Story: Naturism

Emerging in Europe and North America in the 1920s, nudism – later known as naturism – was taken up by New Zealanders in the 1930s. They believed it was natural and healthy to go without clothes, and set up clubs where members could camp, swim, sunbathe and play sport nude.

Full story by Hera Cook
Main image: Wellington Naturist Club president Ken Mercer playing miniten, 2008

The Short Story

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Naturism, previously called nudism, is an organised movement of people who want to enjoy the outdoors and socialise together without clothes.

Early years

Books and magazines from Europe and North America encouraged New Zealanders to take up naturism in the 1930s. Naturists believed nakedness was natural and healthy and that exposure to the sun was good for them.

At the time it was illegal to sunbathe or swim naked in public, so naturists wanted to set up private clubs where they could legally be naked. Eric Flint tried to set up a club in Dunedin in 1933, but gave up after an outcry from the media, churches and women’s groups.

In the late 1930s clubs were set up in Auckland and Dunedin. In the early 1940s the Auckland Sun Group established club grounds in the Waitākere Ranges. Other clubs bought land and set up areas for camping, swimming and sports.

A growing movement

The first national rally of the New Zealand Sunbathing Association was held in Whanganui in 1953. By the 1970s naturism was widely accepted, and numbers reached a high in the 1980s.

In 2012 there were 17 clubs with a total of about 1,600 members. There were also some private nudist campgrounds and homestays.

Attitudes to naturism

In mid-20th-century New Zealand, most people associated nudity with sex. People dressed modestly, and even married couples seldom showed their bodies to each other when dressing or washing. European immigrants were often more relaxed.

At first naturists were rejected by the public and ridiculed by the media. Naturist clubs had strict rules about who could join. They were suspicious of single men, and married men had to get their wife’s permission to join. Alcohol was not permitted, and some men were thrown out for unacceptable behaviour.

In the mid-1950s naturists campaigned for acceptance, and naturism became more accepted in the 1960s and 1970s. From the 1980s it was ‘not illegal’ to be naked in certain public places, such as some beaches. However, there were sometimes complaints about nudity and unacceptable behaviour.

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How to cite this page:

Hera Cook. 'Naturism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12-Jul-13
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/naturism