WALK THE KOKODA TRACK - experience the legend


!!! Group organiser goes free for private groups of 12 or more !!!
Click here to see our detailed 9 nights itinerary with trip notes (PDF document, opens in new window).


INTRODUCTION
Welcome to the only Kokoda website that does not whistle Dixie and tap dance.
Seriously folks we are more focused on giving useful information than operating a whizz-bang website with bells and whistles and Twitter feeds. In fact we aren't even on Facebook :)
Ecotourism Melanesia offers a low-key alternative to the large military-style groups of up to 100 trekkers and porters (carriers) that some trekking companies take crashing along the Track like a herd of elephants.
Our small group treks appeal to discerning walkers who are seeking a more personal interaction with the local people and a greater understanding of the significance of the Kokoda Track that can only come with a slower paced, smell-the-roses type of trekking experience.
We are particularly experienced in catering for the 40+ age group and we host a high proportion of female trekkers.
After experimenting with different trek packages, over the years we have now honed in on a workable standard 9 nights package - with 7 nights on the Track itself and one transit night each in Port Moresby and Popondetta - that meets the needs of 90% of interested trekkers.
And now we are only taking bookings from self-organised (private) groups. The sign-up open treks we offered in the past are no longer viable with the slightly decreasing numbers of trekkers doing Kokoda each year and the burgeoning number of start-up trekking operators (including some Johnny-come-latelies with very little experience of PNG, and others who have already closed their doors after a couple of years or not raking in the mint they expected).
Our trek package includes transit hotel accommodation, all food and gear along the Track, the flight back to Port Moresby and - unlike other trek operators - we include 10kg of free porterage. This means one of our food porters will carry 10kg of your personal gear as part of your trek package and all you need to carry is your 5kg day pack. Accordigly if you pack prudently you won't need to pay extra for a personal porter.
We are also proud to say that we are one of the few trek providers that do NOT dress our porters in gaudy promotional t-shirts or feed you on military-style ration packs imported from Australia. In line with our responsible tourism policy, all food on our treks is locally sourced, with preference given to PNG made products, and where possible food is freshly prepared by our guidess and the village guest houses en route. It's not cordon-bleu but who expects Gordon Ramsay menus in the bush?


TREK INFORMATION






ABOUT THE KOKODA TRACK
The 96km Kokoda Track is a rough, unmade pathway between Kokoda and Sogeri, two little townships on either side of the rugged Owen Stanley Ranges, a mountain chain running down the spine of New Guinea. The Track was first used in the late 1800s by mail runners, miners and planters - connecting Kokoda with the fledgling colonial town of Port Moresby.

The Track - and the prized airstrip at Kokoda - was the scene of bitter fighting in 1942 as the Japanese advanced towards Port Moresby. They were later pushed back to the beach heads at Buna, Gona and Sanananda. Over 600 Australian soldiers and thousands of Japanese died along the Kokoda Track (both in battle and from malaria and infection). Many more were lost at the beach heads. Most of the Australian casualties of the Kokoda Campaign now lie buried in Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby (see left) where almost 4000 Commonwealth war heroes are laid to rest.


In 2002 Australian Prime Minister John Howard opened a new memorial at Isurava (see left) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the most fierce of the battles along the Kokoda Track, the Battle of Isurava 26-29 August 1942. Private Bruce Kingsbury was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for heroic action during this battle. (Isurava Day is commemorated on 29 August.)


Each year thousands of Australians are following in the footsteps of the courageous diggers and walking the Kokoda Track. Some do the walk for the physical challenge but an increasing number are taking time out to do the walk as a rite of passage in the quest for cultural identity. Kokoda stands firmly alongside Gallipoli as an icon of Australia's modern history.






TRACK OR TRAIL ?
You may have noticed both names Kokoda Track and Kokoda Trail in common use.
We prefer to use the term Kokoda Track because campaign veterans that we have spoken to are adamant that in 1942 they always called it "the Track".


In 2006 we hosted two veterans who had been mates for 60 years: Ron Phillips and George Gwilliam (see left, being welcomed at Kokoda).
They were gunners at Owers Corner in 1942.
" We pumped 700 rounds into the Japanese position at Ioribaiwa Ridge until they retreated", they say.

Historians put it that the Japanese had run out of supplies which made them "advance to the rear" but Ron and George reckon their shelling had a bit to do with it.
They say they never heard it called it anything else but the Kokoda Track during their tour of duty in 1942.
However over the years the term Kokoda Trail has also come into common use. The memorial gate at Owers Corner uses both.

A field gun identical to the one used by George and Ron is now on display at Owers Corner (see left).

Another of these was in the process of being dragged up Imita Ridge by a hardy gun crew in September 1942 to get a better shot at Ioribaiwa Ridge when it was discovered that the Japanese had retreated from that position.
The gun is believed to have been dismantled and buried somewhere at the base of Imita Ridge near the old Uberi village site.








THE WALK
The Kokoda Track can be traversed commencing from Kokoda at the northern end, or from Owers Corner at the southern end. Kokoda is a 30 minute flight from Port moresby while Owers Corner is about 2 hours drive.
Walking the Kokoda Track takes between 5 and 10 days depending on walking speed, although marathon runners have done it in less than 24 hours non-stop.

The trek is physically demanding but aesthetically rewarding. Magnificent mountain landscapes are visible from vantage points along the Track.
There is great plant diversity although not much obvious animal life within 200 metres of the main Track due to frequent human presence.
The walking distance is almost 100 km including a side trip to the Myola grasslands and much of this is steep climbs and descents which are punishing on the ankles and calf muscles going up, and tough on the knees coming down.

The south-north walk beginning at Owers Corner is more challenging as the climb gradients are significantly steeper in this direction.
During wet weather the Track is muddy and slippery. Flash flooding can make river crossings tricky.
Guides use axes and machetes to cut logs from the undergrowth and tie these together with ropes to make a crude bridge.
Then of course after crossing the torrent you have to dismantle your log bridge so that the next group of walkers is not denied the challenge :)

Most of the heavy rainfall is in the wet season from December to March, but here in the tropics there is regular rain throughout the year so there is no month when it can be guaranteed to be dry.
In June 2004 which was supposed to be the middle of the dry season, there was a week of heaviest rain on the Kokoda Track in 50 years.
One of our trekking groups was out there in the middle of it and they said it was very exciting. Hmmm...

Those who have walked the Track during wet weather often say they found it more meaningful as they were able to empathise with the young Aussie diggers who trudged through the same mud in very trying circumstances in 1942.







TREKKING WITH ECOTOURISM MELANESIA
Unlike some gung-ho trekking groups that you will meet on the Track who seem to think it is some kind of race, Ecotourism Melanesia operates moderately-paced treks suitable for physically fit mums, dads and grannies. This means our treks are a day or two longer than trips offered by some other trek operators but, we think, much more enjoyable.

Our oldest trekkers so far were Rosalyn Hadley who turned 71 at Alola village in June 2008 and Malcolm and Rosemary Hay, both a sprite 74, who walked the Track in August 2008 leaving their porters eating dust. All three were from Perth, we might add - must be something in the water...

Our standard treks are based on only 6 hours walking a day, plus stops, and at this pace it takes 7 days and nights to walk from Owers Corner to Kokoda. Due to the extra cost and hassle of mounting treks from Kokoda, we now only offer treks from south to north.

Our senior trek leader Philip Arari sets a steady, sustainable pace that walkers with good physical fitness who have done their training can maintain without getting into difficulties.

His "deputy" (the head porter) always walks at the back with the "rear guard" - the slow-pokes - and everybody always makes it to that day's destination by late afternoon at the latest. Nobody walks in the dark on our treks so leave your miner's head-lamp at home :)

We find that our slower, "smell-the-roses" approach appeals to trekkers with a deeper interest in the Kokoda campaign and therefore our standard 9 nights package also offers a 3 night extension to the beach-head battlefields tours around Gona, Sanananda and Buna.














OUR COMMUNITY-BASED TOURISM FOCUS
Ecotourism Melanesia is a privately owned company founded by Aaron Hayes, an Australian teacher and psychologist who came to PNG in 1997 to work with the Education department. Aaron developed an interest in village tourism and saw its potential for putting cash into the pockets of the local people and diverting them from environmentally damaging forms of income such as opening their land to logging and mining.

In 2003 Aaron left the education sector to establish his own ecotourism company that aims to channel more visitors into rural areas of Papua New Guinea. Since then Ecotourism Melanesia has developed a wide range of soft adventure tours all over PNG that have a strong village tourism focus.

Aaron' s interest in village tourism also led him to establish the Community-Based Toursim Foundation of Papua New Guinea (CBTF) in 2005. This non-profit organisation s
eeks to provide training and support to villagers all over Papua New Guinea trying to develop small sustainable tourism enterprises in their village areas including guest houses, cultural entertainment, nature reserves, bushwalking routes, bird watching trails, picnic spots and even volcano climbs. The work of CBTF potentially has a wide impact across rural Papua New Guinea including the Kokoda Track corridor. Contact us if you would like to help.

It is our company's responsible tourism policy to support sustainable community-based ecotourism by not only "treading softly" on the environment and local culture, but also by creating employment and supporting local enterprise.

We began operating small-group Kokoda treks in 2004 in response to requests from under-employed porters in Kokoda and under-patronised village guest houses along the Track. Previously most trekking companies launched their treks from Owers Corner, hired their porters from Sogeri, and tended to carry tents instead of sleeping in village guest houses. Over the years we have given preference to engaging porters from the Kokoda area and each year we design our trekking itineraries to maximise our patronage of the village guest houses, trekkers huts and private war relics collections ("museums") operated by locals along the Track.

In recent years the commercial trekking industry along the Kokoda Track has become almost cynical with some companies operating huge trek groups with over 100 people crashing through the jungle like a herd of elephants and flattening large areas of vegetation where they camp.

Participants on these military-style operations are given imported 24-hour ration packs to eat every day, trekkers and porters walk and camp separately and hardly talk to each other, and the whole experience is quite mechanical and anonymous.

So many times our small-group trekkers have overheard the same complaint from people walking with these larger trekking groups:
"they told me I would be walking with a small group of 10 people but when I arrived I found that my "platoon" was actually part of a much larger "battalion" that camped together every night. I felt like I was just a serial number at a boot camp."

In contrast, Ecotourism Melanesia takes a small scale approach, leading smaller groups that have less physical impact on the environment and place less pressure on the resources of the local villages.

Our limit of 20 trekkers per group facilitates a more intimate and personal experience of the Kokoda Track and our trek groups are always warmly welcomed in the villages that we pass through.

We are small and innocuous, we pay cash to the village people for the accommodation and food they provide to our groups ... and we clean up after ourselves. All our hard rubbish is carried out and not dumped in village garbage pits.

See 10 good reasons to trek with us









ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD ON OUR TREKS
Instead of camping in tents, wherever possible our trek parties sleep in the trekkers huts and village guest houses operated by local people along the Track. This makes a big contribution to the village micro-economy because the guest house operators in turn spend money within the village on labour, bush materials for building, and fresh garden food to feed their guests. Instead of taking the easy way out and doling out 24-hour ration packs, we engage village guest house operators to supply and cook local food for dinner, which we supplement with our own customised menu of camp food.

Many of our trekkers say the village food is the high point of each walking day. We aim to provide a variety of tropical fruit and vegetables cooked in local style, with some savoury pasta, spicy noodles or tinned meat or fish on the side. Eggs are sometimes available in the villages and we have even been known to surprise our trekking groups with an esky of fresh food droppped in from Port Moresby if we hear of any small planes making a trip down the Kokoda Track airstrips.

When overnighting at bush campsites our porters prepare camp food such as tinned curry with fresh boiled coconut rice, spaghetti bolognese, fried tinned ham with dried peas and carrots and Deb powdered potato, and so on depending on what is available in Port Moresby supermarkets.

The porters also cook porridge, damper or pancakes for breakfast which is washed down with good old smoky billy tea. Trekkers often join in the meal preparation which makes for great social interaction with the porters.For lunch we provide individually packaged foods like crackers, tinned tuna or salmon or ham, cheese, dried fruit and nuts.

The porters prefer to eat their local-style food so don't be surprised if you see them tucking in to rice instead of porridge at breakfast time, but everyone in the trek party is well fed and you won't need to bring your own food except for your favourite munchies for between meals.

Fresh fruit is often available from little village markets as you walk along as well.Trekkers with special dietary requirements can be catered for.
We'll either supply special food items for you or modify the whole trek menu to avoid your vices.
Previously we have modified trek menus to accommodate vegetarians, diabetics and people with food allergies.





EQUIPMENT AND PORTERAGE
We provide an experienced local guide to lead each trek group, and a team of porters to carry the food and equipment that we supply - which includes tarpaulins, ropes, machetes, lanterns, cooking gear, camp cutlery, crockery, two-way radio, satellite phone and tropical first aid kit. We also supply our trekkers with a sleeping bag, camp pad (sleeping mat) and tents or mosquito nets to set up inside the trekkers huts to protect you from insects and campfire ash while you sleep. You are welcome to bring your own sleeping bag if you prefer, but we don't allow inflatable mattresses as they just add too much weight to the porters. (If you don't think you can sleep on a this foam mat for a week, you may not be hardy enough for this challenging 7 day hike).

We do supply the backpacks that our porters carry so you do not need to bring a huge backpack with you, just a medium sized day pack for carrying those things you will want handy at all times. On the trek, each of our porters carries a backpack with a 22 kg load, comprising 10 kg of food and equipment that we supply, plus 10 kg of a trekker's personal gear and 2 kg of the porter's own change of clothes. The 10 kg of porterage is provided free to our trekkers as part of the trek package. If you pack frugally and plan to carry a day pack for your water bottle, camera and Minties, you won't need to hire a personal porter to carry your gear at additional cost. However the 10 kg limit is strictly enforced and there will be a weigh-in when loading the porters backpacks.Keep your day pack as light as possible (up to 5 kg). It's a long hard walk and you'll enjoy it more if you're not teetering over backwards as you scramble up steep hills with a heavy load on your back :)


OUR GUIDES AND PORTERS
Many visitors from Australia come to Papua New Guinea specifically to walk the Kokoda Track, and often the guides and porters they walk with are the only Papua New Guineans they have the opportunity to get to know during their visit. While walking along the Track and talking around the fire at night, trekkers are able to learn a lot about the culture and lifestyle of PNG through interaction with their guide and porters. Time and again our clients feed back to us that the highlight of their trek was the camaraderie and bonding with the porters. There are often tears at the end. Our guides and porters characterise the Kokoda Track. Without them, it's just another bushwalk.










Our senior guide who leads most of our treks is PHILIP ARARI. Philip is a high school graduate, speaks fluent English and is trained in first aid and radio procedures. He has a good knowledge of the history of the Track and is able to explain what-happened-where as you walk along. Philip makes daily radio contact with Ecotourism Melanesia's office in Port Moresby while on-trek. Philip's wife and children stay home at Kokoda while he is away trekking, but they also keep in touch via radio and phone during each trek.

We have a pool of 30 porters that we use for our treks in various combinations. Most of our porters are from the Kokoda area and many of them are descendents of the WW2 carriers dubbed "fuzzy wuzzy angels". They are a mixture of personalities, some quiet and some outgoing, but all exhibit the typical humility of the Kokoda people. Notwithstanding, their humorous streak brings plenty of laughs along the way and their talent for singing with the ukulele provides for great entertainment around the campfire - the porters will teach you some local songs which you'll find yourself humming away long after you return home.

Most porters all speak and understand basic English. The main communication problem (apart from Ocker humour which even Americans don't understand) occurs when we ask questions using the double negative format or statement-question format. Papua New Guineans invariably respond with what seems to be the wrong answer.
Trekker asks porter, after a meal: "You aren't still hungry, are you?"
Porter: "Yes".
But he means no. He is agreeing with the statement "You aren't still hungry" whereas the trekker is expecting a response to the question "are you?"
It's best to ask questions directly ie "Are you still hungry?".

Sadly, the rapid growth in employment for village men living along the Kokoda Track has also had some detrimental effects. Alcohol abuse in PNG is similar to that seen in some aboriginal communities in Australia (ie binge drinking by those who can least afford it) and we have observed many Kokoda porters (not ours, cross fingers...) spending their entire wages in Port Moresby nightclubs and Popondetta bottle shops.

We at Ecotourism Melanesia don't like to see our porters' hard-earned money go down the drain. We are keen to see them take their wages home to their villages to support their families. Feedback from our trekkers indicates that you also like to feel that your contibution as a tourist to the local economy is benefitting the local community and not exacerbating social problems.

Ecotourism Melanesia is dealing with this situation by
(a) giving recruitment preference to porters who make a commitment not to spend their wages on alcohol
(b) providing supervised accommodation at our company compound in Port Moresby during between-trek layovers, with an endless supply of Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger videos to keep the guys occupied while they are resting up
(c) applying a zero-alcohol policy for our porters before, during and immediately after our treks.

This may sound paternalistic but when we bring rural village men into the big city we believe we have a responsibility to both them and their families to look after them and send them home with a full pay packet and without HIV.

We will appreciate your support of our policies on the ground. Please don't invite porters back to your hotel for drinks after the trek. We don't supply any alcohol at pre-trek or post-trek barbeques and we ask you to refrain from bringing alcohol on our trips and limit any drinking to the privacy of your hotel before or after the trek.









2018-19 TREKS
Ecotourism Melanesia is no longer offering open treks on set dates that individuals can sign up for.

All bookings must be self-organised groups with minimum 6 people. We will accept up to 20 walkers in a group.

If you have larger numbers than this we will split them into two groups with staggered starts or slightly different itineraries.
For safety and logistical reasons we only handle up to two groups on the Track at a time.

Group organisers qualify for a discount off the trek package. For groups of 12 or more the group organiser walks free :)
Click here to see our detailed 9 nights itinerary with trip notes (PDF document, opens in new window).

Our itinerary involves 7 nights on the Track and transit nights in Port Moresby and Popondetta:

Day 1: arrive Port Moresby, short city tour and overnight hotel
Day 2: visit Bomana War Cemetery, road transfer to Owers Corner, hike to Ua'Ule Creek
Day 3: hike to Old Naoro
Day 4: hike to Efogi
Day 5: hike to Myola Junction
Day 6: hike to Templetons Crossing #2
Day 7: hike to Alola
Day 8: hike to Deniki
Day 9: hike to Kokoda, road transfer to Popondetta and overnight hotel
Day 10: fly out to Port Moresby and connect to Australia

OPTIONAL 3 NIGHTS EXTENSION TO GONA AND BUNA
Day 10: road transfer to Gona Mission, hike to Basabua Beach
Day 11: hike through beach-head battlefields to Sanananda and Buna
Day 12: hike to Siremi, sightseeing around Girua wartime airfield complex and Oro Bay, road transfer to Popondetta and overnight hotel





FITNESS REQUIREMENTS
It isn't Mount Everest and you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to walk the Kokoda Track. We've been surprised by the number of over- and under- weight people who have sailed through. It's more about your cardiovascular fitness than your size or weight.
One very large gentleman of about 150kg who we thought would never make it came through with flying colours. His secret? "Slow and steady wins the race", plus eating rice with the porters at breakfast time for extra carbohydrate.

However it certainly is a tough walk, and most trekkers say it is the hardest (but most rewarding) thing they have done in their lives.
You must undertake some serious uphill/downhill hiking training for a couple of months before you attempt this walk (see trip notes at bottom of itineraries for details).

Due to the increasing number of trekkers getting into difficulties on the Kokoda Track in recent times (not ours, touch wood...) we now require that trekkers pass a simple cardiovascular stress test and get full medical clearance from their doctor before doing the walk.
We will also ask you to sign a declaration that you have done the minimum recommended pre-trek training.


GETTING HERE
Port Moresby airport is serviced by flights from Australia operated by
Air Niugini
Qantas
Virgin Australia
flying in from Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney.

You can buy tickets online or from a travel agent. Ecotourism Melanesia does not supply internatonal air tickets.


BOOKING PROCEDURE
To book a private trek, send us an e-mail with your preferred dates and the number of proposed trekkers. We will then send you a quote for the trek and you will need to pay a deposit for us to hold your preferred dates. (For quality reasons we only operate one trek at a time).
After payment of your deposit, your trek booking is secured.
The balance of your payment is due 6 weeks before the trek begins. Booking conditions are detailed on our Kokoda Track booking information page and in our Kokoda trekking contract which you must download, print out, sign and return to us by fax or mail.





MORE INFORMATION ON THE KOKODA TRACK
Recommended books:
"Kokoda Trek" by Clive Baker
This book is all about modern day trekking of the Kokoda Track rather than the military history. A useful day to day guide to what you'll see and do during the walk. First published about 15 years ago and recently updated. Available by mail order from Australian Military History Publications
13 Veronica Place, Loftus NSW 2232
e-mail warbookshop @ bigpond.com www.warbooks.com.au

Recommended videos:
"The Kokoda Challenge: A Walker's Guide to the Kokoda Trail"
A recently produced video with footage of most sections of the trail, track notes and map, advice on gear and getting fit. Includes a promo for various trekking companies including Ecotourism Melanesia at the end.
POM Productions 2007 www.kokodaguide.com.au

Click here to see our detailed 9 nights itinerary with trip notes (PDF document, opens in new window).

   
For enquiries, questions and queries e-mail us at ecotourism.melanesia@gmail.com