After a couple of muddy, soggy weekends on the motorbike, today I strapped on my hiking boots and a Camelbak and headed off to tackle one of Melbourne’s most challenging walks.
The Kokoda Memorial Trail, also known as the “1000 Steps”, is a daunting hike up 2.5km of extremely steep, slippery steps, twisting and turning through dense forest in the Dandenong Ranges National Park. As its name suggests, the trail is actually a memorial to the Aussie soldiers who fought and died on the notorious Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea in World War II. I’ve vowed one day to hike the actual 100-km PNG track (I’ll need to be a LOT fitter first, though!). Meantime, the 1000 Steps climb has given me just a small taste of what might be to come…
As I puff and heave myself up dozens of stony steps, slipping and sliding on damp autumn leaves and breathless in the humid forest air, I pass plaques depicting the lives of the soldiers who fought in Papua. I try to imagine what it must have been like for those guys doing such a steep trek, weighed down with equipment and fearing that at any moment the enemy might come charging out of the jungle on either side. As I pause to catch my breath, something bursts suddenly out of the foliage and my heart skips a beat… Phew, it’s ok – just a startled lyrebird foraging about in the undergrowth.
Halfway up the climb, my legs are killing me. (Note to self: need to do more lunges and squats at the gym!) My limbs are hurting big time, my throat is burning, and my heart is pounding. But the sight of every plaque spurs me on – hell, if those soldiers can do it, so can I! Other fitter climbers overtake me at speed but I’m too puffed out to care – and besides, I’m appreciating the scenery….
Oh the blessed relief when, on shaky legs, I make it up those final steps to the top. Taking rest in a clearing, it’s only a few minutes that I can really appreciate what a unique hike it is, made all the more worthwhile by its invocations of those brave souls of yesteryear. With Anzac Day just around the corner, it feels like a fitting and timely thing to have done.
And yes, one day I still hope to do the real Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea – but not until I’ve had a helluva lot more fitness training and preparation first!