I recently had one of the most transformative experiences only a stone’s throw away from my front door. Set in the Kromdraai Valley in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind, is Project58, and while it may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, it sits on the complete opposite end of the strange spectrum… or does it?
Known simply as 58, this collection of ecologically restorative spaces is located a mere 30 minutes from Johannesburg and is dedicated to restoring a conscious appreciation for life in all its forms through things such as tourism, art, and my personal favourite, well-being.
An encounter with cosy
FARMHOUSE at 58 is one of the spaces in the collection and it’s where my journey began. Drawing inspiration from ancient African settlements and the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, the rooms at FARMHOUSE are intentionally minimalistic and rooted in nature and simplicity.
When I entered my room, I was immediately struck by how grounded I felt in the space. I’m not proud to say this but when I check into an establishment, the first thing I normally do is connect to the Wi-Fi, check if the TV works, and then play around with all the other tchotchkes in the room. But that wasn’t the case here.
The room was completely void of meaningless paraphernalia. On the desk next to a bottle of essential oil and a reed diffuser was a handwritten note on a piece of brown paper that read “Welcome to FARMHOUSE. A place to connect to yourself, others and nature. We hope you will have a pleasant stay with us. The FARMHOUSE Team.”
Hanging above the bed, which was elevated slightly off the ground on a concrete platform that blended seamlessly into the floor, was a branch and a solitary cactus leaf. A grass basket and two calabashes made up the rest of the décor. It was quiet, cosy and peaceful.
I later learned that the art in the rooms was part of the collection from the NIROX Art Centre. The Centre, which is also a part of the 58 ecosystem, is a non-profit run for the benefit of the arts. It includes a sculpture park, artist residency, studios and workshops.
A considered hike
While I contemplated the cosy minimalism of my room, our group was tasked with getting ready for a hike. We met our guide, Lesegeo Mapeka of Epic Hikes, and he cautioned that the first section of the hike was going to be challenging, “…but it’s the only part of the hike that’s intense,” he said.
As he sailed up the treacherous terrain effortlessly while carrying a backpack laden with supplies, a few other members of the group and myself trailed behind wondering what we signed up for. We reached the top part of this section and stopped to catch our breath. Lesego pulled out a little brown crossbody bag and handed it to one of the ladies.
“Inside the bag are cards with questions on them. As we go along on our hike we will stop and one of us will pull a card from the bag. We will then spend a few minutes discussing some thoughts and answers,” Lesego explained. “There are no right or wrong answers. The questions encourage you to do some internal work and deal with self.” And just like that our hike went from being a purely physical exercise to something more.
58 is located at the meeting point of three different kinds of biomes, which makes it exceptionally diverse in fauna, flora and animal species.
As we meandered up the mountainside, we were joined on our journey by a dazzle of zebras.
Just then, we paused and pulled out another card. It read: “What would the world have missed if you were never born?” Our group, happily discussing the other questions, seemed floored. Someone tried to answer and then we stood in silence for a moment as the amber glow from the afternoon sun washed over the valley giving the landscape an ethereal energy.
In the distance, our destination the Sun (W)hole structure by Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi loomed large, signalling the end of this introspective experience. We reached the wall just in time to see the sun setting over the valley.
As we made our way back down the mountainside passing Driefontein, an almost forgotten ancient settlement, I was still considering how I related to the world around me and the legacy I hoped to leave behind.
A deep breath
The next morning, we were up at a reasonable hour and treated to a thoughtful breakfast overlooking one of the dams on the farm. The property is north facing and well located on a slight elevation allowing for amazing views across the valley at any time of day. On the high point of the site is a waterfall, which was our destination for the day.
Our guide, Simon Kehagias of Breathwork Africa, encouraged us to disconnect from the outside world and take in our surroundings as we enjoyed a leisurely walk to the waterfall. We zigzagged through tall trees and rocky terrain following a stream until eventually at the centre of an outcrop we found a small pool at the base of a waterfall.
We took up our positions on the grass in front of the waterfall and Simon lead us through a breathwork experience designed to bring awareness to an otherwise automatic bodily function. We learned techniques to balance our breath and centre ourselves and techniques akin to those that Navy Seals use. We learned to energise our bodies and spent the rest of our time enjoying the beauty around us.
We chatted about our experiences during the workshop and shared real stories about ourselves and our lives, which is not something you would normally do with people you’ve just met. We cheered on some of the more daring members of our group as they braved the cold water for the perfect picture at the waterfall.
During all the activity, I looked up and saw an eagle flying overhead and then I remembered the note on the desk in my room. The FARMHOUSE team was right – this was a place to connect with yourself, others and nature.
In a world obsessed with Wi-Fi connectivity and always-on culture, Project58 offers guests an opportunity to go back to basics and connect to the things that really matter. I never once thought about Wi-Fi, deadlines, or posting on social media, and it felt good. It certainly was strange, but in the best possible way.
For Curious Locals
I discovered FARMHOUSE at 58 through CURIOCITY AFRICA’s Curious Locals Campaign. The campaign, which offers an array of experiences co-hosted with creatives, guides, local chefs and wellness coaches, invites locals to return to experience and the chance to dive into the city with all their senses.
The experiences include everything from storytelling penthouse dinners with wine and whiskey tastings to sunset hikes, Sunday FARMHOUSE lunches, art walks, ceramic classes, biking and yoga in nature.
For more information on visiting the FARMHOUSE or the Curious Locals Campaign, visit www.curiocity.africa
Words by Liesl Frankson