Naturism, previously known as nudism, is an organised movement of people who want to enjoy the outdoors and socialise with other like-minded people, without having to wear clothes.
New Zealanders were encouraged to take up nudism by the many books and magazines produced by the European and North American nudist movements from the 1920s. In Germany, in particular, nudism had become a mass movement. Historical precedents, for instance the athletes in classical Greece who had competed without clothes, were another inspiration.
The early nudists believed that nakedness was natural and healthy, and that exposure to the sun had important health benefits. They rejected what they called ‘mock modesty’ and the association of nakedness with sexual arousal.
Sunbathing or swimming naked in public was illegal in the 1930s when the nudist movement began in New Zealand. Though some people indulged covertly in these activities, nudists sought to establish clubs where they could legally be naked in private.
In 1933 Eric Flint made the first public attempt to set up a nudist club in Dunedin. Media coverage incited a barrage of hostility from clergy and women’s groups, as well as suspicion from the police. Flint gave up and departed for Auckland. A club called the Auckland Sun Group, formed in January 1938, went into recess during the Second World War because restrictions on gasoline hindered travel to places out of town. Another club was set up in Dunedin in early 1938. In the early 1940s Bert Brittain bought the property that would become the club grounds for the Auckland Sun Group, a 1.6-hectare piece of bush with a stream running through it in the Waitākere Ranges, near Auckland.
Nudism for children
Nudists believed that children particularly benefited from the lifestyle. Sex education was straightforward because of a lack of embarrassment about bodies. Children were unselfconscious and enjoyed the freedom of playing in the campgrounds.
Other clubs were set up. Once groups had purchased a piece of land, club members contributed much time to clearing gorse and blackberry. They flattened out areas for tent sites, sunbathing and ball games. Digging out swimming pools and building clubhouses were major projects. The basic camping facilities in the early years did not prevent the many children and their parents enjoying themselves, both working and relaxing afterwards.
The movement grows
In 1953 the first national rally of the New Zealand Sunbathing Association was held in Whanganui. It was attended by 38 adults and 19 children from eight areas. From the mid-1950s club members began to use the term naturism rather than nudism, in an attempt to make the movement more publicly acceptable. By the 1970s naturism was no longer seen as shocking by most New Zealanders. Numbers of naturists reached a high point during the 1980s.
Anyone for miniten?
Naturists have their own sport, miniten, which is a game played on a half-size tennis court with a round double-sided bat, following the same rules as tennis. Miniten was invented in the 1930s, when nudist clubs often did not have enough room for full-sized tennis courts.
Naturism in 2012
In 2012 there were 17 clubs affiliated to the New Zealand Naturist Federation, with a total of around 1,600 members. In addition there were two private naturist holiday parks, a number of naturist homestays and some private nudist camping facilities throughout the country. Clubs and other venues provided places to go and activities in the weekends, as well as a network of holiday locations at which families were welcome.
Many clubs were set in native bush planted by the early nudists. They provided opportunities for nude recreation, including swimming, volleyball and other games. Some of the larger clubs, such as the Auckland Outdoor Naturist Club, had monthly entertainments, spa and sauna facilities and powered campsites. At the other end of the spectrum, Rotota Sun Club, beside Lake Ōhakuri in the central North Island, did not have electricity and visitors needed to bring food supplies and drinking water. There were natural thermal springs around the site.