The Kokoda Track is a 96-kilometre trek that crisscrosses the rugged Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. It was used as a mail route prior to WW2. The Australian army fought a series of ferocious battles along it to stop the Japanese from capturing Port Moresby and invading Australia, even though the latter seemed unlikely at the time. Hundreds of Australians were killed and wounded during the four-month struggle from July – November 1942, but Japanese casualties were even greater. You can trek with your family, tour battle sites, be challenged through precipitous slopes, scale razorback ridges. Stay in beautiful villages belonging to descendants of the famous Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, native war carriers who helped with the Australian war effort in WW2. One of the families that took on the challenge was the Baker family from Australia
Preparing and managing expectations
We receive an online enquiry on 21st March 2015 from Robert Baker who is planning a trek for two families from Kokoda – Owers’ Corner. And we get another email from him on 16th of April informing us that only four people are doing the trek and the rest have dropped out (it’s not unusual considering Kokoda isn’t for the faint-hearted). But it’s encouraging news knowing they’re all from Robert’s family – Robert himself, wife Kristy, and twin children Olivia and Harry – a real courageous bunch. Olivia and Harry are only 10, and the youngest to be doing Kokoda with us (and still hold the record to this day).
Kokoda is remote and isolated so it’s very important to be self-sufficient. We get to work immediately after getting confirmation from Robert. We make sure trek permits are paid for, flights are booked, vehicles are arranged, accommodation is sorted, porters are organised, and there are enough food and water to last the entire trek among all the important logistical preparations.
Robert tells us they’ll all need personal porters. The porters are mandatory for kids and strongly recommended for adults who’ll struggle to carry their own backpack the entire trek. On top of training physically for the trip, you’ll need all the help in the world and that’s where personal porters come into the mix. They’re a vital asset and godsend when the going gets tough and the tough gets going.
The adventure begins
The Bakers complete their preparations and the day to set-off finally arrives. They have prepared for this for months and are looking forward to the trek despite not knowing what to expect. They know it’s their toughest assignment so they’ll need to keep a positive face and rely on the encouragement and guidance of their trek leader and porters.
They board their flight with their trek leader in Port Moresby on 4th July for the trip to Popondetta. After touching down at Girua Airport, they take the two-hour drive to Kokoda which takes them past the battle sites of Awala, Gorari and Oivi. B-Company of the 39th Battalion (militia) and elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) fought a number of skirmishes in the area in an attempt to slow down the Japanese advance towards Kokoda.
The challenge and getting over it
The Bakers set off at Kokoda and are not even at the foot of their first climb when they start to realise the toughness of the infamous trek. They are challenged both physically and mentally as the day’s wear on. It’s unrelenting and unforgiving and the trek throws everything at them. Even though it isn’t wet and a quagmire, it’s equally as tough in the dry season as it is in the wet season. But their resolve and mental stamina more than anything else put them in good stead to face and overcome the impending challenges.
The Bakers’ are also motivated even though they know they have the unenviable task of climbing the many mountains that are ahead of them. They know they aren’t carrying much load but have the support of their trekking party and porters. In contrast, the soldiers carried between 30-40 kilos, were being fired upon, and faced many uncertainties that are akin with jungle warfare like not seeing the enemy which was usually tragic.
The finish and life’s lessons
The Baker’s stamina, motivation and encouragements see them through to the finish at Owers’ Corner. They come out happy and unscathed before the drive back to Port Moresby. So what life’s lessons can we take out of the Bakers? We think their Kokoda story is a story of true gut, grit, and determination. They wouldn’t have completed the Kokoda Track if they weren’t gutsy, gritty and determined. To sum up, they believed they could do it and they did. As Will Smith simply put it “The first step is you have to say that you can”.