The beginning of the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea

Hiking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea – A Truly Touching Hike With so Much History

Published on: April 10th, 2020 at 10:45 am

For those of you who live outside the Pacific/Oceania area, you might not be entirely familiar with the Kokoda Track or option of hiking the Kokoda Trail and that is completely understandable.  If you are not, yet you’re at all curious about completing a trek that is so challenging it has made the list of the top 10 most dangerous hikes in the world, it is worth your while to continue reading on.

Now, please bear with us for the geography and history lessons that follow.  This information is critical in order to fully comprehend the Kokoda adventure and just how important the Kokoda Track is and why you should be putting it on your list of must-do treks around the world.

Tips for hiking the Kokoda Trail with packing tips and the best time

Where is the Kokoda Trail and How Long is it?

The Kokoda Track, or Kokoda Trail as it is sometimes called, is a single-file, 96 km track that runs through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. It runs from Owers’ Corner to the village of Kokoda and reaches an altitude of 2190 metres at the peak of Mount Bellamy. The track can be challenging particularly for non-villagers, with hot humid days and colder nights at the higher elevations with rainfall sometimes thrown in as well.

The Kokoda track passes through the Owen Stanley Range. The range is named after British Capt. Owen Stanley, who explored the coast of New Guinea from 1845 to 1850. This area is one of the most bio-diverse places in the Pacific area.  There are over 4,000 plant species and the jungle is home for birds of paradise, bowerbirds, finches, wallabies, and a number of species of butterflies and aquatic insects including endangered or critically endangered species.

Still with us?  Good! Geography lesson: check!

Kokoda Trail History

During World War ll in 1942, a famous war in Australian history, Japan intended to attack Australia and thought that strategically, Papua New Guinea would be the perfect place to launch this attack from. They had heard of a trail that the local people used to move from village to village and thought they could use it to move their men back and forth from Kokoda to Owers’ Corner.

Australia was not about to stand by and let this happen and troops were positioned in Papua New Guinea and specifically the Kokoda trek to ward off this potential attack by patrolling and trekking Kokoda. This began months of horrific fighting that resulted in much loss of life on both sides. The local people from the villages along the track stepped in to assist the Australians in the battle, carrying their wounded, their dead, food, artillery and ammunition, safely guiding the soldiers through the jungle throughout the battle. Ultimately, because of the knowledge of the area and the unwavering help provided by the local people, the Australian soldiers were successful in defeating the Japanese and defending the Kokoda Track.

The Australian soldiers were so grateful for the unwavering support and care provided by the local people, that they called them their ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’. The bonds between the soldiers and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were so strong that they persist to this day among the descendants of both the Australian soldiers and the original Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. This forms the basis for what has become a pilgrimage for many Australians as they walk in the footsteps of their forefathers along the Kokoda Track, which begins at the Kokoda track memorial walkway.

Still here?  Good! Kokoda trail history: check!  See? Not so bad!

The Kokoda Trail – Trekking Adventures

Today, a trek along the Kokoda Trail offers people from all over the globe an opportunity to immerse themselves in a culture that will take them back through the decades.  The experience is unlike any other – a mix of history, culture, physical challenge as well as mental challenge. Some have described it as gruelling while for many, it is simply a life-changing experience. This is a trek that is complex on so many levels, hence why it talked amongst the most dangerous hikes in the world.

A sunrise appearing over the island of Papua New Guinea
Early morning sunrise with a stunning view over the landscape of Papua New Guinea and the Kokoda Trail captured by Deborah Hemingway on a recent trek.

All Kokoda treks along the track are guided.  Trekkers have their own personal porter who carries their gear and for this reason, there is a limit to the weight that a person can bring.  When you are still in the comfort of your home and trying to decide on what to bring, remember that every single item you put into your pack will be carried by someone.  If you bring too much and are overweight (and yes you and your pack will be weighed!) you will have to carry it … choose wisely.

What to pack for trekking Kokoda

What do you need to bring to hike kokoda trail?  Let us give you an (abbreviated) list. Hiking boots should be on the top of your list (and please wear them on the plane in case your luggage is lost or delayed – I speak from experience).  Hiking poles, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, daypack, a couple of changes of clothes (one to wear and one to wash), a set of clean clothes that you change into after cleaning up at the end of each day, snacks, waterproof bag for your camera/phone, water shoes (yes there are parts of the trail that involve river crossings).  Power banks for charging, basic first aid kits, mosquito spray, muscle rub, bio-degradable soap, sunscreen, a hat and basic toiletries that you use (scaled-down because you or your porter will be carrying everything right?!). If you are not sure which brands and equipment to use then this travel gear is a good option.

For your stays in the villages at the end of the day, a Frisbee, a deck of cards, a book, a ball… anything that will give you an opportunity to create a friendly game with your fellow trekkers and porters. Here is a list of outdoor equipment I trust as well as some packing tips that may come in handy when preparing for the Kokoda challenge

Packing checklist

  • Hiking boots
  • Hiking poles
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • backpack
  • daypack
  • a couple of changes of clothes (one to wear and one to wash)
  • a set of clean clothes that you change into after cleaning up at the end of each day
  • snacks
  • waterproof bag for your camera/phone
  • water shoes
  • Power banks
  • basic first aid kits
  • mosquito spray
  • muscle rub
  • bio-degradable soap
  • sunscreen
  • a hat
  • basic toiletries

Kokoda campaign – Hiking the Kokoda Trail

The Kokoda campaign itself is challenging.  The trail is a constant up and down along the unending ridges with many river crossings over bridges that at first glance you might think you will never get across – they can consist in some places of two or three slender logs tied together with only a slim rope to hold on to as a ‘handrail’.  A strong steady hand from your porter always comes at the exact right time to get you across. You were expecting a Kokoda challenge though right?

There are many steep ups and equally steep downs that require a sure step as the climate ensures that the earth between the tree roots remains wet and slippery making the trail treacherous in some parts. Again, the strong, steady hand of your porter will get you up and down. Being mindful of the best months to hike the Kokoda trail, May through October lessens the likelihood of having to trek in constant rain, however, the humidity does keep the earth fairly wet and slippery in sections at any time of the year. Kokoda trekking will throw up challenges any time of the year, it’s half the appeal of trekking the trail

Training for the Kokoda Trail

How much training does it take to battle the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea? The simple answer is a lot, although it is absolutely doable with the right type and amount of training. I would suggest that you will need a solid 5-6 months minimum of training time (more if you are starting from scratch). Hills, stairs, conditioning, long difficult hikes will need to become part of your training regime. You will also need to become best friends with your day pack, a good bag option, as carrying it will need to become part of your training. The Kokoda adventure has a way of humbling the most enthusiastic trekker and this needs to be remembered when you are training. 

Wading through rivers, reaching the summit of a steep ridge and feeling the warm sun on your face, stopping for a much-needed break is all part of the experience of the Kokoda Trail.  The fact that you hike Kokoda Trail as a shared experience makes it even more meaningful. There is nothing like a group of people accomplishing something together that is so incredibly challenging to create bonds that last a lifetime and an experience none will forget.

Facilities available when completing the trek

The villages that are the stopping points along the route are a visible reminder of how difficult life in a remote village can be.  The village huts that trekkers and porters sleep in are basic with none of the amenities that normally accompany accommodation along the usual treks. The Kokoda adventure is not a usual trek. There is no electricity, no WiFi, and no running water. You live as the locals live – a very basic life and this can be very liberating.  Bathing in the rivers with the local children laughing and playing around you will stay etched in your memory forever.

Menari Village found along the Kokoda Trail with traditional straw houses hovering above red dirt ground
One of the villages that are walked through when hiking the Kokoda Trail

Now, let’s discuss why else you should hike the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. 

Why you should hike Kokoda Trail

The chance to learn about a culture that most people don’t know about is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.  The local people that will guide you along the Kokoda trek have a wealth of knowledge about their culture and history that only they know.  It is a golden opportunity to learn from one another and after all, isn’t that what travelling is all about?

Another reason why you should put Kokoda trekking on your must-do hike list is the fact that it is featured in the top 10 most challenging/dangerous treks in the world (and do not tell your mother about this). It is dangerous and will challenge you in every way. The climate, the trail itself, the basicness of life all contribute to the physical challenge but so much bigger than that, is the mental challenge. Nothing is easy when hiking the Kokoda trail and nothing is like it is at home. But really, if you want things to be like they are at home, what is the point of travelling to other countries? Embrace the Kokoda challenge and the track will embrace you.

Kokoda trail tours – The best company to complete the trek with

Now that we have you fully intrigued with the thought of completing the Kokoda Track let us provide one final thought for you, a most important thought. When looking at all the tour operators around the globe that offer treks along the Kokoda Track (and we know there are many), please give some serious thought about where your tour fees wind up.  Is your tour company based in the UK? The US? Australian Kokoda tours or Canada? Where does the owner reside? How much money stays in Papua New Guinea? How much of your tour fees go to the local people, the people who will be guiding you and carrying your pack along the track?

In this time of higher social consciousness, and because we all know better now, it is critical to choose a tour operator that operates, hires locally and also takes care of their own.  We know of only one on the Kokoda Trail – Indigenous Kokoda Adventures – the first Indigenous-owned, led and operated tour operator.

Fully experienced due to decades of working for foreign tour operators, and descendants of the original Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, Indigenous Kokoda Adventures offers a tour along the Kokoda Track for every level – shorter more condensed (aka intense) treks as well as treks that are a bit longer and less intensive. The porters, guides and historians know the track and their history better than any foreign guide or historian ever could. They have lived in the villages and communities along the track for generations. This is their home and it doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Support the local indigenous company known as Indigenous Kokoda Adventures and be rewarded with a once in a lifetime hiking and educational experience.

Summary of hiking the Kokoda Trail

  • Expect hot humid days and colder nights at the higher elevations with rainfall sometimes thrown in as well.
  • You will reach an elevation of 2190 metres at the peak of Mount Bellamy while hiking the Kokoda Trail.
  • How long is kokoda trail? It is 96km one-way trek.
  • There are over 4,000 plant species living in the rainforest that the Kokoda Trail passes through.
  • The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels assisted the Australian troops to defeat Japan here during World War 2 and is why the Kokoda track memorial walkway has been created.
  • The experience of the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea is unlike any other – a mix of history, culture, a physical challenge as well as a mental challenge.
  • Train for the hike 6 months in advance, with a day pack on your back.
  • The best time to complete the Kokoda Trail is between the months of May through October as the likelihood of rain and slippery conditions is less.
  • Carry the minimum essentials for the trek and be prepared to be weighed before hiking the Kokoda trail. Follow the above packing list as a guide.
  • Each person completing the hike will have their own personal porter.
  • There is no electricity, no WiFi, and no running water. Consider taking some of these travel essentials
  • You will be hiking one of the top 10 most dangerous/challenging treks in the world
  • Use a local company that supports the indigenous community in Papua New Guinea. There is only one, Indigenous Kokoda Adventures.

Travel budget tips

Either booking a new travel holiday right from the start or while on such a holiday can be expensive. Things like flights, accommodation, meals, transport and tours can add up fast and put a strain on what should be a fun time. These budget travel tips will assist with booking a holiday at the best price or staying on budget while travelling.

Organise Your Trip: Travel Advice and Tricks I Personally Use

Book Your Flight

Heading to either Skyscanner or Momondo are my methods of choice for this. They are my favourite as they search for flights from different companies all over the world. You can filter the results to suit your needs and ensure you land the best price every-time.

Book Your Accommodation

This is an important part of any holiday you’re going on. Read all the reviews and get the right accommodation via TripAdvisor. They even show you the best prices available at the time for that room from suppliers like Booking.com.For booking a hostel your best bet is to start with HostelWorld or possible even use CouchSurfing if you’re on a real budget.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is a must these days so you have a piece of mind you’re covered for anything that could go wrong while on your trip. I now never go on a trip away without travel insurance. I’ve been using World Nomads for the past few years.

My favourite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • SafetyWing (cheaper option to just cover you for health issues)

Looking for the best companies to save money with?

As I have been travelling frequently over the last few years I’ve learnt some great tools to use for saving money when travelling. I have a travel resource page that lists all the trusted companies I personally use and rely on. I think you will find them good as well.

I also have a couple of great blogs that share quick and easy ways to save money on flights or accommodation. Take a look and save some cash on your next trip.

The Best Place To Book Your Tours

If you are someone you likes to have the best tours in one place and read reviews from other travellers about their personal experiences of each different tour then the best platform to use is GetYourGuide.

They offer the best tours, have money-back offers in case your trip is cancelled and ensure the price of each tour is the lowest possible.

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Last Updated on: May 26th, 2020 at 5:55 pm

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