Kokoda Papaua New Guinea one of the world’s toughest walks

Kokoda is not a place that is much recognised outside of Papua New Guinea and Australia.  Kokoda is a small, remote town that is located in the rugged Owen Stanley Ranges of Papua New Guinea, but it is a town that is sacred to Australians.

The reason why such a humble little village is held in such high esteem by Australians harks back to World War II when the Imperial Japanese Army were intent on invading Australia, and planned to do so by way of Papua New Guinea.  The plan was for Japanese troops to cross Papua New Guinea and capture its Capital Port Moresby before attempting an assault on Australia.

The invasion was stopped by Australian troops negotiating their way along the rugged jungle track, a 96 kilometre trail which linked Owers Corner, about 50 kms from Port Moresby, to Kokoda.  As an act of bravery against overwhelming odds it was comparable to the story of the 300 Spartans.  A group of practically untrained troops using inefficient equipment were able to hold back a much larger force of elite Japanese troops, thus saving Australia from invasion and helping to change the war in the Pacific by defeating the Japanese and preventing further expansion by the Imperial forces.

Many Australians have descendants who fought in the many battles that occurred along the Kokoda Track, and it has become the custom to walk the track to honour those who fought.

Even in this day and age. With the modern equipment that is available, the Kokoda Track (some call it the Kokoda Trail), is an extremely difficult enterprise.  The weather is exceptionally hot and energy-sapping humid, and the area is prone to torrential downpours which can occur every day.  Trekkers must also ensure they must take preventatives against some horrible tropical diseases, including malaria, which is very common.

The walk is not some gentle amble, as it crosses very steep mountains.  The track is mainly mud, and you can sink right into it down to your knees, making walking extremely difficult and tiring.   Following the route is so tough that at least six people have died from the stresses the trek puts on a person’s body.  Another major hazard is the flight to Kokoda.  The weather can be atrocious and 13 trekkers died in 2009 when their plane crashed into the jungle whilst en route to Kokoda.

There are a couple of Australian companies that organize Kokoda Treks.  This form of tourism is good for the region as it employs many local people who would otherwise have problems making an income.  The Kokoda Track Authority has responsibility for managing the Track and ensures that only fully licensed operators are able to organize treks.  This Authority ensures that local porters and guides are treaded fairly, and that proper safety and first aid precautions are in place.  Those trying to attempt the Track with anyone other than a licensed operator will be stopped by villagers.

Trekkers must have medical clearance before attempting the walk, and it is strongly advised they do adequate training, which includes long hilly walks over consecutive days carrying heavy backpacks to build up stamina.

Duration of the treks range from 4 to 12 days, depending on the fitness of the participants, how hard they wish to push themselves, and the amount of rest that is required after a day’s trek.  Most people camp out, but there are guest houses available for those who require more comfort.

The Kokoda Trek is not for the foolhardy or for those who are not prepared to train for it.  Most people who attempt the walk have some reason to do so, whether it be to remember a fallen family member or for some charitable purpose.  For those who complete the Trek it is an exhausting but ultimately fulfilling and memorable experience.

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