Nudism Uncovered

Whether or not you believe in the concept of original sin (here, most certainly not), for the vast, vast majority of us there is an inherent embarrassment and vulnerability about being in our naked—and most natural—state while being in any kind of public setting. The bible of course would have you believe such shame is part punishment for that original sin; science, however reckons we’re not born embarrassed (after all, young kids feel no shame in their birthday suit), rather it’s a behaviour learnt from fairly early on.


Some seem to have ‘learnt’ it less than others.


It’ll probably come as little surprise to learn that it is Europeans who are most likely to embrace nudism (often used interchangeably with ‘naturism’), with nearly half of all Austrian women, closely followed by the Spaniards and the Germans, thinking nothing of baring their breasts on the beach. As for full-on nudity, Austrians are the second most likely to bare-all on the beach, while a whopping three in ten Germans admit to spending days on the coast unclothed.


The history of nudism in Germany, a country generally considered more conservative than many of its Mediterranean neighbours, is a fascinating one. Nudism there is known as freikoerperkultur (“free body culture”) and is so common that it even takes place in some swimming pools and city parks.


It was a love of sunbathing, passion for fitness, and belief that it could help cure tuberculosis and rheumatism that first inspired a raft of Germans to be early advocates of baring all in the late 19th century. By the 1930s, the country had nudist beaches (Ireland, by comparison, opened its first official nude beach in 2018) and had established the Berlin School of Nudism to promote mixed-sex exercises; while their film industry dared to show the flesh way before the likes of Hollywood. Though there was a clampdown during the Nazi period, who considered nudism a “breeding ground for Marxists and homosexuals”, it reportedly remained very popular among the paramilitary SS. With the onset of mass tourism in the 1950s, the Germans’ penchant for nakedness spread and nudist resorts sprung up all around the continent. And it was around this time that taking off one’s clothes really took off in New Zealand, too.


Sunbathing and even swimming naked was illegal in Aotearoa in the 1930s, but that didn’t stop Eric Flint attempting to establish a nudist club in Dunedin (he failed, was harassed, and fled to Auckland). The following decade, Bert Brittain purchased a 1.6-hectare slice of Waitakere paradise that would become the base for nudist group, the Auckland Sun Club (they’re still going) and similar organisations soon followed. In 1953, Whanganui hosted the first national rally of the New Zealand Sunbathing Association, and though the lifestyle is thought to have peaked in the 1980s, it’s certainly still going strong. There’s no longer even a law against being naked in public, but, before you consider parading proudly down Queen Street, remember there is a law against indecent exposure in a public place.


So though being naked doesn’t necessarily constitute an indecent act, it’s best to save it for the beach.


Absolute nakedness was intrusive, confusing to the senses. Paradoxically, it both revealed and diminished identity” – P.D. James


Naked in NZ

  • St Leonard’s Bay in Takapuna is one of the most famous togs-free beaches, just remember to remain at least 50 metres from the entry steps and don’t walk in front of passers by.
  • There are a handful of nudist beaches on Waiheke—perhaps not surprising given its bohemian heritage—though few are as stunning as Onetangi.
  • You can bare all on the black sands of KareKare Beach on Auckland’s west coast, a long-time nudist favourite.
  • There couldn’t possibly be a better-named nudist beach in New Zealand—or even the world—than Peka Peka Beach in Kapiti.
  • The Naked Dinner is an Auckland-based pop-up eaterie (no pun intended) aimed at nudist newbies. Check out nakeddinner.com for details.
  • Nudist organisations in New Zealand include the Auckland Outdoor Naturist Club, the Waikato Outdoor Society and the Bay of Plenty Sun Club. There are heaps of homestay and B&Bs that cater to the clothes-free, too.


Indonesia’s Secret Nudes

Asian countries are among the most conservative when it comes to nudism, with just two percent of Japanese, three percent of South Koreans, and four percent of Thais admitting to having sunbathed naked. However, in the ultra-religious, mainly Muslim nations of Indonesia, a small band of nudists are flouting the strict nudity laws, meeting at the likes of rented holiday homes. “People in Indonesia think that nakedness has something to do with sex,” group member Aditya tells the BBC. “If we strip off together they assume it is a sex party. The truth is there is nothing sexual about it.” They can be themselves, he says, there is no body shaming; you are simply nude.


A Brief History of Nudes

  • In 300 BC, Indian mystics rejected all wordly attachments, including clothes, a philosophy still adhered to by heaps of holy men. Many city councils, however, forbid public nudity—paradoxically on the grounds of religion.
  • In Ancient Greece, nakedness was viewed as heroic, not only were gods and great men depicted nude in statues, but their Olympic heroes trained sans robes. ‘Gymnasium’ even derives from the Greek gymnos—it’s translation? ‘Naked’.
  • Attitudes to nakedness were reversed by the Romans, with public nudity declared distasteful, an opinion that prevailed throughout Europe over the following centuries.
  • The French and Germans lead a nudist revolution in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Even the stiff-upper-lip Britain of the 1930s saw the establishment of clothes-free clubs.
  • The hippy and liberal movements of the 1960s saw naturism embraced by a whole new generation. (Not to be confused with the sexual revolution of the time, nudism and naturism has nothing to do with sex.)
  • In 2001, up to 3,000 naked volunteers gathered at Montreal’s Place des Arts to be photographed for an art project by Spencer Tunick that would see him shoot thousands more nudes around the world over the following years.
  • A group of middle-aged British ladies from the Women’s Institute made headlines in the late 1990s when they produced a nude calendar to raise money for cancer research. Their story was immortalised in the 2003 Hollywood film, Calendar Girls.