The Kokoda Track: A Guide to One of the World’s Most Incredible Treks

kokoda track

The Kokoda Track is a spectacular and challenging hiking trail that will take you through Papua New Guinea’s remote jungles, isolated villages, and rugged mountains. The trail is 60 miles (96 km) long and runs through PNG’s Owen Stanley Range on the southeastern side of the country.

Despite its short length, the Kokoda Track is considered one of the world’s hardest treks. The trail features dense jungle vegetation, mountainous terrain, and significant elevation gain. Combined with large temperature swings, intense humidity, heavy rainfall, and a risk of tropical diseases like malaria, the Kokoda Track is a challenge even for highly experienced hikers.

This guide covers everything you’ll need to plan your Kokoda Track adventure. We’ll discuss the best times to go, whether to book your trip with a tour operator or do it on your own, and potential risks and dangers. We’ll also offer advice on preparing for this challenging trek and provide a gear list to help you pack.

Hikers on Kokoda track

Key Facts About the Kokoda Track

  • The Kokoda Track stretches from Owers’ Corner in Papua New Guinea’s Central Province to the village of Kokoda in Oro Province.
  • The highest point on the trail is Mount Bellamy at 8,170 feet (2,490 meters).
  • The lowest point on the trail is Ua’Ule Creek at 980 feet (300 meters).
  • Most people require between 4 and 12 days to complete the Kokoda Track. On average, guided treks take between 7 and 8 days.
  • The fastest known time on the Kokoda Track is 16 hours and 34 minutes. Brendan Buka set the record during the Kokoda Challenge, a race held annually between 2005 and 2012.
  • Due to its military history, many people consider the Kokoda Track a pilgrimage honoring those who fought there and lost their lives during WWII.
  • Papua New Guinea is home to four regions, 20 provinces, and 800 indigenous languages. Most people in the Kokoda Track region speak a language called Motu.
  • The climate in Papua New Guinea is one of the wettest in the world. The country experiences an average annual rainfall of 98 inches to 138 inches (2,500 mm to 3,500 mm).
  • The Kokoda Track is an extremely challenging trail that packs in around 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) of elevation gain.
  • Although the historic track is 60 miles (96 km) long, most hikers end up covering a distance of around 103 miles (165 km) due to side trips and detours.

Origins and History

The Kokoda Track traces its roots to 1899. That year, Anglo-Australian Henry Hamilton Stuart-Russell surveyed the trail to establish a path between the city of Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea’s north coast. Stuart-Russell and his party encountered resistance from local people, particularly in the Yodda Valley. The discovery of gold along the route led to additional violent conflicts between local tribes and British and Anglo-Australian prospectors.

In 1904, the colonial government established a military base at Kokoda with the goal of strengthening British rule. The troops forcibly subdued the local population and built paths using forced labor from local tribes and distant tribes in other parts of Papua New Guinea.

The Kokoda Track holds historical importance as the site of one of Australia’s most significant battles in World War II. From June to November in 1942, Australians fought a series of battles against the Japanese in what, at the time, was the Australian Territory of Papua. Today, these battles are known as the Kokoda Track campaign.

The Japanese launched an overland advance from Gona on the island’s north coast. Their goal was to capture Port Moresby, a city that played a crucial role in defending Australia. If they took Port Moresby, the Japanese planned to launch a bombing offensive on North Queensland in Australia and would have had a strong position to potentially invade Australia. The Japanese drove Australian and Papuan forces back along the Kokoda Track and came within 35 miles (56 km) of Port Moresby. After a series of costly battles on challenging terrain, the Australians and Papuans pushed the Japanese back and retook Kokoda village on November 2, 1942.

The track was not used much after the war until the early 2000s, when it started gaining popularity as a trekking route. Today, the areas along the Kokoda Track remain largely untouched since WWII, with rusted weapons and trenches still visible along the trail. There are no shops or electricity and minimal infrastructure along the track, making it a very pristine area that feels remote and isolated.

When to Go

The Kokoda Track is open year-round, but the best time to go is between April and November. This period largely overlaps with Papua New Guinea’s dry season. According to KTA data, April, July, and September tend to see the highest number of trekkers. The wet season runs from around December to March. Torrential rains can make the journey unpleasant and river crossings hazardous, so we recommend avoiding this time of year.

Independent vs. Guided Treks

While you can hike the Kokoda Track on your own, we strongly recommend planning your adventure with a licensed tour operator. The Kokoda Track Authority advises against independent treks because of safety concerns, but also because solo travelers and independent trekkers tend to bring fewer benefits to the local communities along the trail.

It’s always essential to show respect for local communities and cultures when traveling. This is of particular importance on the Kokoda Track due to the violent colonial history in the region. Choosing a reputable, licensed tour operator is the best way to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable journey, respect local cultures, and support local communities on the Kokoda Track.

The Kokoda Track Authority provides a list of licensed tour operators here. All of these companies must meet the minimum standards set out in the KTA’s Commercial Operations License agreement. As a result, the KTA does not recommend any particular company over another.

The best tour company for you will depend on your budget and preferences regarding group size, porters, accommodation, and the number of days spent on the track. Different companies also tend to put more emphasis on one aspect of the track over others, such as military history, natural history, cultural experiences, or philanthropic activities. Choose a company that highlights aspects of the Kokoda Track that you are most interested in.

All individuals must obtain a Trek Permit when hiking the Kokoda Track. The cost for adult international trekkers is K350 (around US$100). If you’re booking your trek with a licensed tour operator, the permit fee should be included in the cost of the trip. If you’re planning an independent trek, you’ll need to apply for a permit with the Kokoda Track Authority. More information about permits is available from the KTA here.

How much does it cost to hike the Kokoda Track?

The cost of hiking the Kokoda Track with a tour operator ranges from around US$2,500 to US$4,000. The cost varies depending on the trip length, level of support, amenities included, training plans, and preparation assistance. Independent trekkers have managed to complete the Kokoda Track for around US$300-400, not including international airfare and off-trail expenses.

When planning your budget, you’ll want to factor in the following:

  • Trek Permits (if planning an independent trek)
  • Gratuities for your guides, porters, and support staff
  • International airfare and transportation within Papua New Guinea
  • Accommodation before and after your trek
  • Immunizations and medications
  • Travel insurance
  • Any gear you need to purchase

What to Expect

Weather and Climate

The climate in Papua New Guinea is tropical and monsoonal, with high temperatures and humidity. The dry season runs from around May to October, but conditions are often decent in April and November. The wet season runs from December to March and is best avoided. In Port Moresby, 78% of the average annual rainfall occurs in the wet season, and most tour companies do not offer trips during this time. The heaviest rainfall in the country occurs in the highlands, so you should expect rain and muddy trails no matter what time of year you plan your trip.

Days on the Kokoda Track are usually hot and humid, and nights can be quite chilly – especially in higher elevation areas. Humidity typically ranges from 80% to 95%. Daytime temperatures on the Kokoda Track hover between 75°F and 90°F (24°C and 32°C), while nighttime temperatures dip to between 64°F and 36°F (18°C and 2°C). Expect cold nights in higher elevations.

Physical and Mental Challenges

The Kokoda Track is a grueling journey through isolated jungles and mountainous terrain. The trail is steep and often slippery, with substantial elevation changes, mud, rocks, and river crossings. Combined with the heat, rain, and humidity, these features make completing the Kokoda Track a physically and psychologically demanding pursuit.

Elevation on the trail ranges from 980 feet (300 meters) at Ua’Ule Creek to 8,170 feet (2,490 meters) at Mount Bellamy. While most hikers do not experience altitude sickness at these elevations, you’ll still need to be in good physical condition to navigate the terrain and cope with the elevation change.

The demanding environment on the Kokoda Track also presents mental challenges for hikers. Your hike is likely to be difficult and uncomfortable at times due to heavy rain, steep slopes, treacherous river crossings, high temperatures, humidity, and muddy trails. Having a clear understanding of the challenges involved and building mental strength ahead of your trip will help you prepare for this strenuous trail.

Accommodations and Facilities

Most tour operators provide basic lodging on the trail in shared tents or huts, commonly referred to as guesthouses. Given the remote location, you should not expect any kind of deluxe amenities along the route. Toilets are typically pit or drop toilets with no toilet seats. There may also be times where you’ll need to dig a cathole, so be sure to bring a small trowel.

Dangers and Risks to Consider

Hiking the Kokoda Track comes with certain dangers and risks that you’ll want to be aware of before booking your trip. Here are the biggest risks you should watch out for and seek to mitigate on your trek.

Dehydration and Hyponatremia

The high temperatures and high humidity in Papua New Guinea can result in excessive sweating while hiking. This makes dehydration and exercise-acquired hyponatremia (a condition marked by low sodium in the blood) serious concerns when hiking the Kokoda Track. In 2009, four Australian trekkers died of exercise-acquired hyponatremia, or EAH, while attempting the route.

Dehydration causes symptoms including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. The condition also increases your risk of developing heat-related illnesses. Hyponatremia can occur if you drink too much water or fail to replace salts lost through sweating. The condition’s severity ranges from mild to life-threatening and can result in death if not treated. If anyone in your group develops symptoms like nausea and vomiting, seizures, lost consciousness, or confusion, tell your guide immediately so that person can get medical attention.

To reduce your risk of dehydration and hyponatremia, drink plenty of fluids, including water and electrolyte replacement powders or sports drinks, and eat salty snacks. You should consume these before and during your hike, but make sure not to over-hydrate. Drinking too much water increases your risk of EAH.

Heat Exhaustion and Other Heat-related Illnesses

Strenuous activity in hot, humid conditions can lead to heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke (also known as sunstroke). Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats and cannot cool itself down and is exacerbated by dehydration. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a more serious condition requiring emergency medical attention.

If you book your tour with a reputable company, your guide should be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of these conditions and know how to treat them. Still, you’ll want to do as much as you can to reduce your risk of developing heat-related illnesses. If you’re coming from a cooler climate, plan to arrive in Port Moresby at least a few days before your trip. Doing so will allow your body to acclimatize and get more comfortable with the heat and humidity.

Tropical Diseases and Other Illnesses

The most common illnesses affecting travelers in Papua New Guinea are malaria, tropical skin infections, and stomach issues like vomiting and diarrhea. Malaria is an issue throughout Papua New Guinea. Trekkers should talk to a doctor about malaria prevention and make an effort to avoid mosquito bites. Infectious diseases like hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and tetanus are an issue in Papua New Guinea, so make sure you are up to date on your vaccinations.

Injuries, Blisters, and Other Health Problems

Hiking in remote environments over uneven terrain comes with the risk of injuries. These are most likely to be minor injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, and blisters. However, you also may experience a more serious injury, like a sprained ankle or broken bone, that affects your ability to complete the trail. Severe injuries require a medical evacuation by helicopter, so make sure you have good travel insurance to cover you in case of an accident.

Kokoda Crossing, Kokoda track

How to Prepare for the Kokoda Track

Physical Preparation

Preparing physically for your hike is crucial when it comes to improving your safety and enjoyment on the trail. Depending on your current physical condition, the Kokoda Track Authority recommends allowing anywhere between 1 and 6 months for training before your trek. You’ll want to focus on:

  • Building strength in major muscle groups, like the quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hamstrings
  • Enhancing your balance so you can navigate the uneven, slippery terrain
  • Increasing your endurance and boosting your aerobic fitness

For detailed tips about training for your Kokoda Track journey, check out our posts about Hiking Exercises and Preparing for the Challenges of Mountain Hiking. Some tour operators include a pre-departure training program for those who need additional help with physical preparation. Consider booking your trip with one of these companies or working with a personal trainer if you want extra guidance and support in your training.

Mental Training

Mental strength can help you maintain a good attitude and enjoy your time on the trail. Ahead of your trip, practice strategies like visualization and positive affirmations. Write down some positive statements that you can say in your head or out loud while training. These could include things like “I am strong and capable. I can do this!” or “I chose this journey and am well prepared. I have trained hard and set myself up for success.” Get used to saying these phrases during your training sessions. The more you practice, the easier it will be to encourage positive thinking on a long, hard trail like the Kokoda Track.

Heat Acclimatization

Heat acclimatization is another important component when preparing for the Kokoda Track. If possible, exercise for 60 to 90 minutes in a warm room (77 to 86°F/25 to 30°C) or while wearing heavy clothing to help prepare your body for the hot, humid conditions you’ll encounter on the trail. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids and electrolyte drinks to avoid dehydration and hyponatremia.

Immunizations and Medications

Around six months before your planned departure, check to see if you’ll need any vaccinations, booster shots, or medications for your trip. Talk to your doctor about your plans and review the latest requirements for visiting Papua New Guinea to see what you’ll need. You may need prescriptions for medications like malaria tablets, antibiotics, or antidiarrheals. It’s also a good idea to undergo a medical check-up to ensure you’re healthy enough to do the trek.

Insurance and Visas

All trekkers on the Kokoda Track are required to have comprehensive medical and travel insurance. Some tour operators include insurance or have it available as an additional purchase option when booking. Other companies require trekkers to secure this on their own. Check with your tour operator ahead of your trip and give yourself plenty of time to research and purchase alternative insurance if needed.

Depending on your citizenship, you may need to secure a visa ahead of your trip. Some travelers are eligible for a visa upon arrival. Check with the PNG government and/or your country’s government to confirm the latest visa requirements.

How to Get There

Most people hiking the Kokoda Track fly into Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s capital and largest city. The city is home to Papua New Guinea’s only international airport, called Jacksons International Airport. Direct flights are typically available from Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Solomon Islands.

If you’ve booked a guided tour, your tour provider will likely coordinate all local transportation to and from Port Moresby. If you’re doing the trek on your own, you have two main options:

  1. You can take a charter flight to Kokoda, hike to Owers’ Corner, and then take a road transfer back to Port Moresby.
  2. You can book road transport to Owers’ Corner, hike to Kokoda, and then fly back to Port Moresby.

In addition to charter flights to Kokoda, you have an option to take a regularly scheduled flight to Popondetta. From there, you can take a four-hour trip in a Public Motor Vehicle, or PMV, to Kokoda.

Recommended Gear: Kokoda Track Packing List

If you’re booking your Kokoda Track trip with a guide, check with the company ahead of time to see what items they provide and what they recommend bringing. They should be able to provide you with a comprehensive gear list tailored to your specific itinerary. If you’re trekking on your own, check out the Kokoda Track Authority’s Pre-Departure Guide for additional gear recommendations.

Here’s an idea of what items you’ll need to hike the Kokoda Track:

  • High-quality, breathable, fast-drying clothing. This should include base layers, hiking socks, underwear, short-sleeve t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, hiking pants, and shorts. Modesty is important in Papua New Guinea, and revealing clothing is unacceptable. Make sure to consider this when planning your PNG trekking and sightseeing outfits.
  • Rain gear and waterproof layers, including a rain jacket, rain pants, and gaiters
  • Lightweight, packable jacket for higher elevations and cool nights
  • Larger backpack with water-resistant cover (maximum weight for a porter is 49.6lbs/22.5kg)
  • Small daypack with water-resistant cover (this should weigh less than 17.6lbs/8kg, including your water, and it is only needed if you are paying a porter to carry your main pack)
  • Waterproof hiking boots and extra laces
  • Comfortable sandals for walking around and hanging out at camp and in the villages
  • Shoes suitable for creek crossings (lightweight trail running shoes or water shoes/sandals work well)
  • Water purification tablets and a water filtration/purification bottle. Most stomach issues while trekking in PNG come from drinking dirty water. Although some tour companies provide purified drinking water, you should bring a water purification system to be on the safe side.
  • Sun protection: lip balm, sunscreen, buff or bandana, sunglasses
  • Wide-brimmed hat for sun and rain protection
  • Mosquito net, insect repellant, and pyrethrum-treated clothing
  • Personal first aid kit. Your guide will have a first aid kit for the group. Still, you’ll want your own set of supplies, including blister tape or moleskin, band-aids, gauze, non-stick pads, tweezers, foot powder or baby powder, antibiotic cream or powder, compound tincture of benzoin, antiseptic wipes, glucose tablets, anti-itch ointment, body glide or foot glide, and medications (antidiarrheals, anti-malarial tablets, pain relievers, prescription medications, antihistamines, etc.).
  • Electrolyte powders. These are important for preventing EAH and are also great at masking the taste of purified water
  • Lightweight tent with tarp or footprint
  • Sleeping bag (rated to around 41°F/5°C) and lightweight sleeping pad
  • Conservative swimwear for bathing in the river
  • Towel or sarong to cover up before and after bathing
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • Basic toiletries
  • Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer
  • Personal hygiene products stored in a resealable plastic bag (toilet paper, wet wipes, pee cloth, feminine hygiene products, etc.)
  • A couple of small quick-dry towels
  • Dry bags or waterproof stuff sacks
  • Set of camp dinnerware, including heat resistant and non-breakable plate, bowl, mug, and cutlery
  • Reusable water bottles or a hydration reservoir. Make sure to bring a couple of water containers to rotate since purification tablets can take an hour to work.
  • Preferred snacks and supplements
  • Trekking poles if you like to use them when you hike
  • Camera, phone, solar chargers, etc.
  • Passports, documents, cash, etc.
  • Safety whistle
  • Multitool
  • Small trowel

The items listed above should be considered general guidelines rather than a final packing list. As we mentioned, make sure to consult your tour company and the Kokoda Track Authority’s Pre-Departure Guide for specific gear recommendations for your trek. You can also take a look at our backpacking checklist, where we’ve covered how to pack for multi-day hikes in detail.

Kokoda trail, papua new guinea

Conclusion

From immersing yourself in Papua New Guinea’s small mountain villages to cooling off in pristine rivers in the rainforest, the Kokoda Track offers unique experiences that you’ll never forget. The remote setting makes hiking the Kokoda Track a highly challenging but enriching experience. You’ll need to undergo significant mental and physical preparation for the journey but will be rewarded with the adventure of a lifetime.

 


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