The infamous, world-renowned, Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. 96km of rugged and isolated terrain, passable only by foot, reaching a maximum height of 2910m as it passes around the peak of Mt Bellamy.
Home to countless tales of bravery, devastation and sacrifice, as the scene of the Kokoda Campaign, where under trained and under resourced Australian soldiers came up against the might of the Japanese. Battles fought in jungle terrain in what was then the Australian territory of Papua, these were the first in which Australia stood up to defend our own country.
It is these tales and the want to understand and recognise the significance of this campaign that, primarily, leads thousands of trekkers to traverse the Kokoda Trail annually, many of whom specifically request to carry their own backpack in order to better ‘understand’ what was required, physically, during World War II.
Cairns-based Getaway Trekking, led by local business women Sue Fitcher, is one of a handful of officially authorised Kokoda Trail Tour Operators taking trekkers across to Papua New Guinea to traverse what is commonly referred to as one of the world’s least explored countries.
Responsible for sending hundreds of individuals and groups (through sister-brand Kokoda School Treks), Getaway Trekking has reached out to, arguably one of Australia’s most celebrated sporting icons, and invited her to participate in an October expedition along the Kokoda Trail… joining Getaway Trekking for this once in a lifetime opportunity is none other than triple-Olympic Gold Medallist; Leisel Jones.
Bursting onto the Australian swimming scene as a 15 year old at the Sydney Olympic Games, Leisel soon became a household name and one of Australia’s most illustrious athletes.
She won the hearts of the Australian public as she claimed 14 individual world records, 9 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship titles, 10 Commonwealth Games Gold medals and 23 National titles over her brilliant career. Along with Ian Thorpe, Leisel holds the record for the most Olympic medals won by any Australian. Leisel retired from swimming in 2012 and now regularly brings her brilliance to the stage as an inspirational corporate speaker and health and lifestyle icon, sharing her amazing story of personal growth and success.
By her own admission, trekking the Kokoda Trail had not been at the forefront of her own personal goals, yet when presented with the opportunity to experience and gain a better understanding of that adversities that faced both sides during the War, Leisel did not hesitate.
“I’m not going to lie. Initially, I was somewhat reluctant to agree to trekking Kokoda because I had heard, not just of the physical strength required to make it, but the mental strength required also, which led me to conclude that October was just not enough time to prepare.” Jones said. “But, after talking to Sue and her team and addressing some of my concerns, I decided to take the plunge, agreed to go and immediately phoned my Personal Trainer to design me a program! Since I’ve been in training and begun to think about the journey, the history, the local culture and people, the more and more excited I become!” Jones finished.
Preparation for the Kokoda Trail is directly linked to the level of enjoyment one attains when trekking, says Getaway Trekking’s General Manager, David Thomas.
“How someone prepares for the Kokoda Trail, both physically and mentally, is key to how much they get out of it.” Thomas says. “Whilst we provide a training program for those who request it”, he says, “a once-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t cut it these days.
An Ironman competitor, for example, may not need – or wish – to use any spare time throughout a hard training block working on endurance-related muscle groups and only requires a short 3-week stint doing hill repeats with a weighted backpack, whilst someone that may hike Glacier Rock, the Arrows or Walshs Pyramid weekly, simply needs to spend time working on endurance and aerobic capacity.” Thomas says. “In stark contrast to those two examples are those who participate in low levels of physical activity and require a much longer lead-up time to trekking Kokoda in order to sufficiently prepare their bodies and minds for the challenge that awaits them. We try to be as accommodating as possible and prepare people accordingly in order to ensure they are able to enjoy the journey and take in the history without consistently collapsing at the end of every day!”, Thomas concludes.
Historical education and the imparting of Kokoda Campaign knowledge is something that Getaway Trekking takes incredibly seriously.
So seriously, in fact, that they enlisted the services of Soc Kienzle – son of Bert, the ‘Architect of Kokoda’ – to educate their Australian leaders on the history of the Kokoda Trail. A legendary figure when mentioned with respect to the Kokoda Campaign, Bert Kienzle carved a working transport route that his handpicked teams of native bearers, the now famous Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, worked alongside the Australian troops ensuring delivery of food, munitions and medical support they needed.
After delivering supplies to the front lines, they would then turn around and carry out the wounded. The feats that these men performed were heroic, and their loyalty and endurance unparalleled.
After having trekked the Kokoda Trail, on and off, for 52 years from January 1964 to August 2016, Soc returned to Australia after trekking with Getaway Trekking in Papua New Guinea to declare “Getaway Trekking is without doubt the best trekking company I have ever worked with, and there have been quite a few. Their overall preparation and management, off and on the trail has been outstanding.”
Leisel will be joined on her maiden Kokoda Trail crossing by General Manager David, also participating on his first trip to PNG. “I’ve been with Getaway Trekking coming up to 18 months now,” he says, “with most of my work so far being done behind the scenes. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and experiencing what our clients experience, particularly with someone like Leisel Jones, learning the history first-hand from our leaders and getting to know our local team members who are based in PNG.” Thomas said. “Trekking with Leisel will provide not only me, but those who join us, a unique opportunity to participate in a challenging, yet life-changing, experience with a person who has dealt with some life-changing challenges of her own, some in very public view.” Thomas concluded.
Getaway Trekking’s ‘Kokoda Trek with Leisel Jones’, departs 11 Oct 2017 and returns 21 Oct 2017. Trek price $3895 includes all ground travel arrangements, meals, accommodation, Australian leaders and more. Flights, travel insurance (mandatory), personal carrier extra. Please visit www.getawaytrekking.com.au or Freecall 1300 979 088 for more information.