the kokoda trail
By Kokoda Gear

How Difficult is the Kokoda Trail? (And Other Common Questions)

The Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea is literally 96 kilometres in length. For those of you craving a long, difficult trek through a tropical rainforest, this is the ultimate trip for you!

How difficult is the Kokoda Trail, exactly? Read on to find out (and other commonly asked questions)!

Surviving the Kokoda Trek

Let’s be honest. The Kokoda Track doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being easy. In fact, it’s not only physically difficult, but it will also test your mental endurance. That’s because surviving the Kokoda Trek involves a lot of mud, rain, and hills!

Nonetheless, it doesn’t have to be as challenging as it sounds. You can always condition before your trip to make sure that it’s an easier journey. Another word of advice: You’re going to need a lot of endurance to get to the end of this trail!

How so? When it comes to the Kokoda Trail, you’ll have to work on your ability to continue walking across tough territory for a long amount of time. And if that’s not enough, you’ll also have to learn how to get through potential injuries and exhaustion, too.

Incredibly enough, those that are actually able to finish their trip consider it a personal badge of honour. Sometimes, veterans of the Kokoda Trail claim that it wasn’t nearly as hard as they thought it’d be. Wondering why it was such a breeze for them?

The biggest difference is that these hikers were more than ready for the trail ahead. Plus, they clearly had very high levels of endurance as well. Lastly, they managed to maintain their health throughout the entire trip.

If you want to take your love of hiking to the next level, there are a few things that you should know before you head out onto the trail. For instance, what makes the Kokoda Track so hard?

What Makes the Kokoda Track So Hard?

For those who aren’t sure why the Kokoda Track has a reputation for being gruelling, here are a few reasons why it’s such a killer trek:

  • Sporadic high levels of rainfall, humid weather, and intense heat.
  • Steep sections that can go on for a couple of hours.
  • Rugged and unstable parts of the trail.
  • Frequent creek and river crossings.
  • Heavy mud that can go up to your ankles in parts of the trail.
  • Walking for many hours for days at a time.
  • Isolation from the rest of society (unless you have an emergency).
  • Very few perks and amenities at your campsite.

But have no fear — if you think that you can handle all of that, then you might be the perfect candidate to finish the Kokoda Trail. However, those that simply can’t take it anymore are evacuated to a safe place. That’s why it definitely pays to be prepared for this extreme terrain!

Getting into Shape for Kokoda Tracks

Want to know the key to getting to the finish line? You’ve got to get into great shape to be able to complete the Kokoda Tracks. That being said, the harder you hit the gym, the better.

If you enjoy running, try to get in some regular conditioning outdoors before you book your trip. Don’t worry if you’re not already at the perfect fitness level. Here are some tips to help you out.

First of all, you need to take a hard look at your current level of fitness. Even though you might work out on a daily basis, there’s no harm in getting in additional training. We promise that you won’t regret it!

In case you didn’t know: The fitness level required to take on the Kokoda Trail is well beyond anything you can imagine. Having any doubts about your own endurance? That’s okay; you can always consult with a fitness expert who can make sure that you’re prepared for your trek.

Here’s the deal. One of the most important things to consider is how old you are and if you have any preexisting medical conditions. If that’s the case, then we highly recommend that you talk to your doctor before you attempt to tackle any hiking or training sessions.

What about people who aren’t in the best shape? As soon as you can begin a workout regimen that gets your heart rate up regularly, we don’t see why you couldn’t train for the Kokoda Trail. All that you have to do is dedicate yourself to a strict exercise routine, and you should be good to go!

Kokoda Trek Hiking Tips and Tricks

Looking for some Kokoda Trek hiking tips and tricks? We’ve got you covered. For those living in Australia, travelling along this historic trail on ANZAC Day is practically a national tradition.

If you’re one of the many Australians excited to get their trek on, you can expect to spend the year leading up to your trip training for your rigorous trek. That’s because it takes over a week to finish. Luckily for you, we’ve got the best training advice from Joe Bonington of Joe’s Basecamp!

According to Joe, you’ve got to get used to some pretty steep climbing to be able to manage this trail. As a matter of fact, Joe advises that getting your training in on a treadmill simply isn’t enough. What should you do instead?

Joe continues, “Instead, make sure you train on lots of steep bush tracks with broken and uneven surfaces and train with a loaded backpack so you’re fully prepared for the lay of the land when you start the trek.” Secondly, prepare to experience extraordinary heat on the Kokoda trail as well.

That’s why Joe recommends that you train during the hottest, stickiest days in Australia in advance of your trip. He suggests that you get used to the heat and push through the hot weather. Joe also reminds us that “the more you suffer in training, the less you’ll suffer on the track.”

Finally, you should probably spend some time on your lunges before you hit the trail. How many lunges are enough to be ready for the Kokoda Tracks? All we can say is that you need to make sure that lunges take up the majority of your training sessions.

Try doing your lunges in different ways, like with your foot raised. Don’t forget to get your side lunges in, too. Sounds simple enough!

More Hiking Advice for the Kokoda Tracks

Have you tried walking around with a loaded backpack yet? Surprisingly, this is a fantastic way to get into shape for the Kokoda Tracks. For those that don’t believe us, just ask gym owner Joe Bonington.

If you’ve already decided to take a day pack along with you, then you can expect to carry a few extra pounds on the trail. To build up your endurance, Joe says to apply the principle of overloading while you’re training and keep your backpack loaded with a couple of additional kilograms. He explains, “this way your body will be well adjusted to carrying additional weight on the journey.”

Do you love to learn about the places that you’re travelling to? Then you’ll have a much higher appreciation of the Kokoda Trail if you know about its background first. Thankfully, your guide in Papua New Guinea will tell you everything you need to know about the environment.

Nevertheless, there’s no harm in reading up on the history of the Kokoda Tracks before your trip. Just research online to find out about the legacy of the trail. Better yet, hit up your local library to get the real scoop about your expedition.

Final words: Be prepared to endure some major chafing along your trip. Yes, you read that right. Be sure to bring along a jar of Vaseline or anti-chafing glide to make your journey as comfortable as possible.

So, there you have it. Now that you’re ready to go, make sure that you take pictures during your trip. Don’t forget to invest in a quality pair of hiking boots before you leave!

Get Ready to Hike the Kokoda Trail

Are you getting ready to hike the Kokoda Trail? That’s wonderful news. To prepare for your trip, you’re going to want to spend the next couple of months doing some rigorous training.

What’s the bottom line? If you’re up for the challenge, the Kokoda Trail will be a life-changing experience. If you’re not sure what to bring with you, check out our camping and hiking gear guides!

By Kokoda Gear

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!

Physical Training

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!

Meal Prepping

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!

By Kokoda Gear

The Kokoda Track and ANZAC Day

The Kokoda Track is a particularly important and famous campaign fought by Australian soldiers of the second world war. The Kokoda Track is known these days as the Kokoda Trail. Without victory here Japan would have undoubtedly created a staging site to prepare for an Australian invasion. Along with the Gallipoli landings, it is clearly and importantly regarded as one of the defining campaigns of Australia at war and stands in infamy as a testament to the Australian fighting spirit.

The landing at Gallipoli

At dawn on 25 April, 1915 the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This was part of an expedition intended to open up the Dardanelles to Allied navies. Fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders quickly turned what had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war into a stalemate. The campaign saw great hardships and heavy losses on both sides. More than 8,000 Australian solders were killed by the end of 1915 when the allied forces were evacuated. Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.

ANZAC Sailor remembering Kokoda Track and Gallipoli

The first Anzac Day commemorations were held on 25 April,1916. In London more than 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets; a London newspaper headline dubbed them “the knights of Gallipoli”. Marches were held all over Australia; in Sydney convoys of cars carried soldiers wounded on Gallipoli and their nurses. In addition a sports day was held in the Australian camp in Egypt.

Whitehall in WW1 celebrating the bravery of Gallipoli, a precursor to the Kokoda Track campaign of WW2

During the 1920s Anzac Day became established as a national day of commemoration for the more than 60,000 Australians who had died during the war. Subsequently in 1927 for the first time, every state observed some form of public holiday on Anzac Day. By the mid-1930s all the rituals we now associate with the day – dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, two-up games – were firmly established as part of Anzac Day culture.

Later, Anzac Day also served to commemorate the lives of Australians who died in the Second World War, and in subsequent years the meaning of the day has been further broadened to include those who lost their lives in all the military and peacekeeping operations in which Australia has been involved.

Kokoda Track Campaign

Just as the landing at Gallipoli serves as an icon for Australian participation in the First World War, the Kokoda Track Campaign of 1942 has a similar significance as regards Australian involvement in the Second World War. The Australian Territories of Papua and New Guinea were invaded by Japan in 1942 in an attempt to capture Port Moresby via the Kokoda track. From Port Moresby the Japanese could, if they desired, launch an invasion of the east coast of mainland Australia. Without it they could not.

Soldiers of the Australian 39th Battalion preparing for the Kokoda Track advance

Japanese Strategy for Australia

After the fall of Singapore the Australian government and many Australians feared that Japan would invade the Australian mainland. Australia was ill-prepared to counter such an attack. Japan considered invading Australia in early 1942 but judged it to be beyond the Japanese capabilities; instead, in March 1942 the Japanese military adopted a strategy of isolating Australia from the United States and preventing Allied offensive operations by the capture of Port Moresby, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia. An attempt to capture Port Moresby by an amphibious assault, Operation Mo, was thwarted by the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. A month later, most of the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Midway, further reducing the possibility of major amphibious operations in the South Pacific.

The Advance from Kokoda Track to Port Moresby

After Coral Sea, the Japanese began to consider an overland advance on Port Moresby, based on pre-war intelligence that a road existed linking it with Kokoda. Initial aerial reconnaissance was inconclusive but plans were made for a reconnaissance in force and to exploit the possibility of an advance along such a route. Major General Tomitarō Horii, assigned to these tasks and considering the logistical difficulties that would be faced, was not optimistic as to the possibility of success but did not press his objection.

An advance party, including engineers, infantry and artillery regiments as well as 500 Korean and Formosan labourers and 2,000 native labourers from Rabaul landed at Buna at the same time as a naval force landed and commenced construction of an airfield at Buna. Japanese planning proceeded on the premise that an overland assault would occur.

The Japanese Objective

The Japanese forces whose objective was to seize Port Moresby by an overland advance from the north coast, following the Kokoda Track over the mountains of the Owen Stanley Range, landed and established beachheads near Gona and Buna on 21 July 1942. Opposed by Maroubra Force, then consisting of four platoons of the Australian 39th Battalion and elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, they quickly advanced and captured Kokoda and its strategically vital airfield on 29 July. Despite reinforcement, the Australian forces were continually pushed back. The veteran Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) 21st Brigade narrowly avoided capture in the Battle of Mission Ridge – Brigade Hill from 6 to 8 September. In the Battle of Ioribaiwa from 13 to 16 September, the 25th Brigade fought the Japanese to a halt but then withdrew back to Imita Ridge. For their action in the battle of Ioribaiwa, battle honours were awared to the 3rd Infantry Battalion, 14th Infantry Battalion, 16 Infantry Battalion, 25 Infantry Battalion, 31 Infantry Battalion and 33 Infantry Battalion.

The Japanese Advance

The Japanese advanced to within sight of Port Moresby but withdrew on 26 September. They had outrun their supply line and had been ordered to withdraw in consequence of reverses suffered at Guadalcanal. Because of this the Australian pursuit encountered strong opposition from well-prepared positions. They especially came into opposition around Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Village from 11 to 28 October. Following the unopposed recapture of Kokoda, a major battle was fought around Oivi and Gorari from 4 to 11 November. This resulted in a victory for the Australians. By 16 November, two brigades of the Australian 7th Division had crossed the Kumusi River at Wairopi, and advanced on the Japanese beachheads in a joint Australian and United States operation. The Japanese forces at Buna–Gona held out until 22 January 1943. Australian reinforcement was hampered by the logistical problems of supporting a force in isolated, mountainous, jungle terrain.

Australian Disadvantage at Kokoda

There were few planes available for aerial resupply, and techniques for it were still primitive. Nevertheless Australian command considered that the Vickers machine gun and medium mortars were too heavy to carry and would be ineffective in the jungle terrain. Furthermore without artillery, mortars or medium machine guns, the Australians faced an opponent equipped with mountain guns and light howitzers that had been carried into the mountains and proved to be a decisive advantage.

Mules and Pack Horses in Kokoda

Australian forces were unprepared to conduct a campaign in the jungle environment of New Guinea. The lessons learned during the course of this campaign and the subsequent battle of Buna–Gona led to widespread changes in doctrine, training, equipment and structure, with a legacy that remains until the present day.

Japanese Numbers at Kokoda

13,500 Japanese troops were landed in Papua for the fighting during the campaign. Of these, about 6,000 or two regiments, were directly involved in the forward areas along the Track. Against this, the Allies assembled approximately 30,000 troops in New Guinea, although at any one time no more than one infantry brigade, or approximately 3,500 troops, were involved in the fighting for most of the campaign. 

Casualties amongst the Australians between 22 July and 16 November 1942 were a total of 625 killed and 1,055 wounded. Notably, three battalion commanders were killed or captured in the first month of fighting. Non-battle, or sickness, casualties are not accurately recorded but are stated to have been about two to three times the battle casualty figure. The exact number of Japanese casualties is not known, although estimated battle casualties of 2,000 were increased by non-battle casualties. It is estimated that of the 6,000 troops (or five infantry battalions) that were committed to the fighting, up to 75% became casualties being either killed, wounded or becoming ill.

Bomana War Cemetery

Kokoda’s Legacy in Australia

The Gallipoli Campaign of World War I was Australia’s first military test as a new nation; the fighting during the Kokoda campaign represents the first time in the nation’s history that its security was directly threatened. The 1942 newsreel documentary, Kokoda Front Line! documented the Australian fighting during the campaign and brought the war home for many Australians. The documentary won an Oscar for the documentary category – the first time an Australian film/documentary was awarded an Oscar. The iconic newsreel contains some of the most recognised images of Australian troops in the Second World War. These images have contributed to the collective visual memory of the events at Kokoda.

Within the Australian Army a major restructure followed the Kokoda campaign. For instance the formation of Jungle divisions that addressed manpower issues and were more suited to operations in jungle environments. There was a significant reduction in the scale of motor transport also. Jeeps, with their greater cross-country mobility, were employed rather than trucks. At battalion level changes included increasing the number of mortars to eight. The addition of a machine gun platoon with four Vickers guns to enhance organic fire support. But also a removal of the carrier platoon. The Land Warfare Centre as it is now known, was established at Canungra, Queensland, with an emphasis on training for jungle warfare.

The Kokoda Trail Now

Each year more than five thousand Australians take up the mentally and physically challenging task of walking the Kokoda track. All are forever changed by the experience. The Australian interest in the Kokoda track also significantly impacts the lives and livelihoods of those who live there. The track passes through Oro Province and Central Province, the two main communities there being the Orokaiva in the north and the Koiari people to the south. The first tourists to arrive encountered a local population wholly dependent on subsistence farming, raising animals and growing produce; an important part of their income is now generated by tourism. Fees are paid to them for camping and some are employed as tour guides.

Thinking of visiting the Kokoda Trail? Check out our useful guide to the benefits of Walking Poles or Hiking Sticks for your trip!