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Adventure

Walking among ghosts on the Kokoda Trail

Adventures

With just a high school level of war history and new boots, a rather underprepared Mark Watson follows in the footsteps of our Diggers. In PNG, he discovers a new challenge - and a whole lotta pain.

STEPPING ONTO THE TARMAC in Port Moresby I register how underprepared I am at the precise moment the humidity envelops me. Only two days prior I had been sipping lattes on Sydney's northern beaches pondering the question, "Can Kokoda really be that hard?" I still don't know the answer.

Last year I was trekking at 5000m above sea level in the majestic Andes so it was easy to impudently write off Kokoda as an occasional war story, a celebrity trail and quite possibly an over-exaggerated jungle trek, presumably offering a few muddy challenges, but nothing too crippling. Or so I anticipated.

And so it wasn't until my flight took off from Cairns that I gazed out at the expanse of ocean below and realised that in the same time it takes to fly from Sydney to Melbourne, I would now cross into an entire new world, a foreign culture, and by all accounts, including a travellers warning by the Oz Travel Advisory, a world far from the stability, safety and comforts of my northern beaches coffee shops.

My research bordered on nil, my PNG language skills  non-existent and my war history,  inexcusable. My intention to trek the famous Kokoda Trail originated with the skewed view to try and absorb the amazing natural history, allowing the wartime aspect only as an afterthought. My plan was to walk into the PNG jungle with little more than a fading high school history lesson echoing in the back of my mind. There would be no preconceived ideas but rather an open mind and a clean slate - I would be a sponge. But supposedly I needed to be a fit sponge.

Fit for the Kokoda Trail

My first hint that the Kokoda Trail might truly be as brutal as its reputation was when I noted I must supply an Electrocardiograph (ECG) graph signed by my GP to prove I might at least survive the first ascent. My second clue is perceived somewhere over the Gulf of Carpentaria when I finally peruse all the unopened paperwork that arrived a few weeks back. It appears I should have been undergoing an extensive exercise program for the entire past month.
 
"If you haven't made enough deposits into your fitness account then you will go into debt on the trail - from my experience this is not a pretty sight," 20-year veteran of the trail, and the bloke who happens to be my guide, Charlie Lynn writes bluntly.

"Bugger!"

My trekking boots are less than two days old and my pack is overweight by too many kilograms, but my aim is simple: Just go with the flow. . . For I am about to step into a brutal right of passage and pilgrimage for many Australians and to walk in the footsteps of our Aussie diggers...

To read the full story pick up a copy of AG Outdoor March/April '12.