Kokoda Trail – risky and gruelling

Posted on December 28, 2007 by


By PNG correspondent Steve Marshall

Posted Thu Dec 27, 2007 1:32pm AEDT
Updated Thu Dec 27, 2007 2:18pm AEDT

The Owen Stanley Ranges

The World War II pilgrimage through PNG’s Owen Stanley Ranges is no ordinary trek (File photo). (AAP: Lloyd Jones)

Next year, 6,000 Australians are expected to take on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. Last year Kevin Rudd made the journey with Joe Hockey.

But the World War II pilgrimage is no ordinary trek. Not only should you be extremely fit, but you need to be mentally and financially prepared in case there is a medical emergency.

Medical evacuation service SOS International warns that too many people are not physically prepared to tackle the 96-kilometre trek.

Trekkers say the gruelling ups and the slippery downs make the Kokoda Track much more than just an average walk.

“You’re moving across bridges and across fast-flowing creeks, cliff faces, very slippery, and often you can’t see where you’re putting your foot down,” one walker said.

Breaks and sprains are part and parcel of the pilgrimage – and there’s even a risk of death.

“I think we’re not used to that. In Australia they’d always have warning signs. The Kokoda Trail, you don’t,” another trekker said.

Despite the track’s close proximity to Port Moresby, unpredictable weather means it can be an agonising wait for help.

Dr Hamish Black from SOS International says rescues are challenging.

“You often have very short periods of time where it’s clear enough to get a helicopter in,” he said.

“So it may be that you’re going out there for 24 or 36 hours, waiting for an evacuation.”

Helicopters, planes and medical staff don’t come cheap. Evacuating a patient to Australia can cost up to $30,000.

Tired, unfit walkers

Dr Black says while some injuries are unavoidable, an increasing number of walkers are physically not up to the challenge.

“With so many people going through there, it’s probably the insurance companies are going to be looking at this saying, well, is this a genuine claim, or was it someone who just got tired and decided they couldn’t get out?” he said.

“I guess it’s important to not expect the insurance company to be proactive, that you actually do know how to get off there and your operator’s got the necessary equipment to help you come off, and that means communications basically and the necessary numbers through to an assistance company like us.”

One group of trekkers say they trained hard and were thankful they took out travel insurance.

“[I] definitely would recommend the insurance, because it is very slippery out there,” one of them said.

“All of my injuries were just from the downward track. And we didn’t have any rain, so we were fortunate there.

“So if there was a trek heading out that we passed as we were coming in, they’re in for very slippery conditions.”