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- 30/11/2004 at 2:03 pm #94765
When the Tourism Promotion Authority first suggested I go one step further with my pngbd website and help promote a PNG person to run their own business attracting tourists from overseas, I never thought for a second that it would lead one day to me walking the Kokoda Trail. However, in November 2004 I successfully completed a walk over the infamous trail that made me personally feel like I had just climbed Mt Everest.
The rush you feel when you finish is hard to compare to anything I have done in my entire life! The closest I can come is the birth of my four children. Michael Meintjes, an Audit Partner with Ernst & Young in Brisbane, asked me what was the toughest day…gee, everyday was tough! Each day another obstacle to get over or another hill to climb, combine that with many river crossings and the ultimate challenge and it all gets very exciting and mentally tough at the same time.
My friend from Brisbane Beverley Howell and myself, Gail Thomas, proved that you do not have to be young, an olympic athlete or sportsperson to complete the trail. We fit the ordinary working housewife over 50 category, who went looking for a thrill and a bit of history thrown in and we certainly found it on the Kokoda Trail or as some say Kokoda Track.
Many thanks also for the many emails I have received congratulating me on my Kokoda Trek. The visits on my Kokoda Website the day I ended my walk totalled 985, so thanks to all of you who were checking up on me and wondering if I would at last make it out of the jungle in this case known as the infamous Kokoda Trail. Yes, I managed to walk the trail much to everyone's amazement as I do not fit into the 'super' fit category, nor the under 35's, nor the training for 12 months!
I work all day sitting behind a computer for the accounting firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu here in Port Moresby as their Finance and Administration Manager. At night I sit and answer the many emails I receive daily on questions relating to all over PNG as well as the Kokoda Trail. So basically I lead a very unhealthy lifestyle going from one computer and a car ride to another computer in my home and if I am lucky in bed by midnight. Amendment: I left Deloitte in March 2005 after 9 + years to concentrate full time on running Kokoda Trekking and also promoting tourism in PNG.
What makes this trek so unique is the following:
- I turned 55 on the 7th December'04 and Bev is 65 and a proud 1/2
- Neither of us are into sport, just trained for this trek
- Bev has trekked a little before but for myself personally, this is a first!
- I have never been on my feet standing for any length of time let alone walking for hours up and down hills, water crossings and the likes. Bev is a nurse so is used to being on her feet.
- Neither of us has been on a trek where you walked for 9 days
- We have never been in the jungles of New Guinea before despite both having lived here for many years.
- We have never stayed in a village before
- As for guesthouses, this is a first!
- With regards to tents, the last time was as a teenager when I was 14 at Evans Head in Northern NSW.
- Neither of us has lived on rations before
- It was my first time to walk in boots except for the few training runs to Sogeri
- Gaitors….what are they? do I really have to wear them?
- The first time to walk with my guides and porters to see how they look after you the trekkers as well as myself
- The first time I have ever walked across a river crossing
- Overweight and not what one would consider fit.
Deloitte Tower where I worked on the 12th Floor situated in downtown Port Moresby. This became my training grounds for two months before I walked the trail. Four times per week during lunch I would walk down then up one step at a time from the 12th Floor to the ground floor. Then back down again and back up every second step. Back down again and up one floor second step, one floor third step. Back down again and up once again one step at a time. Believe me at my fitness level, this is really quite tough but I continued to train and it got me successfully home across the kokoda trail:
DTT_Tower400.jpg30/11/2004 at 2:19 pm #94764
How did I get into Kokoda Trekking you may well ask. Well it goes something like this….. in December 2000 when I was on holidays in Australia, I was amazed how much negativity there was towards PNG mainly wound up by the local and overseas media….you know how journo's think….only drama sells newspapers. Gee if it was that bad, would I still be living and working here since 1972? Hence, in January, 2001, I decided to start a website on Papua New Guinea to promote the 'positive' rather than the 'negative' and so my journey with my PNG website, http://www.pngbd.com began.
Around 15 months ago I was approached by the Tourism Promotion Authority and thanked for promoting PNG to the world. They asked me to go one step further and help PNG people who either did not have the know how and or resources to grow their own business. I said sure and they introduced me to Kokoda and Russell Eroro himself a veteran of some 287 treks spanning 12 years. Russell had worked for just about anyone and everyone. He has predominantly worked for Clive Baker, but also SP Tours, Charlie Lynn, Frank Taylor, Narai Billy etc
This was his chance to stand on his own two feet and show the world he could run his own treks without an Australian present….well that is with the exception of myself who looks after this website and who answers your many emails and makes you feel welcome when you arrive here in PNG etc.
Russell Eroro seen here crossing Naoro Creek. In this particular trek he offered to be my 'personal porter' and many of our guides down graded themselves to food porters to share our last trek for 2004. Russell walked the whole way with his precious bush knife cutting and chopping as he went clearing anything and everything in his path. Even kids in Kokoda I see walk around with knives which would make us westerners scared stiff but in areas in PNG, this is the norm:
If trekkers insist, we have two expatriate experienced trekkers who we can hire to accompany you on the trail with our guides and porters. Kokoda Trekking have now taken well in excess of 1000 trekkers throughout 2004 & 2005 and only a few did not complete the whole trail. Costs would be around the $250.00 per day mark for this extra service but it can be arranged if you do not have faith in a 100% national PNG led trek:
Russell_at_Naoro_crossing__Small_.jpg30/11/2004 at 2:32 pm #94766
In the beginning I was on uneven ground not knowing where to begin so I put something on my pngbd website about Kokoda. Before I could blink emails started flowing in at such a rate I soon found I needed a whole new website on Kokoda so I could get some sleep at night. Many people came to my rescue and helped provide the much needed information to satisfy your many questions. Jimmy who was our IT guru at the time (now owns Quadra Hosting – http://www.quadrahosting.com.au) designed the website and I became the interior decorator.www.kokodatrail.com.au; http://www.kokdoatrail.com.pg; http://www.kokodatrekking.com.au was soon established and we started taking our first trekkers over the trail. It was an exciting time for us as I personally entered unknown waters and yet another challenge in my life. Only one thing was missing……all our trekkers would ask…..Gail, have you walked the trail….the answer was always no, not yet, I got into this kinda by accident, do I look like a trekker? The reply more often than not, was, Gail, you just gotta do it!Photograph: Our team when we stopped at Warren Bartlett's store at Sogeri so the boys could stock up on cigarettes etc before heading to Veselugo near Ower's Corner on the morning of the 13th November, 2004.(left to right) Russell Eroro (Managing Director – Kokoda Trekking my business Partner), Eric Uwea (Guide from Sogeri), Paulo Talanoa (Russell's nephew)- food porter, myself Gail Thomas – (Kokoda Trekking), Kinglsey Boropi (Guide from Isurava)-this trek a food porter, Beverley Howell (my friend from Brisbane), our guide Chris Suma who in this trek acted as her 'Personal Porter' and in front, Syprian Heara (Guide from Kokoda) who was also one of our food porters:Our t/shirts were done to promote our Kokoda 24 hour race which was held on the 27-28th August. John Hunt Hiviki won in a world record time of 22 hours 1 minute & 22 seconds: Footnote: 2005 Update: I was informed by Warren Bartlett (Executive Officer of the Kokoda Track Authority) that in 2004 & 2005, we took more trekkers on the Kokoda Trail than any other trekking company. This makes us feel proud of our achievement from a humble start. Russell and I have both worked hard at making this a success and always tried our best to give our trekkers the best experience possible.This year in 2005 Kokoda Trekking took almost 700 satisfied trekkers on the trail, some 300 more than our nearest competitor and some 500 more than the next two competitors:Update November, 2007: We have now taken over 2600 trekkers on the Kokoda Trail. Only about 25 in total have not made it so the odds are certainly stacked in your favour that you too can do it and achieve your goal.
30/11/2004 at 2:45 pm #94767
So at a Kokoda Meeting earlier this year chaired by Charlie Lynn, everyone in the room was asked to stand up who had walked the whole trail….80% stood up. Charlie then asked who would like to walk to stand up, I took up the challenge and stood up. That was all Russell Eroro needed to see. From that date onwards, my fete was sealed…..I was going to walk the Kokoda Trail in 2004 come rain, hail or shine!
During the morning Charlie showed a video about a group of students from Punchbowl High School who had trekked with him. I sat there and thought, gee what I have I let myself in for. Russell assured me, I would have the time of my life and that he would make sure I thoroughly enjoyed my kokoda experience and I would not suffer like those poor lads seemed to be doing in the documentary.30/11/2004 at 2:55 pm #94768
My training began two months earlier when I started walking up and down the 12th floor to the ground of where I worked at Deloitte Tower in downtown Port Moresby. Every lunch hour 4 times a week I worked up a sweat and climbed up and down those stairs.
One day Pam Christie (PNG Trekking Adventure Tours) turned up at the front reception counter and announced my personal trainer was there to see me. When I walked out Pam said, I am here to do the stairs with you…..wow, my own personal trainer!
Walking up and down step by step I thought I had been doing ok…..but no, Pam had me walking down and up one step at a time. The next time down I had to walk up every 2nd step…then down again. The next time up, every third step and so on. If you are not fit, believe me this is a very BIG ASK!!! I begged, am I going to need to reach for this 3rd step equivalent on the Kokoda Trail. Pam replied, if you want to enjoy your trek, yes you had better start practising – the fitter you are the more you will enjoy your trek.
My training had BEGUN!!! My fellow workmates thought I had gone CRAZY or as they say here in PNG (long long). The Managing Partner Paul Barber remarked one day where are you off to, I replied to walk the stairs. I asked if he wanted to join me and he replied, DO I LOOK STUPID? Another Partner Andrew Crompton saw me walking along the road late one afternoon and asked if walking the stairs had done something to my head….I mean this is definitely not the Gail they had known for so many years of their lives……
Photograph: When it came to various parts along the trek like this log crossing, I said to myself many times….Deloitte 3rd step … yes Pam, I really did need to practice reaching for the 3rd step…tks for the tip:30/11/2004 at 3:03 pm #94769
Somewhere in amongst all my training, an old friend from Lae days by the name of Beverley Howell a nursing sister who worked at Angau for many many years as the night superintendant asked if she could join me on the trail…wait for it, Bev is now a proud 65 1/2 but contrary to myself still works in a hospital 3 days a week so is used to being on her feet for long periods. Bev joined my private trek and the planning soon began.
On the afternoon of the 12th November, Bev arrived in PNG and overnighted at my home. The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn (the first of many to come) and headed towards Veselugo to commence our Kokoda Track journey. I drove the Hilux and Bev remarked on a couple of occasions, I could never do this, I could never drive a vehicle on this road. However, I loved the thrill and thoroughly enjoyed my drive out to the starting point. The boys in the back probably wished they had Gava behind the wheel but I managed ok in terrible conditions and we soon arrived to commence the journey of a lifetime.
Myself Gail Thomas and Russell Eroro at Nauro Village Guesthouse :
Gail_and_Russell_Naoro__Small_.jpg30/11/2004 at 3:11 pm #94770
Day 1 – Port Moresby to Veselugo by road transport. Then by foot for a three hour walk to Ower's Corner followed by another couple of hours to where we overnighted at Uberi Creek:
On the way out to Veselugo, Bev wanted to stop and have her photograph taken at McDonald's Corner. Bob McDonald checks our website every morning so will have a permanent grin on his face all day when he sees this tomorrow morning. Actually Bob phoned me tonight and I forgot to mention that we stopped and took a photograph.30/11/2004 at 3:14 pm #94771
We finally reached our destination of Veselugo where we employed another two guys to act as food porters.
Our guys at Veselugo checking and packing the last minute things into their backpacks. In the foreground is Gava our IT guy who took over from Jimmy when he left to live in Australia. Gava drove our Hilux back into Port Moresby and I have since informed him on the trail, he is next on the trail so next year he had better get fit so he can trek:
DSC01199__Small_.JPG30/11/2004 at 3:17 pm #94772
A short time later we all headed down towards Ower's Corner which even at that hour was quite hot and we soon built up a sweat. Dont ask me how I ended up with a uke'ule as I wouldnt have a clue how to play it.
Myself Gail Thomas (pen name aussie on pngbd & kokoda websites) heading off towards Ower's Corner to commence the trek of a lifetime!
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After about three hours of walking we ended up at Ower's Corner where we stopped to eat our lunch, and took some photographs for our album and to share with you our visitors here on our website. Three of the boys sat down and played their ukulele and kept us entertained as was to be the start of many more to come!
Our group sitting down at Ower's Corner enjoying our lunch. Our guides remarked…eat up everyone as we now know the life of a food porter, we need to empty our packs. Paulo who normally acts as a food porter starting laughing and told the guides that now they know how he feels EVERY TREK:
DSC01204__Small_.JPG30/11/2004 at 3:52 pm #94775
Loaded once again with our backpacks, we decided to pose for a photograph before heading down the hill from the archway at Ower's Corner to head for Goldie River. This particular area I was already familiar with as during a training session, we headed out one weekend for an overnight. For anyone living here in Port Moresby I strongly recommend this prior to your trek:
Our group as we headed out on the Kokoda Trail, Saturday, 13th November, 2004:
DSC01205__Small_.JPG30/11/2004 at 3:57 pm #94776
The picture below does not emphasise the steepness of the climb down from Owers' Corner but we managed ok and were soon heading through the bush for our next destination being Goldie River:
Bev Howell & her porter Chris heading down the steep embankment from the hill at Owers' Corner:
DSC01206__Small_.JPG30/11/2004 at 4:03 pm #94777
We soon came to Goldie River where we saw the majority of the guides (now food porters) already on the other side stripping off about to go swimming…..but I still had to cross over the river. Russell told me to take my shoes off and put on my sandles as the stones are quite sharp. So being a very good student, I took off my shoes and changed into my sandles for my first experience of wading across the Goldie River.
Russell was also showing me where the water came up to during his July trek with the Australian High Commission….and I mean it was high….how they got across is anyone's guess but I know at the time him and the boys done us proud as they not only crossed over the flooded rivers but also managed to get everyone back into Port Moresby on schedule for the next days flights back home to my amazement at the time.
Myself, Gail Thomas and Russell Eroro (camera in mouth) crossing over the Goldie River on the 13th November, 2004:
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On reaching the other side, Bev was all smiles as we both discussed our very first river crossing….little did we know how many more there was to come!
Photograph: Bev Howell relaxes on a large rock following her first Goldie River crossing before commencing to climb, up, up & up! On the left in this picture is Syprian Haera one of our Kokoda Trekking Guides.
Just to let you know the fitness of these guys, last year I entered five guys in Lady Carol Kidu's & PriceWaterhouseCoopers Walk for Life in a 5km run around the streets of Port Moresby. Syprian who had never run before came home in 10th position overall and the first of our group home in 17 minutes and beat most of the road runners who regularly pound our streets. Our five guys also took out the team event in record time. Four came home in under 18 minutes and only one in 22nd place overall in 22 minutes. All four boys asked….WHAT KEPT YOU!
At the time one of the legal firms in Port Moresby came rushing up to the organiser and remarked they had won the team event to which was replied….sorry the Kokoda boys have been sitting under their tent for the past five minutes. They all returned home that day with happy smiling faces knowing their fitness on the Kokoda Trail plus working in their village vanilla gardens and oil palms got them home without any prior training:
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