The pre-European Maoris had neither roads nor draught animals, and although there was a primitive and spasmodic form of trade in greenstone, preserved birds, and feathers and fish, they used rafts or canoes, or travelled on foot, usually in single file, over primitive tracks. The pa at Kaiapohia (Kaiapoi), in the South Island, is said to have been supplied with food by relays of porters who travelled in stages between prearranged depots carrying loads of 100 lb or more. The lack of roads obstructed European colonisation. In the early years packhorses had to be used extensively. Bullocks soon arrived from Australia and, in suitable terrain or on the few formed or partly formed roads, they proved to be immensely superior to the packhorses. They could carry heavier loads, needed no shoeing, ate less expensive food, and could be turned out at night without covers even in bitter weather. Thus bullock transport was favoured and, in some instances, continued until the 1920s.
Gradually, however, horse-drawn drays or other conveyances replaced the bullock teams because they were quicker. A horse team could move twice as fast as a bullock team, thus saving drivers' wages. Horse transport lasted for over 60 years. There were many times when the railways, especially in Canterbury, lost traffic to horse-drawn drays, and, less often, to Cobb and Company's coaches. But it was inevitable that steam should enter into road transport. In 1869 and 1870 several Thompson Road Steamers, running on rubber tyres, were imported, but their unreliability, their inability to run on rough roads, and their voracious appetite for coal and water made them quite unsuitable. From 1880 onwards efficient steam-traction engines began to be imported and in certain districts they brought about a minor revolution in heavy-freight haulage by road. In Canterbury, for example, traction engines reduced the journey time and, usually, the costs of hauling wool from the back-country sheep stations. Carting wheat in dray loads to the railhead or stores was uneconomic, especially when the horses were needed for the next season's farm work. The traction engine, which could haul considerable loads, soon competed with the railways, for, among other advantages, there was no need of transhipment at stations or rail depots. Large numbers were used in various parts of New Zealand until the outbreak of the First World War. The traction engine was almost indispensable for hauling heavy equipment from railheads to such construction works as power stations in the back-country areas.