Today the 90 kilometre Kokoda Trail is the
most popular recreational walking track in Papua New Guinea. It is a
rugged, sometimes hazardous series of steep ridges and muddy gullies - one
of the world’s true adventure treks.
The Kokoda Trail was originally used by gold miners
during the 1890s, walking north from Port Moresby to the goldfields of
Yodda and Kokoda. During the Second World War, the trail gained notoriety
as the scene of some of the most bitter fighting.
The Japanese had decided to take Port Moresby by a
totally unexpected back door assault. The plan was to land on the north
coast near Popondetta, travel south to Kokoda and then march up over the
central range to Sogeri and down to Port Moresby. Two months later, on 16
September 1942, their supply lines stopped and they withdrew. The final
push to retake the beachheads at Buna and Gona saw the Japanese not so
much defeated as annihilated. It has been estimated that of their total
force of 16,000 men only about 700 survived the fighting, disease and
The beginning of the track is marked by a memorial stone
at Owers’ Corner, along the Sogeri Road. Day trippers from Port Moresby
can do a one hour walk along the trail towards the Goldie River. Those
continuing will climb the “Golden Stairs” over the top of Imita Ridge,
not the steepest or highest of the mountain ranges along the trail, but a
savage sample of things to come. The trail climbs up the Ioribaiwa Ridge,
through abandoned villages. This was the point where the Japanese forces
stopped and withdrew, less than 20 kilometres from Port Moresby.
The halfway mark is at the village of Efogi, where the
altitude reached brings a crispness to the evening air. From here the
track winds through numerous garden plots and open grassland before
reaching Mount Bellamy, an eerie place, where boots make sound along the
track which is now a tunnel of trees and vines festooned with moss. The
moss hangs in streams from dead and living trees with little sunlight to
pierce the gloom. Until the war, this was a taboo place and avoided by
The campsite is 45 minutes walk from the main trail on
the track into the old air drop zone of Myola. Once you stop walking the
cold of the altitude is apparent. Humidity is still high which,
accompanied by cold and mist, means there is a continuos patter on the
leaves of falling droplets of condensation.
Trek through swamp and marshy ground, cross rivers
spanned by log bridges and causeways, climb through rugged country,
endlessly climbing and plugging, enjoy remarkable panoramas. Stop at
villages and get to know the locals, always eager to talk to visitors. The
walk ends at the village of Kokoda. Kokoda was defended by the Australians
on a tongue like plateau which overlooks the land below. On this plateau
are a number of memorials and a small museum.
All travel on the Kokoda Trail is hard, but the journey
can be organised into sections which are manageable by persons of good
health and average “jogger” fitness.
Tour operators organise eleven day trips along the
trail, walking at a moderate pace. Alternatively porters and guides,
recommended as necessary, can be organised. Good equipment, comfortable
boots, wet weather gear and a medical kit should be carried.
The Australian Government in conjunction with Rotary
International have recently completed the construction of aid posts and a
medical centre at Kokoda as a memorial to those who died.
The walk is not recommended during the wet season. It
can be extremely slippery and the rivers are often too high to cross
safely. August and September are the best time to walk. Most trekkers walk
from the south to the north.