Australian Kokoda trekkers are the basic building block of Papua New Guinea’s most popular tourist destination. They are also the most neglected!
Any business, industry or service provider who dared treat their customers with as much contempt as the Kokoda trekker receives from their taxpayer funded ‘Kokoda Initiative’ would be placed in the hands of a commercial undertaker in a very short period of time.
Over the past five years Australian trekkers have invested more than $100 million to trek across the Kokoda Trail. The Australian and PNG governments have creamed more than $12 million in GST and a veritable bonanza in taxes from the airline, hotel, transport and camping gear industries.
Trekking Kokoda provides part-time employment to more than 12,000 PNG guides and carriers who would otherwise be working in remote village gardens at a subsistence level.
Local villagers earn more than $1.5 million a year from campsite fees.
In return for this the Kokoda trekkers receive nothing. Neither government provides any support to help facilitate or enhance their experience. Villagers along the way, the second most important building block in the Kokoda trekking industry, are also totally neglected.
Kokoda trekkers are unable to book campsites in advance because there is no booking system. They are not able to have a comfortable crap because there is not a single environmental toilet along the entire track. They have no protection from unscrupulous trek operators because there is no system of accreditation. They have to negotiate a gravel ‘road’ between Depo and Owers Corner which is more dangerous than anything on the track. They are left to their own resources to arrange any emergency evacuation.
Most Kokoda trekkers are motivated by a desire to trek in the footsteps of our diggers and learn about the battles that took place along the track. They reflect the egalitarian nature of our diggers and come from all walks of life: male, female, young, old, professionals, farmers, tradies, teachers, students, veterans, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, etc. etc. etc. It is a unique Australian journey, a pilgrimage for many, a rite-of-passage for others, a powerful emotional experience for all.
Trekkers who commit to the journey make a substantial financial investment towards their venture. They also have to plan time off from their jobs and commit to a long-term rigorous physical preparation program. In return for this investment, they want an assurance they can complete the journey safely and that they will gain a greater insight into the Kokoda campaign.
Neither the Australian nor the Papua New Guinea Governments provide this assurance. Trek operators have to fill the void to the best of their ability.
The road leading to the start of the track, between Depo and Owers Corner, is the most dangerous section of the journey between Port Moresby and Kokoda. It is only a matter of time before Australians are killed on this road. Once on the track Kokoda trekkers are on their own. There is no opportunity for them to book campsites; there are no environmental toilets on the Trail; there is no co-ordinated emergency evacuation system in place; there are no commemorative/interpretive memorials at significant battlesites along the track (apart from the splendid memorial at Isurava); there are no programs in place to ensure villagers and landowners benefit from trekkers; etc. etc.
The Australian and PNG Governments are currently reaping a bonanza from trekkers.
The recent deaths on the Kokoda Trail and the ongoing threats to close the track by disgruntled landowners are a wake-up call for both governments to ensure the needs of trekkers are addressed before it is perceived to be too ‘dangerous’ or too ‘negative’ to make such a significant commitment to.
We hope that the social mapping study and track analysis planned by new Kokoda Track Authority Rod Hilman will signal the start of a new approach to work upwards from the basic building blocks of the trekking industry to stakeholder organisations and government departments. The objective must be to build a model for a sustainable eco-trekking industry in the land of a thousand cultures.
I can see where you are coming from and have a concern. I will adress this first.
I would not want either Govt. to over regulate the Kokoda Track/Trail or have them modernise it or turn it into a walk in the park so to speak. This would destroy – in my view- one of the main attraction for trecking on the Kokoda.
I do strongly agree with the basis of your blog. There needs to be eco friendly toilets so as to minimise any destruction and unsanitary conditions the large number of trekkers may cause. this includes some form of rubbish disposal for all the alloy cans at the villages that sell coke etc. The road to Owers Corners should be left as is for the last 1 km. Walk from there. this is to stock vandalism of OC, which will occur if people can drive right up to the sight. The remainder of the road should be all weather for your stated reasons.
Track operators need to be accredited, end of story. This also includes some form of physical assessment of those who are going to walk/climb/crawl the Track. There definitely should be an emergency evacuation system in place- if I was younger I’d say carry the bugger out but age adds sense( I hope).
I do not know how but a camp site booking system is needed especially with the increasing numbers of people using the Kokoda.
My 2 biggest – and only- disappointments on the track are the lack of memorials/ information Plaques at the various battle sights and the villagers appear to receive nil help-hospitals, schools etc from the monies raised. To start with this may just be training up nursing staff who can deal with most cases until a doctor can get in or patient taken to a hospital.
The displayed attitudes of both Govts indicates they do not fully understand the relevance of the Kokoda Campaign to PNG, Australia and in fact the whole Pacific Campaign. Imagine if the Japanese elite forces had of captured PNG, or had gone to the Solomon Islands. To me the the Militia units on the Kokoda esp. the 39th can claim to have walked with the Spartans.
Having trekked in 2007 I was not surprised to hear of two new deaths and subsequent trak closures.The disappointment is with the on going lack of Government support when quite clearly there is a growing need to improve conditions for a sustainable tourist trail, not to mention the respect for the fallen diggers and their fuzzy wuzzy helpers. The kind people of New Guinea need to have their Kingdom restored not destroyed and those who go in good faith pay good money to ensure they do their part….the lack of infrastructure to sustain that is disturbing.
Great stuff. Couldn’t have put it better myself! Good luck Charlie.
You comments are very valid and agree with you on most points.
I would wage a word of caution in that one of the appealing aspects of the track is the slight disorganisation and rustic feel, this being one of the greatest appeals to doing it along with its history and meaning.
One of the biggest dangers that can happen to the trek is it is made to commercial and to easy. Such treks around the world that have had this happen to them is the one to Base camp in the himalayers, which now is over come with rubbish and is in the stages of having forced closures, so every one looses out. The milford track in NZ, is made like a day walk with comfortable lodges etccc,
Points mentioned like enviro toilets and a few faciltites like this are better for the enviroment rather than for the trekkers. If they need a padded seat to crap on then they should stay at home.
Unification of the villages, yes this needs to be sorted and controlled, because you will end up with the greed overtaking all. I have seen this in the caribbean, Turkey and other places i have worked in.
please dont take this the wrong way, but unfortunalty you will look at it from a commercial aspect and with any business it is all about bums on seats, so please dont make it to easy for the mums and dad to do, other wise you will take away the nostalgic ideals that meant so much to the people that have already conquered the trek. A happy medium does need to be found. But money to the local will currupt them the quickest, Cash is not king in this case , but health , schools, water and infrastructure is. Regards Brett Kruger
I found your comments quite correct as far as the support for the trekker from the PNG Government.Upon recently completing the 2009 Anzac Trek (AK902) which by the way one of the most up lifting experiences I have ever undertaken,I now have a first hand view of the lack of regard for the Trekker, the Villagers and I feel for the Local people who value our contact and support us on our venture to follow in the footsteps of our brave countrymen and Women.
Trekking Kokoda during the Anzac period in 2007 was the most rewarding experience I have encountered. Whilst we want to ‘walk’ in the footsteps of the diggers that so valiantly fought in this rugged terrain, we do not necessarily want to ‘share’ the very basic facilities that existed during that time. Indeed, the very people that assisted us during that time, the fuzzy wuzzies and their families, deserve to be treated with respect, gratitude and generosity.
This extends to the immediate provision of safe roads, safe river crossings, a proper and healthy sewerage system and adequate electricity to maintain basic living standards. I would be remiss to not mention that education is also very important if the young children that we all so enjoy taking photos of, are to enjoy a life filled with promise, with their full potential realised.
I pray that the powers to be, including our Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, who himself has walked the Kokoda Track, realise, that by providing a proper infrastructure along the track now , including those roads leading to Owers Corner, is not only the right thing to do for the trekkers that bring a much needed source of income to the villages, but is the minimum that we should do to pay our great debt to these wonderful people that gave their all, in our own time of need.
These people are not asking for a multi billion $$$ broadband network. They are just asking for a way of life that we have and so often take for granted. Is that too hard?
As they say ‘Just do it’.
Thank you for the invitation to say a few words. I very much agree with everything that has been posted in this blog and would like to add that after doing the Kokoda Track I came away with a profound sense what it is to be an Aussie and an amazing appreciation and understanding of what great Australian Diggers did to protect our right to freedom. I share this understanding with as many people as I can and with my children so they can pass it on.
After learning more about our Government’s refusal to recognise the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels with something as basic as a medal and a pension for their heroic part on the campaign I’m now left ashamed and bewildered as to why Kokoda is not honoured and respected more.
It is down right un Australian that this Government is not doing more to honour the memories of those brave men and women involved in the South Seas Campaign. If the Kokoda Track was on Australian soil and passed through a patch of rainforest you can bet the Australian Government would be pouring millions of dollars into it, just to keep the Greenies happy.
This is an issue of National pride and I strongly urge the Australian Government to initiate a strategy with the PNG Government to work together to provide a safe, eco friendly, tourism orientated Kokoda Trekking Industry.
Good luck and best wishes for the future.
It reminds me of Nepal.
Track management and support for local workers is absolutely essential. If these fail walkers will simply go elsewhere. I will add more once I do the walk.
I endorse Charlie Lynn’s comments.I was one of the early groups to trek in 1996.I expected and got subsistence levels,Now,however,with the large number of trekkers,it is unacceptable and downright dangerous to leave conditions in their original level.Certain basic improvements are a necessity for all concerned.And for Gods sake make the lives of those wonderful native people a little more comfortable.
Great to hear from you. There have been changes to the track since 1996 with the increase in trekker numbers. Unfortunately there has been little interest in the track from our government until the public outcry over the plan to mine part of the track for gold. Since then there has been a fair bit of bureaudratic action but it has all taken place in a parallel universe. There is no argument that the villagers have benefited from the increase in trekker numbers – the boys along the track have regular employment during the trekking season and campsite owners are making more money in a year that all the villages combined did when I first started trekking in 1991. Unfortunately they are not being taught how to ‘value-add’ to the opportunity or how to invest for their future benefit. There is little hope for improvement whilst the current ‘we know what’s best for them’ attitude prevails in Canberra.
Charlie – Paragraph 7 & 11 are very similiar – I prefer paragraph 11.
Include invaluable assistance by porters – without their local knowledge and commitment many trekers would not complete the trek; surely consideration of their role is paramount to a successful & mutually benefical relationship between both authorities. The villagers & porters today are really mirroring what they did in 1942 for the Australian soldiers – surely we can work togther so their entitled funding is received and put to appropriate use – not govermental/bureauocratic red tape.
I agree entirely – unfortunately you have to trek with them to appreciate how dedicated and selfless they really are. I reckon we would get less than 50 per cent of our trekkers across if we did not have them with us. It is a shame that their destiny is so reliant on those who have little empathy with them.
Having trekked Kokoda in April 2008 I was surprised after meeting with trekkers who trekked with other companies the vast difference in information provided to them by their trekking organisation. Many did not receive basic information on how to care for yourself on the track and what to bring to help you do this. Most had no idea about just how hard the track would be and were not physically prepared for it. Most went the the cheapest trekking company rather than one that provided for their better well-being.
Tour operators on the Kokoda Track need to be regulated and accredited to provde the following:
*Uniform screening of trekkers medical and fitness status prior to arriving on the track
* Uniform information for trekkers on how to prepare themselves for the trek physically prior to leaving
*Uniform information for trekkers how to care for themselves whilst on the track and a comprehensive list of medical requirements for the track.
*A medical evacuation plan supported by both the PNG and Australian governments
*Price regulation to ensure trekkers receive the same care regardless of price.
*Military historical information along the track, afterall isn’t that why Aussies are going in the first place!
Surely the deaths of Australians recently on the track highlights the need for some of the above to occur. Trekkers need to be fully informed of all risks and requirements prior to one of the most significant events of their lives. Once there they should expect a certain level of safety and security as they are certainly paying for it.
Let me start by saying that trekking the Kokoda Track rates as one of the most significant achievments of my life. Like most Kokoda trekkers, I was motivated by a desire to trek in the footsteps of our diggers and to experience (first hand and as close as possible), the conditions our heroes had to endure.
I certainly wasn’t expecting five-star facilities along the route; this is what I had come to see and experience for myself. My lifelong curiosity with the Kokoda Track had to some small extent been satisfied, having read numerous books and accounts on the events that took place there during WW2.
Unfortunately, consecutive Australian Governments have chosen to ignore the majority of The Kokoda Track and its significance to a growing number of Australians. Sure, there is a magnificent Memorial at Isurava and the War Cemetery at Bomana is up there amongst the best War Cemetries in the world; but what about the “toilets”, the lack of rudimentary showers/washing facilities and the plight of the Villagers along the Track.
For a relatively small cost, hygenic toilets could be installed at campsites along the Track, with basic canvas shower cubicles fed from the existing abundant source of running water. A single concrete paving slab to stand on while showering would be an additional low cost “luxury”.
I doubt that these minor improvements would detract from the essence of The Kokoda Track for trekkers.
Additionally (and at very little cost), designated campsites could be booked by Trek Operators in advance. My own experience was that there was always a representative from the village that our group camped at, whom our Operator dealt with. As most Operators are conducting groups of Trekkers along the Track on a regular basis, booking facilities for future groups could be done during the present stay. This eliminates the need for costly infrastructure and provides the Villagers with advance notice of potential sales of fresh local produce. Most trekkers would be willing to make such purchases to the benefit of the local people.
Could not agree more. Must plan ahead to cater for increasing numbers of trekkers, which should be encouraged, but without significant investment in infrastructure there is a serious risk of environmental degradation and ‘Trail Rage’. We must also strive to bring maximum benefit to the villagers.
I walked the Kokoda trail in 2008. It was an extreme experience; extreme emotionally, extreme physically and extremely rewarding. I hope many more people can share in that experience.
There are many risks in walking the trail. Many are due to the nature of the terrain, while others are avoidable and show the apathy of government. I refer to the uncertainty of medical aid in the event of an emergency, and particularly the difficulty in emergency evacuation. The Australian government has a duty of care to its many citizens that walk this trail to address this issue. The PNG government has a duty of care to the trekkers who bring so much to the economy.
Recent deaths on the trail will scare off some potential trekkers. Instead the PNG government should be doing all it can to attract more trekkers. Tourism is a means to bring wealth to the PNG economy. But if trekkers basic needs are not met, those tourism dollars may go elsewhere.
Well said Charlie. My experience of the track was absolutely fantastic. My brother and I had a real sense of what our father in the 2/14th lived through all those years ago and it was as much to honour him as it was for us to say “we did it”.
I’d hate to see the track closed or come into disrepute because of a lack of government interest.
I am returning to Kokoda and the end of August and plan to again next year. I welcome any efforts made to make trek operators accredited. I also see the need to make this journey of a lifetime sustainable for the villager and the trekker. Preservation of the trail and the villages along it in as best condition as possible is of primary importance. The emergency evacuation procedure needs to be addressed now and it should start with government who reap the benefits.
A system needs to be put in place similar to our national parks , but in no way do I want to see the trail loose it’s true nature,ie- no bridges ,handrails and boardwalks that I feel some administrators would suggest.
I am very committed to helping keep the Kokoda Trail as good as it always should be.Thank you for introducing it to me.
I agree with the safety side of things totally
When i set out on the trek a few years ago i thought i knew what to expect but was soon to find out that all the books you read cant prepare you for this trip.
In my group we had an elderly farmer that was following in the footsteps of some men close to his family that were killed on the track during the war. He seriously struggled for the 1st day physically and mentally as we all did getting your head and body around the challenge that lay ahead and it is this time when anything can happen with a simple slip..He ended up being one of the toughest basatrds i have ever met and completed the trip with us all. But along the way we all suffered minor injuries and it was quite clear that at any point something of a more serious nature could have happened and it was a long hard walk in or out carrying any serious injury.
Something needs to be done to ensure that communication lines are always available on the track to report group locations and any serious injuries that need to be treated and a response crew needs to be on standby to act on any distress calls
As for the dunnys and showers(or lack of them) thats part of the adventure
I have just returned from a Kokoda Trek with “Adventure Kokoda” finishing on Anzac Day at Bomana War Cemetry. I witnessed first hand the negotiations and organisation which went into every facet of our trek by our 2 trek leaders, and countless others behind the scenes even before our trip began. I was absolutely horrified to discover upon reaching Ower’s Corner, that I had to then proceed on foot for 3 hours on a wet, slippery, dangerous road, because the buses were bogged and we were left to our own devices to get ourselves to Port Moresby. Were it not for our professional trek leaders, and their organisational abilities, I have no doubt that I would have abandoned myself to the side of the road, when it got too dark and dangerous to continue. I was only one of many trekkers left to this scenario at the end of what should have been the ultimate achievement after such a long and arduous 10 days. While I can look back now and think of it as an adventure, there were times when I felt threatened and frightened. The Kokoda trail has the potential to become another Gallipoli in terms of people wanting to pay their respects to our fallen heroes. If the Australian and PNG Governments want to continue to reap the rewards of our experiences, then they also need to invest in our safety and well-being. The road to Ower’s Corner needs to be made safe, all trek operators need to be accredited and a level of safety achieved by each trekking company. It is only a matter of time before a trekker dies in circumstances not related to health and then it will be an issue for the Governments to deal with.
I’m very much looking forward to walking the track in July 09. Having visited the North Coast of PNG and having ANZAC day in Port Morseby in 2005. My father fought in PNG and died of illness caught there. In 2005 I was very disappointed, the locals were magnificant and the tourist opportunities unlimited however the infrastracture or support for the local villager was the same as 200 years ago. It’s a very poor representation on previous Australian Governments who managed PNG and also the legacy that we left after Independence. PNG has a special hold or bond which is impossible to explain. I do not believe we should be trying to westernise or modernise PNG however there is some very basic health, infrastructure and education issues that should be resolved. Geoff
Even though it was an rewarding and satisfying experience I feel there was areas where it could be improved. I am completely in awe of Charlie Lynn’s team of professionals but cannot say the same for other so called trekking companies. Every trekking company should have ample staff in place as to ensure the safety of everyone involved. There should be policies in place where every trekker has to have a high degree of fitness and a compulsory medical test. They also should have better evacuation procedures in place for anybody who is injured, as we found out in our group when one of the porters was seriously injured and had to walk all the way back to kokoda which was at least a day’s walk away to get a plane back to port Moresby. When we finally finished at owers corner because of constant rain all the buses were bogged, the only cause of action was to keep walking in the dark without any light and not knowing when or how we were going to get to port Moresby. Those who couldn’t walk had to stay in the bus all night, thankfully some of the porters stayed behind to keep the trekkers and our gear safe. There needs to be a backup evacuation plan which is not always possible or build a all weather road. Those trekkers who had their passports and gear with them on the bus were anxious that they wouldn’t receive them in time to catch the plane back to Australia the next day. It finally arrived an hour before the plane was due to leave.
I’m the nephew of Captain Bret Langridge (D Company, 2/16th Battallion) who died leading his men into battle on Brigade Hill during the Kokoda campaign.
I walked the Trail in September 2007 with Adventure Kokoda because I wanted to challenge myself and to find out more about the place where Uncle Bret, along with many other fine young Australian men and Papuan men and women, gave up their lives in the belief that it was the right thing to do to defend their land and country. I met some wonderful fellow trekkers and some wonderful local people, including my local guide and porter Charlie Asi. I think that all of us on the trek were quite deeply affected by what we experienced and learnt, and I know of at least one of our September 2007 group who has since been back again.
There is so much to reflect on and offer from having been on a trek. However, it is a personal experience that I’m sure will be different for each person. It was an experience entered into without value or moral judgement on those I went personally to honour, and without preconception about those who earn a living from the trekkers.
When I look back on it, one of the surprise things I was taken by was the villagers who accepted our presence and took an opportunity to offer us hospitality, in exchange for which we bought goods they offered, or where we were provided with a lovely meal and entertainment the trekkers put together a contribution as an expression of goodwill and gratitude for their support.
I hope that both the Australian and Papuan governments are able to organise themselves to help support the Trail as an important part of the history of both countries that is also a fantastic tourism opportunity. It would be an eternal shame for both governments to allow, either knowingly or by neglect, the grubby and dishonourable tendencies of politics to cause the attaction of the Trail and the courage and honour of those who forged its story to wane.
The first time Australians and Papuans fought on their territory to protect their territory; the first time the Imperial Japanse Army was stopped on land (Milne Bay, PNG); the courage, endurance, mateship, and sacrifice; all of the good that came from so much bad would simply fade from the collective memory because it was not considered imnportant enough to retain.
I hope that the Trail does remain an attraction for personal reasons as I would like the opportunity to have the experience again.
Good luck with the efforts to raise the profile of the Trail, and attract the attention of the politicians.
The Kokoda, an amazing journey, the best thing I have ever done in my life.
Basic infrastructure is essential to sustain the enviroment and protect both the villagers and trekkers, eco toilets, rubbish removal, booking system for sites and emergency evacuation procedures.
I will stick to one point and that in the acreditation of trek companies. Whilst on The Kokoda in July 2006, we passed 2 other groups walking to Kokoda (our trek Kokoda to Owers) both private school groups. The trekkers were in a variety of clothing none suitable, silk boxer shorts, blue singlets, football shorts and tee-shirts, this surprised me. Talking to some of the trekkers from the other groups at a rest break I discovered that they had no Australian guide or PNG guide to provide information on the war time history, they had no idea and were most keen for me to pass over the imformation in the short time we had for a break.
Continuing our conversation it was revealed that their porters had no tents or sleeping bags (let alone a uniform) and that the trekkers were not happy about this so they shared their tents with their porters. The real question is why would a trekking company send porters across The Kokoda without any sleeping equipment?
So in summary, whilst I trekked with Adventure Kokoda and received the highest level of service and support, I had a chance incounter with a group of trekkers who did not have the same experience with their trek operator.
The provision of trekker uniforms, sleeping bags and mats should be a mandatory requirement for all trek operators on Kokoda. I cannot understand how PNG authorities can stand by and allow their own PNG guides and carriers to be exploited by some of the more shonky operators on the track. There needs to be an enforceable minimal standard of pay and conditions for PNG guides and carriers. The authorities should also consider an increment in the trek fees to cover emergency medical evacuation and treatment for guides and carriers. They should not have to sleep on wet ground, or shiver around a fire at night, or risk being left to their own resources if they are injured or become sick.
The issues for PNG are much larger than the treckers & those living along the track. I consider the Australia owes more to PNG to assist them to raise the standard of living across the country, not just the villagers along the track. I’m perplexed at the level of lawlessness that inflicts PNG, making it extremely dangerous for tourists etc to move about the country, unprotected by razor with and armed guards.
Improvement in conditions along the track will require the cooperation of the PNG government who appear incapable of implementing the governance required to protect their own people. The Australian Government shares this responsibility as the transition from PNG being an Australian territory to PNG indpendence has never been completed.
If the relevant authorities can work together towards the broarder issues in PNG then sustainable outcomes can be achieved for the track.
I trekked Kokoda 18 February – 1 March 2007. It was one of the most memorable experiences for me. I opted to carry my own pack which averaged 24 – 26KG’s. Figuring that if our diggers carried 50+ kgs while being shot at then I could carry this minimal load whilst paying my respects. I wanted to mention a few points about my trip.
We had an experienced trek leader in Paul, so we were spared from some of the pitfalls that other trekkers might have had to experience the hard way.
The road you mentioned before the Owers corner is dangerous, having the PNG or AUST govt. spend money here would be beneficial.
Huts like the one you sponsored at Menari Village (Silver’s) are a luxury and were greatly appreciated by our weary group and this type of investment gives back. Silver told us how you “promoted” him to become a guest house owner and gave him the money to build the hut. The pride and appreciation this man displayed along with the hospitality he showed was so special. We were the first group to stay in the hut. I never expected this on the track.
I agree that there is an absolute need to have an accreditation process as there is clearly too much room for corruption. Corrupt organisations that are taking from the track and not giving anything back to the locals – The accreditation process should include high level fist aid training.
We passed the monument where a trekker had recently died and it occurred to me that if you had a serious medical issue you could be in a lot of trouble getting help in or getting the injured person out.
My friend Damian got a leech in his eye on about day 2 which could have been a problem had we not had Paul with us to carefully extract the little hitchhiker.
Isurava and the monument are very special and I feel that those who are not strong enough to trek the whole track could enter from Kokoda, walk to Isurava, pay there respects and return the same way. The hut at Isurava was like the La Grande in Paris on day 8.
It’s been nice reflecting on the trip again.
I agree with the comments about the financial benefit to both PNG and Australian Governments flowing from Trekkers not benefiting those it should. Whilst both Governments do not seem to be able to get funding and resources to villages, villagers and amenities on the Track, to say we get nothing in return for our financial contribution is going a bit far. The experience, the leadership and commentary from Adventure Kokoda, the interaction with the local support team (porters, cooks, guides etc) and the villagers and the hard yacka required to complete the Trek was well worthwhile and a life changing experience both emotionally and physically. The amenities along the Track and at campsites are totally inadequate and do need substantial improvement with eco toilets and ablution facilities – what is happening is environmental vandalism – funding should be transferred direct to the Track Authority for implementation and construction of a Track preservation plan which includes village amenities, including schools and small commercial opportunities for Trekker support by villagers so they can become self sufficient and gain some independent income from the volume of Trekkers. PNG is an important part of our history and the Track a joint memorial to great achievements by both countries forebears.
Good article Charlie! Bottom line is too many people are doing it and there are too many operators. Needs to be a licensing system and a limit on the number of people on track at any one time. Camp bookings then become less of an issue. In any case pace of party may govern where campsite is – need to retain flexibility during the trek. I don’t think the track should be jazzed up too much with flash toilets etc – the flashier the facilities the more maintenance is needed and who’s going to do it? I did the track in Nov 08 and I expected and enjoyed rustic adventurous conditions, incl snakes in the toilets!
The issue goes much further than The Kokoda Trial/Track. The funds are paid and are not being received by the villagers, this is not unusual the corruption is well known in PNG. Australia seems too eager to help out in other areas of the world and yet happily stands by, with a few token visits and press conferences professess to be making progress with PNG.
PNG will soon be a carved up into sub-states owned by various European nations and the balance by Malaysia. When PNG has been raped and pillaged and nothing is left, perhaps Australia will become interested, take some action and most importantly create end results for the benefit of the people of PNG, our neighbours and our one time saviours, I say now is the time, not when the show is over.
A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Research Institue was published in 2004 – it was titled ‘Papua New Guinea – Strengthening Our Neighbour’ and can be accessed at:
It should be read by anybody with an interest in our future relationship with Papua New Guinea in particular and Melanesia in general.
More recently the Australian Defence Association published an alternative view to the Defence White Paper. Buried at the back of the paper is a section on the challenges we face in the Asia-Pacific Region. One of the future scerarios we should be prepared for, according to the Australian Defence Association’ is to ‘prepare for looming demographic, political, public health and law and order catastrophe in Papua New Guinea’.
This is quite a chilling assessment and a wake up call to do something about it – the recommendations contained in the above paper by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute would be a good start.
Other initiatives we should be thinking about as a matter of urgency is the introduction of Melanesian studies into our education system; access to seasonal work in rural Australia for PNG citizens; and long-term exchange programs for PNG citizens in our Federal and State government departments.
There is much to be done – Kokoda is more that a trek in this regard – it is a bridge towards a better understanding of our closest neighbour, former mandated territory, fellow Commonwealth member; and wartime ally.
I think that anyone who has completed the Kokoda track will not advocate for wholesale changes designed to soften and ease the challenge. One of the strengths of the trip lies in the originality and back to basics experience. The sense of going back in time to savour what is both inhospitable and at the same time stunning terrain as well as attempting to get a feel for what our soldiers went through. The diggers passed through this terrain defending their country and whilst it remains as undeveloped as it is, you are able get a taste of the real hardship and sacrifce they made.
Having said that, whatever help can be given to the villagers should be seriously considered. There is scope to improve the basic sanitation. As a start the latrine pits should not be dug so close to some of the villages source of running water. In some of the villages we stayed in the stream ran almost past the toilet door. There is clearly a case to replace these pits with some form of Eco toilets.
Basic education in health and safety for the locals would be very welcome. We had two medicos’ in our party who were able to administer the most fundamental medical care to a number of sick children we came across in the villages. One was as simple as a splinter that had become infected. The lack of medical provisions could easily be rectified by controlled Government intervention to ensure supplies were delivered and not sold into the black market in transit.
It would be a breakthrough to see either Government taking an active role in some of these initiatives but regrettably it does not appear to be high on either Governments agenda. It was an experience I will never forget and hopefully Government apathy and levels of corruption wont eventually close the door on this living tribute to our fallen heroes and its local caretakers, the villagers along the track.
I agree with your blog and both government need to put in process to ensure that the Track/Trail is managed approriately, and that the villager recieve there entitlements.
I plan to do the walk again in the next couple of years, greater information at historic sites would enchance the experience.
Good luck with your project!
My experience on the Track, August 2005, still remains one of the highlights of my life.The experiences both physical and emotional will remain with me forever.
The beauty of those experiences was the lack of facilities albeit somewhat challenging. And I would not like the Track “modified”too much as the whole purpose of this Adventure is to somehow try to comprehend the struggles of those Ragged Herroes. The provision of discrete Eco toilets/showers would be great and yes we need Emergency processes in place.
But our major challenges should be directed towards the Villagers in the form of Health, Education and Sustainability funded from the profits generated from our Trekking.
You are spot on – the strong feeling we get from all of our trekkers is to leave the track as it is. If government is going to do anything at all they should fix the road between Depo and Owers Corner and prepare a memorial plan that reflects the military heritage of the track. They also need to keep well-intentioned but misguided do-gooders well away from it – there are plenty of other ‘eco-environmental’ treks in PNG for them to develop.
We also need to ensure the villagers receive a fair share of the benefits from the emerging trekking industry which includes sustainable education and health programs.
I whole heartedly agree with the sentiments echoed above regarding the pathetic performance of the various authorities profiteering from, and not delivering the goods to, trekkers and and our PNG brothers. As a trek leader with some 3500 kms of trekking experience in PNG, I feel in control of my trekkers’ safety and well being, as much as one can on the Track, but once one is faced with the bog of a road to Sogeri, followed by the shambles at Jackson Airport, the responsibility remains but the ability to provide a safe and professionally delivered trip diminishes dramatically.
The ongoing ability of trekkers to safely follow their forebears, whilst showing their respects to the people of PNG is sitting on a knife edge. The time to act is now. Our national leaders must get serious about doing what is right by our neigbours in PNG and our trekkers.
Peter H Davis
Upon review of your blog and the many responses received it is obvious that you have a large amount of support from the public who have ventured to tour with Adventure Kokoda.
I, like many others, remain deeply effected by the track and the challenges confronted along it. I too believe (from experience near the end of my journey) that without the carriers many would not complete the trek. This is not only due to their help but their encouragement and pride of their heritage (Never before have I felt as safe in the grip of another whilst crossing a river!)
I strongly support the need for regulation of all tour operators using the track as I am concerned of the possible exploitation of villagers, village sites and the track itself.
This view is supported from information provided by trekkers with other companies who upon their return could tell me how difficult the trek was but not how vitally important the battles fought there were. They were not even aware that the carriers working along the track all come from local villages.
This is what I appreciated most of all trekking with John NALDER who has a deep appreciation of the trek, the battles and its history. He relayed this information to us and I am aware that this element of the track is vitally important to Adventure Kokoda but unfortunately is not to other tour operators.
This was highlighted to me upon our arrival at Isurava. We remained at the memorial for a few hours before making our camp. While there, another company came through and the tour operator said to his trekkers while pointing casually, “This is Isurava. That’s the memorial”. He allowed them to look while standing at the steps for a few minutes before adding, “Well we better get a move on if we are going to make the campsite by nightfall”, and with that they were off, I didn’t even hear the name of ‘Bruce KINGSBURY’. We had the opportunity to return to the memorial the next morning and make a recording of our thoughts before leaving for Kokoda.
I wish to participate in another trek in the future and it saddens me that the respective governments can not get their acts together to protect this nationally important site and the people who live there. I would like to thank you for your efforts in attempting to raise awareness of the travesty that is occurring and would like to offer my support in your future efforts.
These views are strongly supported by my wife Lore who ventured with me to Kokoda.
I think your comments and concerns are valid. I believe the priorities should be to improve the lot of the villagers along the trail. I first trekked (patrolled) in PNG in 1972 and last in 2008. It seems to me that over that time, conditions for the villagers have perhaps stagnated or retarded. They are in negative territory.
The conditions for trekkers could be better but for them the trail, the villagers, the jungle, the porters, the history and the effort required are the ingredients of a great experience. So they are in positive territory.
Australia is a country that has very strong tourism and mining industries. The nation and all its peoples have benefitted from the economic strength of these industries. Mining and tourism are emerging industries in PNG and along the Kokoda Trail. It is to be hoped that some benefits flow to those immediately impacted.
The PNG Government surely must see the Kokoda Trail and other tourist attractions as assets that require reinforcing. The Australian people have a hige debt to the PNG people from the days of WWII. Our Government must avoid tokenistic support. The war time trails, installations, cemeteris etc are the symbols. They require material support to be maintained, improved and enhanced.
I walked Kokoda in June 2008. I heartily endorse all the insightful comments and sincere feelings expressed in the commentaries above.
I think that the Australian government should give consideration to the provision of teachers and para medical staff to utilise the sometimes reasonable school and health facilities in many of the villages along the track; these remain largely unused because of the lack of available staff.
The porters and the villagers (and their forebears) have asked little from Australia but gave, and continue to give, so much to us. Australia’s pay back time in long overdue. What better way to honour our diggers by giving the villagers a fair go with teachers and nurses.
As I have recently returned from an 11 day trek with Adventure Kokoda, I can only endorse Charlie Lynn’s comments. My experience on the track was nothing but wonderful, but only due to the commitment of the local porters and villagers along with the dedication and professionalism of the Adventure Kokoda tour guides. As noted in the comments made by Peter Davis, the road from Owers Corner to Sogeri proved to be the most difficult part of the entire trek and caused an 18 hour delay in returning to Port Moresby, almost causing many of our trekkers to leave without their personal belongings. As the road was impassable by our buses, I along with 3 other trekkers were lucky to be accommodated by an Adventure Kokoda porter and his family while waiting for the road to reopen. This could have been a dangerous situation (due to Raskol activity) for our trekkers if it had not been for the compassion and concern shown by our porters who had virtually completed their commitments once we had arrived at Owers Corner. This commitment was over and above the call of duty.
If the road from Port Moresby to Owers Corner was maintained to allow traffic in all conditions, the welfare of trekkers would not be an issue. If it had not been for the dedication of our porters who remained with us, our welfare may have been in serious jeopardy.
As a survivor of the trail I have nothing but admiration and praise for all porters and villagers between Kokoda and Port Moresby and hope everything possible is done to assist the people involved to ensure the safety of all future trekkers.
It was an honour to have had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our unsung heroes, particularly when one of those heroes was my father. Thank you Adventure Kokoda.
Agree with your comments. In particular I totally support the need to regulate tour operators. Having walked in to OC, I am relaxed on that aspect. However, if the road is to be used to transport in then obvious it should be safe. Also support the need for environmental toilets, but if we are always to see it through the eyes of the diggers then we should never include too many home comforts. Support for the trek guides and porters is a must.
Once again you projecting your exceptional enthusiasm and passion for that Bloody Track. Mate, having done the track twice with AK – there is little that I would change. Changes and creature comforts would mean a less than authentic experience. As you put it “its character building”.
The key to overcome all these issues is education of the local chiefs and villagers. This is where the local carriers can play a pivotal role – by taking the message back to their people. Bad publicity kills tourism and the Track, which means less, and or no, money for the villagers. While the message may take some time to be accepted it needs to be reinforced at every opportunity. It is unlikely that the government will step in to assist. Besides, if the locals are not on-side then government intervention will only lead to more confusion, mistrust and chaos.
The conditions on the track are equal to those in Nepal or Africa – which are even larger tourist magnets. So I don’t see a need to change camp sites, toilets etc (the odd dry hut would be helpful though). As to the road leading out of Owers Corner – why not just include that part of the trek? Just walk out along the road or some other route. That is better than waiting for buses.
Its been one year since I have walked the track. I was fortunate to have the privlage of going with Adventure Kokoda. The knowledge and professionalism from the leaders was outstanding. I have compared notes with some friends who have not long returned and they did not know where they were going from one day to the next and learnt very little about the history. So my point is that I agree that it should be controled by acreditation tour groups.
There should be emergency plans in place. All in all I agree with your comments
Accreditation for Trek Operators is a must. We were fortunate to have trekked with Adventure Kokoda in 08. The professional, highly organised, and knowledgeable Trek leader (Chad) and his team made the trek the best history lesson any of us have had. We were oblivious to the experiences (or lack of) that other trekkers had until later speaking to those who were not as lucky as us!
I suspect that the track itself was in much better condition than when our diggers were using it, nature has a wonderful way of repairing itself! There is a concern among many that the track is becoming too “tourist orientated”, and if it is made too “good” and “safe”, it will detract to the many people who would want to walk it for the same reasons I did, to experience a small glimpse of what it was like in wartime.
Most facilities were as expected when travelling in such a remote area,(and part of the experience) but agree that sanitation could be improved, more for the benefit of the enviroment and villagers who live there, than for us that travel through. Any improvements carried out should blend in, so as not to disturb the natural ruggedness and beauty of the track, and its inhabitants.
Keep up the good work,
To me all the points you have raised are important. I am frustrated and quietly angered by (i) the way the people of the Owen Stanley Ranges and PNG are treated by both governments (ii) the lack of recognition the Kokoda Trail receives and (iii) the poor standards that some tour operators have and are still allowed to conduct tours over one of the most demanding treks in the world.
The vehicular path to Owers Corner is simply dangerous. One day it will be featured on the news for Australian deaths or injuries if nothing is done. I would expect the PNG government to look after this road simply as a matter of good business or our government to assist as a duty of care to it’s citizens.
The fact that there is no accreditation system or basic standards for trek companies absolutely amazes me. We are talking about a trek that most of us would call extreme at the least. And as usual there are companies that do the right thing, and companies that fall a long way short for many different reasons. This is and will be the case in business forever but should not be the case if the safety of the trekker is at risk. Minimum standards must be adopted and adhered to.
I fully agree with the importance of a recognised booking system for operators. It is a vital, basic ingredient to the ongoing success of the landowner and the trek companies. The PNG government, the airlines and countless others would reap the benefits an efficient organisation.
As far as the monuments go, the Australian Government to their credit, have done a magnificent job to honour our soldiers at Isurava. There are virtually no other monuments on the trail. The monuments and plaques that do exist are usually from private parties. This is commendable but I would have expected the Australian Government to, at the very least, erect information plaques at some strategic points. Bruce Kingsbury’s plaque, in my mind, would constitute a minimum benchmark for a monument to our armed forces that went to hell and back for us.
Real medical supplies and assistance with training local medical staff would be invaluable for all involved. I was saddened to find out that the medical supplies the 26 trekkers on my 2006 trek were carrying were similar to the amount of medical stock that the Kokoda Hospital had in total. How can this be acceptable to any goverment?
Keep it up, Charlie.
After trekking the Kokoda Trail this year I agree with all that you have discussed in your document. We as trekkers go expecting very primitive conditions and go prepared for this. Then we get to come home to our comforts. The kind villagers live with illness, disease, primitive sanitation and almost negligible health support, limited means of replenishing supplies and current complaints of dangerous creek crossings to Kokoda because local flooding took the vehicular bridge down stream. We in Australia would be up in arms if this happened to us and the Gov’t sat back and did nothing.
If the Australian Government can work with the PNG Gov’t to help instigate safe practices from an organizational level, and improve health conditions for the local villagers who endeavour to make our trek a memorable one, this would be wonderful.
The road to Ower,s Corner is certainly dangerous, a deffinite mama mia experience and needs addressing, keeping in mind the vandalism aspect, which was commented on earlier.
The country is poor and the people are in need of education in all aspects of life, except how to be happy living with very little. In this the villagers could teach us much.
I wish you all the best Charlie in your endeavours you are a champion
Ive spent hours reading your stuff &the various responses &comments-you”ve certainly stirred up some interest & support,& stirred up Pat Lindsay too! Good on you!
It seems as though a lot depends on Rod Hillman & what he can do at the KTA-surely he is the one to make sure the locals on the track & surrounds get their fair share of Trek Fees.
It would also seem very important for our War Graves Commission to be running things from the Australian side rather than the Dept of Environment & Conservation.
Re the Trail itself:-
Eco dunnies & Garbage collection on the Eco track are probably essential.
But leave the 2 wartime tracks that only your treks do just as they are – very important!
Trek operators must be properly vetted & accredited.
Campsite bookings need to be done properly fees collected (KTA?).
Locals could be better trained – your idea of them being able to trade with & supply trekkers sounds great.
Keep up the good work, Charlie.
Heres lukim upu !
How true it is,
Money makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, Only a little investment to fix the road to 2km from Owens Corner (prevent vandals & shit what another couple km’s to walk) would be critical and maybe Rod’s 1st point of action. This would show he really means business.
Some of fees owed would help here.
The Trekkers in my group AK908 all could see and had ideas that would enhance the exprience for us but more so for the villages. Training in basic massage (tell me who wouldn’t pay $20k for the aching legs to feel good, Making and trading REAL souvenirs not the shit made in China sold in Port Morseby. I proudly had a photo with the Lady who made the bilum bag I purchased for my Daughter whilst still on the Kokoda Track.
I enjoyed the camping out without the boom boom boom bloody Ipods.
I can’t understand why Trekking companies (I do for money) don’t look after their porters the way Ak do, without them we would not have had such an exprience and the laughing that came out of the smoke filled hut they were in made me wonder what they were so happy about at the end of the day (they just bloody walked with us and we are stuffed)
I wouldn’t change to much in regards to showers etc except teach the villagers about positioning of the ‘Heads’ down stream not up stream.
Abuari showers were great ‘one tap one pipe open at each end Magic!!
Control the Trekking companies and that will control the damage.
It was great to be part of Adventure Kokoda and meeting Simon again after 19 years (Hmas Hobart) was great, I meet wonderful people and made new friends that have shared something people who have not been to Kokoda would not understand.
I will do all in my power to highlight the Kokoda exprience and do my best the assist in helping make change for the good.
Hi Charlie longum tim no speaky, (trekked July 2005) Sorry for taking so long to reply, but I agree with most if not all of what you have written. Sanitation & proper and consistant medical supplies and help would be a great start. For god sake keep the Govt out of trying to organise anything, just get the cash. Form a trust which is funded entirely by Govt funds. The trust personnel should be paid employees. Then let them start working through the issues quickly and efficently. Most of all ask the villagers on the track what they would like. Do not ask them once but continually consult with them. That is enough brain storming for now. I still have night-mares when some-one mentions that name “Charlie Lynn” AHHHHHHHHHHHH!
See Ya mate Regards Robbo. PS Say hello to Mike Baird for me.
Just having finished the Trail last week, I would plead with anyone to not try and modernise the trail for us soft whities. This is the land that OH&S forgot, and I loved it for that fact, you’re on your own so better suck it up and push on! Eco toilets, come on, these guys are still walking around with bush knives, hunting, etc and people are worried that they have to poo in a hole? Dont go if you cant handle the ruggedness, I was under no illusions as to how hard it was. It’s hard, it’s challenging and it’s meant to be, if it was easy everyone would do it, which defeats the purpose of the Trail itself. I do agree with regulating the industry however, after having to treat some poor porter with Malaria after his Australian tour company left him to get home himself (apparently this is standard practice unfortunately). Leave the trail, help the villagers and porters, and you soft OHS aussies, stay at home if you need a loo to sit on, the villagers have been managing with holes in the ground for eons!
I walked the track in Nov last year as part of a small group of 4 trekkers and loved every hard minute. I agree with Nathan above that the track should not be made what I consider “touristy” with toilets, even if they are eco. You dont get much more eco than a hole in the ground. As a female I was expecting this as part of the experience. Same goes for the showers and facilities at the campsites basic and effective. Having said that I wasn’t with a large group so my experence maybe quite different to that of a larger one.
Legislation for trek companies should be a must to protect workers and trekkers alike, as with all areas of travel. Unfortunatley alot of people are persuaded to travel with a company due to price and don’t do any research as to what they getting themselves into.
I walked the track in July of this year. I dont believe people want to be able to take a crap in environmentally friendly toilets. I think people go to PNG for the overall experience of doing it rough.
After proper toilets, what would be next…handrails on all the steep hills !!!!!! leave the track as it is or you risk having people not bother going.