You’ve heard of Spider-Man, but have you heard of spider excavators? George Moore, from Auckland, is one of a select band of highly skilled operators using ‘Menzi Muck’ excavators to do earthworks on New Zealand mountainsides and other places normal machines wouldn’t dare to tread.

“Pretty much everything we do would be considered crazy by lots of people but it’s not really a thing anymore for us.”

Menzi Mucks are the brainchild of genius Swiss inventor Ernst Menzi, who created the first walking spider excavator to handle heavy-duty work on slopes while delivering minimum damage to the site itself. The name of the excavator was inspired by the German fairy tale of Little Muck, which teaches children not to judge others based on their looks – a nod to the excavator’s unusual appearance but impressive capabilities.

George says the specialist machine has four individually operated legs, plus a winch offering extra support, allowing it to excavate and drill on steep slopes with an incline of up to 60 degrees. The legs, which can be folded away for easy transportation, make it twice as stable as a typical 20-tonne excavator.

“For us, a 50-degree slope is fairly cruisy. You can climb a normal excavator onto some pretty steep slopes, but whether you can do any proper work there is a different matter.

“We use massive claws to anchor ourselves in place to work, while normal excavators rely on the friction of their tracks to hold them in place.”

George’s journey into excavator operating began shortly after he moved to New Zealand in 2019. A trained arborist, he ran his own companies in the UK and Spain before his journey took him to Aotearoa.

He decided to make the move into civil construction and started his own business, Tough Terrain, which now employs four staff and owns three Menzi Mucks to take on jobs that are too challenging for others to handle.

After starting the business George soon developed a collection of heavy machinery, but decided to specialise in using Menzi Mucks after discovering they were the star performer that could handle the jobs other contractors thought were impossible, he says.

“Out of all the machines I had, the one that kept the business going without really trying was the Menzi Muck.”

Tough Terrain’s current project in Flat Bush, Auckland is the largest job it has tackled to date, involving the remediation of extensive slip damage that had impacted a stream and retaining the slope alongside it to prevent further damage. The project is complex and involves using his machines to lift two-tonne concrete blocks into place on a 45-degree slope.

George says lifting the blocks while keeping staff safe on site wouldn’t be possible with conventional excavators.

“The site just wasn’t accessible to other machines without significant earthworks or building access roads – they couldn’t find a financially feasible way of doing it without us.”

George and his team have created their own in-house training programme, with help from a top health and safety consultant, featuring 16 unit standards all containing video-learning content and written exams.

He says he continually monitors the experience of his tight-knit team to make sure he is aware of how their skillsets and experience match up with the requirements of different projects.

“We created a robust safety system for using these machines reliably within large scale civil construction – that’s another one of our points of difference.”

When it comes to selecting employees, “attitude is key”, because all the skills to operate Menzi Mucks can be taught, George says.

“My main thing for choosing staff is nothing to do with experience and everything to do with attitude.”

Having carved out and cemented its niche as an expert in steep-incline excavator work, and with two more Menzi Mucks on their way from Switzerland, you’re likely to find Tough Terrain on the up this year.