Story: Bush trams and other log transport

Page 2. Skidding and hauling

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Pulling large logs along the bush floor was known as skidding. The path was a ‘skidded road’, and the collection point for all the logs was the ‘bush skids’.

Māori used teams of people pulling on ropes, chanting as they worked. Prize tōtara logs for canoes were skidded over challenging distances.

Bullocks and horses

In the 19th century the lumbering bullock team, typically 12 to 20 strong, was popular as a way of skidding logs. Where the terrain was fairly easy, horse teams, which were faster, could be used.

Using animals for skidding was hard going – the teams often struggled over rough ground, steep slopes, intertwined tree roots, and deep mud. Progress was slow and the animals risked breaking their legs. Over long distances the task was made easier with a skidded road, formed from small tree trunks laid across the route. A wooden sledge, known as a catamaran, might carry the log.

Kauri logging

Certain methods were used for hauling kauri logs, because of their sheer size:

  • Logs were rolled sideways, using gravity, on ‘rolling roads’.
  • Chutes shot logs endways down a hillside, also using gravity.
  • Timber jacks were used to move the logs laboriously by hand.


Haulers – steam-powered winches – were widely used from about 1904. Within a decade they had largely replaced bullocks and horses. Made possible by advances in steel cable technology, haulers comprised a boiler to raise the steam, a steam engine that drove two drums, and steel cables. The larger drum hauled in the log, while the smaller drum pulled the cable back out to begin the process again.

Not dirt cheap

The ropey was the man in charge of the wire ropes and pulleys that dragged logs to the loading skids. In wet weather the road became a quagmire. Soaked to the skin and caked with mud, the ropey had one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the bush – but he was paid a premium wage.

As many as 1,000 haulers were used in New Zealand. The systems were continuously improved into the 1930s. Aerial cableways were developed, and internal combustion engines replaced steam power.

Over 90% of the haulers were designed and made by local engineering companies. Although similar to overseas designs, the local haulers suited New Zealand conditions, and were durable, reliable and cost-effective.


From the mid-1930s, imported caterpillar tractors superseded locally made haulers, almost as quickly as haulers had displaced bullocks. Designed for agriculture and earth moving, tractors proved cost-effective in logging. Their self-laying tracks could travel across soft and wet forest terrain. Manufacturers improved their logging capability by mounting a winch on the rear, providing the advantages of a hauler.


In the 1960s, simpler, lower-maintenance machines called skidders began to take over from tractors. Like haulers, they were built for rugged logging. Skidders have four large wheels and are articulated (jointed) in the middle. They too are imported, and dominate logging today.

Skidding methods evolved in this way not just in New Zealand but around the world. Each improvement cut costs and made tough terrain more accessible.

How to cite this page:

Paul Mahoney, 'Bush trams and other log transport - Skidding and hauling', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 July 2024)

Story by Paul Mahoney, published 24 Sep 2007