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 starvation.
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 all.
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.