Battlefield tours: Kokoda Track

Battlefield tours: Kokoda Track
By admin

It was July 1942, and the Japanese army had been unsuccessful in their initial effort to capture Port Moresby by a seaborne landing. But they saw a new opportunity to advance overland to the city along the Kokoda Trail – a path that linked Owers' Corner, approximately 40km north-east of Port Moresby, with the small village of Wairopi, on the northern side of the Owen Stanley mountain range.

Troops began landing at nearby Gona on July 21, only planning to test its feasibility, however a full-scale offensive soon developed. July 23 marked the first engagement between the Japanese army and the Australian army, the latter being backed by Papuan volunteers.

The series of battles between the Australian and Japanese forces that took place between July 1942 and January 1943 later became known as the Kokoda Track campaign – one that proved enormously costly. Australian War Memorial statistics record that 625 Australians were killed along the trail and over 1600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4000.

More Australians died in the seven months of fighting in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and the Japanese came closer to Australia, than at any other time during the war. Many of those young Australians, some as young as 18 and 19, now lie buried at the Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby.

The famous photograph of fuzzy wuzzy angel Raphael Oimbari (a Papua New Guinean) leading a blindfolded wounded Australian epitomises the close relationship between the two countries that was forged through the battle of Kokoda.

This legendary track has now become one of the few pilgrimages that Australians feel compelled to make, like the Dawn Service at Gallipoli on Anzac Day. Its popularity endures despite the fact that conditions include hot, humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and the risk of endemic tropical diseases such as malaria.

The journey takes between four and twelve days, depending on fitness and rest time involved, and the best time to do it is between April and September. It's something only the fit and adventurous should attempt and you need to be well prepared.

There are a host of tour operators to choose from when undertaking the trek. The Kokoda Track Authority requires tour operators to hold a Commercial Operators License to lead treks along the Kokoda Track. Licensed operators are required to carry first aid kits, undertake first aid training, carry radios and satellite phones, respect the people who live along the track and ensure their porters and guides are treated in a professional manner. Accommodation takes the form of a number of guesthouses located along the way. A list of licensed operators and information on the trail is available on its website.

The journey begins at Owers' Corner in Central Province, 50km east of Port Moresby. Crossing rugged and isolated terrain that is only traversable on foot, it finishes in the village of Kokoda in Oro Province. The 96km track passes through rugged mountainous country, rushing streams and thick rainforest. It reaches a height of 2190 metres as it passes around the peak of Mount Bellamy.

There are countless highlights, such as Efogi Village – the site of the Japanese attack on Brigade Hill, where 6000 Japanese soldiers attacked 1000 Australian defenders in what was to be the biggest battle of the Kokoda campaign. Another stopping point is Templeton's Crossing – the first point where the Kokoda Trail, outward bound from Port Moresby, crossed Eora Creek. It was named in remembrance of captain Sam Templeton of the 39th Battalion, who was killed near Oivi on July 26, 1942.

In the town of Kokoda there are a number of attractions including the War Museum, memorials and the Australian defensive position on the Kokoda plateau where the 39th Militia Battalion first encountered the Japanese army.


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