A group of Australian hikers were injured and two members of their support crew were killed during a savage machete attack on a remote trail in Papua New Guinea that is said to be one of the hardest treks in the world.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that members of the hiking group, which included up to eight Australians and one New Zealander, were injured when they were ambushed on the rugged Black Cat Track in northern Morobe Province on Tuesday.
Two Papua New Guinea nationals, who were porters for the group, were killed by the bandits who were believed to be armed with knives and machetes.
The injured hikers, who were travelling with a trekking company, are receiving medical treatment in the town of Wau, where they arrived on Tuesday night.
They are expected to be flown to Port Moresby later on Wednesday. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said their injuries were not life-threatening.
It came as hiking guides lashed out at both the Papua New Guinea and Australian governments for not providing more regulation of the tourism industry surrounding Australia’s military heritage in Papua New Guinea.
Charlie Lynn, a veteran Kokoda Track trekking company operator and NSW Liberal MLC, said an attack such as Tuesday’s was ‘‘inevitable’’.
‘‘The local people up there are the custodians of the land that’s sacred to us, and therefore we have to ensure that they get shared benefits out of the emerging trekking industry, and we have comprehensively failed to ensure that that happens. When they don’t get shared benefits, they get angry and then it explodes,’’ Mr Lynn said.
‘‘It was inevitable that this would happen.’’
Police have not yet detailed the circumstances of the attack, however those associated with the trekking industry in Papua New Guinea believe it could be related to a disagreement between porters from different areas in the country.
There have been previous disagreements because the highlands locals believe they should run the treks, instead of lowlands PNG nationals who were being brought in.
Aidan Grimes, a veteran tour guide who was due to hike the Black Cat Track on Wednesday, said it was possible that the locals were trying to protect their own patch.
‘‘I’ve seen it happen before. We’ve been operating for the past 16 years in PNG, so we know the ups and downs of the land,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve been let down by the PNG Government, we’ve been let down by the tourism industry and we’ve also been let down by the Australian Government.
‘‘Every year we’re the ones who do the right thing by the industry, we make sure that all the boxes are ticked from a legal point of view and from a protection point of view, and then you get an industry that allows operators who have no licences to operate and then, before you know it, you’ve got major issues. This is what happened on the Kokoda Track five or six years ago as well.’’
Mr Grimes, who previously served as the chairman of the Kokoda Ethics Committee, said the 56-kilometre Black Cat Track was thought to be ‘‘probably the second hardest track in the world’’.
It was originally an access trail to the Black Cat gold mine in the 1920s and was the site of bloody fighting in World War II. It was pioneered as a commercial trek in 2003.
‘‘It’s very remote and very challenging, but we also like it because it doesn’t have as many cowboys on it,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s steeped in Australian military history, particularly around the commando units. They were super strong, super fit, extra trained so they could excel in that environment.’’
Mr Lynn, who has been associated with the Kokoda Track for the past 20 years, said it was always thought that Kokoda would be developed as a model that would then be expanded to the rest of Papua New Guinea.
‘‘The idea was to engage local people, to work with them, to establish the industry and then that model should then be moved to other areas that Australians go to, such as the Black Cat Track, Shaggy Ridge and so forth, so that they can do it safely and that the locals get shared benefits. We have comprehensively failed to do that,’’ he said.
A DFAT spokesperson said the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby was aware of the attack, and hikers had been advised to avoid the Black Cat Track until police investigated the incident.
"Our sympathies are with the family and friends of those who were killed," the DFAT spokesperson said.
"The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby has provided consular support and will meet with the group when they return to Port Moresby.
"Our travel advice for Papua New Guinea advises Australians to exercise a high degree of caution because of the high levels of serious crime.
"The travel advice has been updated to provide a factual report of this incident.
"There is no change to our advice regarding other popular trekking trails in Papua New Guinea."
The Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority has been contacted for comment.