A Guide to the Kokoda Challenge Annual Event
Australia is home to countless unique walking trails, but the Kokoda trail is one rich in history and tradition.
Completing the Kokoda Challenge is a must on any hiker’s bucket lists!
But what exactly goes into preparation for the challenge? And what should you be expecting from the famous trek?
We set out to answer those questions for you! Keep reading our guide below to make sure you have the best possible Kokoda Challenge experience!
What to Expect
The Kokoda Challenge is a 96km hike that takes place on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. The Kokoda Challenge stems from the Kokoda Track Campaign, a piece of World War II history. Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration, so most of the Allied forces occupying the area and completing the campaign were Australian.
As of recent years, it has become a rite of passage for many Australians to make the same journey. The challenge seeks to remind its participants of the importance of the Kokoda Track Campaign that occurred specifically during the Pacific War of WWII in 1942.
The challenge occurs in July, the driest and coolest month of the year in the area. However, that doesn’t mean that humidity and rain are uncommon. It can get very chilly at night, though, which prompts many hikers to bring thermal layers with them.
Why do people view the challenge as so extreme? Well, hikers cross twelve creeks, walk at night, pass through 9 villages, and climb summits that reach heights of up to 5,000m. The extensive trail begins in Kokoda and finishes to the east of Port Moresby.
The trek is meant to be completed in 39 hours by a four-member team. In honor of the original Kokoda campaign, teams are meant to practice and recognize the importance of courage, mateship, endurance, and sacrifice. Teams need to pay a registration fee and complete fundraising in order to participate in the Kokoda Challenge.
How to Prepare for the Kokoda Challenge
Many people don’t even bother leaving their homes these days, let alone taking a 39 hour walk!
So, if you’re planning on taking on the 96km challenge, you’ll want to be prepared, both mentally and physically!
You should develop a workout routine in order to prepare for the Kokoda Challenge. A training period of at least 1-3 months is advised, though a longer training period will be more effective. The trail is very strenuous, so you need to be physically prepared before you take on the challenge. There should be a focus on lower body and abdominal strength.
Walking every day is an easy way to strengthen your leg muscles, but you will want to aim for a fairly vigorous walk. Eventually, you’ll want to mix some light jogging into your walks. Taking a few hikes at night is also recommended since it’s likely you’ll be walking some of the trail in the dark.
After a few weeks of training, try to bring a backpack on your walks to get a better feel for what the actual experience will feel like. Wear the shoes you plan on wearing for the Kokoda Challenge to break them in and make sure you’ll be comfortable during the trek.
It’s important to practice walking both uphill and downhill. Being able to walk up steep inclines is critical.
Another exercise you can incorporate is cycling. If you live in a bikeable area, you can take your bike to run errands. It’s an easy way to build leg muscle without throwing off your schedule.
If that’s not an option, you can always use stationary bikes at a gym. Step machines or an elliptical are other machines you can use to train for the challenge. Practicing lunges in all directions and doing reps of crunches are also great ways to train.
It’s wise to get a physical evaluation from your general physician to make sure you won’t have any physical complications during the challenge.
Avoid Common Injuries
Blisters are practically unavoidable during the Kokoda Challenge. However, you can decrease the likelihood by using a sport tape, many of which are waterproof. That means you can switch out your socks after crossing a waterway without needing to redo your tape!
Chafing is another big issue during the Kokoda Challenge. The best way to avoid this is by wearing skin tight clothing. It might not be appealing in the humidity, but it’s preferred to chafing!
Of course nutrition is important every day of your life, but when you’re participating in such a physically challenging experience, it’s even more so!
You will want to keep your caloric intake between 150 and 300 calories per hour. As far as fluids go, you will want to drink around 650ml every hour to make sure you don’t become dehydrated.
Liquid food is encouraged over solid food, though solid food can be useful in small amounts. Most people will have a natural craving for solid foods, so having it available will make the experience pleasanter.
You will want to avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, simple sugars, or caffeinated. That means no sweets or junk foods!
To best test your snack pack for the Kokoda Challenge, try it out during a long training session and see how your body responds. Make sure not to eat anything while you’re going uphill though!
Build the Right Team
If you aren’t completing the challenge with the right group of mates, no amount of physical or mental preparation will matter. If you aren’t familiar with your group, make an effort to get to know them before the challenge.
You will want to know your teammate’s strengths and weaknesses and the best way to provide them with encouragement during the trail. If you can coordinate your schedules, it’s beneficial to train with the others on your team.
If you struggle with matching speeds, be mindful of who burns out faster. Have them walk in front in order to make sure the rest of your team is keeping pace with them and not exerting themselves more than necessary. That would just result in everyone cramping and tiring out in a staggered fashion.
Become Familiar with the Terrain
You’re going to be walking on uneven, brushy, forested terrain. It will be very steep and hilly at times, so make sure you prepare for that when you train. It’s also important to keep in mind that you will be walking both in daylight and at night.
Newbies often make the mistake of wasting time at one of the checkpoints. They can be inviting at night when your body will be craving sleep, but avoid this temptation as much as possible if you want to complete the challenge in time!
Try to limit your time at checkpoints to five to ten minutes. Give yourself only enough time to fill up your water bottles, buy food, and change any clothes or equipment.
Know What to Bring
You don’t want to be stranded during the Kokoda Challenge without the proper equipment. That’s why it’s important to check and double-check that you have everything before the big day.
It’s important to bring a first aid kit along with you. Include things like bandages, some kind of antiseptic, aspirin, an antihistamine, calamine lotion, and vaseline (good for soothing your feet overnight).
Since you’ll be out in the summer heat, you will also want to load up on sunscreen. Since most of the trek is done at a high altitude, mosquitoes are rare. Nonetheless, bring along bug spray and some antimalarial tablets.
As far as clothing goes, you’ll want to do some planning for your feet alone! Several pairs of socks, both thick and thin, are recommended. You’ll also want to choose appropriate footwear.
Many people opt for hiking boots since the trails tend to be unpredictable. However, an additional pair of shoes may be brought for crossing waterways or to relax in during breaks.
A hat that will provide you with protection from harsh sun and rain is another must. Many participants prefer long-sleeved shirts since they prevent bug bites. Bringing a change of underwear is a good idea too. If the weather seems unfavorable, you will want to bring a lightweight poncho as well.
Aside from clothing, you will want an easily portable tent, a sleeping mat, and a towel or two. A thermostat, utensils, and plates/bowls will be helpful for your meal breaks. Pack up some toilet paper in a ziplock bag!
There are no ATMs around, so you’ll want to bring a bit of cash if you plan on buying anything at the checkpoints or in the villages.
If you’re planning on documenting your experience, you’ll obviously want a camera or your phone to take photos.
Of course, you’ll also need a backpack to carry all of your supplies with you. It’s ideal if your team can divvy up supplies to maximize your space and lighten each person’s load.
Fulfilling Your Goal
Obviously, the Kokoda Challenge is quite the feat. It does require a lot of training and preparation, but it’s not impossible!
The Kokoda Challenge is a unique way of seeing a piece of Australia’s history while testing your endurance and teamwork. You’ll experience the country’s expansive natural beauty firsthand!
Take a look at the rest of our website for more information on the Kokoda Challenge, additional Australian walking trails, and the best gear for hikers!