Here are some of the questions about Kokoda tours that people have asked us (and we asked others before we went). If you have a burning questions, that is not on this list please let us know and we’ll add it!
Logistics of our Kokoda TourWhen did you go? We went on our Kokoda tours in October 2009. The main reason we chose this date, was that it fitted in well with our plans, work, training, etc rather than having anything to do with the weather. We knew that the time of year meant little difference to the weather, although July through October is apparently a little drier as it is the ‘dry’ season. We still got totally drenched a few days! Also, we unknowingly went during school holidays, which may be a slightly busier time for flights and tracks, so if you’re not dependent on school holidays you might choose to go before or after.
How long did you trek for? Our Kokoda tours was 10 days and started from Ower’s Corner (the start of the track just north of Port Moresby) going through all the major sites of Ioribaiwa, Brigade Hill, Mt Bellamy, Templeton’s and Isurava to Kokoda. Upon arriving in Kokoda we were greeted by the locals and had a large feast before overnighting and flying back to Port Moresby in the morning. We were lucky that our co-leader on the Track (Victor) was the chief of this village so we had an extra special reception.
Does it matter which way you walk? It doesn’t really matter if you choose to fly in to Kokoda and walk back, or to walk out from Port Moresby. Most people take this route as it is favoured by trekking companies (it is also apparently ‘easier’ as it downhill?). We enjoyed walking in and flying back over where we had come from. That left us with a satisfied feeling and was a nice farewell. Rest assured, whichever route you take, there are plenty of hills and when you climb up, only one thing awaits you – the climb down!
Which company did you choose? We looked at different Kokoda tours before we decided, and chose to trek with Adventure Kokoda as it was recommended by a friend who knows the owner. They were excellent and Major Chad Sherrin was a fantastic trek leader. We have since also got to know Sue from Getaway Trekking, whose team on the track does a fantastic job as well! Whilst on the track we came across many other groups and trekking companies. They all do a great job to make sure that accommodation is organised as well as food and sleeping equipment. Here you can see a small selection of Kokoda tour operators.
Carrying Your Own Backpack or Hiring a Porter
With most bigger companies you can choose whether to carry your own backpack or hire a porter. Some of the smaller tour operators may not give you the option to hire a porter though. Adam chose to carry his own backpack (approx. 10kgs + water weight) and Janna decided to hire a porter to carry her main pack and only carry a day pack herself (around 5kgs + water weight).
If you hire a porter, this is usually done in the booking process with your chosen Kokoda tour operator. The porter costs extra and is basically your ongoing support on the track, walking with you, helping you through difficult terrain, etc. You will be introduced at the start of the track, which also means you cannot change your mind and hire a porter half way through the track. (However, many of the bigger tour operators have a number of “group porters” which support the group in general, help carry tents, food and cooking equipment, etc. So if someone should be injured or sick, a group porter might help them temporarily).
For many people employing a porter is a very gratifying experience as they walk and talk with a local – you are effectively supporting the local communities by providing work. Carrying your own pack is a very personal decision. Many men feel compelled to carry their own pack ‘as the diggers did’. Although the backpack is ‘only’ a few kilos heavier than the day pack, this weight can add up both physically and mentally as you tackle the razorback ridges of the Owen Stanleys. There is no ‘dishonour’ in having a porter carry your backpack.
What training did you do? We outlined our training, what worked and what we should have done differently in training for Kokoda.
Will I lose weigh on the track? In short: yes. But if you’re just after loosing weight, you will probably find an easier way! The first few days are spent acclimatising and you will sweat a lot (see section below on hydration). Because of the strenuous nature of the climbing, you will use up fat stores even though you eat like a king. Your body will find a rhythm and start to use energy very efficiently. This normally results in a reduction of body fat, not water content. At the end of our trek, almost all were excited and curious to jump on the scales! However, as everyone is excited to eat “normal food” again after the track is over, many people over-eat after coming back and put all the weight back on.
Is there an age limit? Most companies set restrictions based on fitness levels i.e. you must have a doctor’s certificate if you are over 40 years. Other companies, such as Adventure Kokoda, have set an age limit of 70 years. If you are over 70 years, you will be able to find a company to take you, but they may require additional medical information and health checks. According to Wikipedia, in October 2009 Mr. Don Vale became the oldest Australian (at 83) to successfully complete the Kokoda Track. There are some youth groups along the Kokoda track as well, so it’s simply a matter of finding an arrangement with your chosen tour operator.
On the TrackWhat is camping like? Your trekking company will pre-arrange camping each night. Sometimes there are huts, sometimes not. For most trekking companies, a team of guides and porters will be carrying your tents and will walk ahead of the main group to arrive early and set up the tents and start a meal so that when you arrive you can eat and get straight into bed (if you choose). If you wish, you can sit up and discuss the day around the open fire. We especially enjoyed these end-of-day fireside chats.
Where do you go to the toilet? At each organised campsite there are drop toilets. Just like the name implies, there is no flush system involved! Do they stink? Yes. Is it unpleasant? Yes. If you need to go during the day, you just walk off the track (20 m away) and do your business. The rule is that you ask someone to wait for you or leave your backpack on the track so that you don’t get surpassed by the tail of the group and get lost. So, it’s not the most comfortable way of going to the toilet, however this is a small price to pay for the adventure and most people get over the fact very quickly. When in Rome…..What food did you eat on the track? We were fed very well. The food is simple but nourishing. It’s a welcome change to the very rich western foods that you are used to, and of course there is no alcohol (unless you wish to carry in and drink warm beer). All the food needs to be carried in – you’ll be amazed what the locals can carry – and therefore is packed, vacuum-sealed or tinned. In the morning there is Weetbix and milk (powered of course), muesli, cheese and crackers. There are plenty of rest stops where you have cream biscuits (carbs for energy to keep you going) and hot tea. For lunch there is tuna, rice, pasta, sausages, wraps, tonnes of locals fruits (which is purchased along the track from the villiagers), and for dinner you can try soups, kumera and taro or chicken.
Safety of Kokoda Tours
Hydration on the Kokoda Track
An essential part of keeping well on the track means staying hydrated. Physical exertion and sweating mean you are loosing lots of water and you need to replace it. Most trekking companies will give you guidance on how much to drink and whether to take re-hydration salts. Janna drank 7 litres of water on her first day on the track and around 5 litres a day after that. Adam drank around 3-4 litres a day, so it depends very much on your body. We both had a packet of re-hydration salts at night (as advised by our tour guide). You also want to consider your body’s hydration during your preparation for the Track, as factors like drinking alcohol and coffee, your nutrition, and your daily water intake all impact your body’s hydration level. The better hydrated you are before you start the track, the better prepared your body will be while you’re adjusting to the new climate. (Note: there are some experts that have warned of over-hydration on the track, but we have not heard any other evidence, other than this article which is solely based on one doctor’s opinion).
What if I’m sick on the track? It’s actually very common to get sick on the track. In our tour group pretty much everyone had a tummy bug at some stage. Remember that you’re in close proximity with others and only have little opportunity to wash (even though you want to take hand disinfectant!). Some people needed to throw up, others were having frequent toilet breaks, and many were just feeling nauseous or weak. Our track leader and ‘medicineman’ had some general medication on hand which made most of us feel better. As we were all taking malaria medication, many of us were also feeling the side effects of the medication. We both were sick at different times on the track but just pushed through the day and rested/slept whenever we could (tea break, lunch break, early to bed, etc). In summary, if you get sick on the Kokoda track, there are only two options: you get airlifted out or you continue.What if I get sick and can’t continue? Every reputable trekking company will have compulsory insurance for their trekkers. This covers you for most mishaps. However, there is no ambulance on the Kokoda track. You are literally in the middle of the jungle and there are only select places for helicopters to land to fly you out in the event that you get sick, injure yourself or physically can’t continue. Each trekking company makes its own arrangements with helicopter crews in Port Moresby. From what we could see these helicopter crews work on a ‘charter’ basis i.e. you must pay them to airlift you out. This can be very costly, as you must pay on a per hour basis. Really, the use of a helicopter is only as a last resort.
On our trek, we had 2 people (a mother and son team) airlifted on the morning of the 2nd day. This was overwhelmingly due to fitness as they could not cope with the physical exertion, heat and humidity. When they were not feeling better on the second morning, they decided together with our trek leader that it would be better not to continue.
A third person stayed back in a village and took a scheduled flight out (there are small planes which fly in mail, provisions, etc on a weekly basis) after he was sick due to dehydration and drinking too much from his little hip flask the night before! There were others who felt unwell for the first 2-3 days, however in most cases, your body adjusts after a few days and settles into its own rhythm. In most cases you can prevent sickness/injury by being well prepared physically, and by not taking unnecessary risks on the track. However, if you are unwell, in our opinion it is best to talk to the trek leader, as they are very experienced and can help you gauge whether it’s simply temporary discomfort, or whether it is a serious matter.
I’ve heard that people have died on the trek. Is it that dangerous? Yes, there have been about six people who have died on the track (at the time of writing), 4 of which in 2009. Unfortunately one of these, Phillip Brunskill was from our tour group. As we all know the Kokoda Track is a challenge, and that’s the main reason that people want to walk the track. However, if you consider that approximately 5,000 people walk the track every year, then 6 deaths in the last ten years, is less than people dying of say, horse riding accidents (apparently 20 people per year die of horse riding accidents in Australia). So, yes it can be dangerous, but only if you are not prepared physically and mentally. Yes, people have died whilst trekking. It is a great physical challenge for most people. However, do remember that people live along the track in villages and use the track as a trade route. They walk it every day! If you follow the instructions of your trekking company and train adequately you will pass any Kokoda tours with flying colours!