If your an Australian you know what the Kokoda Track is and why it’s so significant, it’s become an Australian pilgrimage of sorts. Many Australians will trek the 96 km/60 mile rainforest trek over a period of 5-10 days to show their respects to the Australian soldiers who fought and underwent hardship during World War 2, in particular the soldiers who fought on the track. On another level, successfully trekking the track is considered to be a significant physical and mental achievement. It’s harsh jungle environment and constant steep ascents and descents along with the heat and humidity pushes keen outdoor and fitness enthusiasts to their physical and mental limits. However upon some overseas travelling I’ve come to realise that on a global scale the trek isn’t very well known. Even amongst keen international trekkers, hikers, outdoor enthusiasts and fitness enthusiasts no one knows what or where it is. It’s sad because without a doubt it’d have to be one of the hardest and most culturally unique treks in the world. Not only this but it played a significant part in the Pacific War during World War 2. The Kokoda Campaign which took place on the Kokoda Track was the allies first victory against the invading Japanese.
LOCATION, TERRAIN & CLIMATE
Located in Papua New Guinea the trek takes you through the Owen Stanley Range. The Owen Stanley Range is primarily a rainforest environment with plenty of rivers, steep ascents, descents and swamps. Whilst on the track trekkers can expect to be climbing to heights of 2,490 m, the top of Mount Bellamy and to be descending to lows of 300 m, Ua’Ule Creek. Most of the time you’ll be either ascending or descending, and these aren’t just standard climbs, they’re long and steep and at times you’ll be reaching up to grab tree roots to pull yourself upwards, other times you’ll be leaning on your trekking poles whilst descending to save your knees. It’s a knee killer even for youngsters, by the end it hurt every downward step I took. Also being in a rainforest the terrain is nearly always wet, muddy and slippery. On that note expect to get rained on at some point, it’s not always raining but most of the time you’ll get some rain. When it does rain it’s heavy and can last all day so you do need to be prepared to be wet all of if not most of the day. The heat is another factor that makes the trek difficult, most days you can expect 100% humidity with temperatures ranging between 28 Degrees Celsius/82 Degrees Fahrenheit to 32 Degrees Celsius/90 Degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a disgusting kind of heat too, sticky and uncomfortable however you do get used to it. The track itself is often root covered and muddy however there are some significant river, creek and swamp crossings. Most crossings theres a locally made bridge made from cut down trees and rope. At other crossings you’ll be walking across with your river crossing shoes on, in waist deep water. One of the great things about the track though is how it takes you through the local peoples villages. The locals are always kind and smiling and appreciate the income the trekkers bring to their communities. When using a guiding service you usually have the option of trekking the track in 5-10 days. The quicker you do it the harder it is, for fitness junkies and experienced trekkers the 5 day option is a great choice that will push you to your limits. Unless hiring a porter you’ll be carrying a 20-25kg for 12-16 hours most days. However the 7 day or 10 day options are the most popular because you get more time to relax, stop, observe and learn more about the battles fought along the track, you get to better absorb the culture whilst still being challenged.
The Kokoda Track is privately owned by the Papua New Guinean (PNG) people who live along the track, your pretty much walking through their backyard. This makes the experience a culturally unique one, majority of the PNG people you’ll come into contact with are known as the Koiari People or Orokaiva People. Their super friendly however their customs must be observed and followed. For example; men and women should bathe in separate places (women usually have to bathe downstream to the men), male trekkers must give way to the women, no skinny dipping & most of if not all of them are Seventh Day Adventists so take note and respect their religious practices and beliefs. For example their Sabbath begins at 5pm Friday and doesn’t finish until 6pm Saturday so try and make as little demand of their services as possible during this period. Although we’re very different culturally, we the trekkers have a great relationship with the locals and they love seeing us walk through their villages or stay overnight. Especially the children who are always smiling and curious, many trekkers will give them gifts such as t-shirts or footballs, when you come into a village most of the children will always be up to play a quick game of rugby or football.
Much of the men work for trekking companies as trek leaders or porters during the dry season, during the wet season they return home to build houses for their families and set up new food gardens. The women tend to stay home to look after the children and harvest produce such as bananas, yams and other various vegetables. However some create clothing and sell it along with their produce in anticipation of trekkers passing through their village. The porters and trek leaders you’ll be trekking with are some of hardest workers you’ll ever come across. They’re always trying their best to provide their services to you. Always up early making coffee or preparing meals and they do an outstanding job of helping trekkers along the track, lending a hand and encouraging. You create a unique and close friendship with these porters in the short period of time you spend trekking the track. It’s very similar to the bonds climbers make with the Sherpa in the Himalayas.
As I touched on above the Kokoda Track is like a pilgrimage for Australians, this is due to the Kokoda Campaign that took place during World War 2. The Kokoda Campaign was part of The Pacific War during 1942 and took place between July and November. The Campaign was a military effort where outnumbered Australian Soldiers fought a series of battles against the Japanese to prevent them from seizing Port Moreseby (Papua New Guinea’s capital). The Japanese saw seizing Port Moresby as a strategic plan to isolate Australia from the US. The Australian Soldiers fought off the Japanese successfully however both sides saw thousands of deaths and thousands more were either injured or got sick with tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, fungal infections or tropical ulcers. It did mark the first victory for the allied forces against the invading Japanese during the Pacific War though. The success in combination of the Australian soldiers showing the epitome of the ANZAC spirit is why The Kokoda Track is so significant to Australians. The Australian Soldiers were outnumbered, undertrained and fought through the harsh jungle conditions, they showed huge amounts of heart, courage, mateship and loyalty (the ANZAC spirit). They weren’t in it alone though, the local people of PNG known as the “fuzzy wuzzies” offered support by carrying injured Australian soldiers to safety and carrying in supplies to aid the Australian Soldiers. This unity created a mutual respect between Australian and Papua New Guinean’s thats still present today.