Background of The Kokoda Trail Project kokoda.net.au

The Kokoda Track is more than a hike, it's an adventure, a challenge, a right of passage, a life changing experience, a pilgrimage. Whatever Kokoda means to you, if you are planning to do it, make sure that you do some planning for it.

The Kokoda Trail is more than 96km line on a map. Kokoda is iconic, historic, emblematic. It is to many, the epitome of the Australia fighting spirit. The Kokoda campaign was fought on (what was then) Australian soil. The ultimate resounding victory against overwhelming odds now the stuff of legend and folklore.

The legend of Kokoda is being re-discovered and reinforced in the Australian psyche with over 4000 Australians undertaking the arduous trek every year. There is rarely a year without Kokoda appearing in our newspapers. Trekker fatalities or medical evacuations, make the front page but more often, heart warming stories of achievement and overcoming hardships.

We trekked in June 2008. We were 6 navy buddies all turning 50 with 6 younger colleagues. We were variously fit and less so. BUT all of us had prepared and so the trek was fun and enjoyable. Now, prepared means that you and you body are ready to walk up and down a lot. Not prepared to ride a bike 80 km, not prepared to run a marathon or play indoor cricket once a week. Up and down and more up and down. Stairs, are better than flat walks and climbing steep hills is great.
When we were preparing for Kokoda we searched for information about Kokoda and there was plenty about the history, but very little about the physical demands.

Thinking about my Kokoda Trail experience, I was determined to do something for the Kokoda Trail communities . I had some spatial data, the capacity to work with that data to create some maps and other interesting spatial objects and a firm belief that understanding the nature of the Kokoda Trail will encourage appropriate training. .... kokoda.net.au was born.

So kokoda.net.au has:

Information to help you prepare in the form of Map Analysis, Fly-through, some expert opinion quotes and a discussion forum. Opportunities to buy maps, old or new, small or wall, poster size, There are also 3D Terrain models that will certainly be talking points. .


How it all fits together:

Training:

In 2008, we trained around Canberra for 4 months and discovered several things.

  • the training regime itself becomes part of the overall Kokoda Trail experience.
  • the camaraderie established in training enhances the Kokoda Trail adventure itself.
  • that training appropriately, (walking up and down hills) makes trekking the Kokoda Trail itself more satisfying.

It all comes together to make the Kokoda Trail more than an adventure, more than a walk in the jungle.

It becomes an experience, one that you want to remember for all the right reasons. For the personal achievement, for the friendships and shared challenges, for doing something hard and not being found wanting.

I remember the photo on the front cover of Bill James' Field Guide to the Kokoda Track. You know the one; you're not sure whether the trekker shouldn't be using crampons and have someone on belay. Anyway, I figured that it was a photo opportunity. I saw other photos apparently all taken in the same place at the same angle. My thought was that I wanted to be sure that I was ready with the camera when we got to that spot. Well trekkers-to-be there's no one spot for that shot. That is anywhere and everywhere along the track.

Kokoda Discussion Forum:

We trained in Canberra using Mt Taylor, Mt Majura, Black Mountain, Mt Ainslie and Mt Tennant as our practice hills. And there must be great training hills all over Australia that we can share so kokoda.net.au is hosting a Kokoda Trail Discussion Forum for trekers past and future to exchange information about the local hills. I will happily host everyone's ideas and comments to encourage us all to get out and about, but mostly to get us all up and down. If you have a GPS, send your data files to be hosted. If you don't have a GPS, get on to Google Earth and plot you're own track and send me the kml, or just tell me where you start with names and directions & I'll try to figure it out.

Maps:

My day job is Geospatial Information Systems architect, that means that I'm into maps. So before we did Kokoda, I tried to get a map. Bill James' Field guide is about as good as they get. The 1:100000 topos were not available and web detail was a bit patchy. So I determined that I was going to make a map of Kokoda as at is in 2008. I got myself a Garmin eTrex vista Hcx and 'ground truthed' the Kokoda Trail. I am aware that the actual track moves around a bit and that there are different tracks between two points, so I am not claiming that the track detailed here is the one and the only Kokoda Trail, but I am saying that it is the track that we walked in June 2008.

I also approached the Papua New Guinea Lands Department and have got the he distribution rights for three 1:100,000 topos that are current (Australian Army Survey Corps 1972). I also combined the three sheets into a single 'Kokoda Special' with the 2008 ground truthed track overlayed. The original 3 sheets and the Kokoda Special can be ordered from kokoda.net.au. You'll notice that the ground truthed 2008 track is quite different from the 1972 marked track. I'll leave it for others to debate the tracks and the history, but it is clear that for the most part the important points and landmarks coincide.

Kokoda fly-through':

Google Earth updated the imagery early 2009, but there are still some poor imagery areas. They will be filled in at some time, but in the mean-time that's your lot. I will continue to lobby interested parties to undertake some dedicated aerial photography (especially cloud free) and perhaps if I can raise $20,000 I'll organise really good aerial photography. While mentioning clouds, I should point out to the un-initiated that the white stuff on the mountain tops is not snow (I know it looks like it), it's cloud cover that is in the imagery and then gets 'draped' over the terrain making it look like snow. Now it's true that temperatures do get down when you camp at altitude, but snow on Mt Bellamy, I don't think so.

3D Terrain Models:

The Kokoda 3D Terrain, Laser Etched Holographic Crystals are based on real data. That is to say that the terrain and track depiction is not some random bunch of hills and valleys' it's the Owen Stanley range as measured by NASA's Shuttle Relief Terrain Mission and then cleaned and interpolated, rescaled and converted to a 3D Terrain Model. The Bronze Model is based on the same data, but using a different technique for the reproduction.


Summary:

kokoda.net.au is about the Kokoda Trail and preparing for trekking. The more you know about the track, the more likely you will be to prepare. If you understand the terrain, the distances, the up-ness and the down-ness, you will be better able to measure your preparedness. There is plenty of geographic information right here. The Track Analysis section breaks the Kokoda Trail into 40 sections and you can see the ascents and descents, the distance and get some sense of what is involved in the trek

Get out and walk up a steep hill tomorrow, walk up and down for 7 hours and see how you feel. Remember you'll be doing it for 7 or 9 or 11 days. Remember the Kokoda Trail is hot and humid, wet and slippery, there are no warm showers or soft beds. So however hard or uncomfortable you feel walking up and down the hill behind your house it's not the same as Kokoda.

But take heart, if you are prepared and adventurous, it may be among the best things you will ever do. You'll rediscover the important things in life, how much more important friendship, camaraderie and pleasant conversation are compared to the News and Australian Idol.

Kokoda is an ordeal. If your old or young, fit or fat, if your doing it for grand-dad or for team bonding, if it's for fun or penance, you need to get prepared. Don't think that you can nip out for a jog around the lake 2 days before shipping out. If you want to enjoy the trek, get ready, get ready now.