To conclude our four-part series, here’s an edited snapshot of what to expect on a 10-day trek from the book 100 Treks Across the Kokoda Trail
By CHARLIE LYNN
THE first thing we must do is put the Kokoda Trail trek into perspective.
During our 10-day itinerary via the wartime route you will trek a total of 130 km and climb a total of 7,105 m
If you were to climb to the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mt Everest, from Everest Base Camp you will trek a total distance of 73 km and climb a total of 3,468 m.
If you were to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro, you will trek for a total distance of 118km and climb a total of 4,865 m.
Day 1: Arrival
Aussie trekkers arrive at Jackson’s airport in Port Moresby which was known as 7-mile strip during the war. The airfield commemorates Squadron Leader John Jackson DFC, Commanding Officer of 75 Squadron. Jackson was killed when Japanese fighters shot him down over Mount Lawes, to the north of the airstrip in April 1942.
Today, Jackson’s International Airport is the primary gateway into Papua New Guinea.
Trekkers settle into their lodge, get to meet each other, attend briefings on the pilgrimage ahead and prepare their gear
Day 2: Owers’ Corner to Imita Base Camp
Distance: 5 km | Climb: 110m | Descent: 215m
A final check of gear then a bus ride to McDonald’s Corner which was the end of the road and start of the trail in July 1942. When war came to New Guinea, local settler P.J. McDonald refused to be evacuated from the area and established a staging post at the front of his rubber plantation for the troops. He became famous for the generous hospitality he extended to them. After the Kokoda campaign he built a small memorial to honour the troops who served. For 60 years it was the only memorial anywhere along the Kokoda Trail.
Today the road extends through to Owers’ Corner, which is named after an army surveyor, Captain Jerry Owers of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. In August 1942 he was given the task of surveying a road that would bypass Uberi, Imita Ridge with its ‘Golden Stairs’. It was an impossible task and the project was dropped in early October 1942 after the jeep route had been developed only as far as the Goldie River.
Trekkers dismount from the bus to meet their PNG guides and carriers. A final briefing on the day ahead and they begin their first descent down to the Goldie River which used to have a flying-fox to assist our troops to get equipment across the river when it was in flood.
The Goldie River is named after Andrew Goldie, a Scots naturalist employed by a London nursery firm to gather exotic botanical specimens. In 1877 Goldie was part of an expedition inland from Port Moresby to Hombrum Bluff. One of the New Caledonian kanaks in the party, Jimi, later approached Goldie and handed over what he thought was quartz with gold in it. News of the discovery later leaked out and resulted in a number of gold expeditions to the area.
It is possible that Andrew Goldie’s exploration party in 1878 may have crossed the river where the Track goes today. In his journal Goldie recorded ‘the black sand of the river yielded gold at every prospect’. Of the river, he reported to the Royal Geographical Society he had named it the ‘Goldie River’, declining to elaborate on whether it was named after him or because the river was ‘goldy’. In 1912, the Governor, Sir Hubert Murray, gave a more informed viewpoint when he wrote, ‘Mr Goldie did a lot of collecting … on the river that bears his name’.
Up from the Goldie River the trail enters the abandoned village site of Uberi, named after the Ebe or Eburi people.
After crossing the Goldie River trekkers continue via an old army stores site known as Dump 66 at Guguilogo then continue to their first campsite on Lubu Creek.
Day 3: Imita Base Camp to Ofi Creek
Distance: 16 km | Climb: 995m | Descent: 895m
Today trekkers commence a three-kilometre climb to the crest of Imita Gap at 840 metres. This was the ridgeline the Australians were ordered to defend at all costs and fight to the death if necessary. It was the final obstacle between the advancing Japanese and their objective at Port Moresby.
On the other side of the gap they follow Emoo Creek to the Va Ule Creek junction then along Manama Creek to the base of Ioribaiwa Ridge. From here there is a steep, unrelenting climb to Ioribaiwa Village which is nestled on a mountain spur with grand views back towards Imita Ridge.
The climb to the crest of Ioribaiwa Ridge from the village is steep and unrelenting for two kilometres. The Aussie diggers found it to be a brutal introduction to the track as they made their way to the front from their base in Port Moresby.
More than three thousand steps were cut into the side of this ridge by army engineers.
This was the furthest point reached by the Japanese in their advance towards Port Moresby. At the top of the ridge on the western side there is an extensive Japanese trench system. A steep descent leads down to our campsite at Ofi Creek.
Day 4: Ofi Creek to Agulogo Creek
Distance: 15 km | Climb: 795m | Descent: 700m
Today starts with a long, gruelling climb over more than a dozen ‘false crests’ for 10 kilometres to the top of the Maguli Range – known as Mogoronumu.
Mogoronumu is the summit of the Maguli Range. The Maguli had its own staircase on the southern side of the range which was known as Engineers Ridge – it comprised close to 3,000 steps. These steps would have been needed for the steep climb out of Ofi Creek – something that takes almost four hours for today’s trekkers.
The trail then descends for three kilometres to Nauro village which was formerly known as Wamai. The village was previously located on the flat swampland beside an airfield in the valley to the north. It continues down to Ei Creek at the base of the Mogolonumu and for two kilometres to the Brown River.
The trail then enters a swampy area for a kilometre and leads to the campsite on Agulogo Creek.
Day 5: Agulogo Creek to Efogi Village
Distance: 17 km | Climb: 1,410m | Descent: 925m
Today the trek continues through the Nauro swamp area for two kilometres to Hehomuri Creek at the base of the Ladavi Saddle. From here there is another steep 300 metre climb to the Nauro lookout which has extensive views back across the Maguli Range and beyond.
Trekkers continue for another kilometre to the Menari Gap in the Ladavi Saddle then follow a steep descent to Emune River at the base of Menari village.
The village of Menari has a population of about 350 – it has a medical aid centre, a VHF radio, water-points and an airfield. The village is home to the Wamai, Gorebi, Uluve, Vovoli and Havoi clans. Menari is the site where Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner addressed his young bravehearts from the 39th Militia Battalion after the battle of Isurava – the parade was captured by wartime photographer, Damien Parer.
The trail continues through the village and down beside the airfield and gardens to the Vabuyavi River log crossing. This is followed by a steep 300 metre climb to the abandoned village site of Madalogo then a further 400 metre climb to the crest of Brigade Hill which is four kilometres up from Vabuyavi River.
Today there is a cleared area where a few huts and a makeshift shower have been erected on the position where Brigadier Arnold Potts’s 21st Brigade HQ was located. These were built by Mr Gaksy Siosi who is the leader of the Wese Clan in Efogi.
The area was used as an interim gravesite by the Australians who buried their dead the following month when the counter-offensive pushed the Japanese back across the track.
The trail continues downwards to Mission Ridge which was referred to by 2/27th Battalion as ‘Butchers Ridge’ because of the carnage that occurred during the battle for Brigade Hill. There is a steep descent from here to the campsite at Efogi Village which is almost five kilometres down from Brigade Hill.
Efogi is the largest village along the trail with a population of approximately 350 people. It has a VHF radio, an airfield, an elementary school and basic guesthouse/campground facilities and is home to the Oagi, Eloki and Elomi Clans.
Day 6: Efogi Village to Bomber’s Campsite
Distance: 14 km | Climb: 1,320m | Descent: 600m
The trail leads down to Kavai Creek then zigzags upwards for almost two kilometres to Laununumu village. A Japanese monument erected by Corporal Nishimura is the centrepiece of the village. Nishimura was a veteran of the Japanese 144th South Seas Regiment who returned after the war to release the spirits of his comrades.
The trail continues down for two kilometres towards Efoge Creek then drops steeply into the creek. On the other side there is a steep and rugged two-kilometre climb to Kagi village which was formerly known as Hagari. It has a population of approximately 150 people and is serviced by an airfield and a VHF base radio.
From Kagi there is a long gruelling four-kilometre climb to the Kagi Gap then further upwards for almost two kilometres to the crest of Tovovo Ridge. The trail enters the moss forest at this point. It is a natural wonderland with birds of paradise, giant pandanus trees, numerous varieties of palm trees, fern colonies, fungi. It is difficult to imagine that this area could have been the scene of such desperate battles in 1942.
The trail continues downwards for almost three kilometres to Bomber’s campsite – probably the most beautiful campsite along the trail. The site has a hot shower and the owner places mattresses in each tent and bakes hot scones for trek groups.
Day 7: Bomber’s Campsite to Lake Myola and Return to Bomber’s Campsite
Distance: 14km | Climb 480m | Descend: 480m
Today trekkers explore the Lake Myola area which comprises two extinct volcanic plateaus which are now prairie-like landscapes. Locals refer to them as ‘Big Myola’ and ‘Little Myola’ due to the differences in area. The Myola area was discovered by Captain Bert Kienzle, a plantation owner from Kokoda who enlisted in the Australian New Guinea Army Unit (ANGAU). Kienzle had previously seen the grasslands from the air prior to the war and when he was tasked to establish a supply base along the trail he cut his way into it from the main trail and named the two lake-beds after the wife of his Commanding Officer.
The name ‘Myola’ is an aboriginal term meaning ‘break-of-day’.
Myola became the principal logistical base during the campaign and was primarily supplied by the famous ‘biscuit bombers’ which were Dakota C47 transport aircraft. The resupply operation from the air was to be a pioneering system in the delivery of supplies by parachute.
Myola was abandoned in the face of the rapid Japanese advance in late August 1942 and re-occupied again by the Australians during their advance back across the trail in pursuit of the fleeing Japanese forces in early October 1942.
The trail from Bomber’s campsite leads to the edge of ‘Little Myola’ then across a swampy lakebed to the south-west edge. From here there is a steep climb to the edge of ‘Big Myola’ which boasts an expansive vista of the grasslands leading to the watershed of Eora Creek.
It continues across ‘Big Myola’ to the base of a spur leading up to the wreckage of an American army P40 Kittyhawk that crashed while returning to Port Moresby from an attack on the Japanese HQ on Rabaul.
Trekkers follow a path down to the abandoned guest haus site at ‘Big Myola’ then across the lake via the old army hospital area which had about 150 stretcher cases and 300 walking wounded in October 1942. They re-enter the moss forest and return to the Bomber’s campsite.
Day 8: Bomber’s Campsite to Eora Creek
Distance: 16 km – Climb: 680m – Descend: 1,200m
The trail leads upwards for seven kilometres to the highest point of the range near Mt Bellamy then down to the Kokoda Gap which reveals a panoramic view down the Eora Creek valley towards Kokoda.
The Gap was first discovered by Sir William MacGregor, Lieutenant Governor of British New Guinea from 1888 to 1898.
This is the area where an armchair general back in Australia decided our troops withdrawing from Isurava should ‘blow the gap’ to stop the Japanese advance. He was obviously unaware that it had been named by pilots who flew up through the Kagi Gap and down through the Kokoda Gap when crossing the Owen Stanley Range – it was 11 km wide!
The trail drops steeply for more than a kilometre to Crossing 1 which is at the junction of Eora and Wase Creeks. This was the start of the Templeton’s Crossing campaign. Withdrawing Japanese forces had established major defensive positions between here and Eora Creek to stop the Australian advance. The jungle is so thick it is almost impossible to move off the trail. A section that takes about four hours to trek through today took our diggers 13 days to fight their way through in 1942. The trail climbs for a kilometre towards the Boili Mail Exchange point (these are areas where mail carriers between Port Moresby and Kokoda would swap their mailbags and return to their village to await the next group of carriers). The trail then drops down for two kilometres to Templeton’s Crossing which was named after Captain Sam Templeton of the 39th Battalion.
From Templeton’s Crossing there is a long three-kilometre climb to the crest of Vagebau Ridge then a descent for two kilometres to a delaying defensive position occupied by the 2/16th battalion during their fighting withdrawal on 1-2 September 1942. The trail continues down for a further two kilometres to the campsite at the junction of Eora and Agu Agu Creeks. This is the site of the now abandoned village of Eora (formerly known as Luoro) which was the scene of utter chaos during the withdrawal. Wounded diggers were forced to crawl up the track while their mates desperately tried to buy them time against the advancing Japanese. Those who couldn’t were given morphine and a gun!
During the Australian advance a month later, this was the final obstacle for the Australians to breach – it took them a further four days to fight their way through the position in the Battle for Eora Creek which is now a campsite.
Day 9: Eora Creek to Isurava Memorial via Abuari
Distance: 14 km – Climb: 1,020m – Descent: 1,250m
The junction at the creek has two branches to the trail. One leads directly to Alola village to the north and the other to Abuari on the eastern range. The trail to Abuari follows a primeval track for eight kilometres via numerous creeks – Ovaveu, Oiba, Lomotaote, Savea and Ai to the village.
When the Japanese advance along the trail was held at Isurava in the last days of August 1942, they sought to outflank this position via Abuari. On 28 August troops from both the 53rd and 2/16th Battalions pushed forward along the track to Abuari to stop the Japanese. On 29 August A and B Companies of the 2/16th were unsuccessful in their attempts to force the Japanese from Abuari and D Company of the 53rd embarked upon an outflanking move. Rough country prevented the company making much progress and the companies of the 2/16th renewed their frontal assaults on the morning of 30 August, again without success. By midday the Japanese were infiltrating the area between the Australians and the junction with the trail at Alola. Late in the afternoon the Australians were ordered to withdraw back to Alola.
Abuari has a population of around 250 with a primary school, health centre and a VHF radio station. From here the trail drops steeply down for a kilometre to a junction leading to Maeaka Falls – a spectacular waterfall area where Lt Col Ward and the HQ Staff of the 53rd Battalion were ambushed and executed in August 1942. After the junction there is a steep two-kilometre descent via a number of tributaries from Kove Creek to the Eora and La La Creek junctions. A sharp climb for almost two kilometres leads to the village of Alola then a kilometre further on to the wartime village site.
The trail continues for five kilometres to the campsite at the Isurava battle site memorial which was the scene of a ferocious battle between the Australian and Japanese soldiers during the period 26 – 30 August 1942.
Day 10: Isurava Memorial to Hoi Village
Distance: 11 km – Climb: 240m – Descent: 1,070m
The trail skirts the mountain range to the west towards Isurava Village via Etume and Ilole creeks. Isurava village was relocated to this site after the war. Today the village has a population of about 50 people. It has an elementary school and a VHF radio station.
The trail continues down for two kilometres to Borogo Creek. From here it is another four kilometres to Deniki. Along the way are old garden areas overgrown with choko vines. Deniki was the scene of the first battle after the Japanese attacked Kokoda. After the Australians were forced off the Kokoda plateau, they made a brave stand here. They were heavily outnumbered but took the fight to the Japanese by sending out patrols which recaptured Kokoda for a short time. The Japanese soon rallied and then forced to withdraw to Isurava after a brief but intense battle.
A couple of huts have recently been built on this site which provide extensive views back down the Yodda valley to Kokoda. ‘Foku’ is the local name for the area which has Okari trees (with edible nuts) on the site.
From here it is a short two kilometres down to the Hoi campsite.
Day 11: Hoi Village to Kokoda via Kovello Village
Distance: 9 km – Climb: 55m – Descent: 170m
An early start to trek the final seven kilometres into Kokoda via Kovello village.
Kokoda is a substantial village with a couple of trade stores, a Rotary Hospital, a post office with a telephone (which only works on rare occasions), a police station, a primary school, a VHF radio station and an airfield.
The traditional word ‘Kokoda’ refers to ‘a place of skulls’ – ‘koko’ means skull, ‘da’ means village.
Here we inspect the plateau where the gallant 39th Militia Battalion first met the Japanese on 29 July 1942 – and where they raised the Australian flag after re-capturing the area on 3 November 1942. We then trek down to the airfield to meet our charter aircraft for the flight back over the trail to Port Moresby.
In 1942 this airfield was considered to be a strategic prize. If the Australians held it, they would be able to support a counter-offensive against the Japanese troops at Buna, Gona and as far north as Rabaul. If the Japanese held it, they could use it as a base to support their advance over the Owen Stanley Range and attack the Australian troops in Port Moresby.
It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the airfield to the village up on the Kokoda plateau.
After our return to Port Moresby we visit Bomana War Cemetery to pay our respect to those who died in defence of our freedom then return to our lodge for clean-up, dinner and presentations.
Trekkers, who were strangers 10 days ago have now established strong bonds of friendship among themselves and their guides as a result of their shared pilgrimage across the trail.
-Excerpts reproduced by kind permission
- 100 Treks Across the Kokoda Trail by Charlie Lynn with Glenn Armstrong Learn more: http://www.kokodatreks.com