The Kokoda Track is one of the world's greatest treks, linking the southern and northern coast of Papua New Guinea. It is 96km long and passes through rugged mountainous country of rainforest, jungles of fern, thick orchids full of birds and clean mountain streams tumbling into steep valleys.
Former army major Charlie Lynn leads expeditions along the track. He established Adventure Kokoda in 1991, and to date has led an average of seven or eight walks a year. Walkers are always met with warm smiles and villagers enjoy sharing fruit and vegetables.
July 21, 1942, saw the start of one of the bloodiest campaigns of World War II when Japanese troops landed on New Guinea's north coast with the intention of marching over the Owen Stanley Range and capturing Port Moresby. Had they succeeded, Australia would have been under dire threat and the successful mission to prevent that was arguably our most significant involvement in the war.
The 21st Brigade, commandeered by Brigadier Potts, was rushed to New Guinea within days. Just 1500 men were gathered to protect their country against the advancing Japanese Imperial Army, which was quickly building to more than 10,000 strong. Australia was more vulnerable than it had ever been. More Australians died in the seven months of fighting in Papua than in any other campaign.
The average age of the Australians was just 18-and-a-half and many of those lie buried at the Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby.
On January 23, 1942, the Japanese landed at Kavieng and Rabaul and quickly overcame Australian defenders. On March 8, they firmly established themselves at Lae and Salamaua.
May 5-8 saw the Battle of the Coral Sea which averted a Japanese sea-borne invasion of Port Moresby. The Japanese, who were regularly bombing Port Moresby with more than 20 bombers with fighter escort, decided on an overland attack across the Owen Stanley Range.
In 1942 a seldom-used track wove from the small village of Buna on the north coast of Papua, over the Owen Stanley Range and on to Port Moresby. It was fairly easy going up the slopes through Gorari and Oivi to the village of Kokoda, standing on a small plateau just 400 metres above sea level, flanked by the enormous mountains.
It continued over steep ridges, through deep valleys to Deniki, Isurava, Kagi, Ioribaiwa, Ilolo and, at Owers' Corner, linked with a motor road from the plantations in the hills above Port Moresby to the coastal plains.
Between Kokoda and Ilolo, the track's gradients were so steep it was almost impossible for burdened men to climb even a few hundred metres. Much of the track was through dense rainforest making a narrow passage through thick bush. Higher up, terrain was slippery moss and stunted trees which were often shrouded in mist.
While no one could comprehend the hardships the young soldiers faced, for many people, walking in their footsteps is the most emotional and rewarding experience.
Getaway's David Reyne and a crew joined Charlie Lynn on one his expeditions. Unlike the men before them, the crew had three months to prepare physically and mentally for the Kokoda, but were still not prepared for the heat, mud, sweat and extreme physical exertion that faced them. Their admiration and respect for the brave heroes in whose footsteps they followed was palpable.
The 9.5-hour walk from Kokoda began as a flat amble south into the hills. It was a gruelling experience and showers and clean clothing at day's end were most welcome. It was also time to reflect upon the men of the 39th battalion, led by Lt Col Ralph Honner.
The trek includes a visit to Kovello for a traditional "fuzzy-wuzzy angel sing-sing" welcome before trekking to the Hoi Village campsite.
Next the climb over the awesome Owen Stanley Range begins, going through abandoned villages to Deniki and on to Isurava village. The solemn and magnificent Isurava memorial was opened on the 60th anniversary of the battle by Australian prime minister John Howard and his Papua New Guinea counterpart Sir Michael Somare.
At the Insuava battle site you will see weapon pits and discarded armaments, before descending to Back Creek and Alola Village where you are rewarded by a cooling waterfall dip. The waterfall is on the eastern side of the range which was defended by the 53rd Militia Battalion.
You arrive at Abuari for afternoon the traditional village was a key defensive area during the campaign. You then return to Alola Village campsite via Eora Creek.
Templeton's Crossing was the scene of savage fighting during the withdrawal. As you continue up the spur you will see weapon pits and one of the Japanese defensive positions.
The climb to Kokoda Gap gives views back down the Yodda Valley beyond the Kokoda plateau. The climb continues to Mt Bellamy, the highest point of the track. From there are views of the open plains of Myola. You then enter the enchanted Moss Forest and descend to 1900 Crossing, following the original wartime track to the campsite at Lake Myola.
It is easy to imagine low-flying Dakotas dropping supplies of food and ammunition and recovery parties searching for the critical drops.
So many things became evident during the gruelling days in Papua New Guinea on the infamous Kokoda Track but one that stood out in the minds of our crew was that victory would have not prevailed had it not be for the extraordinary Papuans, who became staunch allies in Australia's greatest hour of need. The debt of gratitude is immense.
Some fought independently because they had been mistreated by the Japanese. Many were murdered by them, resulting in a high degree of loathing of the invaders. Some fought in organised units. Mostly, though, they were bearers, carrying food, ammunition and the wounded. Their assistance was officially recognised with a medal being struck by the Australian government as a token of thanks for these "fuzzy wuzzy angels".