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Kokoda “For your tomorrow we gave our today”

Day 1 – Port Moresby flight to Kokoda. Kokoda trek to Hoi.

As the team gathered in Port Moresby before the trek you could feel the anticipation to get started. It was a feeling that came from being faced with a challenge, one that stood in the way of reaching a goal that had been set a while ago; but unfortunately, the wait to get started would be prolonged due to a lost bag on a flight into PNG.

The goal for most was to complete the Kokoda Track and it would be tackled from north to south. That meant a day one flight from Port Moresby to Kokoda Village. After recovering the lost bag the whole team finally married up at Kokoda just after midday. We took time for a first introduction into the battlefields with stories of the Australian Maroubra Force fighting at Kokoda. For some members of the team, it meant the realisation of where they were and the location’s significance in Australian military history. We were trekking Kokoda, and the reminder from the lead guide Cam, “You’re here, you’re doing it”, was a good prompt to live in the moment. His comment was aimed at the first time trekkers but the experienced veterans in the group understood its importance as well.

Due to the late start, the first day went quick and after a mostly flat 8km hike out of Kokoda; the light was fading as the team set up tents in Hoi. Our first night stop had been reached and for some members of the team, it was their first experience of real tropical jungle.

Day 2 – Hoi to Isurava Guest Houst. 14km trek & 1400m up.

Day two started early and we quickly noticed it was a shock to the system for some trekkers. Up at 05:00 it felt very military as all the tents and gear got packed away and breakfast was well underway by first light. For some it had been a long night, not used to the jungle noises, heat and sleeping mats; for others, we were glad to be out of phone coverage and away from the office. Regardless of how you woke up, as we started the mornings climb from Hoi up to Deniki, everyone was now fully aware of what they had committed to and what the next 8 days would bring.

The day went to plan with the team even making up ground that had been lost the day before due to the late start. The challenge for the morning was the 1400m climb up to Isurava in the heat.

Writing this now, ten days after the team visited the Kokoda memorial, it is hard to put into words the atmosphere at Isurava. After learning more about the local PNG porters throughout the morning, it was amazing to listen to them sing at a service to the fallen soldiers from the battle in 1942. We now know the genuine real concern the porters have for trekkers entrusted into their care and this made their songs at the service even more special. It gave us a small understanding of the “Fuzzy Wuzzys” that cared for and curried the Australian diggers to safety once they were wounded in the fighting during the campaign. Throughout the service, our group read poems and stories of bravery from the battle there. Stories of Aussie soldiers like Private Bruce Kingbury VC and Corporal Charlie McCallum DCM were moving and after the service, it was very special to visit the location where Bruce had sacrificed his life for his mates.

It was also a special moment for everyone to be witness to members of our group (family) as they remembered their grandfather who had been mates with Bruce. He had fought alongside him, survived the war and only very recently passed away. It was a very special moment and one that will not easily be forgotten.

Buy last light on day two, as the team set up camp at the Isurava Guest House, everyone was tired. A hot meal prepared by the porters was had and most trekkers headed off to their tents early to contemplate the day they had just experienced and get ready for the next one.

The statement was made today by our lead guide Cam that; “There are only three ways to go from here. Forward, backward and up. Be aware, the up direction is very expensive.”

I liked this statement and feel it’s a simple explanation of options but really when it comes down to it, you only have one option. Get past the point of no return in your head and move forward towards the finish.

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice.

Day 3

Day three required our team to separated and achieve different goals. Our small breakaway group wanted to assist one of our members to see where a forefather of his had served on the track. He knew it was around the Abuari waterfall and that meant taking a few local guides to show us the way. We needed to find the waterfall and make it back to the main group by last light.

Setting out at 0630 we departed Isurava night camp and made our way swiftly to Alola. Stopping briefly in the village to see some relics of the war, we quickly set out again, downhill, towards the Eora Creek crossing on the way to Abuari. Even though it was day three and we had seen a bit of the track already, the trek across the valley was challenging. After a few hours of climbing down, crossing the river and climbing back up again; we finally made it to the vicinity. Dropping our packs and taking only essential gear, we set off and found the Abuari waterfall a few kilometers down a very small sidetrack. It was impressive. We will share more of the story behind the waterfall in a future post. 

After a further climb up to the village of Abuari we had a break then set off towards the village of Eora Creek and the main Kokoda Track crossing point. The hike along the eastern side of the valley was good and it was noticeable that it saw fewer trekkers.

After reaching Eora Creek Village we knew from talking to the locals that we were only an hour behind the main group so after a short rest we set off again up the sharp spur towards our night location at Templetons Crossing. We found it amazing to see, after all this time, fighting pits as we climbed the spur; and the ammo cache was even more impressive after over 75 years. (See photos)

Arriving at Templetons Crossing were the main group were setting up camp was a relief. It had been a long day trekking over 20 km through the jungle and not a lot of it was flat.  We had found the waterfall at Abuari and we needed food and rest. On the track, we had learned that the war was always around you as you hiked; Templetons Crossing was no different. That even we paid our respects to the graves there and thought of how different it must have been in 1942.

Day 4

Day four was another big day for our team on the Kokoda track and due to some more sub-goals for members our team seperated again. Most of us headed directly from Templetons Crossing towards the Bomber Camp, which was about the days halfway; while a small breakaway group had the goal of trekking the extra distance and going via Myola before lunch.

The morning took our smaller group over the highest point in the track we had hiked, well over 2000 meter above sea level and through some of the most remarkable tropical rain forest you would ever see. Trekking along the track past Dump 1 and the Kokoda Gap, we didn’t find the mist or rain annoying at all; in fact, we felt it added to the experience.

Myola was an amazing natural clearing and was well worth the extra trek. During the war, it had been used as a resupply location for our troops and at the time, stores had just been kicked out the back of low flying planes. It was after that point, we started to climb down towards the Bomber Camp and we started to notice the rain coming down heavier and heavier.

A short lunch and an inspection of the crater completed, we set off through the wet jungle again to get to our night camp location at Naduri.

Day four ended with our group covering over 22km and climbing up and down over 1600 meters.

We hit the halfway point on the trek and I had noticed an increase in local activity.  As well as the communities being bigger, the locals were moving about, busy with their day to day lives.

Day 5

Day 5 started at Nauri and after a long climb down and back up again, we stopped at the village of Efogi 2. Being the midpoint of the trek, Efogi 2 was the location our Porters resupplied with food that they had prepositioned earlier. It was great to pause at the markets to buy fresh fruit and we meet some of the locals from the village. While talking to the locals along the track you learn how much they rely on the hikers for their income. There are small markets everywhere and kids will often run out and set up a shop in front of you with soft-drinks and chips when you stop. With the profits from souvenirs, food and camp-style accommodation the local families will often send their children to school or college.

From Efogi 2 our team trekked down to the main village of Efogi, here we visited a World War Two museum and spoke to the locals again before trekking on towards Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill.

Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill, like Isurava, was the location of a large battle between the Australian Diggers and Japanese forces. We took time at the memorial there to hold a service, remember the sacrifice of the Australian Diggers and share stories on the battle we had read about. The whole team found Brigade Hill to be a moving place and for many, walking the ground of the battle was one of the highlights of the Kokoda Track.

After Mission Ridge we headed off south downhill for a long time and before climbing up to our night camp at Menari; we took the time to go for a swim in the river there. With a total distance for day five being 18.5Km, we had climbed up 1000 meters and trekked down 1700 meters over the day.

Rain, Mud, Rivers, Swamp, Mist and Jungle

Day 6

Day Six reminded us of the old saying “if you can operate in the jungle, you can operate anywhere”.

From the start of the day, as we put on wet clothes from the day before, life was a little hard. After a few days of rain, it was now hard to get dry. As well as the rain, today we contended with the mud, river crossings, and swamps.

Being just over the halfway point of the trek we had our planned half day of trekking and an afternoon rest. Day six we started in Menari, then after crossing the rivers and swamps around Agulogo we ended the days in Nauro. It was an early pm finish after 11km and a total since we started on the Kokoda Track of 93km completed. Due to the water and rain, the photos were not the best on day six; but that’s all part of the attraction for us.

Day 7

While day seven was a big day for stories about the fighting in 1942. The day started in New Nauro and went past Ofi Creek before finishing up in Loribaiwa Village. The area saw a lot of fighting during the war, patrolling and ambushing in front of the Australian lines as they withdrew was common practice. There were also many stores of the Japanese supply lines getting stretched beyond breaking point and the Japanese soldiers starting to starve. There were many fighting positions from both sides to inspect and it is amazing to still be able to walk in the positions that marked the extent of the Japanese push south.

It is funny that on day 8, closing towards the southern end of the Kokoda Track, we would get our first sunshine since about day 3. It was a welcome change but it didn’t mean we were staying dry. We had a lot of creek crossings to go.

Departing Loribaiwa and walking to Imita Ridge was one of the highlights for the day. Not only were we crossing ground that had witnessed its share of fighting between the Japanese and Australians but we had crossed the most southern point that the Japanese advance had held and the last point that Australia would fall back to.

After discussing military tactics on Imita Ridge we crossed many creeks to get to our night location at Goldie River. The water didn’t worry us and the rain forest was spectacular.

It was good to get to Goldie River in time to have a swim we were now only about an hour from Owers Corner and the end of the Track was in sight.

Day 8

Day eights distance of 14 km added to the total and made the trek 120km in distance so far.

Day 9

Our last day on the Track was short, but that was fine. One last swim in a jungle river, the day before, was great and the last night in my tent I slept like a log.

Waking up early everyone was excited. We only had a few kilometres walking and we would be finished. The first obstacle of the day was 100 meters from our campsite, the Goldie River, and after crossing it we had a short climb to the finish.

Before crossing under the Rising Sun at Owerns Corner, and while listening to our local porters sing as they had done many times on the track, I stopped and took the time to look back over the Owen Stanley Ranges and where I had come from. The Track had been an awesome adventure for both experienced hikers and beginners alike. Some had struggled and overcome great personal challenges while for others, the more practiced in these conditions, had found it tough but the hiking not to difficult. Regardless, everyone was proud of what they had achieved and honoured by what those who had come before us had done on our behalf.

When you go home tell them of us and say

“For your tomorrow we gave our today”

18 July 2019

Kokoda. Just finishing the track today. A tough 125km in the jungle with plenty of rain and mud but is a great experience.

— in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

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Great feedback

I recently contacted Mark for assistance and advice regarding a trip to Cambodia in September 2017.  The trip was originally planned to lay the basis for a larger research project about Cambodian society.  Mark has been invaluable in advising me about both the project and the trip itself, showing himself to be both knowledgeable about the country and the realities of travelling ‘off the beaten track’ and also enthusiastic and supportive about my work.  Without his help, my project would have been centred on Phnom Penh.  As it is, I will be able to see visiting more remote areas, and seeing places and people generally neglected by visitors.  Mark has been incredibly generous in his time and enthusiasm about the project, particularly during the planning phase, and his contribution has resulted in a more ambitious and interesting project than I had originally envisaged.

Mark is also accompanying me on the trip, and his presence will make my time in Cambodia more productive than it would have been otherwise.  He has already liaised with an interpreter and driver, and made contact with other people in-country who may be able to provide assistance.  In addition to managing these smaller details of daily life, he will also provide me with the necessary support and security to travel in more remote, and less accessible, areas.  As a result, I will be free to get on with my job as he does his.  Indeed, it is only because Mark is going to be coming along that I am able to make the trip in the first place!    
I am not a particularly adventurous or experienced traveller, but Mark has consistently put me at ease and given me confidence.  He has tirelessly answered endless questions, been responsive and helpful in all communications, and I am confident will provide me with an excellent support and advice while on the trip.  I look forward to reporting back after the trip, and to planning the next one.

Dr Fiona Gill
University of Sydney

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Adventurer on lifelong quest to push the boundaries

He has worked in some of the world’s most hostile and unforgiving environments, but for Point Assist’s tour operator Mark Direen, there is no greater thrill than climbing mountains.
 
“When you finally get to the top, that feeling is pretty epic,” the 40-year-old from Hobart said.
 
“That sense of achievement at the end is worth every aching muscle – and if you are lucky enough to climb with a friend, then the experience is even better.”
 
While he no doubt loves the physicality of trekking, the self-confessed adventure seeker is not immune to the challenges of scaling that next mountain, crossing “one more river” or staying in an unknown town.
 
“I’ve climbed many mountains in Tasmania during winter and haven’t always made it to the top because of the conditions,” Mr Direen said.
 
“But I enjoy pushing the boundaries to see what’s possible and I guess, the boundaries just keep giving.”
 
Mr Direen’s passion for adventure and travelling has translated into a new career with the former Australian military sergeant and Special Forces patrol commander launching his adventure trekking business.
 
“I got more and more into trekking over the past five years, but it wasn’t until I ran a few small treks for clients here in Tassie that I realised, ‘wow, this is awesome stuff’ and that this could be my next career move,” he said.
 
During this time Mr Direen was working “on and off” in Kabul as a security officer for the Australian Embassy, a job he “lucked into” after discharging from the full-time military in 2009.
 
“I started out as a driver for diplomats in Kabul and was then appointed team leader,” he said.
 
“We’d scope out locations to make sure they were safe and add in security measures to facilitate meetings for diplomats,” he said.
 
Despite finding the job exciting, Mr Direen said he knew his “true calling” was in the adventure travel industry.
 
“It has always been a long-term goal of mine to run my own adventure trekking business,” he said.
 
“The idea behind Point Assist developed while I was still in Kabul, but the business model itself took about two years of fine-tuning once I got back to Tassie and gained all the necessary accreditations.”
 
Point Assist specialises in unique multi-day adventure tours to isolated locations and distant cities around the world.
 
It offers a variety of experiences, from bespoke adventures and small group tours to executive travel and teamwork, each of which is tailored to clients’ individual needs and goals.
 
It may be the remote outback of Australia or the cities and towns of Asia on the edge of mountainous rainforests and spectacular coastlines – “the more unique, the better,” Mr Direen said.
 
“I love the idea that each person who goes on a trek feels like they are the first person ever to visit that area.”
 
He is currently focusing on developing the Tasmanian component of the business and pitching it to mainland markets.
 
“Tasmania is very unique, and not just in the sense that our wilderness is pristine, but because it is so remote.”
 
“I often say to clients interested in exploring the state, let’s pick a mountain in Tasmania that no-one has ever climbed and let’s work together to build an expedition around that.”
 
“For those keen on an easy trip, while wanting to see something spectacular, I would suggest Mt Field or Freycinet.”
 
“Once you venture out beyond Wineglass Bay to climb Mt Graham, it is very rare that you will see another soul.”
 
Mr Direen said the mental and physical skills honed during his 20-year career in the military, security and safety sectors had contributed to his ability to survive in some of the toughest conditions.
 
“Everything I learnt in the military complements climbing a mountain in Tasmania, from the equipment you take, the planning, navigation and leadership skills you employ to living and surviving in the field,” he said.
“Fortunately, my planning has always been good enough that I haven’t been stuck in a prolonged survival situation.”
 
A natural-born leader, Mr Direen finds it deeply rewarding training and empowering clients to achieve their goals, whether it is around fitness, motivation, preparation or mindset.
 
“I’ve spent years in the military developing my leadership skills and years building and leading high-performing teams in complex and high-threat environments,” he said
 
“These are the skills that enable me to travel to locations that are missed by other adventure tour operators.”
 
Mr Direen, who has been licensed to operate “off-track” for 12 months, has recently incorporated helicopter travel into his treks.
 
“We love a helo pick-up after a rewarding multi-day hike into the Tasmanian remote wilderness. It’s a great way to top off the experience,” he said.
 
“One trek begins with a helicopter drop-off into the Florentine Valley before an attempt on the summit of Wylds Craig.”
 
He already has a number of adventures in the pipeline for 2017, including trips planned for Northern Cambodia, Mongolia and, of course, climbing mountains in Tasmania.
 
“There are so many things on my bucket list. I could really go anywhere given the opportunity and an enthusiastic client.”

The Mercury – Hobart Tasmania

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