10 things to look for when you are considering trekking Kokoda, that GTaA did very well:
1. Previous experience – Sue and Wayne have been operating in PNG for over 15 years and are one of the original operators. Their local knowledge and contacts are extensive and they seem well respected along the Track by land owners and communities. Anything we needed they sorted easily and were able to tell us straight up if it was going to happen or not.
2. Pre trek training – GTaA offer their trekkers scheduled training days hiking and climbing mountains (BNE, MEL, CNS + others that I’m aware of), loads of practical training advice and ‘what to take’ advice. They also arrange past trekkers to join in the training days so you can talk to people who have been there before you.
3. Realistic expectations – Both our Aussie and National Trek Guide and Trek Master were extremely experienced and knew what we could achieve realistically – both physically and emotionally. They supplied comforts and necessities, in catering and first aid etc for whatever was thrown at them. You name it they had ways and means. Eg. We had one very determined but injured walker and she got to the end through her grit and determination but also because she had fantastic support from the Leaders with first aid, diet, comforts, etc. Eg. We wanted to eat like the locals and they managed to source safe wild pig and eel, pineapples, avocados, etc so we ate like kings. Eg. No matter how steep or slippery the track got our carriers were psychic in knowing when we needed a hand holding on to us before we even knew we needed them 🙂
4. Guide integrity – we had 23 men looking after a tiny group of 7 walkers (of which just 3 were women). As a single white female I have travelled to many third world countries and in many different cultures. I can categorically say these men demonstrated the highest integrity at all times. At NO time was there a look, touch, word or action that was not appropriate. I thank each of our guides for their level of care – I would trust them with my life. They even ‘rebuilt’ a bush shower for we girls to make sure we had total privacy from possible village prying eyes.
5. Experienced National carriers and guides – these men cooked and cleaned, set up camp, sorted ablutions, carried our gear, helped translate our communications with local villagers. They all speak 4 languages to our 1. They motivated us and energised us, they told stories and jokes and sang beautiful songs to us. Without them we would have been an insurmountable challenge.
6. Food – remember food has to be carried by the men. And it needs to be high is salt, fat and carbohydrates to provide the energy needed to get through the hike. Francis our cook turned very basic ingredients into feasts. And a little thing like us saying ‘let’s buy some pineapples’ – pineapples weigh a LOT! But not a word was said, the men just packed them in their loads and carried enough pineapples for 30 people for 2-3 days. We said ‘can we have some green veges?’ and there at dinner was a stir fry of fresh choko leaves, onions, garlic, and chilli.
7. Cultural immersion – 10/10 GTaA! Our carriers were all from two villages on the northern beaches of the main PNG island – Buna and Sanananda and after spending 8 days in close contact getting to know these men on the Track, we were able to spend two days in their villages meeting their families, fishing with them, visiting the school, walking their beaches, playing with the children. A wonderful highlight that made the cultural exchange come to life – the stories we had exchanged made sense when we walked in their shoes.
8. Interpretation of Kokoda story along the Track. This wasn’t something I knew much about before leaving home and Wayne made the history come alive. He had stories and activities that gave the past life and context to me. Our memorial service at Isurava on the morning of day 8 was heart rending. He knew exactly how to touch each of our soft spots and picked my maternal instinct with a poem. By the end of the trek I had a much better understanding of not just the military battles, but the soldiers as men/boys and the locals as their ‘angels’, the environment and the enemy.
9. Size of the group – I walked with a small group., This let us travel fast and light, so we had plenty of free time and recovery each day. It took a lot of pressure off catering and ablutions too. However, I think a group up to about 20 is probably good so once you add guides you are still an agile group but there is more variety in your social interactions and more diversity of knowledge and opinion in the trekker group.
10. Price and inclusions – GTaA were great value for money. Not the cheapest but their service was fantastic and everything was included. They even reminded you about visas and insurance at regular intervals, organised discounts for equipment and put you in touch with other trekkers from your area so you could meet before leaving. Domestic airfares back from Kokoda and CNS-POM return were all included and arranged. It just makes it so much easier. You just concentrate on getting fit and organising your gear.