The Kokoda Trail, sometimes known as the Kokoda Track, is a single-file thoroughfare in Papua New Guinea that stretches approximately 96 kilometres (60 miles) in a mostly straight line.
It’s one of the world’s most gruelling trails, taking on average between four and twelve days to complete. The Kokoda Trail mainly comprises of rugged, isolated jungle terrain and is only passable on foot.
The Kokoda Trail is also of strong historical significance. It became the scene of a battle between Allied and Japanese forces during World War II. Today, the trail is popular with trekkers from around the world seeking a challenging course to complete.
It’s worth noting that the Kokoda Trail isn’t for the faint-hearted; it’s a physically demanding trail that isn’t suitable for children. It’s also unsuitable for adults that aren’t physically fit and have no known medical conditions.
Thousands of people from around the world decide to traverse the length of the Kokoda Trail. If you’re considering taking on such a mighty trekking challenge, the following will give you an in-depth guide on the subject.
What to Expect From the Kokoda Trail
The Kokoda Trail is a challenging experience from both a physical and emotional perspective. When you embark on it, you will be taking part in an experience you’ve probably never had before in your life.
You’ve probably heard from people that say the Kokoda Trail is demanding, exhausting, and will push you to your physical limits. But is that true, or are these comments from people that do little to no trekking?
The truth is, trekking on the Kokoda Trail is no walk in the park. Here are a few reasons why:
Lots of Terrains to Climb and Descend
The first thing to consider is that trekking on the Kokoda Trail isn’t a case of walking along a flat plain for the entirety of your journey. You must negotiate plenty of steep terrain and descents that will most certainly give you sore knees and joints and make you feel fatigued.
You will also have to negotiate steep ridges, mud, rocks, and other obstacles that you may not have ever encountered previously throughout much of the trek.
If you don’t have a good tolerance for high humidity, you will not get the best out of the experience when trekking the Kokoda Trail. Papua New Guinea has a tropical climate, with temperatures around 27°C in lower altitudes and 21°C in higher ones.
As you can appreciate, higher temperatures usually bring high levels of humidity. The average annual relative humidity is around 77% in Papua New Guinea, and it’s typically between 81% and 86% during April and May, respectively.
If the hot year-round temperatures and high humidity aren’t enough of a challenge, you’ve also got to contend with heavy rain. In Papua New Guinea, the monsoon seasons are between December and March in the northwest and May to October in the southeast.
Where Is the Kokoda Trail
The Kokoda Trail can be found towards the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. It begins at Owers’ Corner in the Central Province, around 50 km east of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s capital city.
Jacksons International Airport serves the country’s capital city, allowing direct flights to Papua New Guinea from Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore. A flight from Sydney, Australia, to Port Moresby takes around four hours.
Travelling from Port Moresby to Owers’ Corner is possible by car via the Hubert Murray Highway. The journey takes around one hour and thirty minutes. From there onwards, the rest of your journey along the Kokoda Trail is only possible on foot.
From Owers’ Corner, the Kokoda Trail beings in a northeasterly direction, snaking through and around several villages and settlements in the Owen Stanley mountain range, and primarily through the land of the Mountain Koiari people, until it reaches Kokoda.
Trekking the Kokoda Trail in Reverse
It’s possible to trek the Kokoda Trail in reverse - starting in Kokoda and finishing at Owers’ Corner. If you wanted to do it that way, you could take a regional flight from Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby directly to an airstrip in Kokoda village.
The flight from Jacksons International Airport to Kokoda is around 35 minutes long. Alternatively, you could fly from Jacksons International Airport to Girua Airport, which serves the city of Popondetta in the Northern Province.
From Girua Airport, you can travel to Kokoda by vehicle. The journey will take just under two hours and is just under 90 km away. If you decide to start your trip from Owers’ Corner, you can, of course, take a flight back to Port Moresby from Girua Airport.
Using a Tour Operator for the Kokoda Trail
As you can appreciate, the Kokoda Trail is a long trek and one where you must have experienced guides to help you navigate the area. It’s for that reason people who want to traverse the Kokoda Trail should use a tour operator.
There are many benefits to using a tour operator for the Kokoda Trail:
Intimate Local Knowledge
It makes sense to use a licenced tour operator because the guides used for the Kokoda Trail trekks have excellent working relationships with people that live in the villages along the trail.
The guides that work for licenced tour operators will also ensure you are safe during your journey. After all, you don’t want to come to any harm during your adventure due to an accident sustained along the way.
Another reason to use a tour operator is that only licenced tour operators can get issued permits to take groups of people along the Kokoda Trail. The Kokoda Track Authority or KTA issues the permits.
The revenue generated from permits issued by the KTA gets used in several ways. Part of it is used for Kokoda Trail maintenance and repairs, as you will need to traverse some man-made structures to cross certain areas.
Some of the revenue gets paid to local landowners whom the Kokoda Trail crosses. Such payments also get made to communities dotted along the trail as part of the country’s Ward Development funding.
Help and Support
One final advantage of using a tour operator for the Kokoda Trail is both you and everyone else in your party will have the help and support they need to traverse the gruelling Kokoda Trail.
For example, your tour guides can assist if you injure yourself or fall ill and need some medical attention.
History of the Kokoda Trail
The Kokoda Trail might be popular today with trekkers worldwide who want to experience an extreme trekking adventure, but the trail wasn’t initially created for such a purpose. Here’s a brief synopsis of the Kokoda Trail history:
The trail dates back to 1899, when it first got surveyed by Henry Hamilton Stuart-Russell to create a path from Port Moresby to the northern coast of New Guinea. At the time, there was opposition from local inhabitants to the British and Australians going through their land.
As a result, many of those local inhabitants lost their lives, especially when gold was discovered along the trail and tensions were running high between prospectors and the local people.
By 1904, British rule was in full effect. The colonial management decided to create a base in Kokoda to enforce sovereignty in the area and build paths towards Port Moresby using forced labour.
During the Pacific War of World War II, allied forces were busy fighting Japan. This country had begun several land grabs throughout the Pacific area. In July 1942, Japanese troops had landed near Gona and Buna, two coastal villages in Papua New Guinea.
Despite opposition from Australian and Papuan Infantry Force troops, the Japanese had successfully captured Kokoda and continually pushed back the allied forces. Japan had aimed to head southwest and almost had Port Moresby in their sights.
By October 1942, allied forces, including assistance from the United States, launched a counter-offensive against the Japanese troops in what is now known as the Kokoda Track Campaign.
Eventually, the allied forces succeeded in driving out the Japanese troops from Papua New Guinea. Today, remnants of the battles between Allied and Japanese troops can be seen on some parts of the Kokoda Trail.
Map of the Kokoda Trail
our operators that take trekkers along the Kokoda Trail might offer slight variations of the original Kokoda trail map created at the turn of the 20th century. Generally speaking, the Kokoda Trail runs from Owers’ Corner and goes roughly northeast to the village of Kokoda.
If you are planning to trek the Kokoda Trail and start from Kokoda, finishing up in Owers’ Corner, the main villages and locations you’ll traverse are as follows:
Regardless of the tour operator you use, there will be overnight stays in some of those villages or locations. The KTA ensures there is contact between those communities and KTA wardens via VHF radios.
Most of the Kokoda Trail runs along the original track created by the British and Australians at the turn of the 20th century and used during the Pacific War of World War II.
Kokoda Trail Distance
The Kokoda Trail distance is approximately 96 km or 60 miles long. To put that into perspective, it’s roughly a similar distance from Sydney to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains in Australia. That might seem like a lot, but bear in mind you’ll walk to Kokoda Trail in stages.
Many licenced tour operators will split the journey into eight days, averaging approximately 12 km or just over seven miles per day. Such a distance is quite manageable for most people.
However, it’s worth remembering that you aren’t going to walk across flat, paved roads for the entire trek. Instead, you will be mainly traversing jungle terrain that comprises a lot of mud, uneven terrain, and river crossings.
You’re likely to do around five to eight hours of hiking each day, given the rough terrain, steep climbs and obstacles you must overcome in the Kokoda Trail.
Kokoda Challenge Race
It might seem like a crazy notion, but there have been past events where some challengers have raced to complete the Kokoda Trail in record time. The current record holder for both directions of the Kokoda Trail is Brendan Buka, with 16 hours 34 minutes in 2008.
As you can appreciate, participants can’t run 24 hours a day, and so the race gets done in stages, the same as when you walk the Kokoda Trail. The next scheduled Kokoda Challenge Race is in July 2021 (the Kokoda Ultra Marathon).
Best Time to Trek the Kokoda Trail
According to data published by the KTA, trekkers tend to take on the Kokoda Trail mainly during July, August and September each year. That’s likely due to two reasons:
As you know by now, humidity levels in Papua New Guinea are generally high throughout the year. It can make a challenging trek such as the Kokoda Trail even more arduous.
The months of July, August, and September in Papua New Guinea tend to have the lowest humidity levels. In fact, September is typically the month where humidity levels are at their lowest.
Another fact about Papua New Guinea is that it’s one of the wettest countries in the world, thanks to its tropical climate and almost year-round monsoon season! When you trek on the Kokoda Trail, you can guarantee that much of your experience will involve rainfall.
Of course, it makes sense to take part in the challenge in months where the least rainfall occurs. In Port Moresby, August and September experience the lowest levels of precipitation.
Lastly, if you’re wondering what the best times of the day to trek the Kokoda Trail are, it makes sense to start as early as possible in the morning. A 5 am start, for example, means you can trek across the terrain while ambient temperatures are relatively low.
Subsequently, resting for the night at 7 pm might seem quite early to get some sleep. However, it’s a good time for unwinding and eventually falling asleep, despite the relative humidity and giving yourself plenty of rest ready for the next day’s proceedings.
Training For the Kokoda Trail
When it comes to Kokoda Trail training, it’s essential to bear in mind that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. Each person has different body shapes, levels of peak fitness, stamina, and pain thresholds.
There are some training tips that you should consider to help you prepare for the Kokoda Trail:
Hiking While Climbing
You will need to do a lot of climbing on the Kokoda Trail. With that in mind, you should have no trouble completing a hike ascending 600 metres in one day. If you can’t, start by practising smaller ascents each week and working your way up to 600 metres.
If you’re new to hiking while climbing or hiking in general, consider hiring a personal trainer to help you get used to hiking and trekking.
Start Months in Advance
You shouldn’t start training for the Kokoda Trail a few weeks before you’re due to fly there. Start several months in advance with a well-rounded, regular exercise regime. Incorporate a mix of back-to-back hiking days, aerobic training and strength workouts.
Packing For the Kokoda Trail
Lastly, you’ll need to consider what to pack for the Kokoda Trail. As you can appreciate, you’ve got 96 km of trekking and hiking to do, so you don’t want to carry much weight on your shoulders.
However, you do need to take some essential items for the journey. The must-have items you should take include:
There’s no denying the Kokoda Trail is one of the most challenging and complex trails to trek. But, it also gives you an immersive and memorable experience, and it’s one where you’re likely to make new life-long friends.
The Kokoda Trail is undoubtedly one of the trails that any keen adventurer should add to their bucket list. Hopefully, the above guide will have given you a comprehensive review and offered some tips and tricks to prepare for it.
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.