The official name of the route is Kokoda Trail. This was gazetted in 1972 and was in accordance with the most widely used term in Australia at that time. (In 1972, Papua was still an Australian Territory).
Prior to this, the Kokoda Trail did not have an official name though in the post-1945 period, use of ‘Kokoda Track’ was common in Papua New Guinea, and still persists today despite the official proclamation.
Before the 1942 war period, the route was referred to in official papers as ‘the overland mail route’ while popular usage of ‘the Buna road’ was widespread.
Historically, overland routes in Papua New Guinea have always been known as ‘tracks’. This is not surprising in light of Australia’s long association with PNG, and other routes across the country retain their ‘track’ names to this day; for example, the Bulldog Track and the Jaure Track.
‘Trail’ became entrenched from its use in Australian newspapers by Australian journalists during the Second World War. The first appearance of ‘Kokoda Trail’ as a two-term proper noun, in the sense that it is used today, was in Sydney’s Daily Mirror of 27th October 1942, though the term ‘Kokoda trail’ (small T) had been used by a visiting British writer as early as 1935. There is little evidence of American influence in the adoption of ‘Trail’, which is often suggested.
It is acceptable to use either ‘Track’ or ‘Trail’, as you prefer.
Note: We wish to thank Stuart Hawthorne, who has graciously provided the information and text you are reading on this page. Stuart Hawthorne is the author of the book ‘The Kokoda Trail – A History’, published by Central Queensland University Press.