Kokoda Trail | Mayor does trek of a lifetime

ERIKA Vickery put her physical and emotional strength to the test when she travelled to Papua New Guinea earlier this month.

The Naracoorte Lucindale Council mayor trekked the Kokoda Trail and said it was an incredibly challenging but rewarding journey.

"It really was an absolutely amazing experience," she said.

"The trek is just as hard as everyone says and it really does test your endurance. I was really glad I had done the preparation that I had."

The Kokoda Trail is a single-file foot thoroughfare which links the southern and northern coast of Papua New Guinea.

It is 96km long and was used by Australian Army troops during World War II.

Mrs Vickery embarked on the nine-day journey with her son Michael Vickery who is a geography teacher at Rostrevor College.

There was a group of eight students with them, a parent and grand parent, Rostrevor history teacher Shannon Simpson, his father Grant Simpson - who used to be involved with the Naracoorte Church of Christ about 20 years ago - and people from the trekking company Kokoda Spirit.

All up there were 45 who did the trek together including porters, guides and cooks.

Mrs Vickery was the only female.

"We had a really good tight knit group and everyone pushed each other to keep going," she said. "I was so fortunate I had no trouble at all, no injuries and no trouble with my legs or feet.

"You have to be very cautious because you're walking on slippery surfaces, tree routes and rocks. It was also quite narrow and steep and most of the time was through the jungle."

Mrs Vickery arrived in Port Moresby on June 30 before flying to Kokoda Village the next day.

At 10am the first part of the walk started and after a 10 hour trek they had arrived in Isurava Village.

"It ended up being a huge day and we trekked well into the dark," she said.

"By the afternoon there was a huge amount of rain and we got drenched...it was a real eye-opener."

The following morning the group had an early start of 4am.

Still wet from the previous day's rain they put their head lamps on and trekked for 45 minutes in the dark to the Isurava battlefield where a dawn service was held.

This was the site of several desperate battles fought by Australian troops who were poorly equipped and supported and couldn't match the superior numbers of the Japanese.

Breakfast was then served before walking on to Alolo Village which they reached by mid-morning.

Mrs Vickery said the group enjoyed an afternoon off to visit a small primary school which had students attend from a number of surrounding villages.

They brought with them gifts of stationary and sporting equipment and spent time with the children doing crafts and playing ball games.

The third day set a precedent for how the rest of the trail would go.

After a 5am wake-up call, they packed up their bags in the dark, ate breakfast and were all ready to get walking by daylight.

"Most days we walked for about six or seven hours," Mrs Vickery said.

"We would try to get into camp by about 4pm and it often started to rain quite a bit by the afternoon.

"It was humid but not unbearably so and I was pleasantly surprised.

"We had a uniform (organised by Rostrevor College) which we wore every day. When we got to camp we would clean our boots and have a cold shower.

"If we had the desire to we would wash our shirt but it would never dry by the next day which could be quite uncomfortable when you first put it on in the morning."

As well as gruelling through the physical challenges of the Kokoda Trail, the trekkers also learned about the strong history and geography of the area.

"It really gave us a very good understanding of just what our troops endured," Mrs Vickery said.

"Of just how difficult it was and how resilient they were. There were four key terms which are written along the track - endurance, courage, mateship and sacrifice."

The end of the trail was Owers Corner and from there they were picked up and driven back to Port Moresby.

Mrs Vickery said memorable moments included the dawn memorial service at Brigade Hill - which was where a lot of Australian soldiers lost their lives - and the "extremely well kept" Banana War Cemetery where Australian, Canadian and English defence people who lost their lives in Papua New Guinea are buried.

However, she said her biggest highlight was getting to spend quality time with her son Michael.

"There were four big uphill climbs that were very demanding and I didn't want to hold the young ones back but Michael, bless his heart, took my backpack and carried it for me," she said.

"He walked with me the whole time and that was really special for me.

"The relationships that we developed with the rest of the group were special too. For all the physical hardships the personal connections really get you through.

"I think it would have been the same for the soldiers - their mateship was really strong."

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