Kokoda Track History

Brief history
The Kokoda Track Campaign was part of the Pacific War during the World War 2. The campaign consisted of a series of battles fought from July 1942 to January 1943 between Japanese and Australian forces over the Owen Stanley Ranges of Papua New Guinea.

The Owen Stanley Ranges campaign was the third prong of a Japanese attack to gain possession of Port Moresby.

The first, a major  naval movement, had been frustrated in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.

The second attack carried out in August 1942 at Milne Bay resulted in defeat.  In that battle the Japanese were defeated  on land at the hands of Australian soldiers.  It was their first land reversal since they began the War

The third prong  was to cross over the Owen Stanley Ranges from Buna-Gona, on the Papua New Guinea east coast to take Port Moresby.  This campaign came very close to success, reaching within 40 kms of their target before they were forced to withdraw.

A small Australian force known as “Maroubra Force” arrived at Buna on July 21st, 1942, as the first Japanese forces in the strength of 1500 men landed at Gona, eight miles to the west. The first clash between Australian soldiers supported by elements from the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the opposing Japanese troops took place on the 23rd of July. Australian forces were heavily outnumbered, and from this moment they began long and bloody withdrawal over the Owen Stanley Range.

Kokoda is a small plateau on the north-east slopes of the Owen Stanley Range with small air-strip. The retention of this air-strip, for at least as long as it would take Australians to fly in supplies and reinforcements, was of great importance. However, the remnants of “Maroubra Force”, exhausted by a month’s constant fighting, were unable to achieve this. Valiant in their efforts they have even recaptured the plateau after initially being driven out by Japanese. Japanese need for this air-strip was of equal importance as they required a forward base at Kokoda for their drive over the ranges along the “Kokoda Trail” to Port Moresby, and they struck before Australians were able to muster sufficient strength.

The initiative now remained with the enemy and Australian withdrawal began again – through Isurava, Alola, Templeton’s Crossing, Myola, Efogi, Menari and Nauro until at Ioribaiwa Ridge, beyond which the Japanese could not be permitted to penetrate, a final stand was made.

The Japanese had now inherited all the difficulties of an extended supply line.
For the last fortnight there was a comparative lull in the fighting during which both sides have consolidated their positions.

Australian forces, however, had a surprise for the enemy: 25-pounder guns were brought from Port Moresby to the road head at Ower’s Corner and then laboriously dragged into position at Imita Ridge, and opened fire on the enemy’s barricades. It was now turn for the Japanese to suffer what Australians had suffered in the preceding two months. Heavy shelling smashed their defense lines and now was a time for aggressive patrols to inflict severe losses on enemies positions.
On 25 September 1942, when the Japanese could see the lights of Port Moresby, the Japanese general was ordered to withdraw his army to the beachheads at Gona-Buna.
On the morning of September 28th Australian forces were closing in and it became evident that the enemy was withdrawing. The chase was now on.
Port Moresby had been saved.

The track
To complete the story is essential to add characteristic of battlefield.
The Kokoda Track is a long, thin track cut through the dense vegetation of Papua New Guinean ragged mountain terrain.

Conditions on the Kokoda Track were appalling. The narrow dirt track climbed steep on heavily timbered mountains, and then descended into deep valleys choked with dense rain forest. The steep gradients and the thick vegetation made movement difficult, exhausting, and at times dangerous. Razor-sharp kunai grass tore at soldiers clothing and slashed their skin. The average annual rainfall over most of the Kokoda Track is about 5 meters (16 feet), and daily rainfalls of 25 centimeters (10 inches) are not uncommon. When these rains fell, dirt tracks quickly dissolved into calf-deep mud which exhausted the soldiers after they had struggled several hundred meters through it. Small streams in mountain quickly became almost impassable torrents when the rains began to fall.

Supply was a nightmare, because every item of food, ammunition and equipment had to be man-handled along the track or dropped by air. Heat, oppressive humidity, mosquitoes and leeches added to the discomfort of the rain-drenched soldiers who were often without adequate food.

If you wish to find out more about this turning point campaign you can do it by following this link.
You could also use longer but very detailed and informative articles Kokoda Trail 1 and Kokoda Trail 2.


Track or Trail

Although the official name is “Kokoda Trail” we have chosen to use “Kokoda Track”. The company feels that the word “track” is more Australian than “trail”. If you look at the attached photographs you will note that on one side of the entry arch at Owers’ Corner says “Trail” while the other says “Track”.

Owers’ Corner to Kokoda or Kokoda to Owers’ Corner

This is a personal choice but for some reason people believe it is “easier” going from Kokoda to Owers’ Corner. No matter which way people travel it is still strenuous. The advantages of going from Owers’ Corner to Kokoda are as follows:

The Australian Troops all left from the southern end and as such you will be following in their footstep’
You actually finish at Kokoda Station and not Ower’s Corner where there is only a park
You will spend a night and a day at Kokoda which will give you plenty of time to visit the Museum, swim in the creek and visit the early morning market where you can obtain the freshest of fruit and other foods
It is safe walking around Kokoda Station where you will not see any razor wire
The cost of staying at Kokoda compared to Port Moresby is considerably less
It is most relaxing sitting on the lawn of the guesthouse with a cold beer or other beverage
You will have time here to give your gear a thorough cleaning to comply with Customs. This is easier in Kokoda than in a motel room at Port Moresby
You will be able to purchase artifacts from the people of Kokoda. Traditional items such as bilums handmade from natural fibres can be purchased with prior notice
This is a great opportunity to mix with the local people which you will not be able to do in Port Moresby
Having said the above the company will organize a trek either way. The cost of staying in Port Moresby is extra to the company’s quoted price.