Need a tune-up? Escape to Hoogland’s oasis of mindfulness
The new year is just over a week old and you are already fatigued. The high-cal, high-fat festive foods have left you a kilo heavier.
Adding to the post-holiday blues, very soon you are expected to deliver a turnaround strategy for 2018 to the management team.
You are not feeling well, your body groans.
Your friends tout Hoogland Hydro, an hour away from Johannesburg in the Schurveberg Mountains. "It will change your life," they enthuse.
So you book a week.
Hoogland Health Hydro is on the largest private game park in Gauteng, 480ha of game, rare plants and protected flora and fauna. Less than an hour away is the Magaliesberg Biosphere, the nature reserve and Unesco heritage site.
There is plenty of water and it is high in calcium and magnesium, thanks to the dolomite vein running underground.
The surrounding Schurveberg mountains funnel rain water down to the spa, while the nearby Hennops River saturates the ground so it doesn’t leach from the berg.
This is no ordinary tourist spa dolled up as a health hydro – it’s the real thing. Climbing three flights of stairs to get to your room is part of the package.
"It’s intentional," confirms Julia Koutzayiotis, a life coach, yoga instructor and more. "We want our guests to move around, even if they’re fasting."
Anette Kruger, Hoogland marketing manager and eldest daughter of the Kruger clan that has owned Hoogland for three generations, says "if you sit around and do nothing, one kilo of body fat can sustain you for four days".
You fondle the roll around your waist. Two kilos there, you muse. You will take the stairs.
It’s no surprise that Hoogland is known for its nature walks. There are 45km of trails, 82 identified bird species and 66 types of indigenous trees.
These are no ordinary nature walks and the terrain is rocky. While guide Wilhelm de Beer — who is also part of the Kruger clan — is pointing out rare fauna and flora, you are gritting your teeth, trying not to slip on the jutting rocks. "It’s good for your balance to walk on uneven terrain," De Beer explains, holding your elbow in case you fall.
Two hours later, when you’ve summited and the dreaded rocks stop and you stroll down the long road watching the sun set and the buck and the wildebeest peacefully grazing, you pat yourself on the back.
Hoogland Health Hydro itself is like an extension of the ecosystem, a hive of busy enablers of a healthy lifestyle for the stressed, the strung out, the overweight, the undernourished, the pill poppers, the self-medicaters, the sugar addicts, the closet alcoholics, you and I.
Whatever you choose to do there — either fast or eat organically cultivated foods — you are supervised by a specialised team of a doctor, nutritionist, biokineticist, chiropractor and sangoma skilled in traditional healing, and a highly trained support staff.
There are health-restoring activities throughout the day. The hydrotherapy cycle — taking you from a steam room into a cold pool, then to rest — can take up to an hour. Pilates, yoga, stretching, and aqua aerobics leave you no time to think about anything other than reclaiming your natural wellbeing.
Most of our clients are executives and they don’t like to be ordered around and told what to do.Anette Kruger
"We only use therapies that can be verified scientifically," says Kruger. "We don’t follow fads. Research has shown that yoga and meditation reduce comfort eating and induce a state of mindfulness."
Mindfulness is the operational philosophy that drives Hoogland. It means focusing on what you are doing, thinking or eating and not letting your mind stray. Your senses will tell you what to do if you allow them.
To drive home the principle of mindful eating, Hoogland has done away with structured meal times. Fruit and organic salads with nuts and cheese are on offer round the clock. The waiters prepare tasty organic meals. You are not pushed to eat when the gong sounds.
"People must not be treated like sheep," Kruger says. "Most of our clients are executives and they don’t like to be ordered around and told what to do."
You are not restricted in any way. Stay in the steam bath as long as you please without having to rebook and pay.
If you’re a wimp like me, you don’t have to do the treacherous hike. There is a milder walk at 5pm and plenty of exercise activities, starting with Tai Chi at 5.45am on the green stretch in front of the house. "People are friendly here — no one judges you," remarks Daniela, who is in from Australia to spend Christmas with her mother. "You don’t have to justify who you are.
"No one is hectically high maintenance, needing to be looked at all the time."
The Hoogland faithful return year after year. Some guests stay for as long as three months. Others slip in incognito — like the well-known politician who checked in when he lost a local government election. Premiers visit and former president Thabo Mbeki once brought his whole cabinet on a Hoogland retreat.
Ntsiuoa Hoohlo, an ophthalmologist from Maseru, has been there twice. "What I love is that they treat you as an individual," she says. "I’ve learned to eat the right foods and I’ve lost weight."
Don’t get the idea that Hoogland is a "fat farm". It is not a quick fix.
"You can’t be prescriptive when it comes to weight," says Kruger. "Our systems are too complex for what a diet can achieve. Your body has set points, lots of microsystems that drive metabolism. You accumulate fat if you don’t have these balances in place."
If Hoogland is no run-of-the mill health hydro, neither is its owner, Dr Andre Kruger, a cookie-cutter medical doctor. He has a BSc and a medical degree and is a firm proponent of the need for scientific verification.
He is also an authority on fast therapy to treat lifestyle-incurred diseases, autoimmune conditions and even cancer.
He is the kind of doctor who listens to you complaining about weakness and fatigue and then looks beyond your symptoms.
He has a pathology lab on site. Where your local general practitioner may find that your blood tests are perfect but you need more iron, Kruger will pick up that your lack of fat has caused your body to devour itself. So it is not more iron but more nuts and cheese and full-cream yoghurt that will restore muscle and energy.
A standard five-day package including exercises, talks and a health buffet costs R8,550.
"Depending on your priorities, a stay at Hoogland is not expensive," Kruger insists.
"People need to take ownership of their health. They are prepared to eat and drink and go on holiday, but they are not willing to pay for their health." They do not see health as "for their account". They see it as the government’s job, the doctor’s job.