Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why you should use 100% local companies when walking the Kokoda Trail

By DAVE JACKSON who walked the Kokoda Trail in November 2008


Hi Malum

My brother and I walked the Kokoda Track at the beginning of November 2008 using a local guide and two local porters from Kokoda Station.

The trip took the commercialism feel of the Ozzy companies away from the trip and gave us a more natural and relaxed trek, which we both found to be much more enjoyable.

Our contact was Edric Ogomeni,, who arranged the contacts for us.

Tony was a very capable guide and Ray and François were a pleasure to trek with

The Kokoda boys are setting up their own trekking company called ‘Foot Steps, Kokoda’, and I strongly recommend that if you want to go native then trekkers should get in touch with these boys.

Looking forward already to the Black Cat in 2010


Dave Jackson



1st Herford Scout Group



At the end of October 2008, I flew over from Germany to PNG to walk the Kokoda track with my Brother, a resident in Lae.

The trip had been planned a year ahead and my expectations were high.

Having been a Mountain Expedition Leader in the British Army I was looking forward to my first taste of the tropics.

After a few necessary days of acclimatisation, we caught a twin prop “mountain hopper” plane over the Stanley Range to Kokoda Airfield landing at 11:55am.

Little did I realise that Airfield meant exactly that, from up there it looks like a football field.

Kokoda Airfield is pretty much as it was in WWII, getting off the plane there is a shelter of wood and hatched palm leaves to protect from the rain/sun.

This is where most-organised touristy commercial companies stop for the night before starting the 8-9 day trek to following morning.

Once we had collected our packs from the plane and met the rest of our group “Footsteps Kokoda”, our guide Tony and porters Fancais and Ray.

Then we were off back down the runway to the village about 1 ½ km away.

Arriving at new Kokoda station near the original village, we made our way past some of the WWII buildings to the Guest Houses and Pricilla’s Lodge, the house of Tony’s Dad.

Relieving us of our packs, the family set about re-distributing and repacking our packs, lightening us of our sleeping systems and replacing them with water – apparently us soft folk can’t hack the humidity and heat in the mountains and need much more water than the locals – how right they were.

At 12:30 we were off once again heading out of the station and south towards the mountains.

Passing the old WWII hospital and the museum it is easy to see why so many did not make it any further than here once wounded, this place really is at the back end of nowhere, yet home to some of the nicest locals I have met yet.

The track starts just south of the hospital as a two rutted tractor track heading down to Kokoda village proper.

 Having left the clearing, we were straight into the plantations, rubber, cocoa, bananas and Pawpaw.

Before the tractor track starts to descend toward the village, the path turns off south and up an incline to a small settlement called Kovelo; here we filled our camel packs and the Sigg bottles with spring water.

 From here until Deniki is known as the “testing hill”.

It is a civilised 30cm wide track which zigzag’s up a 450 metre incline which takes a good 3 ½ to 4 hours.

Here is where all those nasty toxins that you may have poured into your bodies in the bar the night before, come pouring out of every pore, until even your socks are wringing wet.

As Tony explained, “this is where we find out who in the party is going to make it all the way, and who need to turn around and take the plane home”.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of having to go back to the airfield and catch the plane home, having spent all that time, effort and cash to get there?

We made Deniki at about 16:40, 3 litres of water later.

The guesthouse near Deniki village is built on a knoll that over looks the Kokoda valley, which seems to be a long way down, you can make out the village, but the airstrip and station are lost behind the enormous trees surrounding the clearing.

Near every guesthouse is a cooking shelter with preparation table and fireplace, and Dunny’s – the kind where the precariously placed logs reveal a hole, which drops into a moving and squeaking darkness.

It’s important to get out of your walking clothes as soon as possible and get into warm dry clothes with long legs and sleeves, early evening is mozzi time.

A quick trip to the nearest spring for a cold wash, changed and a 30-minute power-nap later and I was ready for some tucker.

 I had brought with me some ‘boil in a bag’ meals from my local supplier.

 These were frowned at by the local lads, as their meal consisted of lots of boiled rice with Maggi sauce, 2-minute noodles and either a can of Tuna or Corned Beef.

This was to be their evening meal for the next 4 nights, and with good reason.

The mixture of carbohydrate, protein and a full belly feeling is just what is needed to recharge the muscles for the next day.

 Hot cups of sweet tea or coffee go down a treat too.

Nightfall comes quick at about 17:30, and after sitting around the cooking fire for an hour or two, the eyelids get very heavy.

Lacking two decent trees with which to string my hammock in shared a tent with my brother, Paul.

This would be the last time this happened, as the Texas Chain Saw Massacre in full Dolby stereo would not have drowned out his snoring.

Morning came as a blessing; we were up at dawn, breakfasted and off, filling our water carriers on the way.

As the daylight lightened the track we commenced a slow windy ascent through cocoa fields and crossing many small creeks over rickety log bridges, arriving at ‘Two Creeks’ at 07:55 for a wash, brush teeth and fill water.

We made Isurava for 09:40, well ahead of schedule and bought our first luke-warm cokes at 5 Kina (2 Euros) a can (someone has to carry them up there) and fresh passion fruit off the tree that morning.

Isurava is the site of one of the most famous battles of this Kokoda campaign, where amongst the other 75 fallen soldiers, Private Bruce Kingsbury earned his VC by charging the Japanese with a Bren gun in one hand and a Tommy gun in the other, which helped to turn back there advance onto the main village.

The site is now marked with four huge polished granite monuments bearing the inscriptions.

A couple of years earlier the Australian Prime minister had visited with his ensemble, to lay a wreath at the monument.

A helicopter pad has been cleared on a knoll at the top of the hill.

Whilst the boys were brewing up a tea, I had a look around the village.

The gardens were all well tended and the village clearing had been swept.

This is to prevent snakes from loitering under fallen palm leaves or the like.

Just as we were preparing to leave a snake was spotted near some children playing, all of a sudden every man in the village had a three foot long machete and was hacking away at the grass and bushes were it was spotted.

Than same afternoon I witnessed my first flash tropical rain storm. I wasn’t wet enough from the sweat of the track, 10 minutes in the rain and I was soaked through to my undies, and the water was pouring out of my boots.

The rest of the trek was for me a fascinating experience and harder than anything I had experienced in the Army.

The views were incredible and the history lesson from our company were awe inspiring as well as interesting.

Taking on a challenge of this proportion is not for the weak willed, for it is will power as well as fitness that is needed, and above all an incredibly strange sense of humour.

I highly recommend the “Footsteps – Kokoda” company for a well-rounded and local tour of the Kokoda track or any of the other trails in the area, as they are well connected. They can be contacted through Edric Ogomeni in Port Moresby

There are of course other local companies to choose from, but I can only speak of my experience and these boys are number one.

I am looking forward already to my return to PNG in 2010 to push my ever-aging body along the Black Cat Track and maybe drag some Footsteps along with me.



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