By NATHAN LIATI
SIXTY-seven-year-old, Kevin Wainwright is an enthusiastic Australian trekker who has completed the 18-day trek along the Kapa Kapa Trail twice within a space of 18 months.
Besides trekking Kapa Kapa (Ghost Mountain), Wainwright has trekked six other such tracks in PNG, all with a World War II connection: the Shaggy Ridge near Madang (twice); the Bulldog Track, Black Cat Track, Tol Plantation in New Britain, the Sattelberg to Finschhafen track in Morobe (once); and the well-known Kokoda Trail (four times).
Wainwright is a retired university lecturer in industrial chemistry. His interest in PNG tracks started when his 27-year-old son, Mark, suggested to him in 2007 that they walk the Kokoda Trail together. They planned for a year and in 2008 they did it. This created an interest for Wainwright to try other tracks in PNG.
He admitted falling in love with the cultures, the village settings, and the natural environment with its unique vegetation. Above all Wainwright has a special interest in military history and takes great interest in walking the sites where the battles during WWII were played out.
When asked why he trekked Kokoda more than once; he gently responds: ‘’It gives me time to think about how the soldiers got through those times of war and of the sacrifices they made for our two countries – PNG and Australia.’’ He further added that “It’s quite fascinating to see how the battlegrounds have survived like this, so little changed so many years after the war.”
The interest in the Kapa Kapa Trail for Mr Wainwright came from reading an article in the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini when he was flying to Port Moresby in 2008. The trek of the American 126th Regiment along the Kapa Kapa Trail in 1942 was connected with the completion of the Kokoda Trail campaign and it only seemed logical for anyone with an interest in the Kokoda campaign who want to walk the Kapa Kapa as well, to try and gain an understanding of how the Americans contributed to finally driving the Japanese from Papua. He surfed the internet to gain more information about the trail and possibly locate an operator.
Luckily, in 2013, Getaway Trekking and Adventures ran an advertisement for the Kapa Kapa trek, but, unfortunately, did not get the numbers to allow it to happen. Wainwright’s booking was deferred to 2016 when five clients made the cut and he was one of them. It was one of those opportune moments for him to explore and learn more about the trail to connect with his findings on Kokoda and other treks he has been to in PNG.
He has read the daily diaries of the veterans of WWII and at times when walking the trail has found himself struggling to keep going, just as they did. He asserts that of all the treks he has undertaken in PNG the Kapa Kapa Trail is by far the most challenging, both physically and mentally.
When asked about highlights of the Kapa Kapa Trail, he said: “I have great memories of the Kemp Welsh River, getting on the aluminium dinghies and going upstream, navigating the fast-flowing river, getting off in the shallow areas and pushing the dinghies through shoals many, many times, until finally reaching Sirimu. That is one of those things we rarely do whilst trekking.’’
He added: “This year’s trek has been especially illuminating with author James Campbell and his daughter Rachael on board. James’ book Ghost Mountain Boys documents the ordeal faced by the American soldiers who used the Kapa Kapa in 1942 and it was good to walk the track alongside James and to hear some of the stories he uncovered whilst writing the book.
Donna Wilson joining us was a bonus since her grandfather was one of those soldiers. Donna recounted a lot of stories from him, many of which told of the great things the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels did to help the troops – now she has seen them in action, and experienced their willing help for herself.”
While on the trail, Wainwright had the privilege to visit the beautifully kept grave of Australian soldier Albert King, at Dorobisoro station, twice. He has heard the oral histories from the local villagers and he admitted that: ‘’The burial site reminds me of the many sacrifices made by young soldiers during WWII and how the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels really lived up to their special name, accorded to them by the soldiers, during those terrible times.’’
Every village along the Kapa Kapa Trail has their own style of reception for visitors and it was more overwhelming than he expected, or had experienced along other trails in PNG. He liked the villagers, in their colourful regalia, who organised themselves to welcome at certain locations leading into the village with songs and dances.
“Seeing the whole village smiling and singing to welcome us, and the porters, was a natural tension relieving moment after many long hours of walking each day. I also liked the local songs and guitar strumming by the youths around the fire near our resting house,’’ Wainwright said, whilst fondly recalling memories of the trail.
Wainwright’s experience and memories of Kapa Kapa Trail won’t easily vanish when he returns home.
“Such an adventure happens only few times in anyone’s life. I will never forget reaching the highest peak on the trail, Ghost Mountain which is 2,700 meters above sea level, and, as one ascends noting how the vegetation constantly changes matching the higher elevation and atmosphere.”
When asked if he wants to try Kapa Kapa Trail a third time, he smiled and said: “I would love to, but twice on the full length of the track is probably enough for me at my age and in the future I would prefer shorter treks along it if there could be a suitable package.”
The options of flying into or out of Dorobisoro on the Central side, Jaure on the middle of the border and Itokama on the Oro side remain feasible for those who want to try shorter trekking instead of the full 18 days.
He mentioned that other tracks he has been on around the world, including Mt Kiliminjaro in Tanzania and the Inca Trail in Peru are not as challenging because the greater number of trekkers visiting those places has encouraged trekking companies to provide a greater level of comfort along the way (which the trekkers must of course pay for). Treks in PNG, which, from a commercial point of view, are in an earlier stage of development presenting greater challenges, experiences and memories. The Kapa Kapa Trail has only been traversed by six trekking groups, totalling about 30 non-indigenous trekkers in 76 years since the Americans passed that way during WWII.
Wainwright concludes by saying “I would like to do the Black Cat Track again if it could be re-opened.”
This is an indication of how passionate he is for the tracks in PNG, that the PNG people merely take for granted. There are opportunities to take ownership of things that have tourism and cultural or heritage values so that it will attract tourism onto our doorstep. Trekking is one tourism activity that will promote livelihood, development, and encourage self-reliance at the rural level, if we take ownership of it with pride.
Wainwright has willingly shared this information with PNG Tourism Promotion Authority staffer, Nathan Lati who accompanied him and the Getaway Trekking team on the Kapa Kapa Trail recently.
The Kapa Kapa Trail runs from Boregaina in the Central through to Dorobisoro and passes through the Owen Stanley Range and ends at Girua Bridge in Northern. It was the track used by the American soldiers to counter-attack the Japanese base at Buna to quell the advancing Japanese on Kokoda Trail into Port Moresby. The track is approximately 2,700km long and the highest peak, Ghost Mountain, located within the Owen Stanley Range is 2,700 meters above sea level.
- This is the first in a series of articles on the Kapa Kapa (Ghost Mountain) Trail. Other articles to follow are: 1. Donna Wilson’s emotional trip; 2. Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel legacy on Kapa Kapa Trail; 3. Bloody Buna and local tourism sequel; 3.A personal encounter on Kapa Kapa – a PNGTPA perspective.