And now for the Montevideo Maru
A backward step in a life of progress

Pumpkin scone sale on Kokoda Track

Richard E Jones

The revered Kokoda Track is in danger of being loved to death, a sustainable tourism expert has said. The historic wartime trail through the rugged Owen Stanley Range in south-eastern PNG has become a pilgrimage for thousands of Australians each year. In 2007 more than 5000 registered trekkers walked the gruelling 96 km - a massive increase on 2001 figures when only 76 tourists negotiated the narrow path.

Famous Australian Rules football identities in Ron Barassi and David Parkin, along with the entire Hawthorn senior list, have negotiated the tough terrain in the past 12 months. But this growing popularity of the track is taking its toll on the environment, with visitors taking home memories yet leaving rubbish – and, dare I say it, excrement - behind.

Dr Stephen Wearing, associate professor in the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism at Sydney’s University of Technology, has directed sustainable tourism projects in the Solomon Islands, Costa Rica and Guyana. And he has seen first hand the impact tourism is having on Kokoda’s fragile ecosystem. “It’s significant in a lot of ways, both positive and negative,” he said. “Obviously now [tourism is] generating income which is assisting those Papuan communities along the track. But in environmental terms there are real issues.”

Wearing is developing an eco-trekking program for the Kokoda Track which he hopes will ensure its survival as a tourism destination, while protecting the rights of locals who live along the trail. He says locals wanted the usual things - electricity, education and improved infrastructure - and in return could offer small museums of left-over military hardware. Not to mention the pumpkin scones.

“We held workshops for women discussing what they could make to sell to tourists and six months later at least three communities were selling pumpkin scones. When you’re walking along the Kokoda Track it’s a very funny thing to find pumpkin scones for sale,” added Prof Wearing.

Australian Associated Press reporter Bonny Symons-Brown’s article appeared among the science and environment pages in weekend editions of major Australian newspapers.

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