The Rise, Fall and Future of Kokoda Tourism: 1991-2023

This paper is based on my experiences leading 101 expeditions across the Kokoda Trail over a 32 year period between 1991-2023.

Prior to this there was no Kokoda tourism industry and subsistence villagers earned zero income.

During my time in PNG I spent 95 percent of my time on the Kokoda Trail working with our guides and carriers on the Trail and either living in their villagers or with them on the Sogeri plateau.

My purpose is to summarize the situation which led to the rise of Kokoda tourism under PNG management from 2004 – 2008; its demise under the management of Australian environment officials from 2009 – 2023; and its potential it as a world-class pilgrimage tourism destination.

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Kokoda Trail Campsites Score 0%

Kokoda Trail Campsites

Over the years Adventure Kokoda has invested in their own campsites in partnership with each local landowner across the Trail.

This has been a challenging task for many due to the rugged nature of the terrain and the lack of appropriate equipment however they have achieved the impossible is some areas with not much more than a machete and muscle.

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CHAPTER 2: My Kokoda Journey

Over the past 32 years I have led 101 expeditions across the Kokoda Trail. During this time I have also travelled to Canberra to brief eight of the 11 Ministers for Veterans Affairs and three of the Ministers for International Aid and the Pacific, on the need to protect our shared military heritage across the Kokoda Trail. Unfortunately, there were no outcomes from these meetings.

I have also submitted numerous papers with suggestions for improving the management of Kokoda pilgrimage tourism. These were based on the collective experience of our trek leaders who have a combined total of 160 years professional military experience and who have led more than 600 expeditions across the Trail over the past 32 years. All have been ignored by DFAT environment officials in Canberra and Port Moresby.

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Time for PNG Women to take the lead on Kokoda Tourism

The recent humiliation of Kokoda tourism management in the PNG National Court has lifted the scab off a web off insidious political agendas, the use of aid-for-influence, nepotism, incompetence and corruption within the DFAT funded Kokoda Initiative network.

The common denominator in the web is . . . MEN!

The Kokoda Track Authority Board of Directors are all . . . MEN!

The Kokoda Initiative Committee appointed by the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change are all . . . MEN!

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CHAPTER 1: Executive Summary

The rise in Kokoda tourism can be traced to former Prime Minister, Paul Keating spontaneously dropping to his knees and kissing the ground at Kokoda on the 50th anniversary of the campaign in 1992. He was the first Prime Minister to visit the place since the end of the war in 1945.

Keating’s gesture, and his epic speech, led to the development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between PNG and Australia[1] regarding the significance of our shared wartime heritage.

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Adventure Kokoda License Restored by PNG National Court

Charlie Lynn has welcomed the PNG National Court order to restore Adventure Kokoda’s tour operator’s license.

In her judgement handed down on 14 December 2023, Justice Susan Purdon-Sully found that Minister Simon Kilepa’s decision to cancel our license was unlawful.

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 Strategic Management Advisor for the DFAT Kokoda Initiative and Secretary to the KIC, Mr. Mark Nizette MBE, and Oro Governor Gary Juffa MP.

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CHAPTER 38: Kokoda Trail Tourism – The Way Forward Score 0%

CHAPTER 38: Kokoda Trail Tourism – The Way Forward

Since the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the management of the Kokoda Trail under a Joint agreement with PNG in 2008 trekker numbers have fallen by 46 percent which has resulted in a cumulative loss of some $20 million in foregone wages, campsite fees and local purchases for villages communities.  And these are the people we have spent millions trying to help!

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CHAPTER 37: Unlawful Cancellation of Adventure Kokoda Licence

The cancellation of our Adventure Kokoda tour operators’ licence was found to be unlawful by the Justice Sally Purdon-Sully in the PNG National Court on 14 December 2023,

The hearing lifted the scab off a web of insidious political agendas, the use of aid-for-influence, nepotism, incompetence, corruption and collusion within the DFAT funded Kokoda Initiative network which includes the PNG Conservation Environment Promotion Authority (CEPA), the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA).

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The Kokoda Track Foundation: 2003-2006

In 1992 Prime Minister Paul Keating opened a $2 million Kokoda Memorial Hospital along with a Backpacker’s Hostel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.

It was also planned to open a new terminal at the Kokoda airfield but the locals burnt it down shortly before his visit. It turned out to be an omen of things to come with a well-intentioned aid policy inadvertently reinforcing a ‘cargo-cult’ mentality.

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