Taking on Kokoda

24 May 2016

By Shadforth Financial Group

Originally the site of a four-month battle ignited by the Japanese landing in Papua in 1942, the Kokoda Trail is a symbol of Australian participation in World War II. Today, more than 5000 Australians walk the track every year, following in the soldiers’ footsteps, and are forever changed by the experience.

While you don’t need to be an army recruit to take on the Trail, the adventure is both mentally and physically challenging, so it’s crucial you’re adequately prepared for what lies ahead.

No walk in the park

The 96-kilometre track is about 50 hours walking time and can take anywhere from four to 12 days to complete, depending on your fitness level and rest stops.

However, walking might not be the best way to describe it. Close to the full 50 hours is spent descending narrow tracks, crossing a log bridge across rapids at the base, then climbing such a steep incline you are, at times, perpendicular. This is where using both your hands and feet comes in handy. Understandably, at times like this the pace slows down to around one kilometre an hour.

When it comes to the weather, the rain will find you no matter where you are on the track, and cloud can drop to 1000 metres — making you feel as though you’re walking through thick mist. At night, temperatures can drop to five degrees but the humidity is  rife during the day, so it’s best to pack several light layers, long sleeves and extra socks.

Time to train

Nathan Thomas from Kokoda Trekking recommends a minimum of three months training prior to walking the Kokoda Trail, as a base guide. He also stresses the importance of chatting to your GP before your training begins.

“Our training program is aimed at improving cardio vascular fitness, so that you can comfortably exercise for five to six hours a day over a nine-day period. Also, be aware of the importance of rest — listen to your body and don’t overtrain, it will only cause fatigue and injuries,” he says.

Strength training is another crucial component of training, since you will be carrying all your worldly possessions on your back for the journey. However, employing a personal porter is a good option for those unsure of their fitness levels.
To get a better idea of what you can handle, Kokoda Trekking offers a self-assessed fitness guide, but Nathan suggests a personal trainer can help with this too.

“As a guide, we offer a five-night trek that requires half marathon fitness levels, and a seven to eight-night trek that requires moderate to high fitness levels,” says Nathan.

But remember, this journey is one that requires mental preparation, as well as physical. Nathan believes it comes down to 60 per cent physical and 40 per cent mental, so being prepared on both levels will undoubtedly lead to a more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

A helping hand

The Kokoda Trail passes through Oro Province and Central Province — making tourism an important part of the income for local communities. Fees are paid to them for camping and some of the locals have trained as tour guides. Trekking companies are sure to operate under strict eco-sensitive guidelines to maintain the environment, and often source fresh fruits and vegetables for their journey from villages along the route.

Lest we forget

Kokoda was arguably Australia’s most significant campaign of World War II. The battle took the lives of more Australians, and the Japanese came closer to the Australian mainland, than in any other campaign. Those who lost their lives, many just 18 and 19 years old, lie buried at the Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby.

Walking in their shoes is the ultimate challenge of human endurance, perseverance and a tribute to their spirit and inner strength. During the experience, what you lose in comfort will undoubtedly be replaced by the sense of achievement you’ll get after walking a trek that shaped our current history and secured our freedom.

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