Kokoda Track: Landowners battle over whether to reopen the famous trek

Kokoda Track: Landowners battle over whether to reopen the famous trek

Kokoda Track: Landowners battle over whether to reopen the famous trek

Updated 8 February 2018, 22:15 AEDT

Two groups of landowners from Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track are at loggerheads over whether to keep the iconic tourist drawcard shut or reopen it.

Two groups of landowners from Papua New Guinea's Kokoda Track are at loggerheads over whether to keep the iconic tourist drawcard shut or reopen it.

Key points:

  • Landowners who blocked track say the current arrangement is not translating into benefits for them
  • Kokoda Track is PNG's biggest tourism magnet
  • Trekking season starts in March

Two days ago, the former boss of the Kokoda Track Authority, James Enage, led a group of landowners that blocked its southern entrance near Port Moresby.

They blocked the access road to the start of the track at Owers Corner.

Mr Enage said the landowners, from Depo village, do not feel like they are sharing in the benefits generated from visitors and the Kokoda Initiative, a joint funding agreement between the Australian and PNG governments.

"The people in the village are closing the track up at the Depo village, tell the Port Moresby landowners, tell them come up to Depo and support the people so we can work together to open the trek, right now it's shut," Mr Enage said.

But landowners from another group of villages further up the track want it reopened because it is an important source of income.

"My family will suffer because this is a time when school fees are needed and we committed ourselves," Jack Deia from Kagi village said.

The Kokoda Track is Papua New Guinea's biggest tourism magnet.

Several thousand people, mostly Australian tourists, walked its rugged 96-kilometre length every year.

Some villagers from 13 other communities, led by what is known as the Kokoda Trek Central Secretariat, want the track reopened.

Secretariat chairman Philip Batia, who represents 13 of the villages along the trek said they would not want any shutdowns because it is causing bad impressions overseas.

Mr Batia said the people he represents want the track to open because they need the cashflow.

He is confident the track will be reopened before the start of the trekking season in March.

"I also would like to assure the tour operators in Australia and those across the world who are trying to travel on the Kokoda Track that there will be no shutdown," Mr Batia said.

Villages along the trek benefit from the employment and money that is generated during the trekking season.

It is also an important revenue earner for the PNG Government.

Mr Enage's group of landowners from Depo village have concerns of their own regarding the Kokoda Trek Secretariat.

Mr Enage said the group is benefiting more than most other landowners.

"I appreciate the call from the another landowner group, but all the people know that they are continuously funded by the department of environment and conservation and the Kokoda Initiative Secretariat, which the people have raised concerns about the funding from them," he said.

Mr Enage's group also closed the track to force the PNG Government to keep its promises to provide basic health and education services.

The ABC was told Mr Enage and his group of landowners will meet with Central Province Governor Robert Agarobe to try and resolve the issue.

Trekking season starts in March, and it is up to the PNG Government to respond to the landowners' demands or lose money from a vital tourist attraction.