PNG Pipe Dreams.

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Kokoda Track May 1998 between Menari and Efogi.

Tomorrow will mark 19 years since I departed Australia for the steamy climes of Papua New Guinea to hike the infamous Kokoda Track with my brother and sister (pictured). The Track (or Trail as it is also commonly known) is a narrow footpath (or more correctly a dirt track cut through the jungle) traversing the Owen Stanley range which, depending on where you terminate the hike is about 100 kilometres in length and I have been led to believe is the only way from Port Moresby across the range to the north coast (although I may be mistaken in that belief). If walking from Ower’s Corner at the southern end you will most likely finish your walk at Kokoda Village on the north-side of the range from where you will be able to catch an airplane back to Port Moresby. It is green, steamy, moist, muddy, precipitous mountainside and precarious jungle most of the way and owes it’s fame as one of the world’s great hikes to the vicious, desperate clash of arms which took place along it’s length from August to November 1942.

The Japanese Army, advancing from bases on the north coast of Papua clashed with Australian Militia and Army in a series of battles, ambush’s and skirmishes across the width of the range. The Australian’s, supply line stretched to breaking point and significantly outnumbered fell back across the mountains, screening Port Moresby and delaying the Japanese advance to the point of exhaustion. Reverses elsewhere saw the Japanese eventually abandon their quest to capture the capital and they were harassed and harried by fresh Australian troops as they retreated headlong into the mountains, desperately trying to regain the relative safety of their northern strongholds. These beachheads were eventually reduced in late 1942 and early 1943 and the defending garrisons annihilated and the Japanese Empire lost it’s toehold in Papua.

All that remains today is the Track, it’s detritus and ghosts and the people who live along it trying to eke out a very basic existence which most of us could never imagine experiencing in this day and age. And, of course, there are the Trekkers.

The Kokoda Track has for evermore attracted hikers from all over the world although of course as one can imagine, most of these hardy souls come from Australia, following in the footsteps of countrymen they never knew and testing their stamina and endurance for reasons known only to themselves. I even met a Japanese veteran in Efogi Village on my crossing.

I suppose there is a risk and Papua New Guinea has it’s dangers but you judge those risks and take your chance if you dare. Hiking companies who run guided tours on the Kokoda Track are very well organised and can get you across the mountains safely and in good order.

In 1998 there were about 500 people walking the Track every year. That has risen to 2000 a year almost 20 years later. It’s good business for the locals who, in a region which was suffering an unemployment rate of 80% in 1998, are employed as guides and porters by many travel companies. Having such large numbers on the range has certainly caused some cultural discomfort over the years and everything on the Track is owned by someone and they expect something from the tourists who are continually appearing in their villages, using their facilities and being protected from nee’r do wells who habitually stalk unwary and unprepared hikers on it’s length. Local land owners have from time to time “closed” the Track, demanding compensation for permitting trekkers to use it but these protests have never seemed to last long. The benefits of having well off Australians throwing a bit of cash around the population more than likely sees any cultural offence quickly forgotten or at least ignored.

I hadn’t realised it was the 19th anniversary of my trip to Papua New Guinea until I started writing this post. I recently stumbled upon an article about another campaign fought by Australian soldiers in New Guinea a year after the Kokoda campaign, this one in the Finisterre Range which culminated in a very hard fight for a 6 kilometre long, razorback feature named by Australian forces “Shaggy Ridge”. Ironically, many men who fought on the Kokoda Track were present at the capture of Shaggy Ridge and it is an epic of Australian arms although largely forgotten today.

As I “googled” the campaign many photos of the Ridge during the campaign and notably from more modern days were returned. It appears you can do a 6 day hike from Lae to Nadzab which climbs Shaggy Ridge and I must say it piqued my interest. I always swore I would never go back to Papua New Guinea but a hike to Shaggy Ridge, bearing in mind my much advanced age when compared to my previous visit, could be an enjoyable trip.

Would I like to do it? Yes. Am I likely to do it? Probably not. The hike itself would not be a problem, I’m sure I could fit enough to handle it. I just don’t like flying and it would take two flights, one from Moresby to Lae and another back again to do the trip. Flying in Australia is nerve wracking enough for me but flying in a country noted for it’s aircraft accident rate hardly inspires me to drag out my old backpack and start training. Also. I doubt I could drag out any old traveling companions to accompany me and I’m not likely to venture to PNG without a mate or two to hold my hand.

Ah, pipe dreams. We all have them and perhaps it keeps us breathing. If nothing else the images of Shaggy Ridge have reminded me of another part of my life when I ventured to PNG to walk in the footsteps of better men than me who gave their all. Nice memories to have and a nice life I have enjoyed.

Until next time.

Walking, Cycling and Pondering Life

fieldofwildflowers Time passes quickly, like a sudden flash in the mind’s eye or so it sometimes seems. Christmas is approaching at speed once more and another year has slipped away, retreating on the ebbing tide leaving only a few faint marks on the beach of life to prove it was ever here.

My cycling training is going okay. I haven’t stretched myself at all but have been having some trouble with my breathing which seems to be the centre of all resistance as far as performance goes. Legs are coming along, not nearly so sore but heavy loads at work and standing up all day really does kill enthusiasm for anything but relaxation and staying in bed. I am going to Brisbane for a little over a week for the Christmas break and did have inflated ideas of hiring a bike and continuing my progression while on holidays but the cost of getting hold of an appropriate racing bike is almost prohibitive. I looked at a couple of places for bike hire and the first place place offered obscene prices for daily rent. I would have been better off hiring a car for the prices they charge. The second was a little better but still not cheap and I have all but canned the idea to be honest. Hiring a bike for $400 dollars is a bit silly when we will be out for a lot of the time and I may not even get on it, let alone have the wherewithal to take my own shoes and pedals and swap them over onto my temporary ride. My fitness will suffer to be sure but at the end of the day it’s not worth the hassle and I can’t be bothered going through the rigmarole of taking my own bike on a plane flight-let alone find a place to do some decent riding.

So, I am fairly sure I will blow off the Cadel Evans’ People’s Ride ride I had planned to start in at the end of January as I simply won’t be fit enough. Some close to me are still being encouraging but cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. I don’t do it for fun. I never intend to race again but it’s a means to an end to get fit and lose a little weight. Attempting something that you are not fit enough to do is simply stupid-and I have done plenty of those sorts of things on a bike in years past and won’t be doing it again!

Having an aim, even if ultimately I don’t reach that target, has at least got me out riding again and I will try to keep going from here. In a perfect world three to four rides a week of  30 to 40km or so would suit me down to the ground. That’s if I can avoid aggressive pedestrians on the bike path!! I’ll keep plugging along.

I took the picture at the top of the page last Friday as I approached the top of Mount Mugga Mugga here in the ACT. I think it’s a metaphor for life in some ways. Passing through a beautiful field of wildflowers, following a track which you are not entirely sure is going the way you want it to go-just like life!

Of course there is a bit of a story as to why I found myself on Mount Mugga Mugga around midday last Friday and many who have heard the tale think I am quite mad but I can assure all of you I am fine.

I was actually walking to work. Linda’s car was written off due to hail damage last week and she had taken mine and as a result of a misunderstanding I didn’t have a car to drive to work where I was due to start at 2.00pm. It was really no problem as there were people I could call to give me a lift but the crazy thought of taking shanks pony crossed my mind and I thought “why the hell not?!!” I looked on Google maps and the shortest route was 15 kilometres, really not that much to someone who is reasonably active so I loaded up my gear and was soon plodding up into the Wanniassa Hills and finding my way through Isaac Pines and onto Mount Mugga Mugga which, for the benefit of Canberrans, is the hill over which runs Hindmarsh Drive, one of the busiest roads in the ACT. You can see the top of the mountain poking out from the trees and the road is only 200 metres or so to the left. One of the great things about Canberra is that you can go for a walk in the middle of Australia’s capital city and find yourself alone in quiet bushland with lovely views without having to venture too far at all.

I made it to work in plenty of time to shower and change. I was slightly footsore but nothing too bad and I actually felt better as the day went on, proof of the power of exercise over mind and body perhaps?

So, I will sign off for the moment and I will hopefully get back on soon enough to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy new Year. Until then take care and be safe. Christmas is notorious for accidents so be careful! Have fun. Goodbye.

 

Salve for the Soul and Walking in New Zealand

The author at the end of the Greenstone Valley. 

It may have come to the attention of some (although most probably don’t care!) that I have not been posting regularly this year. I have been wrapped in a strange torpor when it comes to blogging, not being able to put words on the screen and generally being ill at ease when I try. I certainly have no intention of retiring my blog and will persevere in the hope that my previous enthusiasm will return.

 I’m not sure what the cause of this sudden lethargy towards creativity is but I figure if I sit down and write the words may flow. So, bare with me as I try to craft something of note and fill you in on a few points of interest on which my life has hung over the last little bit.

I find writing is quite therapeutic, easing my mind and giving me an outlet to use a voice which only I usually hear. So, as I retreat from the comfort of my annual leave and prepare to return to work in just over a week, I once more am opening the door and inviting you all in to share a little piece of this ordinary life every now and again.


  It’s hard to believe that we are almost at the end of March and the year is certainly flying by without fear or favour. Work has been a whirlpool of rumour and change and we all hang off the edge of the cliff of uncertainty with regards to the future of the company and where our place in it will be. To tell the truth, working there is soul destroying and it is all I can do to keep my head above water and stay sane at times.  But, my annual leave arrived just in time.

 Five weeks on holiday is surely enough to soothe any open wound of frustration and as I enter the final week of being a man of leisure the idea of returning to work becomes more distasteful with every minute which passes.

 The major part of my holiday was spent in New Zealand where I hiked a famous passage called “The Grand Traverse”. The walk is actually the Greenstone and Routeburn Tracks done concurrently and takes six days altogether. The Greenstone is real back-country and although the odd “free-walker” takes the plunge and walks the track it was generally quiet with only the odd interloper becoming mixed up with our tour group.

 If I was twenty years younger I would probably have a crack at doing some of these walks myself, carrying all that I would need to survive and using the government huts which are provided. Alas, I do want to make it out in one piece and Ultimate Hikes, the leading walking company in New Zealand give you an armchair ride providing guides who lead, cook and pop blisters.

The end of the Greenstone Valley.

The Routeburn Track by contrast is a much more traveled route with Ultimate Hikes doing regular guided tours every week and several free-walkers and day-hikers sharing the way with us.

 The first day on the Routeburn was a lot harder than I suspected it to be but I was happy to find the training I have been doing over the last few months stood me in good stead and I completed the hardest day of the trek without any pressure except for worrying about the sole of a shoe which was threatening to come off. Always buy a pair of good hiking shoes people!

  My shoes held up in the end which made me a much more fortunate hiker than a New Zealand fellow who walked with us who’s shoes actually fell apart. He was forced to finish the hike with cable ties holding his boots together!

 The second last day saw us climbing into the Ailsa Mountains in pouring rain and crossing the Holyford Face which threatened arctic conditions. Mercifully those sorts of problems never arose although it was very cool indeed crossing the Harris Saddle, the highest point of the walk but it soon warmed a little as we descended toward our lodge at Routeburn Falls.

 The last day was a gentle trundle through the beech trees to the road-head where the track finishes and a rather frightful bus-ride, courtesy of Ultimate Hikes own Grand Prix bus driver who obviously knew the road very well.

 It was an enjoyable trip with a good group of people although I’m sure at times my introverted attitude causes the odd travelling companion to think I am a little strange! So be it. I am who I am.

Looking rugged in the Ailsa Mountains.

I walked the track with my sister Susan and we returned to Queenstown smelly and eaten alive by sand-flies, the bites of which are only just beginning to fade!

Linda, my partner who had retired from hiking after we walked the Milford Track six years ago, had been touring the North Island with friends and flew into Queenstown on the day we finished the hike. We spent the last four days of our trip flying up the west coast visiting glaciers, rock formations and enjoying the relaxed way of life in which the Kiwis in this part of the island indulge with relish. They don’t believe in building straight roads either!

The landscape looking towards Routeburn Falls.

So it is fair to say I enjoyed what was my fourth trip to the old Shaky Isles and look forward to going back again in the near future.

 Now I prepare for my last week on holidays and I really have to get myself motivated to do a few chores around the house. It seems when we have to complete tasks before we go to work we have no problems but when we have all the time in the world these things get put on the backburner and are eventually ignored and never completed.

 Linda and I are now deciding where we may go next time. Some travel in our own great land is probable but the lure of an overseas sojourn will eventually see us flying across the oceans yet again in a short time I’m sure.

Routeburn Flats.

I will be doing my best in the week to come to squeeze the last bit of enjoyment I can out of my leave and not worry about that which lies ahead the week after.

 I hope you have all enjoyed this little taste of New Zealand and who knows, some of you may get the urge to hike “The Grand Traverse” yourselves. I hope so.

 I will sign off for now with a promise to try an be more prolific with my blog as the year rolls on. I hope you all come along for the ride with me.

 Have a great night.

Starting Fresh/Losing Interest

 Long-time followers and lurkers may notice a new background photo on my blog today. It is the British Houses of Parliament for those who don’t recognize it, a lovely photo taken from across the Thames which flows majestically through the foreground of the photo.

 Seeing it is a new year I was going to revamp my blog and use a new design from the templates Blogger supplies and a photo from my own collection but it all got too hard. I started fresh and quickly lost interest.

 The photos of mine which Linda or I have taken which I store on our computer are too large to load onto my page and I couldn’t be bothered re-formatting one of them so a Blogger supplied photo on my regular template it is. Maybe I should pay for my own domain and design a page I want? Nah, that would be too professional and I don’t want to fool anyone into thinking I am a serious writer!


  Perhaps I should be more patriotic and parochial and use Australian images or neutral photos? I feel a fraud using stock photos. What do you think?

 I suppose it just proves that while the digits on the calendars change, humans stay the same and most of us are no different in January 2015 to what we were in December 2014. I’m still procrastinating and plodding along. So be it.

 It is a little over a month until I head off to New Zealand, my fourth trip to the Shaky Isles where I will be doing a bit of tramping and a bit of sight-seeing down south. I have been doing a little riding on my bike to get fit but I am still a fair way from where I want to be so some more rugged training may be called for before I go.

 I will be taking the time to do a hike called “The Grand Traverse”, a six day walk which combines the Greenstone and Routeburn Tracks and I am looking forward to it. There will be a whole new round of photographs to bore my friends silly with and supply me with inspiration for blog posts which few will be interested in or read. I have also purchased a Go-Pro camera and a chest harness on which to wear it so I may find some mighty fine vistas to film and for you all to enjoy.

 There has been a lot happen in the world in the first couple of weeks of this year and I have at times been compelled to write about it. In fact I wrote a rather long post about the events in France recently and never published it. I figure adding my anonymous voice to the chorus contributes nothing to the debate. I am sure there will be other times I will find it impossible to hold my fire.

 So, we are off and racing and settling in to 2015. I hope all is well and firing on all cylinders for all those reading this and I will be back soon with more strange notations and I hope you will all join me.

 Have a great weekend.