Column: NZ Timber Museum visit

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox

For years I have driven past The New Zealand Timber Museum, just south of Putaruru, and always threatened to visit until now

Whether you’re a logger or have no affiliation to the logging industry, this is a must-do on your list.

The place itself is a trip through our not-too-distant history and a credit to all the volunteers and particularly to manager Colleen Jaques who has contributed years to the project.

Celebrating timber

Initiated to celebrate the timber industry of the South Waikato District, the museum is administered by The New Zealand Timber Museum Trust and partly funded by the South Waikato District Council and after years of voluntary service, Colleen is now paid by the SWDC (for all that dedication). It is something you find in a number of communities, where people give their time freely, so others can enjoy facilities that usually sit outside the commercial norm.

A must-do on everyone’s list
A must-do on everyone’s list

The museum site itself was close to the district’s first pine nursery. In 1944, Tuck and Watkins established a pine mill on what would eventually be the museum’s site, and in 1972 the Society was offered the location and by 1977, had seven exhibits ready for viewing by the public.

Cash books from 47 sawmills

First impressions when walking through the door was the presentation. Talking to Colleen, I was privileged to look inside the old concrete safe that houses all the old cash books and written information on the 47 sawmills, native and exotic, that were located in and around Putaruru, Tokoroa, Rotorua, Mamaku, Taupo, Maroa and Mokai to name a few.

The condition of the old books was simply amazing and it’s interesting that these towns do not exist today, but their history is recorded there in black and white; it represents a 100-year history of logging and forestry in the district.

A journey down memory lane

For me, the museum was a journey down memory lane with many of the exhibits part of my logging career. The Cant hooks on display were used for rolling logs around, being used when unloading at the mill. You dropped the stanchions on the logging truck and let the sawn logs roll off. If any got stuck, a Cant hook would be used to get them rolling again.

Also, there in petrol-powered glory among others, was a collection of 125cc McCulloch chainsaws. These things were all power and grunt: extremely heavy but essential when it came to dropping old crop Kaingaroa radiata. The 125cc McCulloch motor was also used to power racing go-karts.

Timber jacks, which for the benefit of the younger generation are heavy mechanical devices, geared to move logs around. I rolled a few big logs onto portable mills thanks to the help of sweat-inducing timber jacks.

A slice of the timber industry history in NZ
A slice of the timber industry history in NZ

The museum has an excellent sawmill display, with a twin saw and manual breast bench. Watching expert saw millers cut boards with this type of mill was always fascinating and a skilful occupation, until it was superseded by advancements in technology.


Once upon a time, a sharp axe was part of a logging crews’ standard equipment and any timber museum could not really call itself a museum if these wooden-handled pieces of steel weren’t on display somewhere in the building.

Wood chopping a big part of a logger’s life and going through the Axemen’s Hut was very humbling. The hut was moved onto the site in 1984 and features plenty of historic photos of world champion New Zealand axemen.

To name a few, Sonny Bolstad—a big bear of a man and twice as tough. I was privileged to work alongside him when contracting in Kaingaroa. Sadly, he was killed while doing maintenance on his loader, but his son David picked up the mantel and kept the chopping Bolstad name alive. Unfortunately, David passed away suddenly, aged only in his forties.

Another name comes the Honey Family: Dick Honey champion axeman, represented New Zealand a number of times, travelling to the Sydney Easter Show to chop for us against the Aussies.

Also, on display is a picture of Terry Wilkins in his prime chopping attire, who was a logging contractor and from what I can gather is still actively involved with chopping today.

Axemen’s Hut
Axemen’s Hut

Axemen were tough humble men who enjoyed the sport as a by-product of their daily working life. Some of these axemen have won more world championships than modern sportspeople of today, including the All Blacks, and thankfully, we can reconnect with their achievements at the New Zealand Timber Museum.

Longest span wooden girder bridge

Sometimes, we take for granted what our predecessors did to build this country. In the Model Room, situated in the Administration Office, is a model of the wooden bridge on the TTT (Taupo Totara Timber Company) rail line.

Constructing this bridge over the Waikato River was a marvel of engineering at the time. At 230 feet span over the river, it was said to be the longest wooden girder bridge in the world at the time. More than 150,000 feet of heart Totara timber was used in its construction.

Laminated bolted beams were used to build the main arch and the bridge would have been one of the great wonders of the Central North Island until it was replaced by a steel bridge in 1931.


It’s not just about forestry here. The old deconstructed Arapuni Church on-site is often rented for weddings. The 1886 Putaruru Hotel also shares the same grounds and both venues are available for weddings, functions, and funerals.

Plans are afoot to open what was originally the Yandle house, which was built in 1907 and moved on-site in 1978 as the Stump and Axe Café.

Be sure to stop in

Museums like this need visitors. Entry is not expensive and goes towards upkeep and expansion. There is so much history on display and if you have lived in the Central North Island at some point in your life, then you will probably recognise someone you know during your visit.

Full credit to Colleen Jaques, the manager of the museum, for years of dedication and to the Trust and volunteers for presenting this historical museum for the public to enjoy.
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