Travelling the Kokoda Trail

By | Category: Travel destinations

papua-ngThis year sees the 70th anniversary of a four month battle by the Japanese to invade the capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. With some of the toughest fighting of WWII and in some of the most appalling conditions, Australian soldiers resisted the attack eventually causing the Japanese to retreat.
To Australians, the Kokoda Trail is significant in their history and regularly visited. To Papua New Guineans whose forefathers helped carried wounded servicemen to safety, it set up a bond with their southern neighbours. But to most of us 12,000 miles away, Papua New Guinea is probably little more than a name and Kokoda, largely unknown.
This 60 mile trail is probably only for the fit. It remains rugged, some days unwelcoming, some days unbelievably hot and steaming but always staggeringly beautiful. Until the turn of this century, few walked the track There are probably only about 5,000 people a year who walk it now so if you decide to do it you will be in special company. How many places are there in the world where you can visit knowing that less than the population of a small town has done it before you? For those not that fit, it is possible to just walk parts of the trail. But why should you? Why go to Papua New Guinea at all?
One reason is that the country is largely unspoilt and in particular, the Kokoda Trail. There are rainforests, jungles, fresh clear water that pours off the mountains into the valleys below, sandy bays, mangrove swamps and an abundance of birds and wildlife. This is the home of 750 different bird species including thirty eight different varieties of the Bird of Paradise including the Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia whose tail feathers are three times the length of the body. This bird was discovered only just over seventy years ago. What others remain to be discovered there? It also has the world’s only poisonous bird – the Hooded Pitu-Hui. And we have only known for about twenty years that it was poisonous – but not really for humans.
Another reason is diving. Known amongst avid divers, the coastline of the country has many WWII wrecks – both ships and planes – that provide a haven for so many fish. Because Papua New Guinea is close to the equator, the water remains warm all year round making diving –as well as surfing and all water sports – a day in, day out attraction regardless of when you travel there.
Eight hundred different languages are spoken in the country. And, as you might expect from such a number, the culture of the different peoples varies. It can be very different from other Pacific nations; there are the Asaro Mud Men who escaping from a rival people, fell in the river and got covered with mud. Rising from the river their rivals were scared by the appearance of what they called spirit people. Or the Huli who first met westerners just before our Queen came to the throne. Yet today it is estimated that there are 150,000. How could so many people not be known?
That is the essence of both Kokoda and Papua New Guinea. It’s a young tourist destination, largely unknown to visitors over here but where you feel there is both more to see and more to find.

For more information about the Kokoda Trail, click here.

For more information on Port Moresby, click here,

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