Here is an incredible story as told by Brendon Fourie…
I had flown many times from Cape Town to Durban. Coming down to Cape Town was one of the best decisions of my life, a city which had given me so much in my formative years. It was always good to go home though, and besides taking the bus once (a 24-hour marathon of a journey) I had always been fortunate enough to fly.
It had left me wondering though: what was down there? From the cooped up space on the plane, it all just seemed a blur of farmlands.
On the 15th of December 2019, I decided to find out for myself. I packed up some essentials, grabbed my film camera and I hopped on my Sym Symphony 150cc scooter and began my journey. I was finally going to be able to see our country from coast to coast, and all through the unfiltered lenses of a scooter journey.
The plan was to take four days for this adventure to Durban and four days for the return. It seemed reasonable at the time of contemplating the journey from a comfy chair in a house. It seemed it would leave time to leisurely scoot across the Southern tip of Africa. I did not know I could be so wrong. I left on a Sunday morning at the barbaric hour of 6AM. My first stop was planned for Wild Spirit Backpackers in Nature’s Valley, an ambitious first day’s journey. I headed out on the N2, optimistic and with a sense of freedom as the haunting figure of Table Mountain disappeared in my rearview mirrors. It wasn’t too long before the first obstacle dropped from the sky. Cold, piercing rain managed to find its way through my second-hand oil slick coat. Undeterred I powered through the cold and wet, cruising at an altitude of 500cm (great clearance) and a well-measured 80km/h.
This tenacity warranted a coffee break to warm up the soul. I pulled in to an Engen 1-Stop and snuck in between the BMW GS 800 riders who had definitely already overtaken me, however, this was a marathon, not a sprint. This stop had revived me, and after 23km’s I had already had my first doubts about whether this trip was a bit too much to bite off. Before I could think any more, I jumped back into the saddle and continued up to the first real beauty, Sir Lowry’s Pass. There was no opportunity to stop, and so I had promised myself and Earl Grey (My Sym Scooter’s alias as well as my favourite tea) to stop at Sir Lowry’s viewpoint on the return journey.
These were new lands to me, passing through Grabouw, Caledon and other beautifully sleepy Western Cape towns. The 4.8L tank proved to be a blessing, as it allowed for an impressive range of around 130km’s at a breath-taking 27km/L. It is not in my nature to plan trips too precisely, for me this would eliminate most the adventure, however, a small part of me had really wished I had at least checked whether there were fuel stations at least every 100km’s on the journey. Not only did this add to the relentless anxiety of riding a 150cc scooter on the highway, but it also meant I was forced to stop at every fuel station I came across.
This for me was a highlight of the trip, stopping at 47 fuel stations in total, and thereby meeting 47 different people with differing perspectives. One of my earliest encounters was a fuel attendant in Swellendam, who inspired me to continue on the brutal first day as he told me he had always wanted to travel but had never found the means to leave Swellendam. This interaction drove me to continue on the sweeping curves of the outer Western Cape roads.
Eventually, having sliced through the countryside, taking regular breaks I managed to get into Knysna. The home of hippies and peace alike. It was only the first day, and I had already been stretched. My playlist was quickly becoming a broken record, and after 544km’s I finally rolled into Wild Spirit Backpackers for my overnight stop. An unexpected obstacle had meandered into the last km of this epic first-day 13-hour trip. A dirt road. The most insidious of enemies. All credit to Earl Grey who took on the dirt with absolute grace, albeit at 20km/h.
The bohemian set up of Wild Spirit Backpackers was as welcome as a Coronavirus cure in March 2020. That place stole a piece of my heart, and if you are ever anywhere near Nature’s Valley give Wild Spirit Backpackers a visit, it is a serene escape for the soul.
After sharing some well-earned Black Label quarts with the wildest, kindest and freest of spirits around a campfire, it was time to get some needed rest before even contemplating day 2.
I woke up to an amazing sunrise and made the most of my surroundings by venturing all over the backpacker’s location and taking it all in. It was at this point I realised that the near on 600 km first day, poorly planned as it was, had left me in shock. I was trying to find any excuse not to get back on the scooter too soon. With this, I found myself in a yoga class run by a man called Rainbow who taught me how to unlock my Chakras. Something must have worked, because, after this class, I could not wait to get back on the open road, saying farewell to one of the most beautiful spots I had seen so far with melancholy.
After a cup of tea, and settling my bar tab (Whoops) I journeyed on, once again trusting Earl Grey to grab the dirt road by horns, and get us onto the smooth tar of the N2. Today’s journey was a lot shorter. I had arranged to suckle on the milk of human kindness and spend the 2nd night at my friend’s house in Port Elizabeth, the windy, friendly city. The journey was not an easy one, from the dead straights of Storms Rivier with the gorgeous Amatola mountain ranges glistening in the beaming sun, to the brutal wind of Port Elizabeth.
I could hardly wait to reach the overnight stop at the Butter’s house. I could feel my body aching with the unsuspected physicality this trip was requiring, and the very evident danger of being overtaken every 15 seconds whilst straddling the yellow line. I eventually arrived at the safe haven of the Butter’s residence, exhausted and more than thankful for the sight of friendly faces and a cold beer. Through the evening discussions, I quickly understood how ill-prepared I was for the coming days to round off my journey. The Butter’s had fortunately just been on a journey of a similar nature in a car, and with the help of a few more cold beers and some rudimentary google maps skills, they helped me to plan the last two days of my journey, which directed me away from the N2, and rather up towards the Transkei, through Mclear and Matatiele. I could not wait to see these new places and discover the wonders of the Eastern Cape.
As if this generosity was not profound enough, the Butters had taken it upon themselves to prove PE’s namesake by rising at 5AM with me, furnishing me with a well-packed lunch along with the good advice from the night before. Truly, a pit stop I will be forever grateful for, and people who I will always owe a great deal. I exited the safe house through the pedestrian gate and tooted as softly as possible in acknowledgement of the help I had received from these wonderful people.
The day seemed positive, with the first challenge being navigating my way out of the suburbs of PE. Once on the open road, I realised the force of the wind against my helmet (an inadequate open face for the journey) over the last few days had strained my neck muscles severely. I therefore, did the only thing I could think of and found a brilliant wind-breaker behind a tipper lorry, tailgating the massive freight vehicle and giving the neck a break. I had also wrapped underwear around my wrists, as I had discovered after the previous day’s journey that my wrists had been exposed due to the gap between my gloves and the jacket, allowing the UV rays to have their way with my skin. The sunburn was not only hilarious but devastatingly sore. My fashion sense had taken a tumble, but at least I would no longer suffer sunburn and strained neck muscles.
I made my way up to Grahamstown, rather surprised at the hustle and bustle I discovered there even though the students were home for the holidays. I stopped to rectify my orientation before pursuing a lesser-known route, for the first time branching off the mighty N2. At the direction of the Butter’s clan, the deviation would take me up along the R67. The road was surprisingly well maintained and a much welcomed slower paced route. The beauty of the Eastern Cape took my breath away on this simple ride up through Fort Beaufort to Queenstown where I stopped to demolish the remains of the beautifully packaged avocado rolls courtesy of the Butters.
I must note, the sunken Gardens of Queenstown are surprisingly serene, and I would imagine offer great consolation to gamblers who may have lost it all at the nearby casino. I had a brilliant interaction here with a man who had come to the park to have lunch with his family. He was the only male, and once he had made sure his family were all settled with food, he got up and asked if he could sit with me. I offered no protest, and so we sat for 30 minutes in silence eating lunch all the while I was panicking about accommodation as I had not booked any form of it for my last night on the road. It only struck me afterwards that this man was more comfortable sitting with another man, than to lunch with the rest of his family who were women. Absolutely fascinating cultural encounter.
I had not been able to fix any kind of accommodation for the evening and decided it best to simply push through and see what I could find somewhere along the line. It sure added to a sense of anxious adventure. Onwards Earl and I journeyed finishing off the third day by scootering through the incredible vistas of Cacadu, Cala and Elliot. The sun had started its descent behind the horizon, and I had not yet settled on where to search for accommodation. Exhausted, I glided into Ugie, a beautifully quaint town, kicked Earl onto his stand and lay myself down, flat on the concrete outside a total petrol stop. This was the first time I had stopped at a fuel station and not put anything in Earl’s tank. I was tempted to rest my head in this small town, but my only thought was if I could push through to Maclear, just 30km’s more I would have 30km’s less to travel the next day. And so I rode in the twilight, reaching Maclear just as night had crept over.
You could say I was in Maclear, but I had not yet found a place to sleep. I trudged through the suburbs and eventually found a B&B. At this point, I was willing to pay any price for something resembling a bed after another 540km day on the scooter. The owner gladly gave me a room key, despite having disturbed his dinner, I parked Earl just outside the room and reflected on another tough but beautiful day on the road.
The final day was here. A mixture of relief and sadness at the prospect of this trip ending crept over me, as I mounted Earl Grey once more, to take on the last stretch of road to get into Camperdown (my destination and home) and enjoy a kick back and relax. The morning went smoothly, with my first stop in Matatiele. By this point, the only thing that kept me from looking homeless was the gleaming Sym Symphony scooter I was riding. This fact proved true when I went into the Pick n Pay to grab an Energade before continuing and the owner, a man called Bruce, offered to buy me breakfast. We got chatting about travelling, and soon he was interested in what the hell I was doing driving a 150cc scooter across the country. He understood me when I said it was because I wanted to see our country, and this was the way I could do it. The coffee was delicious, and kindness shown by Bruce whether in response to my homeless appearance or to my unusual story, was remarkable.
I did not know it yet, but the hardest part of my journey was still to come. I had been worried, the whole trip to take on the gravel road spanning the last kilometre of my trip to my home. Cruising through the beautiful green grasslands of KZN I was in awe of the beauty of my home province. Lush, untouched and powerful. The best part for me was that I had not told my family I was coming home like this. My father believed I would be flying in on the Thursday, and here I was on Wednesday afternoon, slowly and carefully navigating my way on the last stretch of gravel road.
I arrived at the gate, looking shabby, feeling broken and in anticipation of the reaction, this surprise may elicit. To my greatest pleasure, my father came stalking out of the house, ready to engage with what he thought was a rogue meter reader and was absolutely speechless at the sight of his son on a scooter.
For at least 2 hours after this, my family was completely shocked. I parked Earl Grey off after 1800km’s and 4 days and requested the coldest and closest beer. All credit to the Symphony for taking on a trip so far out of its comfort zone and being willing to do it again on the way back.
Cape Town to Durban on a Sym Symphony 150S
Total distance: 1801 Kms
Pit stops: 23 petrol stops
Economy: 24.36 km/L
Economy: 65c / Litre
Total cost: R1 172.31
SYM Fiddle 150:
For more information on the Sym scooter I was riding visit: www.sym.co.za