Sarah Hart

Ever fancied riding around gorgeous New Zealand (especially after a Lord of the Rings marathon viewing)? Canadian rider Sarah Hart did just that after packing up and moving to New Zealand where she bought a motorcycle and proceeded to tour the North and South islands solo. A bold move indeed for a beginner! Check out her story and photos and start dreaming.

Rashmi Tambe
Editor, Global Women Who Ride

SarahHart_IMG_7429 -2

Photo courtesy of Chris Pemberton’s sustainability blog Humans for the Future
Name: Sarah Hart
Age: 31
Country: New Zealand
Languages: English
Years Riding: 3
Height: 5’3”
Current motorcycles: Suzuki Intruder VL250
Past motorcycles: Ninja 250R
Riding Gear: Shoei on my head. Rev’It denims with armour. Rev’It textile jacket and pants with armour.  First Classics leather jacket. Leather gloves. Leather boots.

Please introduce yourself.
I’m a Canadian living in New Zealand. It was a dream of mine to see this country. So when I was ready, I quit my job, sold my stuff, and came here for an adventure. What I thought would be a couple of weeks on tour and moving on turned into buying my own 250 and doing an entire lap of the country solo over the course of a year and deciding to stay. This year, I’m hanging up the packs and making a life in Auckland. That’s how much I’ve fallen in love with this place. Without a doubt, exploring the whole country on two wheels took my breath away and I’m not in any rush to get it back.

Describe your path into motorcycling.
I tell people that I didn’t really start riding until I came here. Truthfully, I started riding 3 years ago in my hometown Toronto, Canada, on flat, straight and urban roads. It wasn’t until I bought my Intruder in New Zealand and took my first ride to Coromandel Peninsula – the holy grail of twisties on hills no less — that I did my first hairpin and really started learning to ride. 

How did it all begin? One day a long time ago, when I was living and working In Italy in the rural suburbs, my boss and I dug out his nasty old Honda, dusted it off and changed the spark plugs, working for hours to get it to start. The anticipation was unbearable. When it finally fired, he took me out to the buffalo fields (because they’re soft and squishy) to learn how to shift gears and ride a motorcycle. Once he figured I knew enough, he took me to a rural motorway, jumped on the back, reassured me with a pat on the helmet and made me prove to myself that I could do it. So motorcycling started with dodging buffalo patties.

I finally bought a Kawasaki Ninja 250. Black and slick, it looked like the dragon from the movie How To Train Your Dragon and I named it Toothless. It was small enough for me to touch the ground, not enough power to get in trouble with, perfect for my beginner mistakes, and good looking. So I bought one, put a Hindle on it, and thundered around Toronto wondering why the hell I hadn’t gotten a motorcycle sooner. 

SarahHart_Toothless - the day I got my first bike 2

Describe your current motorcycle.
Aw. The Suzuki Intruder. My little V-Twin wonder. I make fun of it a lot. Being a 250 cruiser, it’s not exactly ballsy and I don’t look very sexy on it. But that’s not the point. It’s got a low comfy seat, it goes 100-110 all day, and it’s very, very forgiving. With the windscreen and pack rack, it was the perfect choice for what I wanted to do in New Zealand. 

SarahHart_IMG_7426 -1
Photo courtesy of Chris Pemberton’s sustainability blog Humans for the Future

Do you have a motorcycling achievement that you take pride in?
My bike and I have travelled through alpine mountain passes, rain forests, and farms. We’ve seen hundreds of one-lane bridges, tunnels and twists. I’ve replaced the battery, chain and back tire in both big cities and absolutely nowhere, and driven in sun, rain, wind and frost. I’ve seen countless beaches, rainbows, rivers, cliffs, trees, landslips, roadwork, rush hour, roundabouts, nice towns, shitty towns, nice people, barefoot kids, hawks, cows, sheep, horses, bunnies, birds, and dead possum. We’ve been to the very top and the very bottom of this country, and from Pacific Ocean to Tasman Sea. I’ve shared the road with absolutely no one for miles, with herds of farm animals, with massive trucks on tight rural highways, and with the biggest dickheads in ram-packed Auckland traffic. I’ve broken down, fallen over, and run out of gas, and I’ve seen the most stunning stuff that you’d only see in a Peter Jackson trilogy.

SarahHart_Terrain - Morrinsville

My bike and I have done a lot, but the Wanganui River Road and Parapara Highway, in some places just wide enough to fit me and a logging truck, sometimes even less, and with enough twists to make you dizzy, wins the prize for the single most interesting, enjoyable, scenic, and challenging ride I’ve done to date. It’s the feather in my cap. Helmet. Whatever. It was epic.

SarahHart_Terrain - one way bridge
One-way bridge

What’s your favorite motorcycling story to tell others?
When rolling up to a rural airport in the South Island to do a flying lesson, I came to park the Intruder in the gravel and fell over. So uh, yeah, let me fly your plane now?

Have you made any close female friendships due to motorcycling?
Yes! The girl who showed me the Global Women Who Ride site – Kendal Baker – is a rad biker girl here in Auckland. The few times I’ve ridden with her have improved my skills and wrecked my gas mileage dramatically. She’s great.

Do you do maintenance and repairs on your bike?
I used to do my own oil changes and basic maintenance on Toothless back in Canada, but I prefer to leave it to the professionals here.

Do you have any motorcycling heroes?
The motorcyclists I’ve met on the road in NZ: the couple from Sweden in their 10th year of riding around the world and selling their photography to get by. The South African man who helped me tie my bike down in the ferry between North and South Islands who had to have been in his 60s and was tackling Alaska to Mexico next. The group of Kiwi military veterans who adopted an unsure me into their group on the way into the next town, and told me they’re only as fast as their slowest rider. And the many current and ex riders who’ve shared their stories and tips with me along the way. They’re my heroes.

SarahHart_Roadtrip - meeting up with vet riders 2
Meeting up with vet riders

Do you have any advice for people who want to get into motorcycling?
Quit stalling and go do it.

SarahHart_Self- relaxing on Intruder



SarahHart_Intruder - and native bird

If I were to visit you and we went riding for one short morning ride, where would you take me?
For a short ride out of Auckland, I’d take you to Piha. The ride there is beautiful. It’s through typical New Zealand bush, twisty enough to make people carsick, and the payoff at the end is a gorgeous, wild west coast beach with stunning rock formations and a lookout point that will blow your mind. If the narrow roads and lack of shoulder start to get to your nerves, there’s a great cafe on the way in Titirangi where we’d have a flat white (like a mini latte!). [Route:]

What’s the best part about riding in NZ?
The topography, scenery, and weather. The range is incredible. Tight, narrow twists. Expansive valleys. Undulating hills. Sweeping corners. Mountain passes. Rain forests. Beaches. Volcanoes. National parks. It’s incredible what you’ll find here on two wheels. And as if the terrain doesn’t get challenging enough with one-way bridges and falling rocks and no-shoulder-whatsoever-most-times, there’s always the challenge of keeping your eyes on the road when the scenery is a full-body-experience level of visual overload. 

SarahHart_Terrain - twisties forever
Twisties forever!

Coastal Highway

What kind of food can riders expect to stop for on the way that is typical to the region?
The typical stop is a coffee (long black or flat white), and, unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, something tasty from the local cafe when you pass through a small town. Typical Kiwi food is the almighty mince pie. But I like to venture into sandwiches, salads, and something local and fresh if I can. You’ll find New Zealand typically does great cafe food — healthy eggs from happy chickens, fish and mussels from somewhere nearby, in-season fruit and veggies from a local farmer. The seafood is outstanding here. Back in Canada it’s typically trucked in from either coast. Here, you’ll see a guy digging for pipis (little clams) with his feet on the beach. While on tour through Kaikoura (Kai = food, and koura = crayfish, in the Maori language), I stopped at Nin’s Bin and ate crayfish by the ocean. Amazing. I can still remember how sweet it tasted and I’m not sorry I ate the whole thing.

Crayfish in Kaikoura

SarahHart_Food - typical kiwi breakfast
A typical Kiwi breakfast

If a motorcyclist from another country visited, what are the top rides you would recommend?
On the North Island:
Auckland to Coromandel, leaving Auckland south along the coast. It’s the jewel in the North Island’s crown. Stay in Hahei, kayak to Cathedral Cove, and ride back the next day taking your time counter-clockwise down the West Coast of Coromandel. Strap up. Your jaw will fall out of your helmet. [Route:]

Raglan to Taranaki. Raglan is a beautiful little surf town on the west coast of the North Island. Ride down to the massive, dormant Mt. Taranaki for stupendous scenery and beautiful hikes around the old volcano that doubled as Mt. Fuji in The Last Samurai. If you get the chance and have another half day to spare, ride a lap around it (the smaller loop) and watch out for cow poo. [Route:]

East Cape. See the big bit that sticks out to the east? Google won’t even make me a map. No route needed anyway. There’s just one road around the coast, and it’s not very well travelled. Perfect for escaping tourists and taking your time in the real, rough-around-the-edges New Zealand in a stunning setting. Give yourself a couple days to take your time between Opotiki and Gisborne.

Wellington to Picton. Stick your motorcycle on the ferry and get down to the South Island. The boat ride is a few hours of ocular bliss. And you haven’t even seen anything yet.

On the South Island:
The whole thing. I’m serious. Starting in Picton where you’ll unstrap your bike from the ferry, pick clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the weather, and just go. Take a couple weeks and do a lap. Throw in a criss-cross or two to see what the mountain passes are like (uh, brain melting). You can’t get lost. And I’d much rather you make it up on your own than follow anyone’s route.

But if it helps, my most memorably out-of-body mind boggling moments happened all down the West Coast of the South Island, on all of the alpine mountain passes, in Milford Sound where the fiords are and the road ends, from Haast Pass to Wanaka and Queenstown, a daytrip from Queenstown to Glenorchy, the Catlins where you can stop and surf with dolphins, Lake Wanaka and Pukake where you’ll ride by surreal turquoise glacier water, and Kaikoura on the East Coast where you’ll never ride closer to the surf crashing near your wheels with mountains looming behind the misty ocean skyline.

SarahHart_Scenery - Milford Sound
Milford Sound

SarahHart_Scenery - Kaikoura

SarahHart_Terrain - Highway to Queenstown
Highway to Queenstown

Lake Pukake

How does the topography of the place you live affect the kind of motorcycling you choose to do?
New Zealand topography is a playground for two wheels. It’s all about the undulating hills of the North Island, the alpine mountain passes in the south island, and the coastal highways everywhere. The variety is incredible. So here, I decided to tour. I had the time to take it slow and see it all, so I got the Intruder with comfort on long rides in mind. Though I can say in all honesty that I never saw anyone else with my bike (or a 250 for that matter) while on tour. Those who come here to take a tour, or who live and ride here all year round, usually choose something with a lot more power and the range varies from adventure bikes, to sport bikes, to big solid tactical looking standard bikes. Intruders are usually just seen commuting in Auckland!

What is the traffic like and how does it affect motorcycle riding?
You’ll encounter big, scary, drafty trucks. Giant farm vehicles tall enough to ride under. Lots of roadwork. Shoddy trailers. Sketchy overseas drivers in campervans. Relentless tailgaters. Tourists occasionally forgetting which side of the road to drive on (left!). Cows. Sheep. Poo. And it’s all part of how amazing your tour of New Zealand will be.

SarahHart_Roadtrip - penguin crossing
Penguin crossing!

What are the best months for riding?
The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite to those in the North. So, ride in our Summer — December, January, February, March. The sooner the better for travelling the chillier South Island in comfort. My preference is the later end of the season, when tourism is thins out the on roads and in the accommodation.

Is it safe to ride at night where you live?
I don’t particularly like riding here at night. Even parts of Auckland could use more streetlights. You’ll be riding in the rural areas anyway, so, unless you like riding in pitch black on twisty or otherwise challenging terrain, with possum speed bumps to rattle your nerves, I recommend you keep your riding to daylight hours.

Is motorcycle theft a problem?
Not in my personal experience, but riders are far more cautious here than in Canada. 

Are there any motorcycle specific laws?
No, but city drivers won’t be your best friends. Ride safe. 

How do the police treat motorcyclists?
The police have been nice enough to me, but watch your speed. Car drivers have a higher hate-rate for motorcyclists here than in my home country. I find drivers to be better skilled but far more rude than home. Kiwis have a hard time letting people merge or change lanes. Tailgating is a national pastime here. Be careful. If you’re on a 250 like me, you’ll get some local trying to drive through you when you have no where to go, or they’ll sit right behind you because they’re lonely. They also drive and talk/text at a shocking rate, and I’ve even seen them drinking beer while driving. That said, you’ll likely be far away from a city of any kind and would be happy to know there are only 4 million people spread out around a country the size of England. You won’t see many drivers anyway. 

Do you have access to high quality motorcycling gear in your part of the world?
As a whole, Kiwis are well kitted out riders. Lots of protective gear. Maybe it has something to do with those car drivers. 

Is there a local motorcycling event that you try and attend regularly?
I just did the International Female Ride Day the other week. It was awesome. 80 of us tore through the region where the Shire scenes of Lord of the Rings were shot. The ladies were all fantastic.

SarahHart_Group ride - International Female Ride Day 2014
International Female Ride Day 2014

Are any motorcycle related sports popular where you live and do women actively participate in them?
I’ve heard of side car swinging on more than one occasion. The girls at the global ride were encouraging each other to try it out. 

How are women motorcycle riders treated by most people and by male motorcyclists?
Depends, really. When I toured the country solo I enjoyed a lot of support and a lot of “You’re doing what?! Good on ya mate!” I was received so well, and got handed lots of business cards to get in touch when I rolled through town. The encouragement was really heartwarming and took me by surprise. Person-to-person, people were impressed and helpful. At the same time, I found a few too many people on the road either gawked at me or drove dangerously around me instead of respecting my space and safety. The fact that I’m a girl did not earn me any special treatment on the road. Other motorcyclists rocked.

SarahHart_Roadtrip- making friends
Making friends!

Do female and male motorcyclists have the same amount of freedom to pursue motorcycling activities?
Yes, for sure.


Books:  Twist of the Wrist. And the very useful New Zealand Motorcycle Atlas.
Movies: Motorcycle Diaries. I know. But it’s true.

SarahHart_Scenery - cliffwalk