker’s luggage didn’t arrive.  After they reported this to the airline they went to the hotel.  The following day they started the trek without their kit.  When their bags arrived, the trekkers were already on the track.  

Not a problem. Gail & Russell collected the bags and organised for them to be driven to Owers’ Corner, and then an extra porter chased after us and delivered it at our first stop.

This was our first indication that Gail and Russell REALLY know what they are doing.

#5 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:30 PM

Security

Probably all of us have heard stories about how dangerous Port Moresby is.  I never witnessed any trouble, but the hotels are surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire, and if you try to leave the hotel grounds, the hotel security will physically stop you if necessary.

However, once you leave Port Moresby and start the trek, the question of security seems to vanish.  The locals you encounter are some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet.


#6 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:31 PM

Starting The Trek

Kokoda Trekking (KTL) is owned by Gail Thomas and Russell Eroro.  Gail is an Aussie lady from QLD.  Russell is a New Guinean man from KOKODA who walked the track as a porter for 12 + years.

They will collect you from the hotel to start the trek.

When they collect you, be dressed, and fully prepared to start walking.  When you get off the truck you will be at Owers' Corner and will start walking the track straight away. There are no changing rooms etc. there, so be fully ready when you leave the hotel.

You will ride to Owers' Corner in the back of their KTL truck and for larger groups KTL's Toyota Troopcarrier or Prado.  Other trekking companies take their trekkers to Owers' Corner in a hired Toyota Coaster Bus.

The last 10 Km or so of the drive is on a muddy slippery track that our truck had no problems with.  The other company’s Toyota Coaster got stuck and their trekkers had to get out and push.

We calmly drove past them however not before we helped tow the Toyota Coaster out of the bog. KTL’s Troopcarrier is also fitted with a winch which helps in these kind of conditions.

This was our second indication that Gail and Russell REALLY know what they are doing.

#7 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:34 PM

Actually, before you arrive at Owers’ Corner, you stop at the Bomana War Cemetery.  Most of the Aussie Soldiers and PNG Carriers killed during the campaign were re buried in this cemetery.

Don’t be surprised if you find your eyes beginning to fill with tears.

Once you Get to Ower’s Corner

Once you arrive at Ower’s Corner, you will be introduced to your team of Porters.  
We were a group of
  • 7 trekkers who had a personal porter
  • 3 trekkers who elected not to have a personal porter, and carry all their stuff themselves.
  • 7 personal porters
  • 1 Chief Porter / Guide / Leader
  • 4 Food Porters
A total of 22 of us.

You will also be provided with the best piece of equipment you will ever get; A Kokoda Trekking Pole. You might have a Trekking Pole of you own already - leave it back at home.  The trekking pole they provide is absolutely perfect for the Kokoda Track.

A few photos of you at the starting point, then you’re off.

#8 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:38 PM

Important Points

1. It is not a race – slow down.
2. Walk at your own pace – don’t try to keep up with faster trekkers
3. Do not expect to ‘bond’ with your porter immediately – it takes time.


Stops

The porters will organise a stop about every 2 hours

First Night

You will stop walking every day at about 4 p.m. at a campsite.

Campsites

Every night you will stop at a campsite or in a village. The campsite will be a cleared area in the jungle next to a fast running stream of pristine, freezing cold pure mountain water. There will also be plenty of space to pitch your tent.  Your porter will help you pitch your tent, and will probably be better at pitching than you.  Let him help, start working as a team.

Wash in the stream.
  
Yes, it’s freezing but it’s all part of the fun and after the trekking you’ve done, you need it.

Toilets

Everywhere you stop, there will be toilets. These toilets will be basic camp toilets. Some will just be a hole in the ground surrounded by 4 walls. Others will have a seat over the hole in the ground. Others still will only have three walls, and the open side will overlook some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see.  A real room with a view.

The bottom line is that, only the most absolutely picky lady will have any trouble at all with the toilets.  They are fine.  But you will need your own toilet paper.

#9 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:40 PM

Food

At the first campsite, you will be issued your own food supply for the next 24 hours. It comes in a large zip lock bag and it is positively bulging. I can’t remember all you get but it includes.
  • 2 packets of muesli; tea bags; coffee sachets; hot chocolate sachets; Powdered milk
  • Instant noodles; Packet of Tuna to have with your noodles; Cherry Ripe; Brunch Bar
  • Sultana Cake; Ritz Crackers; Sultanas; Le Snack – Ritz crackers & Cheese
  • Mayonnaise; Beef Jerky; A packet of Back Country Cuisine; Trail Mix Nuts
These food parcels are put together in Australia and use brands of food you will readily recognise, such as Bushels Tea Bags, Maggi Noodles etc.

For dinner every night, everyone gives their packet of Back Country Cuisine to the Porters.  They then cook it all up together in one pot, and cook up some rice in another pot, then leave it to you to dish out amongst yourselves.

Everyday, all trekkers get the same variety of  Back Country Cuisine, so when the porters cook it, it doesn’t taste funny.  Each day the variety of Back Country Cuisine changes.

The porters will also provide a large billy of hot water for your tea, coffee & hot chocolate.

Attached Images

  • 10104_Ration_Pack__Small_.jpg
  • 10086_Typical_Daily_Ration___Small_.jpg


#10 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:42 PM

Bed Time

Stay up as late as you like, but remember

1. There is no electricity
2. You will be very tired
3. The porters are working much harder than you.

So you will probably be in your sleeping bag fast asleep by about 7:30 p.m.

Wake Up
  • Wake up is at about 5 a.m.
  • Have breakfast.
  • Break camp
  • Be on the trail at about 6:30
Walking With Your Porters

You soon work out what works as far as walking with your friends and porters. Some people like or need the assistance of their porter all the way. Someone actually said that they never thought they would ever spend 8 days continually holding another man’s hand.

Other people find they need very little assistance from their porters. The bottom line is that if you want to walk along with some friends and not have your porter alongside you, that’s fine,  BUT  if you find your porter suddenly alongside you, it’s because he knows that you are approaching an area where you will NEED him.  Respect his knowledge.

Your porter genuinely does have a sixth sense and will always be there when you need him.

This was another indication that Gail and Russell REALLY know what they are doing.

Attached Images

  • Picture_038__Small_.jpg


#11 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:44 PM

"One Of The Best Things About KTL PORTERS"


They play either the ukulele or the guitar, and all have a fine singing voice. When you’re trekking through the jungle, just having them walking close by playing a light song is really uplifting.

It might sound silly, sitting here saying that we spent a happy hour walking the track singing ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ but at the time it was fantastic.  Tired legs got new energy, and exhausted lungs were suddenly hollering “ee  I  ee I oh” with the best of them.

And as you are approaching your campsite, hearing “Radio Nelson” (the food porter) singing as the billy boils is a really great welcome.

After dinner, a sing song may sound corny, but it really works.

Whenever there was another trekking group sharing our campsite, they always used to come over and join our sing along and bemoan the fact that they didn’t have any musicians in their group.

Yet again, Gail and Russell had proven they REALLY know what they are doing.

What Day is it?

We very quickly forgot what day it was.  Was it Monday or Thursday?  Was it Day 4 or 6?

One of the beauties of the track is the simplicity of the existence.

Wake up.....Eat......Walk.....Stop & Eat.....Walk.....Stop & Eat.....Walk.....Stop & Eat.....Sleep

Passing through Villages

When you walk through villages, you can expect little children to come up to you.   They are expecting little gifts such as balloons, pencils, crayons, note pads. Don’t disappoint them.

Their parents will in turn offer you bunches of beautiful tasting bananas or pineapples or soft drinks. (everything costs 10 Kina).

Attached Images

  • DSC01244_Naoro_Village__Small_.jpg


#12 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:47 PM

War Stuff

I had read quite a lot of books regarding the Battles fought along the Kokoda Track.  There is plenty of evidence still remaining of the battle, including fox holes and pieces of equipment.  There is even the wreckage of a B 25 Mitchell bomber with an unexploded 500 pound bomb next to it.

If you are a real ‘War Buff’ you will need to let your porter know, then they will make a point of showing you any ‘items of interest’.  Otherwise you will only be shown a few ‘major things’.

You don’t have to be a “War Buff” to walk the Kokoda Track. Some of our trekkers had only the sketchiest idea of what happened there in 1942.  That didn’t stop them appreciating how hard the track must have been for the young soldiers. Nor did it stop them from getting tears in their eyes at places such as the Isurava War Memorial


After a Few Days Walk.
  • Your clothes are all damp and smell.
  • You too are damp and smell.
  • So does every one else.
  • But your body has got used to the hard physical work,
  • You are getting plenty of sleep
  • You are eating well
  • You are feeling better than you have for years.
  • You have struck up friendships with strangers.
Being Tired

There will come a time when all of you are just worn out.  Your porters will be watching for this and may call a halt to the days trek early in the day, giving you the afternoon to recuperate.

Every morning, our Chief Porter would give us a short briefing, explaining how long the days’ walk would be and whether it is all uphill, downhill or lots of ups & downs.

His advice was always the same.

“Believe in yourself and you will succeed.”
“Listen to your porters”

That seemed to do the trick.

#13 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:50 PM

Where You Stop Each Night is Flexible.

Some trekking groups are faster than others.  Other times it might be raining and to keep walking would just make people wet and miserable.  No one comes on the trek to be miserable.

Because of this, where you stop each night is not fixed. Sure, there is a plan to get to a certain point each day, but if you don’t make it, so what? You just do a bit more over the next few days.

Alternatively, if your trekking group is fast and the weather is good, keep going. The KTL Guide will decide where you will stop that night at about lunchtime.

Sleeping in Village Guest Houses

On some nights, instead of staying at a campsite and sleeping in your tent, you will stop in a village where they have erected a guest house.

These will have a split bamboo floor, half walls and a pandannus leaf roof.

They are great because

You don’t have to pitch your tent
You can spread out a bit more
You can chat with your mates
You can hang your wet clothes up to dry out a bit.


#14 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:51 PM

When We Got To Kokoda

When we go to Kokoda, we spent the night at the KTL site at Russell’s place. We were welcomed by locals in traditional, native dress. Then fed a delicious meal.Then with a few beers to celebrate as we sat in the stream washing, singing and relaxing. It was fantastic.  That night we slept in a guest house, before getting up the next day to fly back to Port Moresby.

Back in Port Moresby

It was great to check in to the hotel and have a good shower and shave. We had the hotel porter clean our trekking boots We had the hotel laundry wash all our dirty stinking trekking clothes. We sat around the pool drinking beer and eating pizza or burgers. Then we fell asleep.

That evening Gail and Russell came to our hotel to celebrate with us, present us with Certificates of Accomplishment and a Tee Shirt. They de – briefed us – asked us how the trek went, what went wrong, how they could improve the trek experience etc.  

That effort to get our feedback helps explain why KTL do such a great trek
.


#15 Boss Meri

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:53 PM

Other Things


Group Size

There are definite advantages to having a small group of trekkers.

Some of the other trekking groups had up to 40 trekkers.

When you add the porters, this meant they had anything up to 80 or 90 people on the track.

Watching them operate, it became obvious that it was like a production line getting them fed and on the trail. I often though it reminded me of herding cattle.

It turns out that a lot of these large groups are Australian based companies who employ an Aussie to fly to PNG to lead the trek, and Aussies in Australia to organise the trek.  This increases their costs considerably, so the only way they can run the treks for a reasonable price is to have large numbers of trekkers on each trek.

By comparison, KTL is based in Port Moresby and use local Trek Leaders, so costs are much lower. This means they can afford to run take smaller sized groups on the Track.

Slowing down because we were tired, or speeding up because we were still fresh was easy to do.  The large groups by comparison were ‘lock step’.

The other big thing was that we all got to know each other well (trekkers and porters) and were able to mutually support each other.  This just wasn’t possible in large groups.

Since the ‘bonding experience’ is one of the biggest things you get from walking the track, you are doing yourself no favours doing the trek in a large group.

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