Her Honour also declared the Kokoda Initiative Committee (KIC) meeting convened on 21 April 2023 was not free from bias and conflicts of interest given the presence of the DFAT Strategic Management Advisor for their Kokoda Initiative and Secretary to the KIC, Mr. Mark Nizette MBE along with Oro Governor Gary Juffa MP.

Mark Nizette MBE failed to declare a conflict of interest over his current defamation litigation against Charlie Lynn. The court also noted he had neglected to sign the Minutes of the meeting included in the affidavit submitted by the Acting CEO of the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA), Mr. Julius Wargirai, which led to the cancellation of our Adventure Kokoda licence.

Governor Juffa MP, who is closely associated with Nizette through DFAT funded aid projects in Oro Province, had threatened violence against our charter airline if they flew Adventure Kokoda groups into Kokoda at the start of the Anzac trekking period. His threats as an MP would seem to be a breach of the PNG Ministerial Code of Conduct.

Justice Purdon-Sully found that the KIC meeting convened to consider the cancellation of our Adventure Kokoda license was invalid and the Minister’s decision to cancel it was unlawful.

Her Honour awarded costs to Adventure Kokoda.

Whilst we are happy with the outcome of the National Court hearing the information in the affidavit submitted by Julius Wargari raises serious questions which should be addressed by the relevant PNG authorities associated with Kokoda tourism,

Wargirai, who has been engaged in an ‘Acting’ capacity for more than 5-years, should be called upon to explain:

  • why did he not advise the committee that Adventure Kokoda had paid for all trek permit fees owing in accordance with the Koiari and Kokoda Local Level Government ‘Kokoda Track Trek Permit Fee Act 2005’ a week prior to the meeting?
  • why did he not circulate a copy of the ‘Kokoda Track Trek Permit Fee 2005’ to members of the committee which clearly show that Adventure Kokoda had complied with the provisions of the Act?
  • why were the cheques paid for by Adventure Kokoda and presented to Mr’ Wargari on 15 and 16 April not presented to the KTA bank for a further two months after payment? and
  • which PNG law did Adventure Kokoda not comply with as he alleged?

Mr. Wargirai affidavit refers to ‘Kokoda Tour Operators License Conditions 2014’ however his KTA website refers to ‘Commercial Operations License Conditions 2012’.

His affidavit also refers to ‘Koiari Rural Local Level Government Kokoda Track Trek Permit Law 2009’ which, according to Wargari, is ‘the area specified as being between ‘Kokoda Airstrip in the Kokoda Sub-District of the Sohe District of Northern Province and Depo Village of the Sogeri Sub-District of the Kairuku-Hiri District of Central Province’. This raises a number of questions:

  • When was the ‘Kokoda Tour Operators License Conditions 2014’ reference approved and published?
  • Why was the Kokoda Local Level Government excluded from the ‘Koiari Rural Local Level Government Kokoda Track Trek Permit Law 2009’? and
  • Why does his KTA website still reference the ‘Commercial Operations License Conditions 2012’?

Mr. Wargirai advised the KIC meeting that ‘in the past some of the PNG tour operators had attempted to trek without permits, and he had taken action directly with them to ensure fees were paid and the situation was not repeated. Mr Wargirai further informed the Committee that he had referred the Adventure Kokoda situation to the Criminal Investigation Division of the RPNGC for investigation.’

Mr. Wargari should be called upon to:

  • Identify the tour operators concerned and advise why he did not revoke their tour operators license?
  • Explain why he granted these unidentified tour operators a second chance but denied Adventure Kokoda the same privilege?
  • Why he has issued Kokoda Tour Operators Licenses to Australian tour companies who do not comply with the provisions of the IPA Act as he is required to do in accordance with his own ‘Commercial Tour Operators License Conditions 2012’?
  • Why has he failed to take any action against illegal Australian tour operators after the matter was brought to his attention on numerous occasions? and
  • Did he refer the situation regarding the tour operators who had avoided paying for their trek permits to the Criminal Investigation Division of the RPNGC for investigation as he did for Adventure Kokoda – and if not, why not?

The Nexus between the KTA and Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA)

Mr. Wargarai’s decision to provide advance warning of the cancellation of our license to the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) suggests there might have been some collusion with KTOA President, Mr. Mick O’Malley in the lead up to the Minister’s announcement.

KTOA posted the following notification regarding the cancellation at 1.40 pm on 26 April advising:

‘It has come to the KTOA’s attention that Adventure Kokoda has had its trekking license revoked (or soon will have) and will soon be fined by the respective authorities. The KTOA fully understands the actions of the Kokoda Track Authority on this matter. The KTOA understands that as operators, we all have an obligation under PNG Law, to abide by that law and to ensure that the people of the Kokoda Track are never robbed of the money they deserve.

We will continue to update the industry on this and other important matters as they come to hand!’

At 2.10 PM a KTOA member, David Howell, posted:

‘Finally this bully has been dealt with.

‘We must report the misconduct of one of the largest Kokoda Tour companies on the Kokoda Track. Adventure Kokoda, who had over 120 trekkers on the Kokoda Track decided to defy PNG Law and take matters into their own hands, refusing to pay trekking permits and as such, started walking the Track illegally and without permits. They did this covertly and when approached by Kokoda Track Authority Rangers, they did it aggressively.

Following these two posts at 2.27 pm Wargirai advised Adventure Kokoda on behalf of Hon Simon Kilepa MP:

‘Please therefore be informed that as of this date, Adventure Kokoda is not licenced to operate any trekking business on the Kokoda Track. . .’

The KTOA, and two of its member companies, David Howell of Kokoda Historical and Mick O’Malley of Australian Kokoda Tours and President of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association, then launched a flurry of defamatory Facebook posts against Charlie Lynn and Adventure Kokoda. These have since been placed in the hands of our solicitors.

The Minister’s unlawful cancellation of our license along with the KTOA Facebook posts led to stories in all Australian media outlets which resulted in serious reputational damage to Adventure Kokoda and to Charlie Lynn who was inducted as an Officer of Logohu by the PNG Government in 2015 for his ‘for service to the bilateral relations between Papua New Guinea and Australia and especially in the development of the Kokoda Trail and its honoured place in the history of both nations’ over the past 25 years and later inducted as Member of the Order of Australia ‘for services to the NSW Parliament between 2005-2015 as a Member of the Legislative Council.

The KTOA posts are most likely in response to our exposure of the exploitation of PNG guides and porters by KTOA members on this link: Kokoda Tour Operators Association Exposed!.

We have also been critical of the dysfunction of the KTA management and have chronicled their failures on this link: The Kokoda Trail: Chronology of Mismanagement 2009-2019

However, it seems they were a bit overzealous in their bid to put us out of business and ejaculated prematurely.

It’s now time to call them to account.

Lead-Up to 2023 Peak Anzac Trekking Period

As we approached the 2023 Anzac trekking period I was concerned because the KTA was virtually invisible – we had not heard from them for almost 6 months.

I was also concerned because Adventure Kokoda had committed to lead 140 trekkers in four groups supported by 300 guides, porters, and advance campsite parties in April.

I then wrote to Mr. Wargirai on 2 February 2023, expressing my concern over having to pay K52,000 in trek fees for our scheduled treks in April as we had not received any information from him regarding ‘the condition of campsites, toilets, or the Trail itself’.

I reminded him that Adventure Kokoda had previously paid a total of K292,500 for trek permits in 2019 and 2022 but there was ‘no evidence of any of these funds being invested to improve campsites or even provide hygienic facilities for the trekkers who pay their fees in the expectation that adequate facilities will be provided to meet their needs across the Trail.’

I also advised that there had been ‘no investment to improve safety in some of the dangerous sections of the Trail’ and we had no idea what the KTA had done with the funds as he had not published a financial report since he was seconded to the office in 2018.

I was also concerned that there was no evidence of any work being done in the KTA office as we had not had a newsletter or any form of update on the management of the Trail over the previous five months.

As our company has a duty of care for the safety and welfare of our trekkers, I suggested that we be permitted to pay our trek permit fees directly to campsite owners to provide them with an incentive to have their sites ready to meet the needs of our trekkers. We knew they were hurting because they had not received any financial support from the KTA during Covid and therefore had no incentive to maintain their sites.

There was a precedent for this proposal as trekking companies who had previously committed to improving facilities across the Trail had received exemptions for their trek permit fees from the former CEO of the KTA.

Mr. Wargirai rarely responds to emails that require a decision – and this was no exception.

I then followed up with an email to him on 10 February and advised that on my last trek in July 2022 ‘we had to engage additional porters to carry canvas tarps so the guides and porters would have some form of shelter to sleep under – as well as providing shelter for the trekkers to eat their meals.’

I also advised him that we had received ‘no word from the KTA since then regarding the adequacy of campsites across the Trail to accommodate the large number of trek groups expected during the Anzac trekking period in April 2023’.

I reminded him of the duty of care the KTA has to their paying customers regarding the adequacy of campsites, the condition of toilets, and the safety of the Trail.

I advised him that the only option we had to meet our duty of care to our trekkers was to pay our trek permit fees directly to campsite owners and that all payments would be receipted for his records.

I also advised him that if we did not receive a response ‘we will assume that you concur with our proposal to pay our trek permit fees directly to the campsite owners’.

He failed to respond again.

On 3 March 2023 I reminded him that ‘we are less than 4 weeks away from the peak Anzac trekking season and the situation is now urgent’.

I advised him we had been told that ‘campsite owners have been unable to improve their sites as they have earned virtually no income over the past three years due to Covid.’

I also advised him that, as a result of his failure to respond to our two previous emails ‘we now have to make a commercial decision to employ additional campsite crews to work ahead of our groups to prepare the sites we will be camping at as best they can’, and that ‘we would also have to purchase additional tarpaulins for our guides and carriers to sleep and cook under’.

I advised that ‘if I have not received any notification from you withing 48 hours I will assume that you concur with our proposal’.

He failed to respond for the third time.

On 20 March 2023 Mr. Wargirai finally broke his silence and advised:

‘KTA’s Constitution in Clause 3 (2)(a)(b), which empowers KTA to impose fees on Tourist Operators and Trekkers and issuance of Trekking Permits to Tourism Operators and Trekkers using the Track (refer to Attachment) in light of these provisions, your intention not to pay Trek Fees direct to KTA and instead distribute them direct to the campsite owners through other interest groups not legitimised by law to administer these powers and functions would constitute a  breach of these provisions, and considered an illegal act on your part. Further, as foreigner investing in PNG, you are subject to abide by PNG Laws, and NOT undermining them as you intentionally threatened in your article.’

There was no assurance that the Trail would be safe for trekkers or that campsites and toilets would be adequate to meet the needs of their paying customers. It was simply a bureaucratic warning to pay the amounts due even though he has since acknowledged that his office now uses 100% of trek permit fee income to administer itself. As a result there are no shared income benefits for villagers across the Trail which was the original intent of the fees.

Time to call the DFAT Kokoda Initiative and KTA to Account

The judgement handed down in the PNG National Court on 14 December should now be the catalyst for PNG to reclaim ownership of the Kokoda Trail from the influence of the DFAT Kokoda Initiative. It is time for them to have it managed as a commercial tourism enterprise for the economic benefit of traditional landowner communities across the Trail rather than as a socio-environment experiment for the benefit of foreign aid-funded environmentalists, anthropologists, archaeologists, social engineers and overpaid government officials.


We were obviously pleased to have our reputations restored with the judgement handed down by Justice Susan Purdon-Sully on 14 December 2023.

Our next step is to provide whatever support we can to encourage PNG to reclaim ownership of their Trail from the insidious influence of aid-funded Australian officials embedded in the Conservation Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) in Port Moresby.

The Kokoda Trail is now PNGs most popular tourism destination and should therefore be managed under the auspices of the Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture as a commercial enterprise rather than as a, environmental bureaucracy by the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change.

We have tried to assist the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (which we were instrumental in establishing in 2003) however we have been shunned, and our military heritage across the Trail has been relegated, since Australian environment officials took control of it in 2009.

Despite this we have continued to critique the consultants reports they have commissioned and add our two-bobs worth by submitting papers in an attempt to enhance the value of the pilgrimage by restoring military heritage battlesites; to encourage them to improve basic campsites; and to protect the welfare of their local guides and porters.

Rather than debate the issues with us, and accept criticism of their dysfunctional management systems they sought to shut us down by cancelling our tour operators license.

It is now clear the Kokoda Trail will never realize its potential as a world-class pilgrimage tourism destination until they drain the swamp by pulling the plug on the current dysfunctional management system.

Following is a selection of articles we have posted and papers we have submitted in good faith over the years – all have been ignored: