Kokoda Trail: Day Eight
Goldie River - Ower's Corner - Port Moresby
Last day! Some people were celebrating. I was not one of them.
Reveille was a leisurely 5.30 a.m. but I didn't move until 6 a.m. I had mastered my morning routine and was able to swiftly dress, pack and be ready for the day ahead. Not that there was much to prepare for - the final segment was only 2 km long, then it was all over.
Before we could commence we had to cross the fast-flowing Goldie River. With my sandals on I carefully eased my way through the creek, hoisting my bag as high as I could on my back. The water hit the top of the my thighs, ensuring my shorts were wet for the rest of the morning but at least my backpack was dry. Then it was back into the boots, ready to tackle one final mountain.
The ascent was kind to us and started gradually, but the angle gradually increased until we were once again on a sharp incline. It was a fitting way to end the trek. Scaling a series of switchbacks we emerged from the forest, and for a change we had grey clouds overhead rather than the towering trees we had grown accustomed to. There was no mud here, only short grass that allowed us to appreciate the mountain range scenery behind us. In front, there was just more climbing. The famous Kokoda arches finally came into view and we stuck together as a group as we neared the summit. Our carriers had run ahead to form a finishing chute for us, and started clapping and cheering as we approached. We entered the human tunnel one at a time, high-fiving the incredible men who had made this journey possible for us.
That was it! It was all over. A huge range of emotions surged through me, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. I didn't do either, as the next half hour was dedicated to taking thousands of photos (and not all by me). We had survived the Kokoda Trail! It had been an arduous challenge, but a rewarding one at the same time, one that I will never forget.
As we waited for the bus (motorised transport!) I stared out at the mountains we had conquered, reflecting on the whole experience. It was nothing like I expected but I got so much more out of it than I ever could have dreamed of. I was trying to focus on the positives, however I knew the real world was waiting for me and I wasn't sure if I was ready to return. If I had been told we were turning around and heading back to Kokoda I would have jumped for joy. But that didn't happen. The bus arrived and we were transported back to the lodge, where it all began eight days ago.
Leaving Goldie River.
Emerging from the jungle.
Almost at the top.
At the lodge my first priority was a hot shower. There were many things I didn't miss, but a hot showers wasn't one of them. Twenty minutes later I had transformed myself into something resembling a clean person, although I couldn't remove all the dirt from under my fingernails. Fresh clothes were a luxury, and I will never tire of being able to sit down to pee. I was worried about coming back to reality, but already I had found half a dozen creature comforts that were making the transition easier.
The afternoon saw us heading out to Bomana War Cemetery. As far as cemeteries go, this one was peaceful and lovely, but the sheer number of tombstones was heart-breaking. Over 3,800 Australian soldiers are buried here, hundreds of whom are still unidentified. Many bodies have never been found, their names etched into a rotunda at the top of the site. Walking through the endless rows I was dumbfounded at the ages displayed on each headstone - early 20s appeared to be the average, 16 was the youngest. Their lives were only just starting, and they gave up everything to protect their country.
It was a sombre end to our trip and it brought home the reality of what occurred here. As much as I relished hiking through the jungle, I came to Kokoda to learn a bit more about our history and to gain an appreciation of what our soldiers suffered through. I'm glad I finally signed up and made the trip out here, after years of deliberation. The Kokoda Trail, the Papuans, the war stories and our amazing group of trekkers all contributed to this wonderful journey, and have left me inspired to seek out further adventures in the future. Thank you Papua New Guinea!
Bomana War Cemetery.