When people are trying to climb the 7 summits, there is some argument as to whether the highest peak in Australia (the continent NOT the country) is Puncak Jaya, in Indonesia, or Mount Kosciuszko, in Australia (the country). There shouldn’t be any confusion however. The answer to Australia’s highest peak is quite a simple one.

  • If you mean what is Australia’s highest peak, in terms of Australia the COUNTRY then it is indeed Mount Kosciuszko.
  • If you mean what is Australia’s highest peak, in terms of Australia the CONTINENT (also known as Australasia and Oceania) then the highest peak is Puncak Jaya.

So, when discussing the 7 summits, we are talking about the HIGHEST PEAK ON EACH CONTINENT, therefore quite simple the highest peak on the Australian continent (which includes Australia and New Guinea) is indeed Puncak Jaya, as Papua shares the Sahul continental shelf with Australia.

Puncak Jaya climb
Me at the top of Puncak Jaya!

The 7 summits

The 7 summits are the highest mountain on each continent. It’s a huge goal of many adventurers (and a goal of mine personally too) to reach the summit of the highest mountain on each continent. If you’re wondering what the 7 summits are, I blogged about it here in depth. To see why Kosciuszko is not one of the 7 summits, we first must ask:

How many continents are there?

There are 7 continents, dictated by their tectonic plates (apart from Europe and Asia which site on one plate, but have been historically differentiated through culture, religion etc):

  1. Europe
  2. Asia
  3. Africa
  4. North America
  5. South America
  6. Australia/Australasia/Oceania
  7. Antarctica

The Australian Continent

To fully understand why Kosciuszko is not one of the 7 summits, we must look at the continent of Australia. The confusion about the 7 summits originates due to the nomenclature, where Australia can mean both the country of Australia and the continent of Australia.

For this reason, it’s much easier to retain ‘Australia’ as the country name and AUSTRALASIA as the continent name. But regardless of which you use, the facts are the same.

Australia Tectonic plate

The Australian continent is determined by the tectonic plate it lays upon. It includes the country of Australia, but also the countries of New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, and a small portion of Indonesia (West Papua). You can see it below:

The australian continent
The australian continent
Australian continent
The Australian continent, lilac coloured. You can see it includes Papua New Guinea too.

When people ask how many countries are in Australia (the continent), the answer isn’t solely Australia (the country). It includes New Zealand and the island New Guinea (which includes Papua New Guinea and a small section of Indonesia, called West Papua).

Mount Kosciuszko or Puncak Jaya, which is Australia’s (the continent) highest peak?

The continent’s highest peak is clearly Puncak Jaya.

Why do some people call Mount Kosciuszko a 7 summit?

Because climbing the 7 summits is difficult, time consuming, expensive and dangerous. And climbing Kosciuszko, rather than Puncak Jaya, is cheaper, safer and easier!

Bass vrs Messner

Combine that with the fact that famous climber Richard Bass coined the concept of the 7 summits, and he (wrongly) used Kosciuszko as the highest point on the Australian continent, this has allowed climbers some level of plausible deniability. They can save money, not risk their life, and complete Kosciuszko as an easy 7th summit. Despite the fact that factually it’s incorrect.

Thankfully, Reinhold Messner, a legendary climber set the record straight and created the ‘Messner list’ with the correct 7 summits!

Climbing Puncak Jaya
Climbing Puncak Jaya is quite scary!

Final thoughts on Australia’s highest peak?

To climb the 7 summits is difficult. It’s huge. Whether climbers like it or not, it’s a fact that Puncak Jaya is Australasia’s highest peak. And if that means risking their lives, and spending a fortune, to complete their goal of the 7 summits, then so be it. Cheating (and your sponsors!) by ticking off Kosciuszko instead of Puncak Jaya is just cheating yourself. Sorry!

Climbing mount kosciuszko in winter
I also climbed to Mount kosciuszko summit, Australia – just for fun!

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