One of the iconic walks on many Australian bucket lists is the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. Running for 96 km (60 mi) overland (60 km (37 mi) in a straight line) through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea, the track is renowned as the location of the World War II battle between Japanese and Australian forces in 1942.
Frank’s uncle, Bob Melville, was up and down the track a couple of times before he was 19 years old. It has a strong place in the Australian psyche as a small force of under trained and equipped troops fought the most desperate and viscious battle encountered by Australian troops in the Second World War.
For anyone who is interested in further reading, check out the Australian War Memorial site – Kokoda Trail campaign.
This article is about a group of people Frank has worked with at Uecomm, in Melbourne (It’s a large Australian broadband supplier) and their shared goal to hike the Kokoda Track.
Some of them did it for the challenge, some for the fitness regime and all out of respect of our Aussie Soldiers.
In this article we share Part One of their journey, the preparation and fitness campaign!
Written in the first person by several of the walkers, this article originally appeared on the Uecomm intranet and is reproduced here with permission.
For most of us it was a personal journey and for all of us it was in Remembrance of our WW2 soldiers who defended our country. We did it to put ourselves in their shoes – to experience what they experienced – although what they went thru one will never truly experience as many did not return.
In 1942 the Japanese sought to gain control of Port Moresby as this would give them control of a major shipping route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and a base to launch an invasion on Australia. Their first attempt to invade Port Moresby was thwarted by The Battle of the Coral Sea so the Japanese decided to land at Buna on the north coast of Papua New Guinea and walk what they thought was a 10 day hike to Port Moresby. On 21st July 1942 the Japanese landed at Buna and on 29th July 1942 they seized Kokoda and began their advance along the Kokoda track. The Japanese numbered 5,000 soldiers to the Australians 1,000 however the Australians fought with such ferocity that the Japanese believed they faced an enemy force of approximately 6,000.
Over the next 3 months both sides fought to win the Kokoda Track with the Japanese getting as close as Ioribaiwa 88 km from Port Moresby. With supply lines stretched to the limit and sickness a major cause of death the Australians pushed back and retook Kokoda on 2nd November 1942. Over the 3 month period 7,500 Australian soldiers fought in the campaign of which 625 lost their lives. The Japanese fighting force totalled 13,500 with a majority losing their lives.
Why I did it
Back in April 2009, whilst having a quick chat to Stevo re work related matters – he mentions that he is doing Kokoda – that piqued my interest. I was looking for a challenge and found it. He mentioned that TJ was organising it.
I though TJ who? Little was I to know that I would become quite fond of this soft spoken and diplomatic TJ person.
Apparently they had all started their training – back in Feb – TJ gave up smoking, Matt was his usual dedicated super fit self and John went down 5 suit sizes. Lee was climbing and running in the outback and Mary didn’t start her training till July!! The majority of the training consisted of climbing the Glasgow Track which was a well known Kokoda training haunt. Along with a couple of Mt Doona Buang treks, 1000s steps over and over, trek in Halls Gap and gruelling cardio at the gym.
Image by Nomad Tales
Many of us lost half our body weight and became super fit and trim – readying ourselves for the heat of PNG and the well known Kokoda track that many had perished.
I was looking to do something that involved some sort of physical challenge and I always had in the back of my mind to hike Kokoda someone from work had hiked the track last year so she provided a host of information on the track itself, the heat and humidity, what to take and not take etc. Thanks Laura.
We started training in February this year in Mt Dandenong at locations our trekking company Kokoda Spirit has recommended were good places to train. We started off at a place called “the thousand steps” which has been dedicated to the Kokoda track and the soldiers who fought and died there. The thousand steps have many monuments and plaques along the way to the top. I remember Stevo’s and my first attempt on these steps where we stopped I think 5 times on this 15 minute walk to catch our breath. As Mary mentioned the Glasgow track was the place where we trained that was supposedly the closest thing to the rocky, steep terrain encountered on the Kokoda track. From where we parked the car the Glasgow track is 1 km in length and over 350m high. When Kokoda started to get a lot of press we decided it was time to train together as a team to get an idea of each others strengths and weaknesses because we were only going to finish this Kokoda trek as a team together.
Image by Nomad Tales
We decided we would train every Sunday morning where possible starting with one up and down and progressing to four up and down which would take up the whole of Sunday morning. It was agreed that the training we did on the Glasgow track was what got us through Kokoda. We also did a couple of seven hour hikes from Warburton to the top of Mt Donna Buang to get some endurance training which payed dividends because most days on the Kokoda track we trekked for ten hours.
To experience what so many other’s have and most importantly understand the hardship endured and courage of our war veterans who defended our great land in WWII. The Grandfather of Matt Zervaas fought in New Guinea in WWII post the Kokoda track campaign mostly around the north coast of PNG and Bougainville. His name is Edward Joseph Sherlock (Corporal – VX140380) of the 57/60 Australian Infantry Battalion.
Physical and mental challenge
We all did a great deal of research and shared all information as to the physical challenge of this trek without knowing exactly how much energy we would lose because of the humidity and exertion we would have to deal on this adventure. From training with these people I was confident that we were mentally fit and would keep each other going and this is exactly what happened. There were days when we would be split into two groups some four to five minutes apart for a few hours but there was always someone there to push you along.
Many thanks to the walkers from Uecomm for sharing their story. Part two, “On the track” will be up next week on Our Hiking Blog.
Have you ever walked or thought about doing the Kokoda Track?
Do you have any family connection to this campaign?
We would love to hear your ideas or story, drop us a comment below.