Story: Bush trams and other log transport

Page 1. Transporting logs: 1840s–today

All images & media in this story

Since the 1840s, the New Zealand timber industry has devised ways of getting logs of wood from the bush to the mill. This could be a major challenge – the terrain was usually rough, and a big log might be 20 metres long and weigh 10 tonnes.

Once the logs had been sawn at the mill, the task became easier. The volume of wood was reduced by over a third, and sawn timber could be stacked. But transport accounted for as much as half of the cost of timber production.

Getting the logs to the mill was a demanding job that required ingenuity and enterprise, and in harsh and hazardous conditions, bushmen developed strong teamwork and a sense of pride. This era of bush transport has left a rich legacy of stories and photos.

Types of transport

There were five main methods of transporting timber:

  • Skidding: This was the simplest form of traction – pulling the logs along the ground.
  • Tracks: From the 1850s, the loggers began to use wooden tracks, rolling the logs on bogies (small carts) fitted with tram wheels.
  • Aerial: Some logs were carried above ground on ropeways. Helicopters were used from the last part of the 20th century.
  • Rivers: These were used to carry kauri, the one native timber that floats. Kauri dams were a common feature, used to propel logs downriver.
  • Roads: In the 20th century, roads were built and trucks were used to carry logs.

Power sources

Until the end of the 19th century the major sources of locomotion were human muscle, animals or gravity. Then steam power arrived, largely replacing animal power. From about 1930 the internal combustion engine was used: tractors skidded the logs or pulled them on rails, and then trucks carted them on roads.

How to cite this page:

Paul Mahoney, 'Bush trams and other log transport - Transporting logs: 1840s–today', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/bush-trams-and-other-log-transport/page-1 (accessed 26 March 2019)

Story by Paul Mahoney, published 24 Sep 2007