Track Geography

Kokoda Track

The Kokoda Track itself is a single-file track starting just outside Port Moresby on the Coral Sea and (depending on definition) runs 60–100 km (37–62 mi) through the Owen Stanley Ranges to Kokoda and the coastal lowlands beyond by the Solomon Sea. The track crosses some of the most rugged and isolated terrain in the world, reaches 2,250 m (7,380 ft) at Mount Bellamy, and combines hot humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and endemic tropical diseases such as malaria. The track is passable only on foot, and as the campaign developed this had extreme repercussions for logistics, the size of forces deployed and the type of warfare that could be conducted.

Before World War II, paths in many remote areas of New Guinea were commonly referred to as tracks. However, although the name Kokoda Trail is more consistent with U.S. English usage rather than Australian English, the term is used in official Australian Army battle honours. As a result, since the war there has been some debate over which term is correct.

The Australian Macquarie Dictionary states that while both terms are in use, Kokoda Track “appears to be the more popular of the two”. In 1972, the national government of Papua New Guinea established a Place Names Commission. “On 12th October 1972, they formally gave notice they intended to assign the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ to the section of the old mail route not accessible to motor vehicles, that is, the ‘walking path’ from Ower’s Corner on the Sogeri Plateau to Kokoda. There was much debate but the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ was selected.”

Yet, in 2002, the Australian War Memorial published an article in their official magazine Wartime which advised:

There has been considerable debate about whether the difficult path that crossed the Owen Stanley Range should be called “Kokoda Trail” or the ‘Kokoda Track’. Both terms have been in common use since the war. ‘Trail’ is probably of American origin but has been used in many Australian history books, including the official history, and was adopted by the Australian Army as an official ‘battle honour’. ‘Track’ comes from the language of the Australian bush. It too is commonly used by veterans, and is used in some volumes of Australia’s official war history.”

Thus, both terms are correct, but “trail” appears to be more widely used. The memorial has adopted the term “trail” as it is favoured by a majority of veterans and the Battles Nomenclature Committee, because it appears on the battle honours of units which served in Papua in 1942.