Hiking in Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda Track


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That’s a pic from Papua New Guinea, where Lauren and I went hiking a couple of months ago. It was a fantastic trip, and my article about it is now available on the New York Times website:

[…] We had been warned over and over to prepare ourselves for two things: mud and hills; hills and mud. While the highest point on the trail is a modest 7,000 feet, the accordionlike ridges and gullies mean you climb and descend more than 20,000 feet in total.

But it’s not the vertical that can break your spirit, we soon realized, it’s the horizontal — seeing the trail almost within arm’s reach in front of you, then realizing that you have to clamber 200 feet down a steep and muddy decline, wade through a stream or tiptoe across a slender log, then haul yourself back up the other side on wet clay. [READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE]

A few more pics from the trip:




4 Replies to “Hiking in Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda Track”

  1. G’day Alex,

    I read you article with great interest. As a part time guide for one of the “Australian based tour companies led by Australian military buffs”, I have travelled the “Track” quite a few times over the last 3 years so I thought I would respond from an Australian’s point of view to some of your comments!

    Firstly, I was impressed with the accuracy of most of your article. However…

    1. “detailed information about the trek’s amenities remains scarce”. This is just not so if you had enquired with one of the Austrlalian companies that specialise in the Kokoda Track.

    2. “Most of Papua New Guinea’s scarce tourist dollars end up in the coffers of tour companies back in Australia”. How do you know the split of where the money goes? A large portion of the tour cost goes to the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA), then there is the porters’ wages, the porters’ workers compensation insurance, the porters’ food (purchased locally), the trekkers food (all bought locally), the porters’ and trekkers’ flights to or from Kokoda (local PNG airlines), the bone-rattling four-hour ride in the back of a truck to or from Popondetta, the village camp site fees paid directly to the village owners, the Port Moresby hotels at either end of the tour – to name but a few of the expenses which go to the local PNG coffers.

    3. “Local food” – it is great to sample this but the villagers are subsistence farmers and grow enough for their village, sometimes they will have some to spare depending on their yield and the time of the year. Terkkers cannot expect to rely on food being available. A classic example is the village of Kagi which was recently in a 5 month drought and as a result did not have enough food to feed the school teacher, so the school kids had to go without a teacher for a few months.

    4. “While Australians pay lip service to the aid their soldiers received from the men they called “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels,” it’s fair to say that the labor — often forced — of native carriers during the war remains an afterthought for most visitors.” Hmmm. Again, I’m sorry, but you are making a massive generalisation here, obviously without much research into how some of the Australian trekking companies operate, how we treat our porters, and the homage and thanks that we always pay to them and their forefathers. So no, it is not “fair to say…”. By the way, these same Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels also assisted US troops on the northern beaches part of the Kokoda campaign, and yes – “often forced”.

    Finally, I agree with you that you just need a local PNG guide and there is no need to pay extra for an Australian military buff guide – if you just want a nice bush walk in PNG that is “a cross between a culinary tour and a survival course.” However, if it is an historic Australian pilgrimage that you are after (99.9% of trekkers), then the services of an experienced Australian guide who can make the “book history” come to life exaclty where it happened, then it is money well spent for what is for most people, a trip of a life time.

    Thanks for hearing me out (I am very passionate about Kokoda) and thankyou for sharing with your US readers the story of the Aussies who were the first troops to force the Japanese to “advance to the rear”!

    Hadyn. (Melbourne, Australia)

  2. Thanks very much for taking the time to share your perspective, Hadyn — I appreciate it. A few notes:

    – “This is just not so if you had enquired with one of the Austrlalian companies that specialise in the Kokoda Track.” Well, precisely. We were hoping to do trek without one of the big Australian companies, and detailed logistical information about accommodation and so on simply isn’t available (at least, we weren’t able to find it). Even for the companies themselves, they have no way of knowing in advance whether specific guesthouse will be available on a given day (other than the sites they’ve built themselves).

    – “A large portion of the tour cost goes to the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA)…” I’m well aware of these costs, since we paid them all directly — the KTA, for example, gets about $100. Our total cost for all the elements you listed was under $1200 per person, which is pretty far from the $3000 to $4000 charged by most Australian companies. Of course, there are big differences in how the various companies operate (i.e. some of them DO NOT purchase the trekkers’ food locally).

    – Agreed that you can’t rely on local food being available, which is why we brought along enough of our own for the whole trip. One of the nice things about hiking in a group of four (two hikers, two guides) rather than a group of, say, 30 is that the villagers always had enough food for us.

    – Agreed that my comments about Australian attitudes to the native carriers are a generalization — that’s what “most” means. Are you seriously suggesting that most Australian trekkers aren’t more interested in the exploits of the diggers than of the Fuzzy Wuzzies? They hear all about Stan Bisset, Breton Langridge, Bruce Kingsbury, Lindsay Bear and so on, but how many names of carriers do they learn? This is just natural — we’re all inclined to be most interested in the actions of our own ancestors, after all. But you can understand that people from other countries might walk the trail with a different perspective.

    – “By the way, these same Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels also assisted US troops on the northern beaches part of the Kokoda campaign, and yes – “often forced”.” Yes, indeed. Does this make it better somehow?

    I’m glad you’re passionate about Kokoda — I think it’s a great thing to be passionate about. Even though I’m not Australian, I found it very moving to learn about what the soldiers in the campaign underwent, both in reading Bill James’s book and in walking the trail. It’s a chapter of history that should never be forgotten, and that Australians should be very proud of. But they should also understand that people from other countries may walk the trail with a different perspective, without devaluing the Australian experience.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!


  3. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for sharing about your trip. I am currently trying to organise something similar outside of a tour company for my partner and have found the information you have very helpful.

    The difficulty I am having is organising local PNG guides and porters. I appreciate from our previous travels that from PNG it would be a lot easier however because I’m not going and am organising it for other people I wanted to sort it all out beforehand.

    I tried to look up the company which helped you (http://www.kotrek.com/) and it appears that KoTrek now charge along the same lines as the Australian tour companies ($3000AUD ex Port Moseby)- if you get a chance could you please let me know if this is the same group and if not, provide any contact details for the guys you used?

    Any assistance you could provide would be very helpful.

    Many thanks,


  4. Beck: Yes, KoTrek is the company we used — the price depends on how much luxury you want! I just sent you an e-mail with more details. Any other questions, feel free to ask.

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