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Story: Freight and warehousing

In the early days of European settlement, whaleboats and waka carried goods around New Zealand. Rail transported most freight through much of the 20th century, until deregulation opened up the market to long-distance trucking.

Story by Matthew Wright and Megan Cook
Main image: Trucks, rail and ships at Nelson wharf

Story Summary

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Early Māori freight and storage

Māori travelled by canoe or walking, carrying goods such as greenstone and food. They stored food in pātaka (small raised storehouses) or in sealed storage pits.

Shipping

When Europeans first settled in New Zealand, the dense bush and rough terrain made land travel difficult. People travelled and transported goods by ship or canoe. Māori carried freight and passengers in boats on the sea, rivers and lakes.

In the late 19th century refrigerated shipping was introduced, steamships became more common and ports improved.

International freight

The first international freight was cargoes of whale and seal products, timber and flax, sent by sea to Europe and America. Later, wool was exported. It was carried by bullock or packhorse from inland farms to the coast, then a boat took it out to a sailing ship. Cool stores were built – often close to freezing works – to hold meat and other farm produce for exporting.

Warehouses were also set up to store goods being imported or exported.

Road transport

Goods taken off ships were carried by horse or bullock, although roads were bad or non-existent in the early days. Many businesses had their own transport. During the First World War petrol-driven trucks were introduced, and quickly became common.

Rail

For much of the 20th century, most land freight was moved by rail. The government – which owned the railways – regulated other types of freight. Trucks were only allowed to transport goods short distances.

Air freight

Air freighting began in the 1930s. Only a small proportion of goods – usually expensive ones – are carried by air.

Deregulation

In the 1980s the government lifted controls on long-distance trucking, and on which goods could be carried and where. Long-distance trucking flourished. Regulations on shipping were also removed, opening New Zealand ships up to competition with international vessels.

The 2000s

In the 2000s most freight in New Zealand was moved by road. International freight was still mostly transported by sea. Tauranga was the main export port, and most freight went from or to the upper North Island.

How to cite this page:

Matthew Wright and Megan Cook , 'Freight and warehousing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/freight-and-warehousing (accessed 22 November 2017)

Story by Matthew Wright and Megan Cook , published 11 Mar 2010